Owls, Frogs, Snakes and Nightjars: Graeme Noble & Mark Harris

Date: Tuesday 8th August (starting time [from the LWW stone at Cote Ghyll reservoir 4.30] – Wednesday 9th August 2023 [ending time 1.45]

Dirgers: Mark Harris & Graeme Noble 

Start: (Cote Ghyll Mill) Timed from Lyke Wake Stone, above Cod Beck Reservoir

Moving Time: 21hrs & 15 mins

Weather: wind conditions slight throughout, good visibility during daylight hours with some sun exposure and remaining dry during the walk 

Temperature: before sunrise – cool, throughout daylight – fairly warm, after sunset – chilly 

This walk was somewhat different in terms of weather and temperature I had completed by myself nearly a month ago. 

This time I thank the Sainsburys store in Northallerton for supplying me with food for the walk (previous day purchase). Again, I clucked (chicken) and snorted (bacon) along the way until the Lion Inn Hotel and then again afterwards. 

Mark, like myself had always wanted to attempt the walk in an earlier life and this was his attempt with me. This was my second sortie with a solo third attempt (east to west) on the 22 August 2023 from Ravenscar Hall Hotel. Mark’s wife, Sue, was our backup and I have to say hot coffee, tea, black pudding and sausage rolls followed by Mr Kipling Bakewell Cakes were well received along the way. Sue drove many miles that day to satiate stomachs. I will decidedly miss this input later in August on the east to west attempt.

With commiserations and condolences, Mark and I began walking from the YHA at Cote Ghyll in somewhat dark skies but were offered a few gifts on the way to our LWW starting point; a beautiful tawny owl or barn owl perched on a fence post very calmly lifted itself away from us as we passed by, it is highly unlikely that we would have noticed it if it hadn’t moved as we were intently immersed on watching the path with our head torches lighting up the path in front of us. The owl lifted itself onto a nearby branch of a tree and watched as we crossed through its lair. A truly beautiful experience. This early meeting with nature sort of framing the day’s uplifting moments before us leading into the following morning as well. Before the LWW stone we came across a lone frog frozen in front of us and just at the top of the reservoir a lonesome deer, captured in our head torches and of which eventually showed itself and then disappeared into the bracken next to the water.

Quickly, the sunrise moved through to dawn and our pace became faster. Negotiating our way across the cliffs following Coalmire and Clain Woods was quite interesting as I’m slower going up hills and Mark is faster. So, we agreed that we’d both keep going at our individual paces but stop if the other became out of view. This was the routine between us until the end of the walk when my pace was stronger on the flat. We found this type of negotiation to be helpful especially when crossing Ellerbeck, an area Mark had walked in daylight and which I’d crossed in the dark. I’d followed the rule about staying to the left of the white posts and in some places found the going hard. Mark was able to show the route over the foot bridges toward Lilla Cross which actually takes a route (west to east) south of the posts. So, on this occasion I didn’t hear any little people talking on the horizon but only Mark saying where’s that white post, keep right and it’s a bit wetter than last week. 

So, we arrived at the same LLW stone and after photographs of our beginning we began the walk at 4.30am. No rain today, but the experience of seeing a sunrise and the accompanying vista of a developing horizon is one of the most memorable experiences I will remember. It was great to share it with Mark. 

So, the walk was quite straightforward from Osmotherley to the Lion Inn and our helpful assistant, Sue arrived and we had lunch together which lasted for the remarkable time of nearly one hour and a half. Even after Mark’s burger, Sue’s scampi and my Jam Roly Poly was there a sense of not completing the walk in the 24hr time limit. Although, I did have the bit under the teeth after the first thirty minutes of pause due to a concern of physical tempi seizing up.

At checkpoint 4 where we’d decided to take a 10 minute stop we were waved off by a grass snake as it passed us by. It trailed its course in front of us as we turned around and we all wandered off into the grasses following our own differing directions.

One of the highlights of the walk for me was the sausage roll, cake and coffee before Ellerbeck. One needs substance before tackling past mental difficulties and placing feet on the ground. Well, I do! A good meaty sausage roll prevents early commiseration. 

This walk was kinder than my first experience due to there being a very light breeze and a warmth that was lacking over the Farndale through to Rosedale section and the area of the bogs (on the first occasion). Mind the bog seems to stretch across to Lilla Cross. On reflection the section after the stepping stones feels wetter than what has gone before.

I still haven’t seen the section from Ellerbeck to the end of the LWW in light but, I’m hoping to alter that experience when I walk the route east to west on the 22/23 August 2023, hopefully, arriving at Cote Ghyll around 4am. But that is another story.

The odd thing about the ending of the walk on this occasion was that the beacon light didn’t flash its welcome this time around and after awhile it was apparent, I’d have to do a check with the OS map. Oddly, it seemed to glimmer for a few moments and then nothing and it’s quite odd to know that the route you’re on is correct but not to have it corroborated visually. Strangely, even with a head torch it is possible to get a glimpse of a shape of the beacons structure at 2am in the morning.

But, if there wasn’t a beacon light for us what did uplift our bodies and brains was a Nightjar (we think) flitting through the sky. It’s phosphorus beak lit up by head torches as it was caught flitting across our way. Our contact with different creatures across the LWW had uplifted us at times and the Nightjar became our beacon finally leaving us as we approached an end to our plod. It’s fairly easy to understand where fantasies of night creatures, ghouls and other supernatural phenomena come from when the natural environment offers such gems as a glowing light, zooming through the air to make one consider reality.

Sue had arrived at the end of the walk and was waiting in the car but, importantly she had two beers as a celebration of celebration. She was, also, our beacon due to her having the car’s interior lights on and the car being stationed under the beacon. She wasn’t too thrilled at taking our photograph next to the completion stone at Ravenscar (it gets cold out there after midnight) but accommodated our egos to have one, beers then being finished. Another walk completed. I preferred the company and the altered pace. I tend to keep going and not to rest so it’ll be interesting to compare the pace on my return and reverse route.

Finally, I have to say sharing bottles of beer at the end of the LWW is a great way to finish off a walk which in its sobriety of course needs commiseration at the end! I can see why it is possible to get hammered after completing the walk. The whole point of walking 40+ miles is to lift depression, doom and despair. That’s what I’ve been told, anyhow!