In the midst of writing up my PhD thesis, I decided last week that things were all getting a bit heavy and I needed to clear to my mind. Having long desired to join the Lyke Wake club I set off to Osmotherley via Northallerton, and stayed in the Osmotherley YHA on Monday night.
I wasn’t particularly well prepared for the hike and was carrying far too much weight, including books, tent, sleeping bag and various extraneous items. But I was determined nevertheless to get through it, and had the very good guide book (purchased at Stanfords map shop in London) written by Brian Smailes to help me on my way. I carried 2litres of water and a very large number of chocolate bars.
I left the cairn at Osmotherley at 7.03AM. It was a rainless morning and the sun was rising, emitting a pink glow that reflected off the Cod Beck Reservoir and lent an ethereal quality to the moors. Feeling a little bit drowsy, I plodded for the first few miles through Coalmire Plantation and Live Moor. An early-rising dog-walker confirmed that I was on the right track, and I reached Lord Stones cafe without a hitch. Continuing through to the bleakness of Cringle Moor, there was a slight drizzle which served to wake me up a bit, and I reached the second checkpoint at the Clay Bank Road just before 11AM. It being 10miles into the hike, I set down the backpack and ate a couple of chocolate bars, resolving to increase my pace for the next stage.
This section took me on the long traverse of Urra Moor, which was misty and extremely bleak. I passed a few other hikers walking there and revelled in the general misery of the drizzle and wind. The old railway section after Bloworth Crossing offered a fascinating panorama of the winding moors from an elevated embankment, and as I walked East a Northerly wind was blowing into my right ear hole. I arrived at the Lion Inn before 3PM, and after poking my head through the door it looked extremely warm and pleasant. But with supreme self-restraint I reasoned that I ought to make haste and hurried off up the road before I could be drawn into its homely interior. Instead I walked up the road to the Ralph Cross and had a few more chocolate bars at the roadside. A couple of Dutch hikers walked past and I got into an interesting conversation with them about the EU Referendum and the political situation in Holland. We passed a dead adder lying beside the road, and not far from this deceased snake we parted ways at the peat bog turn-off, which was marked with a painted white arrow and ‘LWW’ on the tarmacadam.
The route over the peat bogs of Glaisdale Moor was my favourite part of the whole walk. Rejuvenated by my chocolate and political discussion, I fairly bounded over the bogs, occasionally sinking in but never deeper than my knees. This is real hiking, it requires a bit of agility and thought about your foot placement and I emerged from this section of the walk feeling very cheerful, albeit stained with stinky black peat. The late afternoon sun was warm for a short time so I changed my socks, took a drink and set about one or two more chocolate bars. After reaching the fourth checkpoint at Hamer, I turned left at the signpost and walked up the road until I found a narrow muddy trail that lead East across Wheeldale Moor. It is true, as my guidebook warned it would be, that this section felt a bit longer than it really is. Having done over 25 miles, I was rushing to try and reach the next checkpoint before the sun set, but the legs were a bit heavy now. I lost the path occasionally on my descent towards the Wheeldale Road, but could see the RAF base up on the hill in the distance. The crossing of Wheeldale Moor followed by the ascent of Simon Howe seemed to take a long time, and I was conscious that the sun was falling fast behind me. When I finally reached the Eller Beck Bridge the sun had fallen below the undulating horizon and I knew I had my most difficult sections of the walk ahead of me.
I was a bit delayed at this point because I arrived at the Southern end of Eller Beck Bridge. On my side of the bridge there was a gated footpath leading through the MOD Fylingdales estate, but my guide book instructed me to cross the bridge and look for a small path on the right, which made me suspect it was on the Northern end of the bridge. After a bit of twilit searching, I concluded that I should just head East through the military-owned area. After about a mile of this, at 7.30PM, the light dwindled to the point where I had to get my lamp out. The lamp was a bit dim, the path before me was muddy and I may have taken a wrong turning here or there. I trusted my compass and continued to head East until I ran into a sign warning me about non-ionizing radiation. I thought it best not to go past this sign but instead veered away from it in a more North-Easterly direction and crossed some fairly thick heath before hitting a well-maintained gravel track. I followed this for half an hour until, to my delight, I reached the crossing with another grave track shown in the guide book. It was pitch black by now and I couldn’t see a clear path heading East, so left the track and headed up the hill through more heath. The summit of the hillside stood against the horizon more darkly than the sky, so I got to the top without a path and was pleased to see Lilla Cross loom out of the darkness. Feeling rather bullish about my prospects of completing the Lyke Wake challenge now, I shuffled off slowly across Fylingdales Moor. This stretch seemed to last for an age, and the lights of traffic on the Scarborough-Whitby road winked at me tauntingly in the distance. I lost the path more than once, but always chose to maintain a course due East until by some miracle I found the path that crossed the ravine at Jugger Howe. There followed an annoyingly long ascent and traipse along a concrete path before I finally reached the main road a short time before midnight.
By this point I was in a bit of pain, as the soggy ground had caused the soles of my feet to wrinkle and blister painfully. I was also a little dehydrated as I’d run out of water a few hours previously, and low on energy as there seemed to be no more chocolate in my bag. I suspected that I was probably a long way from the final checkpoint at Jugger Howes and couldn’t identify my location on the map. Coming across a signpost for a campsite at Spring Hill farm, I decided to make for that. I found a water tap in the darkness at Spring Hill, and what seemed like good flat grass. I couldn’t see Spring Hill on my OS map, and concluded that I may not make the finish in under 24hrs after all. Exhausted and disorientated, I pitched up my tent there with some resignation and went to sleep on the hard ground, which felt like a feather bed. As an afterthought, I set my alarm for 5AM on the off chance that I woke up with a better idea for how to find the finishing point.
Waking up reluctantly and in pain, but somewhat refreshed and rehydrated, I looked at my map again. There was still no sign of Spring Hill, but when I turned the map over, there it was, just a little further North! I immediately packed up my tent and hurried off towards the main road. While packing, I found some treasure – one last Mars Bar in the bottom of my rucksack, which I inhaled. It was after 6AM by now, and I had less than an hour to reach the final Lyke Wake cairn! This was not so easy in the dark with zero knowledge of the area. Heading back to the main road, I followed it South before turning down a small non-signposted road on my left, which lead due East. ‘What the hell’ I thought, and broke into a run. At the end of this road there was a signpost, pointing towards Ravenscar! I set off running across a field in the direction it indicated, and as the morning lightened I could just make out the pointy mast of Beacon Howes on the brow of a hill ahead! I quickened my pace – there was about 40 minutes until my time was up and I didn’t want to take any chances. As I ran full pelt up the hill, the sun broke over the Eastern horizon and glowed red at me. I didn’t slow down until the mast loomed over me and I finally saw the cairn beside it with the words ‘Lyke Wake Walk’ on it. I had arrived just 25 minutes before the 24 hour deadline. My mission complete, I collapsed in a sweaty heap on the grass to watch the silent sun rise crimson over the sleepy cliffs of Yorkshire.
Full Breakdown of checkpoint timings (checkpoints taken from the official Lyke Wake Walk Guide by Brian Smailes):
Checkpoint 1: 9.25
Checkpoint 2: 10.55
Checkpoint 3: 14.10
Checkpoint 4: 15.55
Checkpoint 5: 18.50
Checkpoint 6: 23.49
Time taken: 23hrs 35minutes