You can never go back. Except you can. Alas Saturday 10th June 2017

You can never go back. Except you can. Alas

 I would like to report a successful crossing of the North York Moors on Saturday, 10th June, under the auspices of the Lyke Wake Walk.

 It was, to steal a phrase, a sentimental journey for half our number. Me, Martin Bryant, and my friend and former school colleague, Kayvan Molavi, had undertaken the walk separately, but only a few months apart, in 1995 – back when still firmly entrenched in the bosom of our alma mater, which offered the walk as a way for us young’uns to escape the grimy backdrop of our South London existence, and breathe in some air, and feel the soft ground under our feet – all 2 miles of soft ground that the LWW course offers.

 In the name of consistency, and for extra sentimentality, our then form teacher, David Gordon, reprised his role of support driver for the day. David’s complete lack of concession to any sentimentality, and his status as a Lyke Wake Past Master, meant, however, that we were in the best, and most practical of hands.

 Completing our walking party were our wives, Catherine Bryant, and Emma Vaun – incredibly rich additions to our lives which would frankly have seemed incredibly unlikely from the vantage point of our then 15 year-old, boys’ school, and correspondingly socially and emotionally-crippled selves. Well, in actual fact, only Emma made the start, my wife Cat sensibly opting-out on the eve of the walk when she saw the forecast for the day’s walking, wishing to avoid the low-visibility and high-chafing it portended.

 The three of us set-off at 5.45 from the starting stone on the edge of Osmotherley, cheerful enough after a good night’s sleep and with only a light and refreshing drizzle to contend with, and secure in the knowledge that we had only a 40 minute stroll to contend with ahead of our first check-point at Huthwaite.

 We arrived at Huthwaite a mere 1 hr and 15 mins later, Kayvan having missed a left turn that added a good mile, and much confusion, to our journey. David was waiting for us in his high-vis jacket, visibly highly unimpressed at the prospect of shepherding these morons across the remaining 40 miles of this, and suddenly we were 15 again and metaphorically handing in a piece of sub-standard German coursework.


A quick shedding of a layer (we had started off being over-dressed) and we were off again over the exposed and elevated stretch from Huthwaite to Carlton Bank. It’s a fine line, over-dressing and under-dressing, and the discarding of just that one layer had sent us veering across the other side of it as we ascended to meet the mists and the winds picked up and set their course for horizontal. We had company in the form of another group of walkers, the irrepressibly cheery male member of their party promising us he’d have a pint waiting for us in the bar at the end, as he overtook us. I nodded politely, my experience of marathon running very much teaching me that these sort of things are precisely the proverbial marathon, not a sprint, and quietly confident we might see him again.

 A warming coffee was waiting for us at Carlton Bank, David manfully getting the stove going in high wind, and seemingly having forgiven us for our first leg faffery.

 Onwards then to Hasty Bank, and an existential choice: do we take the easier walk round the hill, or dig in and go over it. Kayvan, a military man, and chastened by the earlier map misreading, decided that going in as straight a line as possible was best, so over the hill it was. Heavy going, but still, the views of the mist were spectacular from there, and I got a bit of a thrill ride as I lost my footing and all but slid down its sheer face, Emma just grabbing my rucsac and rescuing me in time. I was suitably hacked-off and muddy, yet blissfully unaware this was to be but an overture for the sludge symphony to come.

 It’s the stretch over the old railway, by way of Bloworth where the walk proper begins as the miles start to rack up and the course becomes that bit more rugged. And, if you’re lucky, the weather becomes that much more weathery. We were lucky. My London friends Facebook and Instagram feeds were, by this point, stirring into life as they boastfully woke up to the prospect of a beautifully sunny day in the capital. Luckily for us, though, we couldn’t be cowed by being made aware of this relative deprivation, as heavy rains began to mingle with the mists and horizontal winds to the extent that my hands were too numb to even work the zip to reach my phone, let alone manipulate its various functions. The flipside of this came when nature inevitably called, and wrestling with my flies proved equally challenging. Eventually, pulling down my trousers in the manner of a toddler proved the only way to get the equipment out before I actually briefly provided some warmth to the inside of my trousers. After 15 attempts, I managed to redress myself, and had to jog a little to catch up with Kayvan and Emma, who had by now receded into the distance.


The end of this stretch becomes navigationally somewhat ambiguous, so we all had what can be referred to as a “subtle shift in mood” as we found ourselves again a little lost, and desperate to get to the next checkpoint, some lunch, and those previously discarded layers. A stumble of a few steps further was, mercifully, enough to reveal David’s high vis a mere 100m in the distance. I had hoped to have a pasta salad at this point, but found I only had the manual dexterity to clumsily shove a cheese sandwich into my chattering maw. I eventually warmed up enough to be able to put on the extra layer, and change into some dry socks. Still took me what felt like 20 mins as I began to get heckled by a, rightly, increasingly impatient Kayvan and David.

 Group morale at a bit of a low, we hambled on to Hamer, Emma and Kayvan envying my dry feet for the half mile they remained so. Our resolve to pick up the pace a little and out-walk the cold was soon scuppered by our first encounters with the bogs, and pathways that had, by now, become streams. Emma, a lot shorter than Kayvan and I, suffering the most on this section as she gamely had to navigate the bogs, occasionally succumbing, and re-emerging, muddy to the knee. Ex-military herself, she had experienced far worse, and took it in good cheer.

 The leg to Stape Road was incident rich in an already incident-packed day. the first part of this stage should be a gentle, non-eventful walk along the road. We, however, were party to a mercy killing: a poor young grouse had been hit by a car and was lying in a very sorry state in the middle of the road. Kayvan stepped in, and, military and sporting instincts to the fore, swiftly dispatched it. Stomach-churning yet admirable all at once. A left turn into more rubble and bog lead to more death and decay; Kayvan delighted to chance upon a sheep’s skeleton with a “clean” skull. Despite Emma’s remonstrating, in the rucsac it went – as much to prickle my sappy, city-boy sensibilities, as to eventually adorn his garage wall, I can’t help but suspect.

And yet therein lay the beauty and purpose of this walk: a chance to reminisce upon and celebrate a friendship that has endured despite the gaping years and gaping gap in our worldviews (one of was pleasantly surprised by the very recent election result, one of us was delighted that The Monster Raving Loony Party was still an option). In fact, I, buoyed by a quickening pace and a gradual return of feeling to my appendages, was the very spirit of this rapprochment as I said to Kayvan, “do you know what, I reckon I could actually hack life in the militaaaaaaaaaaaaar” – the end of the phrase lost as my gob filled with brackish water, the only logical result of a very unarmy-like fall, face first into an all too accommodating bog.

From there it was relatively plain sailing – the section to Eller Beck saw me merely wind myself by slipping on a flagstone and falling flat on my back, and the route to Whitby channel my inner Doctor Foster by stepping in a bog almost right up to my middle. Emma and Kayvan were, like me, tiring but unlike me their luck hadn’t deserted them and we all limped on.

You may be wondering if the weather was still as atrocious. It was. It relented for 30 mins, then came back, but you become used to anything, and after a while it just became a backdrop – especially once we had donned the appropriate layers again and were beyond the visceral reach of potential hypothermia.

Appropriately enough, as we did the last short leg across toward our goal, the clouds lifted, and we were presented with a most gorgeous sunset, which we could enjoy safe in the knowledge that we wouldn’t have to press on in the dark (we’d lacked the [night] vision to bring torches).

David and his high vis jacket was waiting for us at the end, and seemed to never shine brighter despite the dimming light of day. We were knackered, but, as many before us, content at our efforts.

Oh, and yes, what of our cheery, pint-promising friend? We passed him as he was doubled over at the start of the descent of the beautiful, yet unwelcome up-and-down section on the Eller Beck leg. Highly satisfying, but we rose above the temptation to give him a taste of his own medicine. In part because, at ca. 15hrs and 40 mins, we were way off the 12-13 hours we had foolhardily envisaged, and we were in serious danger of not even making last orders. Particularly as we had missed last orders at Ravenscar’s fish and chip shop, and David had to ferry us to Scarborough. Landing on its high street on a Saturday night, we fitted right in as, like the refreshed locals, we too, for our own reasons, staggered along the pavement in search of sustenance.

So, a splendid-ish time was had by all, memories were brought back to life, and plenty of new ones were made. Here’s to the third attempt in 2039.