Let’s be honest, we definitely sound like southerners but Peter comes from Gateshead and Ian originally comes from Great Ayton (8 miles from the start and less than a mile from checkpoint 2). This may explain the reaction of the ‘locals’ to the various enquiries we made en route.
An earlier visit to Osmotherley established a potential problem when Ian asked where the LWW start stone was located, as he was standing in the nearest car park to its grid ref location. “The lightweight what?” enquired the locals followed by “never ‘eard of it”. So without the benefit of locals’ knowledge, but knowing that the walk was from the West edge of the moors to the East coast, Ian looked East, North East, South East and in slight desperation he even looked North and South, but still could see no LWW stone.
Then he looked due West and saw the 4 foot high LWW stone standing proud on top of a small bank on the opposite side of the road to the car park! The very stone the locals claim they had never seen! (Perhaps it was a Yorkshire joke?) The route Brian Smailes describes takes a strange Westerly start when the rest of the walk is virtually due East – seemingly only to add a hill and to join the Cleveland Way / Coast to Coast (C2C) a mile or so earlier than if one followed the more logical route on the road to the first cattle grid he mentions. Perhaps this is a result of moving the start out from the village?
Ian then walked the first 20 miles for training walk and to check out the Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge. He then returned south to wind up his fellow LWW challenger and complete our respective individual training. We tried to spook each other each Monday with e-mails about how far / hard / difficult our training was on the previous weekend and seek some comfort we were probably doing enough but we both secretly remained nervously convinced it wasn’t!
LWW day – 20th July arrived. We were dropped at the start at 04.30; the next time we would see our support team would be at the end, in Ravenscar at 9.00pm – so an unsupported walk was the challenge. Photos at the (previously identified) start stone were taken, rucksacks checked and off we went at 04.45 carrying as much water as we could – this was during the longest heat wave in living memory and unsurprisingly dawn saw the rising sun shining into our faces. Stage one was completed with consummate ease – this would be a doddle we thought.
Stage two saw the mist / sea fret descend – we felt sorry for the shepherd / farmer family trying to gather their flock in the near fog as they couldn’t see their dogs or the fog-coloured sheep! (We called these the “where? Sheep,” in deference to a very amusing earlier report about “were-sheep” on the New Lyke Wake Club website). The fret lifted and fell again offering glimpses of the views we were missing, but delivering a variety of weather we were not really expecting. We went around the hill after the (under reconstruction) Lord Stone’s cafe as the hill top was completely fogged out. No point in burning all that energy only to see nothing! Brian Smailes’ guide was working well for us.
Stage three presented our first mystery. To us ‘southerners’, whose training was mainly along the Thames tow path, pavements of London and the Grand Union Canal with a few climbs on the Chilterns, the ‘main challenge’ of the former railway line was for us an opportunity to speed up and rest the limbs at the same time. Some of the best views are from here as well so the flat route was not an issue for us at all. Don’t let the guide put you off this easy section. We do recommend changing socks after this section though as small grit (ash) permeates all materials, through trousers, and socks and into the bottom of your boots.
God bless the Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge. They told Ian on his recce trip that they liked walkers and would do what they could to support them (us) so it was with high confidence we asked at the bar for two pints – of lemonade – and two bacon sandwiches. “No bacon at this time of day” (Noon) was the (young) bar man’s response. We explained that we were on the LWW and had walked for 20 miles dreaming of the bacon treat and asked if he would make an exception to the rule given the Lion Inn’s reputation. The lad disappeared into the kitchen. Success! Two lovely bacon baps were served with a smile. They also topped up our water bottles, bladders, provided salt and sugar (isotonic home brew) and were – just lovely to us.
The landlady came to clear our plates and we thanked her for the exception that had been made “Yes I told the lad to give you walkers what you wanted. We like walkers here.” She also knew all about the C2C and the LWW and better than us just what lay ahead for us. Then it was boots off, feet attended to, talc, clean socks etc – outside as didn’t want to put others off their food.
Stage four saw the overcast and slight drizzle weather set in for the day. Whilst sunshine would have been more pleasant, its absence during this hot spell was strangely welcome. We must have been walking in temperatures of between 17 to 22 degrees. This stage is well described in the guide. We spotted and acknowledged Fat Betty, but to our cost we ignored legend and its custom of making her an offering (food / money / sweets) to placate the spirits. We hurried on without paying her due respect. Oh dear !
Despite taking this risk, we were lucky with the swamp section – the previous spell of hot weather had turned into a trampoline for us – very springy underfoot. Minor wet sections, but easy to skirt around. Tall marker stones with white painted tops were mostly visible and helpful and we found out just how reassuring they were during a section that appeared to be unmarked and then we saw the line in front of us again. We suspect that the ‘missing’ ones had keeled over in soggy conditions.
Stage five starts with the guide book debating whether it is 8.5 miles or longer – 9 miles. By this stage (near 30 miles in) half a mile or so is largely irrelevant – another Yorkshire joke? BUT what it does not tell you is that when you reach the minor road, you need to turn left for several hundred yards (?200 or so) to find the start of the next section across the moors. The implications of the guide’s silence on this are compounded by the illustrative map in the guide indicating the locality is Hamer and route is straight on at the road junction – so that is what we did. We were not looking for any support team, so had no need to deviate from what we thought was the described route. Perhaps Brian has amended this in the latest edition? Well done if it is but too late for us. (This point is also annoyingly right on the edge of the two OS maps you need for this walk adding a further navigation challenge).
Straight on is a farm track. We checked the guide again for any further clues and we even saw a gate painted with “LWW 200 yards” with an arrow showing the direction. That was good enough for us. So off we strode following the guide book map and the sign on the gate. Our developing nagging doubt that we had deviated from the true course made us stop and consult the OS map. We realised the path was heading mainly South and that the plantation we were nearing had a different shape to the one on the map that we needed to be skirting. We asked a local who was driving a digger whether we were on the correct route for the LWW – “the what?” “Never ‘eard of it.” He then proceeded to tell us not once but twice how we got to where we were standing talking to him – in quite some detail. Why he did this we never worked out! We thought we were quite close to the ‘Blue Man-I-th’ moss’ so asked him to direct us to no doubt famous local landmark. “The what?” “Never ‘eard of it. No pub around here” we were reassuringly informed.
We later worked out that the digger driver/farmer had left the gate open at the road to allow his access, and the sign indicating the direction to take for LWW was therefore rotated by 180 degrees! No excuse, but certainly a contributory factor to our navigational troubles at that point. Or was this Fat Betty’s revenge?
Said digger driver directed us to a gate which would allow us at least to start to resume a North Easterly direction to recover the lost ground without going back on ourselves but this meant continuing cross-country following OS map and compass very closely now. We entered the plantation about a mile South of where we thought we were, finally rumbling the scale of our detour when we came across a hut (thankfully marked on the O/S map) in the middle of the pine forest. A low point for us – woods, don’t like ‘em. No reference points, no features to look for.
We navigated our way through the plantation, which was like a prison to finally escape from, over a barbed wire fence, across a 10 foot wide and 6 foot deep ditch complete with a rotting dead sheep in the water, across knee deep heather, zones of burnt heather with dead twigs grabbing at our legs, – who was wearing shorts? – yes Ian! – And finally made it back on track. Somehow this detour seemed to cost us about two precious hours. Did we really walk an additional 4 miles or so? But thanks goodness for the OS and our (recovered) navigation skills!! The teamwork was splendidly evident to allow us to surmount the obstacles and to keep from panicking.
Stage 6 – Eller Beck Bridge. The guide book told us we had only 7 miles to go now. We were both beginning to struggle – in slightly different ways. Peter had feet problems, stiffening legs and aching hips, whilst Ian was – well running out of steam and finding the climbs out of the valleys very hard going indeed. Ian therefore took some of the recommended Magnesium Phosphate tissue salts (helps avoid muscle cramps – and flatulence apparently!). This was offered to Peter, but he declined. The other secret weapon Ian deployed was to start using the second walking pole that had been carried on his rucksack for 33 miles.
At this point Peter withdrew into ‘the zone’ to block out the pain he was now quite obviously in. This is one tough guy, with Everest Base Camp and the Pennine way (unbroken – walk) and numerous other National long trails under his feet and he knew he had the mental strength to do this. Ian felt the benefit of the MagPhos after maybe 15 mins and the additional pole was like a second engine – brilliant!
Night fell just after Jugger Howe. What a cruel twist to the walk that valley is! On went the head torches as we had prepared for this walk carefully. One of them did not function. Flat battery was blamed; it was checked before the walk, but must have switched on in the rucksack we thought. Because we were so well prepared the standby replacement was deployed – a wind up torch – what could go wrong with one of those? Well, we discovered that even wind up torches have their failings – in this case the inability to hold a charge. So if you have one, leave it at home; if you ever thought about getting one – don’t bother! Consumer advice provided free.
So for the last two miles of the LWW, Ian walked like a wobble top, swivelling his head from side to side to help light No 1’s path, whilst Peter manically cranked the handle of his wind up torch. Peter took on the image of a fisherman reeling in a line – only in this case, given his foot, leg and hip problems, it appeared more likely that he was winching himself along to the finish hooked onto the Radio Mast which even now was still visible against the sky in the gloom. It should have been a full moon which would’ve lit the straight white (sand and stony) track to the very end – but of course it was cloudy and overcast.
We finished at just before 23.00hrs around 2 hours after original ETA. We know this because Peter’s wife called his mobile out of rising concern just after we had finished.
Being an unsupported crossing, we discovered that there was still a way to go to reach the village of Ravenscar where we were being met. Not much traffic on the road, thankfully, but still added another mile or so to the walk. We didn’t finish in time for a celebratory beer at the end which is the secondary goal of any walk/climb for these intrepid folk, so just jumped – sorry collapsed, exhausted into the waiting car and drove home – Great Ayton and back nearly to where we started walking, but in much less time. Next day we both felt remarkably OK. Blisters – yes but muscles and joints working fine. Showing that training in the ‘bank’ pays dividends.
We decided to leave the ‘warm-down’ walk up Roseberry Topping for another day and focused on recovering a few the missed pints of ale at the end of the walk with a long lunch in the Dudley Arms (Ingleby Greenhow).
A week or so later, we find ourselves wondering how long it would have taken us if we stayed on the correct track for the whole way. As the rains have returned, with flash floods in West Yorkshire and elsewhere would we have survived the rigours of the boggy section, would we have got over that ditch? You bet we would.
Plans for somewhere else next time – 40 + miles having been ‘done’ in one day on this challenging route makes us feel we could do just about anything now.
LWW recommended as a great ‘team building exercise’ – a good way to kill off some of the staff – survival of the fittest!
And Fat Betty continues to sit …..and wait…..