The Final 100 Yards Are The Longest…

Date: Saturday 24th June 2023
Dirgers: Emma Baillie, Conor Eaton-Smith
Start: Raven Hall Hotel
Finish: Lyke Walk Stone, Cod Beck Reservoir
Time: 16 hours 32 minutes
Moving Time: 13 hours 57 minutes
Weather: cloudy and windy at first, clearing to sunny and windy later, with a couple of light showers in between
Temperature: cool at first, becoming hotter than hell

I regret to inform you of our second Lyke Wake crossing.

My brother Conor and I made our first crossing on 12th August 2022, along with good buddy Paul Shurman, ably supported by Rachael Chaffer. Eventually the memories of the pain and anguish of that experience faded slightly, and so, for reasons that are still unclear to me, we decided to attempt a second crossing this year, but East to West. We agreed that June would be a good month: maximum daylight and the best chance of good weather. This time we were unsupported, but just in case, Conor left a stash of water, Lipton ice tea (peach and lemon flavours), and snacks just before the climb to Carlton Bank.

I had offered to drive us back to our start point and accommodation at Raven Hall Hotel after the walk – so the day before, I drove from Glasgow to Cod Beck and took a leisurely stroll round the reservoir whilst Conor languished in a traffic jam somewhere near Leeds; he was driving up from Bristol. Eventually he picked me up and we drove to Raven Hall in a funereal convoy of holiday traffic. On the way I made my first of countless anxious checks over the next two days that I had indeed safely zipped my car keys into my day sack.

We both managed some sleep, despite a rowdy wedding at the hotel, and set off as planned at 02:00. We scurried furtively down to the front door in our walking gear and head torches, feeling conspicuous among the handful of revellers still in high spirits downstairs. And then we were on our way, after a quick stop so I could check I definitely did pack the car keys.

At the mast, I took a picture of Conor by the stone, and we set off along the track, both inwardly questioning our life choices. No conversation between us: silence apart from the wind and the crunch of our boots on the path. By 03:00 it was already getting light, although still before sunrise. I heard the first sound of life at 03:30: a solitary skylark on Fylingdales Moor, which cheered me up immensely.

There’s definitely something to be said for tackling the ‘interminable featureless expanse’ section of the walk whilst still on relatively fresh legs. Unsurprisingly this bit felt much more comfortable than last time. A curlew circled, keeping an eye on us, and every so often a grouse would burst out of the heather, loudly complaining. The Fylingdales early warning station was behind us and we didn’t have to watch it stay the same size, though of course neither of us could resist looking over our shoulders every few miles to confirm that we could still see it.

We had a fine breakfast of hotel room coffee (thanks Conor) and Candy Kitten sweets sheltering next to a tumulus: the headwind was not particularly strong but was relentless. I checked that the car keys were still in my daysack. Onwards! More trudging. Some raggedy sheep and their lambs, getting big now. Everywhere the skylark’s piercing flight-song. Bright tufts of fluffy cotton-grass. Square patchworks of cut heather. A dead hare. And bog: medium bog this time, not springy and dried out like last August. I went ankle deep just once and it was quite refreshing. We had been walking for hours and I was dreaming about hot chocolate when Conor checked his map and estimated that the Lion was still at least six miles away. Why were we doing this, again?

Eventually we could see the Lion, tantalisingly near-but-far. As we approached, we met clusters of walkers coming the other way. Some stopped to chat and compare notes. One solitary walker was 81 and was making his annual traverse of the Coast to Coast, camping all the way. My hero. We got to the Lion at 11:00 and they were not serving food until 12 (Food Served All Day having a rather looser interpretation in the country) but we did manage to buy two delicious hot chocolates, one pint of Pepsi Max and two packets of Scampi Fries, which we supplemented with supplies from our daysacks. We sat in the garden whilst I took my socks and boots off, making involuntary groaning noises. The air on my feet was magic, as were the fresh socks, and the sun and wind dried out my boots in no time.

We were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. We were over halfway, and although the hilly last section was looming large in both our minds, we were in reasonable shape, despite grumbles from tight hips (Conor) aching big toe joint (me) and sundry calf and quad niggles. As we set off along the old railway track, we were treated to a couple of refreshing showers, and then the clouds parted and we got our sun hats out. Now that we were on surfaced paths we chomped through the miles in short order, taking in the views, cheerfully greeting groups of walkers and the odd cyclist coming the other way. We had a break near the stone with the face on it and I took my boots and socks off again, ate half a bag of Candy Kittens and a packet of ready salted crisps, which Conor said was just as effective as the fancy electrolyte tablets I had brought, and certainly tastier.

The sun was hot, certainly, but the wind cooled us down. Were we… enjoying ourselves? We had plenty of water and still Conor’s stash before Carlton Bank, which we started to think we might not even need. Oh, the hubris.

At mile 29 or so, as we began our long descent of Round Hill on legs which were now starting to properly complain, the summits of Hasty Bank, Cringle Moor and Carlton Bank queued up ahead of us. The enormity of our task was becoming horribly clear. Now that we were out of the wind, the sun’s heat was oppressive and inescapable, and made hotplates of the flagstones. Every time I paused to catch my breath, I found myself stooping, hands on knees.

Before the climb up Hasty Bank we checked our maps and I saw that the suggested route on my phone app skirts round the peaks of Hasty Bank and Cringle Moor, keeping mostly to the tree line. It seemed kosher but also felt like cheating, especially as on our first (west to east) crossing, we had followed the Cleveland Way path, over all the tops. We decided to see how we felt after the climb to the fork in the path and make a decision then. If it hadn’t been so hot it might have gone another way – neither of us wanted to let the other down, and we agreed afterwards that if one of us had wanted to go over the tops, the other would have done it. But as things stood, we decided to leave the Wainstones and the stone sofa for our next crossing.

The trees provided sweet sheltering relief from the sun, until we reached a section where they’d all been cut down. The path was varied and undulating; even gentle inclines were becoming a struggle. We rejoined the Cleveland Way at the Lordstones, tramped through the camp site (trying not to stare longingly at the groups of guests having lovely leisurely drinks at umbrella-shaded tables outside the cafe). We found Conor’s stash across the road, which we now very much did need, and gulped down bottles of warm ice-tea. We took the ascent to the summit slowly, with lots of hands-on-knees resting. The walk from there to the next top and then winding down through the woods to Scugdale was increasingly laborious but relieved by the beauty of the scenery.

The last three miles were every bit as awful as they had been last time, in the other direction. There was a punishingly steep ascent through trees that we took at glacial speed. And then a final trudge along the road, me ahead, Conor behind. I had parked at the large car park which is maybe a hundred metres or so before the Lyke Wake Stone. I decided I didn’t need to actually touch the stone. The car called to me. I limped towards it, cursing every toe-throbbing step, found my keys, opened every door to let the heat out and started taking my boots off, which was difficult because my hands and fingers had stopped working. Conor’s voice: “Aren’t you going to the stone?” “No. I’m staying here now”. “Come on, it’s not that far”. “You go. I’m taking my boots off. I have NOTHING LEFT”. “Emma? Come on. Let’s go.” “Oh for f*ck’s sake. FINE”. I’d partially unlaced one boot and I just left it like that, laces trailing. We put our bags in the car and shambled up to the stone together. Conor took a picture of me touching the stone. He said he didn’t need a picture of him, and anyway, I’d taken one of him at the start stone. When we looked through the photos later, the one I’d taken of him was just a black square: I’d taken it at night with no flash.

Thanks Conor for persuading me to walk that last hundred metres, and I’m sorry I’m such a terrible photographer. Next year I’ll take a better one.