There is a Law of Unintended Consequences.. Curiosity had me looking at the Lyke Wake Walk Wiki page (the internet has a lot to answer for), I only intended to make to make a few changes but didn’t realise the consequences. Read on……………..
Date: 9th & 10th September 2014
Route: Firstly, by mistake, followed by sustained improvisation.
Victim: Ian Evans
Support: asleep at Cote Ghyll!!
Less than a month ago I had no intention of ever doing the Lyke Wake Walk again, the thought had never occurred in well over 30 years. My last crossing had been before I got married 33 years ago; domestic bliss and the antics of five children had effectively suppressed my dirging gene. That gene had once found full expression when, as a teenager in the 70’s, I would routinely hitch from the East Riding to Osmotherley, float across the heather to Ravenscar in 10 hours and then hitch home elated and none the worse for confronting ‘….the miles that grind, the heather hell…’.
Children, they’re to blame, well one in particular, my eldest son who had been going through some of my old journals, maps and walking records and noticed a pencil-drawn line snaking west to east across an old 1’’ NY Moors OS map. ‘What does LWW stand for?’ Uttering the words ‘Lyke Wake Walk’ in response sealed my doom as I lapsed into a misty-eyed funereal trance of reminiscence and my explanation of the cryptic initials received the immediate retort – ‘Dad, we could do that (notice the WE before you read on – silently my middle-aged knees were screaming – oh no you can’t!!). My long dormant dirging gene twitched and stirred. Firstly, I checked out that the Lyke Wake Walk still existed as an ‘institution’. Secondly, my plan (if not my son’s) was to act as driver/supporter for him to have the LWW experience. All my children are Yellow Bellies, i.e. Lincolnshire born, where I’ve lived as a Tyke-in-exile for 26 years and so extracting my son from his 2 dimensional world south of the Humber to experience the vertical dimension along the Cleveland Hills’ frontline should be a suitable challenge for a young man like him (so I thought!).
From the beginning of September planning progressed and events snowballed. Negotiations with the C-in-C (she who must be obeyed) resulted in the allocation of a two day pass to coincide with the September full moon, and so the first diplomatic/logistical hurdle had been negotiated. However, come the weekend before the off, my son presents with a strained calf muscle (ha!, some excuse) having now plotted the route on the two OS Explorer maps it had probably dawned on him that, by any measure, this is a fair old walk to do in a day. So what to do? In the end my dirging gene grabbed me by the throat and screamed at me ‘Go on, have a go’, and I couldn’t resist at least an attempt. Given that I’ve got some pathology awaiting an operation in one knee (a Baker Cyst for the information of those medically inclined) the limits of my ambition were that if I could negotiate the Cleveland Front line and get to the brow of Carr Rigg within 4 hours (& still be capable of forward motion!!) then I ought to be able to make Rosedale Head by which time I expected one if not both knees to have totally packed up, if not actually exploded. Then I would resort to the mobile or, in the absence of signal, a begged phone call at the Lion Inn, followed by a hasty retreat to the place (as Larkin put it) ‘… where sky & sea & Lincolnshire meet’. That was the extent of my planning & ambition.
With said eldest son now ‘wimped-out’ to the role of driver we departed HQ, paid our £1:50 to enter God’s Own County via the Humber Bridge and aimed northwards to the Lyke Wake stone. Since I’d only decided to swap places with my son a few days before the off and had had to work up to that point, preparation had been limited. Giving serious consideration of the likely prospect of one knee packing in completely I invested in some walking poles as we passed through York (visions of having to drag myself off the moors on my backside as per Joe Simpson escaping the Andes). Into the rucksack goes a first aid kit (considered useless extra weight when I was a teenager), a camera (I have not a single photograph from any of my previous crossings) and a head torch (modern substitute for candle leet). My 1971 copy of Bill Cowley’s Lyke Wake Walk book has half the pages missing so stayed at home.
As we journeyed northwards I decided that: (1) as ever, being the LWW purist, I would attempt a solo unsupported crossing as per all my previous Lyke Wake Walks (though still not expecting to get further than Rosedale); (2) I would forego taking the flat tarmac to Scarth Nick & ‘man-up’ so to speak, and haul myself up to the Trig Point to start (I always thought it part of the LWW wry sense of humour that to do a 40 mile walk you have to walk at least a mile and a half uphill to get to the start and you get no credit whatsoever for that!!) and; (3) I wanted to get some ‘new miles’ on the clock by covering some paths that I had not traversed previously, specifically follow the northern LWW route in the unlikely event that progress was made beyond White Cross.
In true Lyke Wake style I managed to get a boot full of muddy water before I even got to the Trig Point by not paying attention whilst sizing up a photo opportunity on Scarth Wood Moor. Eldest son departed towards the car park and Cote Ghyll for a night’s rest, so off I went wondering where & when I’d meet up with him again. I took a variant by ascending Carlton Moor through Snotterdale, shades of original Lyke Wake conditions with no visible path plus deep bracken and heather on soft peaty ground. A red kite appeared overhead – wasn’t expecting to be harassed by carrion eaters at this early stage; not a good omen. Came across a farmer on the edge of Holey Moor who did not seem to be making any progress either easterly or westerly and I assumed any attempt he was making on the LWW had ground to a halt. Met an athletic looking teenager wearing running shorts & trainers on Cringle Moor and concluded he wasn’t taking the whole business seriously, at least not as seriously as my knee which was now starting to get an inkling that something was going on. Passed a lady on Hasty Bank using photography as an excuse to avoid putting one foot in front of the other, and reached Hagg Gate in 3 ½ hours. In the good old days I would have died of shame at any time over 3 hours for this first section but I had indulged myself with frequent stops for photography (well that’s my excuse!).
Made the brow of Carr Rigg just as it got dark, under 4 hours so within my self-imposed deadline, therefore I had no choice but continue. The rising full moon was dead ahead, so managed to progress without the head torch. Just past the pile of lime came a route decision either head over South Flat Howe to Margery Bradley or continue to Blakey where I might just make the bar before it closed. Thirst won & I decided the extra miles were worth the chance to slake my thirst. Must have looked quite a sight as I entered the Lion Inn but the barman never flinched & got me my tea and pint of lemonade, swiftly consumed and it was back into the night bang on 11 o’clock. Half an hour of tarmac & heather saw me standing next to Fat Betty. Decision time. I couldn’t really quit, surprisingly my knee wasn’t giving me any grief at all, the full moon lit up the moors magically and there was a gentle cooling breeze from the east; perfect conditions.
Decided on the ‘new miles’ option and followed the Coast to Coast past Trough House shooting lodge and progressed eastwards until track verged northwards then struck across country towards the north side of Wheeldale Gill (as described in LWW 12th edition), quite rough going, and emerged on tarmac at Glaisdale Head to proceed southwards until reaching the Pike Hill turning and it was straight eastwards from there. Just south of this at Wintergill, in the heather to the west of the road I heard muffled voices and came across a group milling around with lights flicking on & off. Suspicions aroused I decided it was time to put on my head torch to advertise my presence. What had I happened on? A full moon conclave of boggarts & hobs planning their next month’s mischief? A coven practising incantations & other entertainments for the next Wake? Perhaps simply a group of dirgers lost, bewildered and in a delusional hypothermic trance? I suppose a further much more far-fetched explanation would be a group of poachers lamping? Since there were clearly more of them than me & no mobile signal at this location, I did not investigate further.
Anyhow onwards & eastwards toward the shooting box near Three Howes which I never found but eventually I emerged on to the Stape road. I declined heading north for the Struntry Carr option and instead continued eastwards to intersect the Randy Mere track which I found and then promptly lost just before the descent into the wooded & very boggy area south of Randy Mere; an extended period of knee deep bog trotting ensued before surfacing at the end of the driveway to Thackside. I had been cogitating on the wisdom of taking a track through a farmyard at 4am on a path I’d never taken before with the risk of disturbing honest hard-working farming folk and, doubtless, also their dogs when I noticed that there was a notice indicating a footpath diversion was in place. Deciding not to run the gauntlet of farmer (+/- shotgun)/dogs/livestock in the dark on an undefined path, I headed for Goathland Church and then tackled the slope up to Sil Howe quarries as dawn started to colour the eastern skyline. By way of a rest, I spent a fair bit of time over the next two hours taking dawn light photos. Onwards through the May Beck valley, over the rigg and into Biller Howe Dale following it down eventually to Jugger Howe ravine. taking the path via Cook House farm to eventually join the Classic Route less than a mile west of Beacon Howe and then passed a couple who were the first people I’d come across since the barman at the Lion Inn (excluding the spectres at Pike Hill). Onwards towards Ravenscar and met up with eldest son, glad on this occasion not to be hitching home!!
Time start to finish: 19 hours (16 hours walking). Total distance covered (according to Google Earth): 51.1 miles – my longest walk since Lyke Wake Double crossings as a teenager nearly forty years ago!!
So what did I learn from this revival of the LWW experience? Well, the Lyke Wake Walk is still there, still worth the effort and still a splendid way for a Yorkshireman to express himself. The rocky & dry bits are as rocky and hard and dry as they ever were. The boggy bits still as soft, smelly and as boggy. The crosses are still crossed and the standing stones still standing. The ironstone rail track is still as cindery and the moors still as heathery as ever. 21st Century beck water tastes like 20th Century beck water. All in all the Lyke Wake Walk is still the best way of having a good time & a bad time at the same time in the North Riding countryside.
TECHNICAL APPENDIX: Match Result, Statistical Analysis & Medical Report
Final Score: Lyke Wake Walk 1, Ian 1 (score draw, rematch anticipated, date yet to be determined)
No. of Blisters: (Surprisingly) Zero – (thank goodness for loop-stitch socks)
Explosive ordnance detection on military/former military estate; None on this occasion (previous record; 2 mortar bombs, location near Bloody Beck, 1973 W-E LWW crossing)
Deepest Bog: Location – Randy Mere; Characteristics – sphagnum moss, cotton grass & sulphurous odour; Penetration: 2 inches above right knee; Modus Operandi – on descent, crossing wire mesh fence in middle of CROW area bog.
Medical Consequences: Since finishing the LWW the cyst in my left knee has felt better than it has in two years, so much so that I’m wondering if the surgery is going to be necessary!! Perhaps I should submit an article to the Lancet and/or the New England Journal of Medicine on the use of the Lyke Wake Walk (Northern Route) as a therapy for left knee Baker Cysts?
POSTSCRIPT – On return to Base, Commander-in-Chief severely unimpressed with dilapidated state of car, clothes and husband.