Lyke Wake Walk report

Departure: Osmotherley, Saturday 8th March, 1400
Arrival: Ravenscar, Sunday 9th March, 0943

Charlie Coupland, Ross Cullen, Tommy Williams (Unsupported)

After coming across the Lyke Wake Walk in a magazine, I suggested the 24-hour, 60km+ high moorland crossing to Charlie and Tommy. And that was that. We could think of nothing better for a March weekend than to get out of London for some hard exercise in the fresh air of the Yorkshire countryside and set about planning our trip. We settled on the 8/9 March for our attempt on the timed crossing and prepared for the challenge.

On the train north from King’s Cross we compared our foodbags and promptly fell about laughing. We had brought several kilograms each. And though the fact that we had brought such a larder was not especially bright, we felt that the elaborate variety of the provisions was impressive. Jamaica Ginger Cakes, golden syrup cakes, a pot of couscous, malt loaf, Tunnock’s Caramel bars, traditional Kendal Mint Cake, chocolate-covered Kendal Mint Cake, a pork pie, flapjacks, home-made energy bars, a pot of pasta, a tin of tuna, a tray of granola…we weren’t going to be hungry.

A ride with a jolly but uninformed taxi driver (“the Lyke What What?”) took us from Northallerton station to the starting-point just north of Osmotherley. We arrived at the car park at 1.53pm, with seven minutes to check packs, fold maps and take some photos. At 2pm, we set off. After slogging away for about three minutes, we made our first stop for a pee, the result of enthusiastically trying to pre-hydrate by glugging bottles of water on the train up from London.

The sun was out and there was a brisk breeze as we pushed up over Round Hill and on to checkpoint one on Carlton Bank. The wind really picked up and bashed us around in the warmth of the afternoon as we crested the ridge. But it was bright and we were delighted to be out of the capital and away on the moors. The views were astonishing as we climbed, spreading out across miles of heather and down to far-off farmhouses on the coastline. It was glorious and just the spot to discuss the diplomatic crisis in Crimea and Ukraine, and we chatted Putin and the EU as we tried to make an impression on our huge food stocks.

Reaching checkpoint two, the sun set into its evening haze behind us and we donned an extra layer as the light faded. When we came to the dismantled railway out on Farndale Moor we were feeling confident and pushed on without torches, flooded by ample moonlight. We reached The Lion Inn at 9pm, not even halfway through the hike. We allowed ourselves an hour-long break in the pub. We refilled our water bottles, ordered three halves of Yorkshire ale, ate too many jacket potatoes and felt a bit queasy. It was jovial in The Lion and we were beginning to feel a bit sleepy next to the open fires. After another map-folding session, we put on our gaiters and headtorches and left the warm mirth behind and headed into the cold black outside.
We turned left and east off the road, leaving the pub behind, glowing golden in the sparse night. As if the moors weren’t haunted enough, we added to the eeriness by haphazardly trying to perform the first verse of the ‘Lyke Wake Dirge’. It was a good job it was just us and the moors that night as anyone hearing our ridiculous midnight recitals of that ancient purgatorial lament would have been truly spooked. “This ae neet, this ae neet…”

Striking out on the first boggy section, we hopped between the heather-banks and hurdled the copper-sand streams. The white tips of the boundary stones guided us through the reedbeds. The hours ticked by as we hit midnight. With the boundary stones, compass bearings and two GPS trackers for back-up we were pretty sure of our path, aiming below two bright stars and keeping the reddening moon behind us to the west. That didn’t stop us from nearly walking straight into a gully and one of the numerous becks, in a quest for a missing road.

After finally hitting the road before the Wheeldale Moor section, I felt it was time to get the lads a round of drinks. At 1.30am, while everyone else was having a night out on the town, we were spending the night out on the moors. Despite this, I was determined that we were not going to toast the beautiful clear night with some diluted Powerade. I declared the ‘bar’ open and handed round a hip flask of home-made sloe gin, which warmed our bodies and spirits ahead of the next peaty haul.

We saluted the Blue Man i’-th’-Moss as we continued on through the tangled maze of pools and marshland. It was now well into the early hours and we were starting to hurt. The moon had shrunk into a red segment of blood-orange and we marvelled as we watched it set neatly into the blank horizon. We came to the next road and stumbled down to the Wheeldale Beck Stepping Stones. It was heading for 4am now and we were all suffering our personal battles. Tommy had a creaking ankle, I had a knackered knees and Charlie was blistering. In the previous 14 hours, our conversation had been a constant; the chattering keeping our morale up and geeing us on. Now, in the mud going up Howl Moor we were silently forcing ourselves onwards, aching in the depths of the night, away and alone, three headlights glinting on top of three tired bodies. But we were truly thankful for the weather: it was breezy but remarkably clear. No clouds meant no rain.

At 5am, heading over Simon Howe down to the drop to the North Yorkshire Moors railway, we saw the first soft blue tinge in the eastern skies over the North Sea. Dawn was coming, and with it the light and heat of the sun. We found a second wind and drove on towards the nearing sunrise. We stopped for breakfast (a pork pie and some Kendal Mint Cake) at 6am by a surprisingly busy A169, just below RAF Fylingdales. We gulped some water and walked on, trudging through the miles, the moorland, the endless clutches of heather stretching out again over Lilla Cross. We began to talk again, spirits rising as we played word games to try to keep our ever more delirious minds focused on the ticking clock and on our steps. A turned ankle now would be critical. Headtorches safely stowed away, we were now walking under a growing and warming day.
As we crossed the A171 and climbed up the bank on the far side, the radio mast at the finish line came into view. “Not close enough for my liking”, sighed Charlie. In the light of the emerging day, drowsiness now began to affect us, along with the muscle aches, blisters and crocked joints. Too tired to take off our sweaty waterproof over-layers, we plodded on towards the sea. It had just gone 9am and we set a deadline of seeing if we could get to the distant grey spire before 10am, and, thus, come in under 20 hours. We fell back in line as each of us gritted our teeth and marched on, laying our hands on the finish marker stone at 9.43am. 19h43m, 42 miles and 94, 563 steps after setting out in the Saturday sun, we had completed the Lyke Wake Walk.

After some celebratory photos, including one bizarre shot where Charlie crawled around on all-fours in the background, we inched into Ravenscar to the hotel. But not before we stopped to chat incoherently (on our part) with a local chap who had made the crossing four times, and who informed us that we had set off at the exact opposite time of when he would recommend. He figured correctly that we had had to deal with all the boggy sections during the 11-hour-long night. But we had made it and we very happy with our effort. Anyway, we were rolling about on our heels with exhaustion and said our goodbyes and made it down to the hotel where we just about fell inside.

There, we ordered a taxi and three rounds of tea and toast. We scoffed them silently as guests from a wedding the day before strode past our half-asleep bodies and muddy belongings strewn about in the car park. We clambered into the taxi and promptly woke up in Scarborough, the incredulous driver declaring our sleepy 20-minute trip “the quietest ride ever”. With eight hours to kill in the seaside town before our train home, we traipsed down to the beach where we had an ice-cream and then dozed off again, incongruous amongst the day-trippers and donkeys. We collapsed next to each other on the sand, sleeping under the sun, absurd inactive forms prone on the beach in fleece-lined trousers and Gore-Tex jackets.

Now, just under a month later, what do we think of our gruelling endeavour? It was tough, it was painful, and boy, was it long. But it was a proper, Great, British adventure, a mere two hours out of the concrete-glass forest of London. Get off that comfortable office chair and get stuck in some knee-deep bog, out on the epic North Yorkshire Moors.

To see our route online:

Name: Lyke Wake Walk (C, R, T)
Date: 8 Mar 2014 2:00 pm
Map: View on Map

Distance: 64.2 km (39.89 miles)
Elapsed Time: 19:43:22
Avg Speed: 3.3 km/h
Max Speed: 17.7 km/h
Avg Pace: 18′ 25″ per km
Min Altitude: 117 m
Max Altitude: 452 m
Start Time: 2014-03-08T14:00:00
Start Location:
Latitude: 54º 23′ 12″ N
Longitude: 1º 16′ 54″ W
End Time: 2014-03-09T09:43:22
End Location:
Latitude: 54º 23′ 49″ N
Longitude: 0º 30′ 23″ W