(Members are from Lincolnshire, Notts and Canada)
I have pleasure in reporting to you a successful West to East Winter Crossing, starting from Cod Beck, Osmotherley at 3:20am on 18th February 2017 and finishing at the final stone at 8:58pm, a total time of 17 hours and 38 minutes of which 14 hours and 20 minutes were walking time.
The weather was forecast to be mild for the day of the walk, around 8-9C, with a west to east tailwind of about 10mph. We arrived at the Cote Ghyll Mill Hostel at around 6pm on Friday and went to the Golden Lion for a quick bite to eat and a couple of pints. This is an excellent hostelry and well known to some of the members of the group who had stayed there on the Coast To Coast walk previously. Having refreshed ourselves, we left in good time to get some sleep ready for the proposed breakfast of instant porridge at 2:30am the following morning.
Having tossed and turned for most of this precious time, we met in the kitchen, reluctantly downed the glutinous horrid excuse for porridge and girded our loins for the challenge ahead. We drove up to Cod Beck Reservoir and parked the car, fully expecting to never see it again as we were leaving it there over the whole of the day and the next night in this exposed and lonely spot.
Torches on, we left the reservoir at 03:20 to begin our journey into pain and misery. The walk across Coalmire Plantation and Live Moor went smoothly, conditions were good but it was very misty. The week before had been quite wet and there were still deep puddles and muddy sections which did not bode well for the bogs yet to be traversed. Lord Stones Café was reached without incident and we enjoyed the ups and downs of the Cleveland Hills and the scramble through the Wain Stones until we reached the Clay Bank Road and our first rendezvous with our support crew who luckily is a qualified psychiatric nurse. Suitably counselled and fortified with bacon butties and lashings of hot tea, we continued across Urra Moor, making good time on the old railway section after Bloworth Crossing and reached our second checkpoint, the Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge in good spirits.
Here, we stopped rather longer than we first anticipated as I believed we were early (in fact we were around half an hour late) and thus were tempted to drink coffee and relax by the fire. When the support crew (my wife) announced we were significantly off-schedule, thoughts of missing the kitchen at the pub we were going to be staying in that night spurred us on to leave the sanctuary of the Lion and strike out eastwards again into the thickening fog. A visit to Fat Betty ensued after negotiating a small boggy section of path, we left various offerings of food and a tasty Army ration pack for good luck and pressed on.
At the peat bog turn-off, we discovered that all that we had read was in fact true. Boots became wet and muddy, and the effort of hopping from one (possibly) dry hummock to another caused the first injury of the day when one of our group sprained his knee, having thence to adopt a new style of walking which involved putting the good leg forward, then swinging the bad leg around in an arc to make forward progress. This was in fact the way he proceeded for the next twenty miles, top fellow that he is.
After slogging across Rosedale Moor, we reached our next checkpoint at Hamer Bank hoping that Wheeldale Moor would be slightly drier, alas this was not the case and the second injury occurred when the only Witch amongst us found that a significant portion of the skin on her heel had become detached. Fearing the worst should she take her boot off to examine said injury i.e. not being able to put it back on again, she elected to ignore it and soldier on. Top effort.
Fortunately it was not long after this that we discovered the lyke of a weasel, artistically propped up on a small cairn, looking wistfully to the west out of it’s pecked-out eyes. The bedraggled state of this poor animal struck a chord with how we were all beginning to feel, but at the same time reminded us that we still had life left in us….
Our next checkpoint at the Wheeldale Road was reached and refreshments consumed, we headed off once more into the next bog, otherwise known as Goathland Moor. Splashing and grunting our way through this we had to divert around several fires that had seemingly been set specially to fill our lungs with acrid smoke. We ascended Simon Howe and eventually reached Eller Beck Bridge and our next checkpoint in fairly poor condition, with injuries and fatigue beginning to take their toll on most of the group.
By the time we reached Lilla Cross it was becoming dark again, and by the beginning of the MOD land section it was time to get our torches out. Off across Fylingdales Moor, the going did not get any easier and one member of our group christened the walk with a new name that I, for the purposes of decency cannot repeat in writing. We lost the path despite having an accurate GPS and were saved from splashing around in ever decreasing circles by one of our group who is a serving senior NCO serviceman spotting a path marker which was less than ten metres away from said ever decreasing circles. Actually, two out of five of our members are serving servicemen, but one is an officer and apparently you should never give a map to an officer.
Reaching the ravine at Jugger Howe, we discovered the true meaning of torture as we descended on aching legs, injured knees and detached heels. Much mumbling and cursing ensued, and I observed members of the group beginning to counsel themselves with useful advice such as “Never again” and “Go on, you can do it, yes, you CAN do it”. The main road was our final checkpoint and our ever faithful and by this time utterly revered and saint-like support crew gave us some final and much-appreciated encouragement (we were too tired to partake of refreshments) and we started on the final push for the end stone.
Some difficulty was encountered once more, as the ground was still very boggy in places and I found that if I stopped for more than ten seconds that my left leg turned to rubber and refused to support me. This was probably caused by me having to give the officer my walking poles some fifteen miles earlier to support his injured knee but in the spirit of reaching the end as a team it was a gift gladly given. However, at this stage I began to regret my generosity and found myself starting to think that I should have left him with the weasel on Wheeldale Moor.
So, limping and cursing onwards for the last few hundred yards, at last, we came upon the final stone and huddled around it for the customary photographs. It was, the end. And now we are a Witch and four Dirgers (and an honorary Witch for the saintly support crew!). We thank Mr. Cowley for his devilish creativity in dreaming up this instrument of torture, I am sure I heard a ghostly cackle of laughter in the ravine at Jugger Howe, or was it a grouse? It matters not. We did it, and now we are proud!