Departure: LWW stone at Ravenscar mast site, Friday 24/01/14 20:30hrs
Arrival: Sheepwash car park Osmotherley, Saturday 25/01/14 19:00hrs
Present: Claire Chapman, Tom Chapman and David Allen
This was not the first LWW crossing for any of the participants; I had previously completed the challenge on two occasions, in January 2012 and November 2013, both times taking the “traditional” west to east route. I also have an incomplete attempt on record, with my first ever attempt curtailed at the side of the A171 with the mast at Ravenscar in clear view… my body utterly destroyed by fatigue and wear & tear, unable to tackle the final push. Tom had also completed the challenge two times previously and this time would actually be Claire’s fifth crossing.
After rendezvousing (is that even a word?) at the Sheepwash car park to leave Claire’s motor behind in Osmotherley, we made our way east in my car to Ravenscar. The weather was absolutely atrocious; challenging to drive in, never mind walk 42 miles. I began to fret. The conditions were so bad that as we drove toward the car park at Ravenscar, we could not see the radio mast at all.
I was feeling extremely daunted at this point; hugely uncertain as to whether we should go ahead with the crossing.
We parked up and gathered ourselves together… inside the car, in order to delay the inevitable battering at the hands of Mother Nature. Once assembled, we briefly checked in at the LWW stone before getting on our way.
The first stretch from Ravenscar down to the main road was immediately challenging, with nightmarishly strong winds flinging hailstone horizontally into our faces. Once again, I had serious doubts over the wisdom of persevering.
After crossing the road we made our way toward Jugger Howe, with the conditions showing no sign whatsoever of any relent. In contrast to the usual miserable experience of Jugger Howe, this was an altogether more pleasant affair. For one, the descent and ascent came at a time that our legs were still feeling fresh. Furthermore, the valley actually brought momentary shelter from the blasting wind and rain.
Upon emerging from Jugger Howe the respite from the harsh conditions came to an abrupt end. Denied any shelter, the conditions seemed to worsen, with the wind, rain and hail now complemented by a thick mist, depleting visibility to only a few feet ahead.
The path over Burn Howe Rigg seemed to take an age to conquer, wading uphill into the strong headwinds through the treacle-like clay.
Farther along, the going underfoot became a little more manageable. One would ordinarily be able to see the cross on Lilla Howe in the distance but the darkness and foul conditions rendered this impossible. Frustratingly, a brief check of Tom’s GPS confirmed that we had in fact missed a turning point and had to double back on ourselves to the tune of 500m or so.
Once on the correct path we eventually, quite literally, stumbled upon Lilla Cross. With poor visibility and our eyes focussed purely on the ground immediately in front of our feet, we very nearly trudged straight past without even noticing it.
Lilla Cross marked something of a point of no return for me. To this point, I just could not shake the thought of turning around and heading back to the car. My coping mechanisms were being pushed to the limit. The weather forecast had predicted the rain would stop around midnight, but I just could not muster any shred of hope that this would be the case. I couldn’t take another sixteen hours of this. I asked Claire what she thought; would we be ok? She seemed happy enough to crack on so I resolved to push the doubts to the back of my mind and get on with it.
From the Cross we were fortunate insofar as we were able to pick up and keep to the path across Lilla Rigg toward Eller Beck. Ironically, this section had previously proven extremely difficult to navigate in broad daylight, but at night and with terrible visibility we were able to cross it with relative ease.
It is worthy of mention that throughout this whole stretch, we were not able to see Fylingdales early warning station for as much as a single second.
Without pause we crossed the main road at Eller Beck Bridge and made our way towards the North Yorkshire Moors railway crossing. Sadly, this brought another unplanned deviation from our route, mistakenly taking a side path off to the right, resulting in a yomp straight across the knee-high heather to reconvene with the correct path.
It was sometime around here that the rain eased off. We stopped just before reaching the railway track to regroup and have a bite to eat. A sausage roll, Mars bar and bottle of water and I was good to go. For another 20 minutes or so at least…
Onward to Simon Howe and over Howl Moor: this section, much like before, was characterised by abject drudgery; heads down with eyes intently fixed on the ground in front, digging deep within to muster the will to continue. Sadly, things would get far worse before they would were to improve…
Upon arriving at Wheeldale Beck we were confronted by a rather distressing sight; the high rainfall had seen the beck replaced by a raging torrential river, substantially wider than normal, with the stepping stones nowhere to be seen. I walked south down the bank to seek an alternative crossing point, to no avail. Tom consulted the map and spied a footbridge to the north, past Wheeldale Lodge and Hunt House Farm; yet another deviation from the route, but at least it meant we would be able to continue without getting soaked in the freezing waters. By my reckoning, this detour added an additional hour or so to our time.
Using Tom’s GPS (where would we be without it?) we found our way to the Roman Road and then up the bank to Wheeldale Road where we made another brief stop for a bite to eat.
Our next port of call was the crossing of Wheeldale Moor: a challenge we were hardly relishing. The path skirting Bumble Wood proved particularly horrid, with endless rocks and boulders to avoid in the dark, adding insult to the injury of all of the mud and water underfoot. By this point, Tom’s feet were soaked through so we made a brief stop so that he could wring out his socks. I took the opportunity to lie back among the heather and munch a vast quantity of Jelly Babies.
On we pushed. After another mile or so we stopped to consult the GPS when horror of horrors: It was no longer in Tom’s pocket!!! Tom and Claire retraced our steps to try to find it. I opted to sit tight as I was beginning to struggle with fatigue and some rather nasty pain in my right knee.
I immediately began to regret my decision to stay put. I was alone, sat among the heather in the middle of nowhere. Tom and Claire’s headlamps vanished from sight, and all of a sudden I felt extremely spooked. Worse still, sitting still is not a good way to keep warm. I popped a couple of hand warmers into action, which provided all of 30 seconds of lukewarm respite, before fading into utter uselessness. I decided to walk slowly back down the path toward Tom and Claire, extremely mindful of the risk of losing my way. Visibility at this stage was still very poor so I was more than a little relieved to eventually see the headlamps making their way back toward me. Sadly however, the guys had been unable to find the GPS. This was a massive concern as it had proven to be damned near essential thus far. However, we reasoned that the path was relatively easy to follow from the point, and that it would begin to get light very soon, so we should be okay.
The flaws in this logic were rudely exposed when we obliviously stumbled upon the Blue Man I’ Th’ Moss on our left hand side, meaning we had strayed somewhat from the correct path.
Onward, through the bogs of White Moor… The nagging pain in my knee was growing more and more troublesome, exacerbated by the constant repetitive lifting of the leg over stones and heather. Those nagging doubts in my mind grew louder as time passed…
By the time we reached the road at Hamer, daylight had broken. The pain in my knee was now almost unbearable, with any upward motion of my right leg proving extremely difficult. Not ideal when facing another yomp through heather, marsh and bogs! It was time for decisive action: 2 x paracetamol, 1 x codeine and 1 x diclofenac. The results were almost instantaneous; the pain subsided and free motion was restored, partially at least.
I’d been very worried about the state of the bogs of Rosedale Moor for most of the way. The majority of the route so far had been boggy enough, which together with the flooding of Wheeldale Beck led me to the conclusion that the notorious traditional bog stretch would be absolutely hellish. As it turns out, I need not have worried as the terrain was not much worse than usual. If anything, I have fared worse over these bogs in the past.
It was somewhere along this path that we happened upon three lads who were also doing the LWW, heading towards Ravenscar. They seemed like a nice bunch so we asked them to keep their eyes peeled for Tom’s GPS along their way. I gave one of the chaps my mobile number so that he could contact us in the (extremely doubtful) event that they might find it.
Upon reaching the terra firma of the main road at the end of the bogs I actually dropped to my knees and kissed the tarmac.
The walk in the general direction of the Lion Inn at Blakey seemed to take an age. We decided to bypass the Inn and take the recently restored footpath by Flat Howe and South Flat Howe. Considering our prior rotten luck with unplanned detours it was refreshing to redress the balance and take something of a shortcut.
Onto the long and winding disused railway track path toward Bloworth Crossing; this was the first time that I have walked this path during the daytime and the views really are rather pleasant. The twisting path does grow a little tedious, but by this stage, in broad daylight and with the sun threatening to break from behind the clouds, we were in reasonably high spirits.
We took another rest stop on a bank of heather by the side of the path when a farmer passed on a quad-bike. He stopped to chat in an accent that sounded more West Country than North Yorkshire. I barely understood a word he said; a combination of my tiredness and his accent saw the exchange fly over my head. I’m quite certain, however, that he thought we were mental. A few steps further on I noticed said quad-bike was leaving a steady trail of two-stroke all along the path. Nice one mate!
Another fairly straightforward yomp, picking up with the Cleveland Way over Round Hill and Urra Moor. The heavens opened once again around this time, much to our joy. Fortunately the downpour didn’t last too long. The steep steps down to the road and then up again towards the Broughton Plantation played minor havoc with my gammy knee.
The footpath along the perimeter of the Plantation was, once again, a bloody nightmare of unrelenting deep slippery horrible mud. This was now beginning to get more than a little tiresome.
Very mindful that we were staring down the barrel of an over-20hr crossing we were keen to shave some time. We were shattered by this point and the idea of additional climbing was not particularly appealing. Tom identified an alternative path on the map which would see us avoid the ascent of Carlton Bank, instead cutting down through adjacent woodland. This “shortcut” was actually longer in distance than had we followed the Cleveland Way over the top, but avoiding the climb was of paramount importance to our sanity. We eventually reconvened with the Cleveland Way where we picked up the traditional route to Osmotherley…
With one exception… Making our way through the Coalmire Plantation we could taste the end of the ordeal. Yet somehow, we inexplicably conspired to take a path branching away from the Cleveland Way. In the darkness, we were unable to confirm our location on the map and without Tom’s trusty GPS, we found ourselves well and truly lost. For a moment, anyway… Yet another unplanned detour ensued as we made our way up a steep track in the futile hope that we were on the correct path. Sadly, we were not. We made our way back to our deviation point to recapture our bearings when we realised that we had turned from the track no more than 50 meters from a point where the correct route would have been abundantly clear. This latest and final blip was a massive kick in the teeth as we were all feeling immense strain by this point.
A final push up those agonisingly steep steps out of the woods was just about the final act of exertion I could muster, and the final walk along the roadside toward Scarth Wood Moor felt ten miles long. We were so tired upon arriving that not a single member of our group could muster the motivation to touch in with the LWW stone. We got back to the car around 7pm – some twenty two and a half hours after departing from Ravenscar!
We spent the evening in the Golden Lion in Osmotherley and enjoyed the obligatory deconstruction of the events of the previous 24 hours. Unfortunately, I grew a little green at the gills and was a little “poorly” after a mere half a pint of ale! No matter, a switch to soft drinks and a bellyful of burger, fries and sticky toffee pudding had me feeling as right as rain (no pun intended) in no time.
So that was it… Another LWW under our collective belt. It felt very strange to complete the walk without once seeing the mast at Ravenscar or the early warning station at Fylingdales – usually fairly constant views on the horizon for long stretches of the walk. Bewilderingly, I did not pick up as much as a sore toe, let alone the usual crop of savage blisters. I attribute this to the Meindl boots that kept my feet supported, comfortable and bone-dry throughout. Honorary mention must also go to the effectiveness of my (very cheap) waterproofs; both trousers and jacket were of the bargain bin pac-a-mac variety and for the most part managed to keep me dry, even in the face of the occasionally brutal weather conditions.
There is not a lot of humorous anecdote in this account; there was precious little to laugh at. The low points on this occasion far outnumbered the high. The conditions made this one of the most gruelling physical challenges of my life, and not a one that I am keen to repeat. It will be quite some time before I tackle another January LWW crossing. At least not for another 11 months or so…
I received a text message late on the Saturday evening from a lad called Joe, one of the group that we’d bumped into heading in the opposite direction on the walk. They had found Tom’s GPS! So Tom was reunited with his trusty friend the very next day, proving that all’s well that ends well. If you find yourself reading this – thanks Joe!!! ?
David Allen, January 2014