Lyke Wake Walk – Crossing Report
28th June 2015
Walkers – Martin Barfield, Robert Hooks
Sponsored, on behalf of MAG International
It had been on my mind to do something for charity this year, and as I like to have a decent level of challenge when asking people for money, I was looking for something a little on the tough side.
It had long been a dream of mine to take on the Lyke Wake Walk, my wife informs me i’ve been mentioning it on and off for about a decade! So the plan formed to do the Lyke Wake to raise money for the charity I support, the Mines Advisory Group.
Several months of planning and training followed. First, I coerced an old mate, Bob, into joining me. Although five years my junior, me and Bob as teenagers were like brothers, and anything we did together always became an adventure, and frequently a disaster! No longer teenagers – im coming up on my fortieth next year! – we began training to get into some sort of acceptable shape. Bob has always been far fitter than me, so he helped me along, even getting me out running for the first time in 20 years, albeit at a fairly steady jog, and we got out on 10-15mile hikes, culminating in taking on the Yorkshire Three Peaks twice in the space of nine days, and only nearly dying on the second in abysmal weather.
Bob works with vulnerable adults and on security, whilst im in broadcasting, but we have both been radio hams since our teens. So, we decided to add a little more to the challenge – and try and make radio contacts as we went. Initially we planned using a shortwave radio for this, and borrowed an ex-army man-pack radio. We started taking this up the Pennines for practice, whilst I also persuaded the government regulator Ofcom to issue us with a Special Event License. This was tricky, as one of the rules clearly states that any such station must be in one place, no mobile operation is allowed! After a lot of negotiation, and assuring them we could meet some very stringent rules, they let us have a license for just one day, and a special radio callsign of GB0MAG. By this time however, we had realised that if we attempted to do the walk with the manpack radio, we’d probably be dead by the time we got to Fat Betty!
Back to the drawing board for the radio, but in the meantime our fundraising took a good turn, when my employer, Arqiva, granted me a voucher to auction on ebay, allowing two people to take a trip up the famous Emley Moor TV Tower. I also arranged a trip up the tower for myself (Its where I work) and Bob, and a young lady called Hanna – our co-ordinator from MAG, to take some promotional photos of us in our charity T-shirts. The tower trip auction raised around £250.
By now we had revised the radio plan to a small VHF hand-held radio and a back-pack mounted antenna, arranged all the kit we thought we’d need, worked out how much water we had to carry, and pestered everybody we knew, and many we didnt, for sponsorship. I had posters all over the offices, Bob blocked the door on one of the clubs he does security for and wouldnt let anyone in until they had signed a sponsor form!
It was always our intention to be unsupported – mostly since we had no one free to provide support! So we knew our packs would be heavy. But we also appreciated that much of the weight was water and food, and so they would get lighter as we went further. We’d studied the route elevation profile in detail against that of the three peaks we’d already conquered. Alright so it was 15 mile longer, but it looked much more gentle – how wrong were we to be!
And so, the day finally arrived. Bob arrived at my place around 13:00 on saturday 27th June, so we had time to finalise who was carrying what kit, check the maps etc, and refresh ourselves on our ‘actions-on’ – neither of us are in peak condition, Bob has a heart condition and a bad knee, whilst I have bad knees and shoulders. Between us we just about have a complete working body. At about five in the afternoon we set off for the convoy drive to Ravenscar. When we arrived and parked up, it was glorious sunshine and the sea was shimmering below us. We decided we would finish at the sea and go to sleep on the beach! At this stage we hadnt any idea that this was not to be.
Leaving Bobs car at Ravenscar (a decision based on Bobs comment – “Im not trusting you to drive us back with your knees”) we took ourselves over to Osmotherly in mine, stopping first in the village to partake of fish and chips and a non-alcoholic beverage in the Golden Lion. Nicely full, we drove up to the car park at the reservoir, and started getting ourselves prepared. It seems the car park is quite popular ‘after hours’ and we started to get a little concerned over the wisdom of leaving the car there overnight, it seems its used a lot by the local youth for the sorts of things local youths like to do away from other people! Soon we had our feet prepared with ample quantities of Compeed blister plasters and sports tape, and the contents of a flask of coffee in us.
It had been our intention to start walking at 01:00 on sunday morning, but by 11pm we were ready, and being eaten alive by midges. We took the decision that despite both of us having been awake since around 07:00, we would forgo the chance for a couple of hours kip and crack on. So we made sure everything was out of sight in the car, locked up, and heaved our shockingly heavy packs up onto our backs. Firing up head-torches and the GPS, we strode out for the first leg into the woods.
Somehow, we actually failed to see the marker stone at the start, so took our first photos at the next one we found in the woods. At this stage all was very pleasant and reasonably easy going, although the sky was overcast making the woodland paths very dark. As things began to get a little more strenuous, we were glad of the darkness – It meant we couldnt see what we were in for! Soon we were out in the open, the last glow of the setting sun behind us, the twinkling lights of civilisation, or at least Teeside, away to our left, and a gibbous reddish moon high off to our right, as we found ourselves taking on the first of the steep inclines towards the summits.
Before we knew it, we were up and over the two summits of Drake Howe and Round Hill, Heading for Bloworth Crossing and the easy path of the Farndale railway, having passed several examples of late night moorland activity -notably poaching and courting! The sky black behind and above us, with just a bare handful of bright stars visible through the high cloud, but the glow of dawn before us. We were feeling good, our feet were in a reasonable state for the distance covered, and anyway we were close to our first official stop and sock change!. This was meant to have been at ten miles in, but we decided to drive on to 15, and see how we felt then.
By the time we hit the railway trackbed, it was around four in the morning and broad daylight. We’d decided in advance to take the newly re-opened section of path to Flat Howe in order not only to cut a bit of distance off, but also to remove any temptation to visit the Lion Inn, which having walked this section a few weeks before to see how the new path was, I knew would be a fatal move to enter. All of which was now rather academic since at the time we would be passing the pub wouldnt be open yet! I set the GPS to find the start of the path, and we eased our way down the railway path.
It was here that we started to experience what would become a constant feature of this walk – the time dilation! It seemed that no matter how long we were on this path, the turning never got any closer! We would go around several bends in the path, and a glance at the GPS still showed the same distance to go! But, by now the landscape was awakening. We contented ourselves with discussions about the livestock and wildlife, the history and technology of the railways and musings on what it must have been like to work the ancient industries up on these moors. And soon the start of the ‘detour’ was upon us, and we struck out east, and into the first of the bogs.
Despite his sudden horror at finding himself crossing boggy ground at this stage, I assured Bob that it only lasted a few hundred meters and then the path became easier. He wasnt at all convinced, but soon we were sliding past white tipped boundary stones and heading for our first rest stop.
Reaching the road and the standing stone at Flat Howe, we stopped to check and repair our feet, which by now were giving vague hints at being a little weary, such as the balls of the feet stinging and the toes aching, and to have breakfast. Feet first. Reasonably good condition, i’d had a blister plaster slip and so had a nasty sore spot on one heel, soon treated, but otherwise just swelling a bit from sweat. Fresh socks and they felt lovely again. Breakfast consisted of the contents of our ‘growler bags’ – pork pies, scotch eggs and a pastie. It was at this point that our appetites utterly deserted us, and we dolefully forced down what we could. We began to realise we might have slightly overdone it on the catering front – as well as the growler bags, we had enough food to feed a small army – ironic as our food was army issue ration packs! It was at this point that reference to Bobs iPhone, which was running a fitness app tracking our progress, made a dent in our morale. We thought this was midway – the app told us we’d done only 17miles.
Refreshed and fed, we struck out again, only managing to go a few yards down the wrong path before correcting our error, and heading for Rosedale Head and Fat Betty. Here was to be our next photo opportunity, as my neighbour Mick had insisted we must visit this cross. As we walked, Bob spotted a small blue van in the distance with an antenna on the roof, also heading towards the cross. We had jokingly put on our various webpages about the radio side of things that should anyone wish to see us, they could do so at the various road crossings – if they brought hot drinks! As we closed in, we found ourselves met by the smiling presence of Graham, a fellow radio ham, and at 80 years old a veteran of the Lyke Wake Walk (28 crossings, fastest East to West 14h). From his little campervan he served us up hot sweet tea, and provided a very unexpected but welcome boost to our morale. It was around seven in the morning, and he’d driven from Scarborough to meet us. We hadnt even set up the radio yet, that was planned for 08:00. We were so amazed that this spritely old chap had taken such trouble to come and see us. We got our photos, gave our thanks to Graham with many firm handshakes, during which he even generously slipped us a tenner for our charity, and set off again on the metalled road section, stopping to use one of our back-up radios to provide Graham with the radio contact he’d come for, our first of the day, and as it would turn out later – the only one!
A little before the turn back onto the moorland path and the expected bog around West Gill Head, we stopped and rigged up the radio. The backpack antenna, mounted on a thin fibreglass mast, sticking high above my pack. We started making our first calls on the radio, but it was still very early and we didnt expect much response at that time. We began to find ourselves picking our way across the bogs, jumping from tuft to tuft, stone to stone, and frequently stopping to survey the ground and decide on the best course, avoiding the frogs. Luckily, the recent weather had been quite dry, and although there were many deep and oozing sections of stinking bog, these rarely managed to creep above the ankles. We both decided that our decision to use gaiters that day was a wise move. But on the whole, the path over the peat was springy, like walking on a trampoline, and kind to the feet. We headed on for Shunner Howe.
Our morale had been dented at 17 miles, now, at about 22 miles, general fatigue started to turn to pain. Having passed the bogs, we found ourselves heading to the Blue Man i’ th’ Moss, and yet another time dilation. With the woods off to our left, and the occasional glimpse of the PAVE-PAWs building at RAF Fylingdales a shimmering pyramid on the horizon, we found that the woods seemed never to move, and the path just seemed to go on forever. We renewed our efforts with the radio to no avail. We realised that despite being the highest points on the hills, we were surrounded by more hills that cut us off from anyone else with a radio! We couldnt even reach any of the various automatic repeater stations located in the surrounding towns, and our cheap ‘radio on a chip’ type back up radios were rendered useless by the pulses emanating from the still distant radar station. I had also convinced myself that we had to cross the North Yorks Moors Railway line somewhere soon, and was dismayed that I couldnt see it.
We slogged on. Feet now hurting. Shoulders aching. Backs aching. Our usual banter and ready wit, much of it harshly derogatory about each other, had long since deserted us, our minds, mine at any rate, filled instead with the phenomena of the ‘crap tune’ – in my case the 1980s blockbuster classic ‘Pump Up The Jam’ which played annoyingly in my head on an endless loop. Conversation between us was limited to comments of the ‘Can you see…’ or ‘where the heck is’ type, along with ‘mind that…’ and ‘I hate this..’ (insert expletive and terrain type). The path now turned to uneven and jagged rocks. At this point, we decided to abandon the radio operation, mostly because the antenna snapped! Perhaps it was damaged by catching the low hanging branches during the night. We attempted to repair it, but the result was at serious risk of having one of Bobs eyes out! I told him to rip the thing off my pack, and we packed the radio away. The damaged antenna stashed under the heather and a GPS fix taken for later retrieval.
We had long ago discovered that, for us, there is a holy trinity of walking aids – Compeed plasters, Trekking poles, and rehydration powders. We were both silently thanking the manufacturers of these by now, but the paths were so narrow and the heather so thick that the poles made little purchase and failed to give us the forward push we needed from them. And the moor went on, and on…
After what seemed a lifetime, we saw a road. There were three cyclists stopped at a gate – other people! But they had gone by the time we got there. We pushed on toward where the GPS told us the Roman Road was. By the time we hit it, a location that in ordinary circumstances would have led to much interesting discussion on the Romans and their engineering skills, the simple comment of ‘Roman road that’ followed by a lone ‘Yep’, and we were over it and staring in disbelief at the drop into Wheeldale Beck and the stepping stones. It was here that our relative fitness levels began to show their difference. I find the steep sections hard going. Bob, being much fitter than me, doesnt find them quite so hard, which means he frequently stops for me to catch up, which of course means he gets a bit of a rest! Taking the steps up the other side a few at a time, I found that even though my muscles were still willing, and my body thrilling with energy from the Dextrose tablets I was eating, I simply couldnt take in the oxygen fast enough! I was also by this time eating Ibuprofen like sweets. It was something of a let down to reach the top and realise that the next section to Simon Howe was also uphill!
It was here, on the path across Howl Moor, that we met our first and only fellow traveller on these paths, a young fell runner coming the other way. He stopped for a minute or two for a chat with us, where we learnt that he is doing the Lyke Wake in a few weeks time, but was only running as far as Blakey today. We traded a few horror stories. But the best thing he said was his opening comment to us – ‘Ive just passed your support driver!’, so, Graham had kept his promise to meet us on the Fylingdales road! This was a terrific boost to our flagging spirits and we resolved to really put a spurt on to reach him. We realised as well, that whether we pushed ourselves to go as fast as possible, or slogged along slowly, we would be in agony either way. It might hurt more to go fast – but it would hurt for less time. And for the first time in this walk, we managed to crack sub-20minute miles.
But it took its toll. By the time we finally reached the railway, we were seriously flagging. The short section from the railway track to the road left me about 50yd behind Bob, but there was the wonderful sight of Grahams little blue van! And despite being somewhat behind, I had my first laugh for some time when I saw Graham point up the road to the carpark, where there was a vehicle with a red stripe, and heard him say ‘theres an ice cream van, and a mountain rescue team – which do you want?’, at that point, my feeling was either or!
With another very welcome mug of steaming tea in hand, we took the time to rest and change socks again. To my amazement, much of the trouble with my feet was still just swelling from the sweat. However, actually bending legs to change socks was a slow and arduous process! Several times progress stopped to allow cramp to pass. We filled the time chatting with Graham about walking, radio and heart conditions. Once again we thanked him profusely with a round of handshakes, and set off pleased to have met with such a fine fellow. We had around ten miles to go. More behind us than left in front, and with the ominous obelisk of RAF Fylingdales to our right, we set off for Eller Beck.
We took the opportunity here to sling another load of painkillers down our necks – by this time I was mixing Ibuprofen and Naproxen! Bob had never tried Naproxen, which are stronger than Ibuprofen, and asked for one just as I put the last two in my mouth. A dozen attempts to swallow them later and I spat one at Bob, who chucked it in his gob and took it! We began to pick our weary and pained way across the becks and bogs around Eller Beck, on our slow way towards Lilla Cross, taking to the RAFs access track as soon as we could, although this was little comfort, we both know from experience that only the MoD can build a road alongside its land that is longer than the land its alongside! We had at least managed throughout though to keep our bodies reasonably well hydrated, which was evident by the number of brief stops made to relieve ourselves – if not always entirely ‘successfully’ from a logistical viewpoint! Fingers by this time being somewhat swollen and zips not too easy to handle!
Here we found a return of the moors time dilation phenomena, as Burn Howe Duck Pond spent what seemed like several hours hovering at the top of the GPS screen, never coming any closer. We marched on in trepidation – we knew what was coming next, although when it finally came, we saw to our horror that it was worse than imagined! The nice stone steps of Jugger Howe coming into view was like staring into the abyss! Much of our earlier training had been done on Kinder Scout, and Bobs plaintive cry of ‘Bloody Jacobs Ladder again!’ revealed the true nature of what faced us. We took a deep breath and push on in, down, down down the hard unforgiving steps, each one a searing reminder of the state of our feet and knees. I slowed and Bob edged ahead of me. On the ascent of the other side, I stopped caring where Bob was and avoided looking up. My mind set firmly on trying to bring my stratospheric heart rate down and to take in the oxygen my muscles were screaming for. A handful of steps at a time. It hurt. A lot. But, I found myself once again beside Bob, panting and sucking almost deliriously at my hydration pack! Once the dizzy spells had passed, we looked forward. At last the radio mast was on the horizon, the end in sight. The path merging with the old military road, we were able to speed up a little. We looked around us, we could see Scarborough castle way off in the distance, and the steady blue of the sea.
On reaching the old road, we stopped for a brief moment to finish off what was left of our Lucozade and easy to hand water. We’d both consumed somewhere in the region of 4 1/2 litres of fluids since starting out.We were, in forces parlance – ‘chinstrapped’. Every step a living nightmare. And now, we had the opportunity to get squeshed by the traffic on the A171!
We had around two and a half miles to go! We have an unwritten understanding between Bob and myself, that once in sight of the end, and if in no further need of navigation aid, we allow our fitness differences to take us at our own paces to the end. Bob began to pull away as we both entered our own private hells. I cannot vouch for Bobs mindset at this point, but I suspect it was similar to mine. Over the next mile or so, I tried to occupy my mind with thoughts of anything but the walk – I pondered the flora, the geology, ran through a few plans for other things in my head, thought of home, wife and kids, even a few more risque thoughts, all to avoid any consideration of the pain and the remaining distance. By a mile and a half left, or thereabouts, i’d stopped caring long since, I’d exhausted these thought processes, and even karate style ‘Kiai’ shouts failed to inspire any further. I was now in the ‘ten/ten’ realm – ten steps forward, ten seconds rest! Bob was now out of sight. As the base of the mast came into view, I struck a final level of resolve, staring straight at it, I allowed a certain level of anger to well up inside at the fact that the end point of this torture was owned by the company I work for! I rammed my trekking poles into the ground, gritted my teeth and went forward like i was possessed, my only desire to reach that final stone!
And then, I was there. And so was Bob.
I fell against what I have to say is rather an understated marker stone considering what it represents! Bob gave me my time – 17 hours and ten minutes! Bob had made it 12minutes earlier than me.
And, in the words of our now standard finishing comment on our walks – ‘we didnt die, again’
Of course, the ‘official’ walk was done, but it wasnt over! We had a mile or so, admittedly downhill, back to the car. We went at our own paces, trudging pitifully along, until finally, overlooking the sea, we sat by the car, took off our boots and let our stinging feet rest in the grass. Bob befriended a small black and white cat, which he fed some army tuna to from a ration pack. We slowly changed to soft fresh socks, and crept around the car to stash the packs in the boot. The realisation that Bobs sat-nav was safely in my glove box back at Osmotherley was of little consequence, keeping Bob awake for the drive back was more pressing. We headed back off for the start, an hour and a halfs drive away.
The drive back to Osmotherley was dominated by the constant view of the hills, and the dawning appreciation that we had just walked the entire length of them. Conversation was stilted, we were both shattered, aching and in various degrees of pain. Arriving back at the Cod Beck reservoir car park, we were relieved to see my car was still there, and still had all its wheels and windows. Lots of normal everyday people were milling about. And we had our first proper laughs of the day, as we slowly and painfully tried to haul our seized, creaking bodies between the two cars, moving kit and swapping things back to which of us they belonged to. Even the act of making a brew was an effort, with Bob frantically trying to light the burner before noticing he’d not put the gas can on. Being laughed at by the people around us just helped us feel happier about the state we were in. We enjoyed a coffee, compared feet, and congratulated ourselves. Then, with the mutual agreement that what we really wanted now was a hot bath and a soft bed, we went our separate ways for the long drive home.
Once home, I checked the charity donation page, and added Grahams tenner, pleased to see that online we had hit our £500 target. My company will donate a matching amount, plus there are the paper sponsor forms, which we think on Bobs side amount to £250-300, and the money from the tower trip auction. In total we have probably raised near £2000. And I think we earned every penny!
The final damage assessment is several webbing sores on hips and shoulders, toes still numb a day later, and a small handful of big, burst blisters. On reaching the marker stone at the end we made a resounding resolution of ‘Never Again’, now, two days later, we find ourselves pondering the reverse route. We must be bloody mad!.