Crossing 03rd September 2020.

What follows is a brief account of the crossing made by me, ‘Big’ Tom (Huddersfield) and my friend ‘Lucky’ Leo (Somewhere south of Birmingham) on this Thursday just gone, the 3rd.

It is to my understanding that crossings are generally assisted; light-weight and brisk. We did not have such a luxury. Armed with a tent, 40 miles worth of water and a miscalculated 80 miles of food we made camp at the start point North of Osmotherley and set our alarm for 3:50 the next morning.

Ten minutes to get up and packed: reasonable, no? We set off at 4.30. Not ideal, but we were lucky with the weather – not a rain-drop in sight. The night however had been wet and windy, and I for one did not get a good stretch of sleep.

The first section was, if I dare say, very enjoyable. We navigated the first woodland path and stone-step ascent in the dark, being dive-bombed by bats. The burgeoning light soon greeted us on the tops and the bats were replaced by the heckling laughter of grouse – who doubtless understood that humans at this hour, on this patch of moor inevitably meant two more fools who were attempting the Lyke Wake Walk.

Despite their mocking, we enjoyed the first ten miles of hilly Cleveland way, the impressive vistas of the open vale to the North and, for ‘Lucky’ Leo, the first sight of moorland in his uneducated southern life. The heather is a purpling relief from the black peat. We are surprised to meet a cow on the path. We greet her, hoping for a blessing, “Good Morrow, fair Lady!”

We say hello to the early tumuli, detour to the Lord Stones, pass a field of at least 50 pheasant, clear the Wainstones and make our way to our first stretch of moorland proper. At this stage the packs are feathery-light, morale is high and the flagstones are welcoming.

The moors look fantastic, and the air is perfectly cool for walking. Honestly, this section went by very quickly and we soon found ourselves meeting the old rail-line with a quick march. The winding path took its toll on me, however, what started as an optimistic jaunt turned into an arduous trudge about three miles in and I started to lament. My feet were showing the first signs of soreness, and testicular chafing was quickly driving me into blind insanity. The views did little to distract me in this moment of mental weakness, and when the Lion’s red roof peaked over the hillside I was truly fed up.

At the pub we had the only proper break of the walk, about 10 minutes at noon. The packs had made progress very slow. Two days previously I had phoned the pub to see what time they opened.

‘About 12 we start doing food.’

‘Oh no,’ I said, ‘That’s no good for us, we’ll probably be passing at around 9!’

My underestimating optimism would become a trope of the trip.

Having replenished our water we slogged on up the road section, and in my head I moaned bitterly to myself. I hated this stupid road, the stupid cars, the stupid walk, and the stupid idiot that decided to do it (me). If I had only myself to disappoint, I would probably have stopped there, but ‘Lucky’ Leo’s ever-stoic presence was reason enough to continue. We passed the voluptuous curves of ‘fat betty’; I was nonplussed. Had I not set out to reach new levels of tiredness, new frontiers of loathing? Yes – but not this early!

In fact, it was a momentary lapse of enthusiasm, the doubting, low-point of the entire walk. As soon as we started the ‘boggy section’, just after the turn off to Fryup, my spirits soared back. The ‘boggy section’ was incredibly boggy indeed and we set about jumping over ominous puddles, and hopping from grass tuft to tuft, avoiding the ultimate humiliation and punishment of sodden socks. Despite this being arguably much more strenuous, it was, at least, fun – a gratefully received respite from the monotony of the train-line and road.

The bogs went on for a long, long time. We only had the spiders for company – spiders which, I swear, I have never seen before and must be some dire, mutant species resident only to this strange, abandoned plot. It was utterly bleak – exactly what I’d wanted.

I can’t stand being tired and frustrated on a boring, everyday road, but being tired and frustrated in a stinking, forsaken swamp – well that’s the stuff of adventure, and I like adventure, so that conversely eradicated any feelings of tiredness or frustration that were lurking before.

We even ran a section at this point and one of our feet each yielded to the beckoning, turbid water. I was very lucky that my sock dried quickly, God knows how, and it was perhaps only by the blessing of that early cow, Mother of the Moor, that we didn’t suffer unduly from this brash gesture.

The bogginess subsided towards Shunner Howe and, sighting the road in the distance, we promptly lost the path. Tabbing across burnt heather and squelching underfoot clag we reached the road, gambled as to whether we’d gone off south or north and hit – we quickly found the entrance to the next section.

Here I changed my socks – absolute rapture. If there is one tip to be extracted from our naive foray it’s this:- bring multiple pairs of socks. Changing them mid-trek does, as the guide book rightfully says, bring new life to your feet.

Supposedly we had left the ‘boggy section’ behind but if anything the upcoming section was even worse and we spent a long time navigating around ponds, streams, treacherous reeds which would yield to hidden bog and utterly useless broken bridges. We reached the blue man i’th’moss stone, proof that we were still on the right line, and started out on the next section.

At this point the gross amount of sugar I had been consuming all day took its toll and I started to experience horrendous stomach cramps. The cure was good marching and recitement of hiking songs. This section, in retrospect and in comparison to the coming slog, went quickly, although we were becoming quite tired. Fylingdales was now visible ahead, seemingly unaffected by normal laws of geometry. A curious shift in natural physics occurs at this stage in a walk; the further you walk towards something, the further away it seems to get.

We found the ravine, eventually, but not the path down. In fact, this enraged me. I had another ‘mental lapse’ and cursed the ravine for its existence and cursed the path for not being more easily found. This time I did not curse myself, I was too indignant. I hot-headedly insisted we should just go straight down through the bracken, but this was impossible. We back-tracked a couple of times, found the path and gave our knees a good battering on the way down. The packs had started to weigh heavy. I dully acknowledged the beauty of the ravine.

Up the other side we now had our sights on the next ‘checkpoint’, the Eller Beck bridge just over the North Yorkshire Moors railway. At that point we would have just seven miles left to complete – tiny! All we had to do was walk the gently sloping mile up to Simon Howe and the gently sloping mile down again.

Let me tell you – these two miles were un-ending. They continued inordinately, indifferent, uncaring. Fylingdales continued it’s physics-defying retreat into the distance. I started to think now about the walk’s connection to death. The countless Howes, tummuli, burial mounds we had passed. The guiding stones placed long ago by people long passed. The fanciful rumours of coffin-bearers crossing this route. The Lyke Wake dirge droned mockingly in my head. This is the mindset I wanted to get to grips with, but, be warned – once you get there nowt but the slightest slither of romanticism about it remains.

By the time we got to Eller Beck I was so tired I felt dizzy and could not read the map. I bust out my secret weapon – a bottle of fizzy pop. A substance packed with so much sugar, caffeine and the-devil-knows-what-else that it cannot fail to revive your physical abilities. It worries me that we drink this stuff on normal days without to-do and don’t really notice it. I don’t know what’s in the damn stuff but drinking it while that tired makes you realise it’s like jet fuel. For emergency use only in my book.

We’d been told that the previous section was the hardest to navigate, as people often turn south at the blue Man i’ th’ moss. We had problems at fylingdales, the guidebook appeared impossibly convoluted, the light was fading, and I was intensely anxious that we had picked the wrong valley to walk up and would have to back-track severely or admit defeat. I had visions of us appearing inexplicably North at Ann’s Cross or Foster Howes and, utterly defeated, pitching the tent hap-hazardly over the heather or just giving-in completely and sleeping open, miserable with ruined sleeping bags in the morning to remind of our disgrace.

Adrenaline drove me quickly up the valley, trying to gain as much distance as possible before night fell. Thankfully, with the pinkening sky warning the impending dark, we arrived at Lilla Cross and could see all the way across to the radio mast that signalled our finish. Elation over-took me and I gave way once again to optimistic underestimation. Surely Ravenscar was just a hop, skip and a jump away, a rapid four miles – we might even make it while it was still light! Down this moor, no problem, up and down the ravine, a little summit and bingo! – home and dry. I enthusiastically voiced how much of a success the trip had been, how hard it was and how glad I was it was essentially over.

Wrong! We were marching down as quick as our sore feet would allow but the descent took an ungodly amount of time, the path became difficult, boggy and dark fell upon us like a vulture on the sick and dying. The head-torches came out, there was no option but forward progression, but this descent from the moor took a, frankly, just unfair amount of time. I was moaning something awful. Leo was, as per, taciturn, but I’m sure he wasn’t ecstatic. We talked a little about what we were most looking forward to tomorrow. For Leo – a cup of tea. For me – a great stinking portion of fish and chips.

At long, long last we met the ravine. Here the steps descend unevenly, rapidly and, on this day, didn’t appear that different from an actual river, thanks to the heavy rainfall the previous night. We carefully picked our way down the slippery rocks. It was a final punishment to the aching knees, but at this point I was veering towards complete indifference. We ascended and realised there was a not-insubstantial distance between the ravine and the last road to cross, which would mean two miles towards the end. Whatever, we trudged on, becoming increasingly slower.

We met the road and the sudden, bright, roaring headlights. We stood, waiting to cross, blinking empty-headed in the passing glare like concussed rabbits.

Surprisingly enough, the last two miles went by without issue. Head down, I was now completely resolute. I was utterly exhausted but there was nothing to be done apart from wait out the last 50 minutes. I followed the path and thought of nothing. I saw only the small section of path in front of me illuminated by the head-torch. Sporadically I checked the time, which dragged, but I had fully, finally accepted suffering at this point. We were utterly buggered, and resistance was futile.

We reached the mast at ten to eleven. We stood, dumbfounded with fatigue. Is this it? Where’s the stone? There’s a stone there, but there’s nothing written on it. Five minutes poking about later Leo re-examined it, oh no this is the stone, look – ‘Lyke Wake Walk’.

We’d finished. We plonked the tent down right there and then. I got into my sleeping bag while Leo ate one last sandwich and, perhaps mid-conversation, I crashed into sleep. Some time late I woke, busting for a wee, awkwardly squeezed on my boots to get out the tent and -agony! My blisters were very tender, and horrendously big – some as big as the toes themselves. ‘Big’ Tom indeed.

Leo had got off without a single one – Lucky Bastard! ((alternative family version: “Lucky Rascal!”))

Glad that I never had to do that ever again in my entire life I went back to sleep. In the morning we got up, amazed we had actually finished. ‘Right, what’s the next challenge then!?’

We thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and are looking forward to ordering our badges. Hopefully other would-be dirgers and already established ‘Lykes’ can find bemusement in our small tale.

Yours Faithfully,

‘Big’ Tom