Crossing Report (60th Anniversary Effort) — Dirger Evans

1st/2nd October 2015
It is one on those moments that changes your life. In August 1971 I stood in very thick pre-dawn mist next to the trig point on Scarth Wood Moor and made a final mental note: OS N.Y.Moors 1” map – check; Silva compass – check; rucksack with flask of milky coffee, cheese sarnies & chocolate –check; and finally, my newest physical possession – a copy of Bill Cowley’s Lyke Wake Walk book acquired two weeks previously with the proceeds of my first ever pay packet from my first ever summer job. Boots tied & cagoule fastened, I noted the time to the minute & set off into the early morning gloom. So began my first dirging experience and 13 hours later I was sitting in the Pollard Café in Ravenscar with much blistered feet & heels, as I sipped tea & lemonade, deeply content as a newly ‘engloomed’ Dirger, teenage ambition well satisfied (but with the distinct feeling that I could get across a lot quicker; I did my 2nd Crossing a week later).

Forty four years later I was reminded by the BBC that 2015 is the 60th Anniversary year for the Lyke Wake Walk, as I was asked to act as intermediary between them, the New Lyke Wake Club & the wider dirging community, so they could record their Ramblings programme on the LWW. This prompted an additional thought that I wanted to do something personally to acknowledge the 60th Anniversary & having recently acquired a copy of the 1st edition of Bill Cowley’s book, I decided to replicate the original Walk. The 1st thing I noted from the account of the original Crossing is that at various points the party split – so a single route was not followed(!) and secondly, the 14 apprentice dirgers had bivouacked at Hamer half way through their Crossing. My plan was to follow as closely as possible Bill Cowley’s route commencing on the same day & time , noon on 1st October. Bivouac? – after deliberation I decided that in place of an 8 hour sojourn at Hamer I would have a meal with my support at the Lion Inn and then have snooze at Simon Howe with an intended finishing time of 11am (23 hours total) as per the original. The Chief Dirger records a time of 13 hrs walking for the 1st dirge in 1955 (13 ½ hrs in an alternative account) which seems quite a good pace given that in 1955 a substantial portion of the Walk, probably over half, was over trackless moorland.

So on October 1st 2015, I strolled up to the Trig Point on Scarth Wood Moor half expecting to find others intending to depart at noon as per the original Crossing. Quite a few Coast-to-Coasters went by as I checked my gear, took photos & waited for the appointed departure time but to my surprise no other Dirgers/Witches appeared (a bit of a relief in some ways, I have always preferred to dirge alone, particularly in more recent times, so I can ‘nurse’ my middle-aged infirmities in a manner that suits me). I took in the view that was denied me on my 1st Crossing and to the south-east on Whorlton & Snilesworth Moors saw the evidence that confirmed the date; white & grey smoke billowed into the blue autumn sky on this the first day of the new heather burning season. I was reminded that the 1st Crossing party had considered going that way around the head of Scugdale but shooting parties were to be in that area on the 1955 start date and so it was discounted as a possibility.

Set off at noon along the now paved highway of the Cleveland Way. It is surprising to note Bill Cowley recording that in the ‘early days’ the route from Scarth Nick across Scugdale was one of the hardest bits of the LWW to navigate. At that time Scugdale Beck was crossed by way of a fallen tree and Dirgers of an earlier vintage than me, tell of taking an informal route directly across Scugdale to Huthwaite. However, I decided to avoid trespassing and followed the modern path to the foot of Live Moor. Having done umpteen crossings over the years I wouldn’t expect to be covering new ground on any LWW but the first party took the Miners’ Path around the face of Carlton Moor so I went in search of this (new to me) route which is indistinct along the uphill side of the intake wall but becomes clear once the plantation is left behind. From the ‘col’ between Carlton & Cringle Moor the original party split with some going via Chop Gate but I continued around the northern faces of Cringle & Cold Moors as did Bill Cowley’s group. BC’s account is not clear on whether he ascended Hasty Bank or took the lower track. But noting that BC omitted to mention skirting Hasty Bank when he described using Miners’ Track, I concluded he had gone over the summit & so I struck up hill for the Wainstones and arrived at Hagg Gate (Clay Bank Top) in 2 ¾ hrs (allow 20mins in that for photography). I was always impressed at BC’s 2 ½ hrs time for this section which would still be a very respectable time for many a 21st Century walker and must have represented a very good pace in 1955 when the paths were unpaved and in places overgrown & indistinct. Passed more Coast-to-Coasters & Cleveland-Wayers on Urra Moor and hit the railway to find quite a bit of heather burning in progress on the adjacent moorland but fortunately the wind was carrying the smoke south-eastward and not across what is almost always the fastest section of the Walk. As always, said a silent prayer of thanks for the railway particularly as BC’s original Dalesman suggestion for the route was to go over Stony Ridge to the north of the track bed (I’ve been over there some years ago and it’s as rough & wet as Rosedale or Wheeldale Moors). After the ‘pile of lime’ struck across South Flat Howe and met up with my support in the early evening light at Ralph’s Cross (again mirroring the original). My support whisked me off to the Lion Inn for a meal and then unceremoniously dumped me back next to Young Ralph as the moon was rising. Took a fancy to some flapjack ‘cached’ on top of Fat Betty so left a chocolate bar in its place. Quite squidgy over Rosedale Moor and frost was starting to form in the cool, stiff westerly breeze.

Didn’t stop at Hamer where BC & friends had bivouacked and pressed on to Wheeldale Moor. Reading the 1st edition of LWW it is unclear on the route taken hereabouts as BC says the best option is to take a southern route past the Pinkney Shooting Box but I concluded that the 1st Party followed the more northerly (current) route past Blue-Man-i’-th’-Moss as BC describes ‘a standing stone our guide to the way’ (Blue Man?) and ‘we felt rather than saw the drop to Wheeldale Gill to our left’ (indicating a route close to the edge of the Gill).

Reaching Simon Howe I decided not to attempt to sleep, there was frost on the ground and a stiff cold breeze; snoozing wasn’t going to happen. The ‘main party’ on the original Crossing took the current route from the stepping stones over Simon Howe, crossing the Railway at Fen Bogs and following Ellerbeck /Little Ellerbeck to Lilla Howe. However it appears that some of the group may have gone to the north via Goathland. Bill Cowley himself went more southerly from Simon Howe over the ‘nose’ of Crag Stone Rigg, crossing the railway & bog at Fen Houses and then picked up the old Salt Road across Tom Cross Rigg and Snod Hill to Lilla Howe where he met up again with the ‘Main Party’. At that time the area was part of an Army firing range (you needed an MoD permit to cross) and Bill Cowley considered this southern deviation to be safer; at this time the Early Warning Station was still a figment of some military imagination. (Arthur Puckrin has described there being lots of shells & mortar rounds on the surface hereabouts during early years of the Walk.) My original plan had been to follow BC but it had been daylight by the time he got to the railway. It was still dark as I descended from Simon Howe and, despite the moon, swirls & drapes of mist were obscuring the ground & filling Newtondale. I felt confident that I could navigate across the bogs to Fen Houses (I’ve been that way before) but it was pitch black in the mist and I didn’t fancy getting up close & personal an MoD police Alsatian in the pitch dark if I got off the permissive path across the EWS site. So I stuck to the Classic Route to Lilla Howe where I was passed by a Landrover (MoD?, poachers?, who knows?). Again too cold to stop so pressed on across Fylingdales Moor and descended into JH ravine, out of the wind for the first time since Rosedale Head. If I continued on, I would probably be in Ravenscar before it got light with a long wait for my lift so decided to rest here.

After 2 hours trying to sleep on the bridge over Jugger Howe Beck (the only dry spot thereabouts!), I gave in and decided to make for Ravenscar. BC says they crossed the Beck where it turns east (pretty much where the current day bridge is located) and they kept well south of Jugger Howe to avoid military activities which included the use of mortars and other live ammunition which made proximity dangerous. There’s lack of detail in the account, so I followed the north-eastern side of the ravine to where the Helwath Beck joins and then followed this northwards to Helwath Bridge. Across Pye Howe Rigg on a soggy indistinct path to start but eventually attained the old windmill and strolled lazily down the road into Ravenscar with fantastic early morning views across a sunny Robin Hood’s Bay as mist rolled off Stoupe Brow and cascaded on to the beach, then onwards to the Raven Hall Hotel car park to wait for my lift.

So there it is, not exactly Bill Cowley’s route, but near enough. Time (start to finish): 20hrs. Walking time: 13 ½ hrs.
Forty four years ago the Lyke Wake Walk changed my life. With grateful thanks to: Bill Cowley; Joyce Allen; Stella Boaden; Bill Dell; John Grayson; Dennis Kirby; David Laughton; Tony Lea; Brian Ovenden; David Pearson; Ann Pendegrass; John Poulter; Malcolm Walker; Ian Watters.

Dirger Ian Evans
Finally – Thanks to Thomas & his beat up old Ford Escort for support.