The journey from Kings Cross to York had been uneventful. I had just a few minutes before boarding the packed Trans Pennine Express to Scarborough. After inquiring at the nearby Info Centre, I was directed the 100m to the correct bus shelter and hadn’t long to wait, alongside my aged and heavily laden fellow passengers, for the No.128 to Helmsley Market Square. It was still mid afternoon when I arrived at the pretty town but market stallholders were already packing up. Straight into the Co-op for a packet of curry powder for the week, then a wander down through the town to try and find the Helmsley Brewing Company. I was determined to find a suitable pint for my send off, for the next day would see me setting off across the North York Moors on the 110 mile Cleveland Way.
I arrived at Helmsley Youth Hostel before it opened at five, two long distance cyclists were already outside, lounging on the grass. When-o-when will the YHA begin opening their hostels earlier. They are trailing in the wake of dozens of independent hostels by continuing this outdated practice.
Inside, warden Katherene was already frazzled, short-staffed, and I decided it wasn’t the time to winge about being kept outside in the cold but dry and sunny courtyard for just fifteen minutes. I shared a single sex dorm room with just two other occupants- a young lad and an older hiker who turned up later that evening. Having showered and carried out a last check of gear, including filling water bottles in readiness, a short walk back into town to look for a chippie. The first I passed was open but had no trade, the second, nearer the town square was heaving. I decided this was the evening rush and went back down to the brewery for another pint of excellent Striding the Ridge. I regarded this almost as a duty as this is the ‘official beer of the Cleveland Way’ and a donation is made to the trail with every pint sold. The chippy was a little quieter when I returned so I was able to sit at the foot of the imposing memorial to the Second Baron Feversham in the darkening market square and enjoy haddock, chips and mushy peas, watching the bats circling around the floodlit stone picking off the odd moth.
Day 1- Helmsley to Osmotherley
I was abed by ten and slept well before rising at six thirty. I had ordered a cooked breakfast so that I could set off well-fortified but this was barely adequate fare. Made up for by my snaffling a breakfast banana and some mini cheeses for later. I still didn’t manage to set off until eight thirty. Walking back through town, the Saturday morning was sunny and sleepy with few people, mostly the odd dog walker. Two of whom were kind enough to pause and take my obligatory ‘start of trail’ photo. Out of town and immediately on to good grassy paths, a few gentle ups and downs.
This was a cool late autumn walk and I was only wearing shorts and a polo shirt yet I was already sweating with my load on the modest climbs. Hundreds of pheasants whirred away from me, the ‘chit, chit, chit’ of nuthatches rung out and squirrels scolded me. Life was good and happy to be there I determined to get as much from the trail as I could. This included the diversion from the line on the map and the short walk up the valley to visit medieval Rievaulx Abbey. I am baffled by the trail walkers that do not bother to make this visit. This is one of the prettiest ever of ruined Abbeys and it is in an idyllic setting.
I arrived before it opened at ten but simply spent a few minutes hydrating outside waiting for it to open. The ticket desk minded my pack while I quickly wandered the site. Having sated my cultural self, at least for now, it was then time to sate my inner self with a swift pot of tea in the cafe. Topped up water bottles and back on trail for eleven.
Feeling strong I was keeping up a good pace on the easy paths and lanes, passing a couple of day walkers on trail and a large and noisy group. Ever curious, I poked my nose over the wriggly tin entrance to an isolated barn near Cold Kirby and frightened the life out of a few dozen pigs inside, their squeals followed me down the track. A couple of rats startled in turn by the pigs squeezed their way out of the barn and led my way for a few hundred metres down trail before turning round and running back between my feet.
I arrived at the busy North York Moors National Park Centre at Sutton Bank in time for a late lunch. This is a popular spot and has w/c and cafe alongside an information centre and inevitable shop. Backtracking not far from here trail walkers can enjoy rubbish views of just part of the head of the Kilburn White Horse cut in 1857 and measuring 96m by 69m. From Sutton Bank it was a great walk round the escarpment. The reputed “finest view in England” is not, but is certainly a fine vista. From here it was up onto the lonely moors, now beginning to get a flavour of the North York Moors proper.
Worryingly, the stony paths were beginning to bother my feet through my Altra’s, also my Osprey pack’s hipbelt was beginning to rub. The first problem I dealt with by removing my orthotics, risky but necessary, the latter bothered me throughout the trail. Uncomfortable but not debilitating. I hadn’t got round to replacing my Gossamer Gear Mariposa at that point and the narrower hipbelt on my Osprey Exos can be uncomfortable on my wide hips. Especially when carrying heavier loads and on this first day I still had six days of food on my back.
I had been halting a few times, at the Abbey, Sutton Bank and a few breathers en route, so I obviously hadn’t been making speedy progress but when I reached the high and lonely High Barn, I was still shocked to see a sign reading ‘9 miles to Osmotherley’, it was time to get a move on. The trail was lovely though, the sun sank in the sky and I had to tilt my Tilley hat brim to reduce the sideways glare. A stiff cold breeze turned up to accompany me as I approached Osmotherly. I was not too pleased with a final series of steeper ups and downs and I was now running out of steam. I walked down to the large Cote Ghyll Mill hostel as dark began to fall having completed just under 23 miles on my first day.
The owners of the neighbouring award wining campsite snapped up the large old mill when the YHA sold it about five and a half years ago, they then carried on running it as a YHA. There were two other beds booked in my single sex dorm room but no-one else had turned up. Excellent and appreciated shower then down to the kitchen for re-hydrating and salt replenishment with hot OXO and a pint of water, followed by a lentil curry with Idahoan mash. While that was cooking I went on the hunt for a couple of bottles of beer from the mill reception. These were excellent ‘Three Brothers Thai’ IPA which went well with my curry.
Day 2- Osmotherley to Lord Stones
Felt good in the morning. No aches, feet good. A good nights kip had worked its magic. Today was a very short day of less than ten miles as I wanted time to visit Grace Priory. Not open until ten and situated just beyond Osmotherley I therefore had a late start at nine-thirty. Few hikers on the Cleveland Way bother to visit Grace Priory and I can somewhat understand why as it is a hell of a drop down off the height gained with the prospect of toiling back up hill afterward. But still, I was out to see what I could so made the steady drop down the contours, all very close together on the map. Mount Grace Priory is a lovely Carthusian monastry with interesting two storey monks cells, each with its own little garden that the monks could tend without going outside and disturbing their solitary existence.
I was again asked by those minding the till and shop if I would like them to look after my pack while I visited but I declined this time as I had a plan in mind. The map showed tracks beyond the Priory that led back up the hill. The staff I met never told me how to access these, nor was I taken outside and had the way pointed out to me as it is through private woodland and that would be wrong. So having wandered and explored the ruins, church and cells, I never ducked through the gardens and trees, not did I walk back up the hill on private tracks to where the Coast to Coast Path joins the Cleveland Way.
The sky clouded and it became quite warm and muggy. On climbs I began to find some of the ‘sting in the tail’ that the Cleveland Way occasionally exhibits, especially that up to Round Hill where I was more than ready for my lunchtime halt of tuna and tortillas. Here, on my second day, I met a couple preparing for their forthcoming Great Glen Way walk, this was their fourth day on trail since leaving Helmsley. There is no ‘right’ way to tackle a path but that was probably taking it easy to extremes.
Not only was it muggy but where the air was most still, thousands of small flies, beetles and ants were swarming. When I reached one trig point I found it covered with insects and many settled themselves around and over me as I walked. The afternoons walking was short and it wasn’t long before I reached Lord Stones Country Park where I had booked a pitch for my tent. The shop there closes at four but I arrived early enough to purchase a couple of bottles of IPA for later. Not only that, despite carrying sufficient food, I also bought a couple of locally made meat pies and a tin of beans for later- never turn down the opportunity for ‘real’ food.
I was the only one booked in so had the pick of the pitches. Light rain started and heavier was promised for later. Darkness fell and I made my way back down to the site restaurant that was about to close. Here I purchased a couple of pints to drink outside, sheltered from the now heavy rain under a huge parasol. placed there for daytime diners. Returning to the tent, I heated up my evening meal to enjoy with one of the bottles of beer. On returning to my tent afterwards having washed my Evernew pan I was surprised to find a latecomer had pitched up across the small field from me. I hailed the occupant and the two of us stood in the heavy rain chatting about all things trails. Chas and Molly, his little dog, were on the last section of their Coast to Cost walk, expecting to reach Robin Hood’s Bay the following day. All right for food, he bemoaned the lack of a nearby pub as he was craving a drink. I was pleased to donate my last bottle of beer ‘to the cause’. Returning to the tent I watched a film on my phone, chatted to home and turned in early. The rain continued outside.
Day 3- Lord Stones to Margrove Park
I rose at daylight but had a leisurely breakfast, again finding time for a natter with my neighbour who left before me on their final day. I was packed and away for eight-thirty. The rain had stopped but mist swirled around the dips and hollows. The trail was really pretty along this stretch with enjoyable climbs. A Merlin swept past, later, a good deal louder, an RAF jet also streaked down a valley.
I passed Wain Stones, pausing briefly to recall my last time here. Some five years earlier, my wife, daughter and I had visited here on a day walk while holidaying locally. I saw a sign for the Cleveland Way on that day and looking around at the beautiful surroundings, vowed that I would walk the trail someday. Here, on the trail’s fiftieth birthday I was finally doing it.
Red Grouse were frequently seen, most noisily flapped away on my approach, scolding me as they left. On sandy tracks I could frequently get quite close before they noticed me. When they did, they leapt in the air in desperate fright before going just far enough that they could land on a bit of higher ground, and, bending low, creep through the heather while keeping an eye on me. One bird however wasn’t having any of it. It was his bit of land and he wanted me away from there. He never flew. Instead, he stood his ground as I approached. Raised his tail and made a number of charges toward me. I gently fended him away with my trekking pole but he continued to escort me away from his patch. A brave fellow, I left him to it.
Today’s walk is a grand sweeping horseshoe round the plains below. Roseberry Topping looms ahead but steadily draws nearer. I really enjoyed this days walking. The path rises and dips, but is mostly pretty easy going. The mist swirled away to elsewhere and views were grand. Barely a soul on trail. I was feeling pretty good today and pleased that a bit of the easy gait that I developed on my long walk in 2018 was still with me and I even, despite my weight gain since finishing that walk, happily jogged on a couple of easier downward stretches. Near Jenny Bradley’s Cross I left the trail briefly to visit the 18th century Guide Stone. There is a hollow on the top of this, protected by a small stone. By tradition money could be deposited here for walkers in need. I left a handful of coins with those already present.
The weather was kind to me this day but conditions can be brutal. On January 1941 a Hudson aircraft from 224 Squdron and on patrol crashed near here. The four crew, though injured, all survived the crash. In the depths of a hard winter, they all died from exposure before discovery two days later.
I reached Roseberry Topping around six in the evening and still had another five miles to complete the days hike. I was going to be finishing in the dark. As I began the steady descent from the hills I passed an idyllic wild camp spot with shelter and a fantastic view over the plains. But it was a dry site, I had only a little water left so carried on. Tonight’s halt was a caravan site and by the time I arrived the reception was locked up and unoccupied. I wandered around a little but could find nowhere that might resemble a tent pitch. Fortunately I came across one of the site workers and Keith offered to show me where I could halt. It was a tiny patch of grass hidden away between some caravans only a few yards from the dated but perfectly adequate and spotless toilet block. He took my fiver and drove off leaving me to quickly put up my Z Packs Duplex, followed by a great hot shower and evening meal of lentil curry washed down with OXO.
Mrs Three Points of the Compass had presented me with a bar of good quality dark chocolate before I left and that rounded up my evening. There was no signal so I couldn’t even call her to thank her. Raining hard again while I watched a film on the phone, I was asleep by 11.30. Today had seen another 22.9 miles knocked off. Tomorrow, I would reach the coast.