A Pebble in My Pocket

PART THREE: NORTH YORK MOORS NATIONAL PARK

Day nine is twenty-three miles of dodging rain clouds across North Yorkshire. The footpath travels from Richmond to Ingleby Cross and the Bluebell Hotel via lush farmland that Wainwright deplores and upon which he heaps considerable scorn. I am enamoured. Strolling along the edge of the River Swale, we pass through wheat fields and farmyards, along cart tracks and through tiny villages with signs declaring them all ‘the best kept village.’ In a churchyard, we spot a monument to a villager who lived for a mere 169 years. In Streetlam, we follow a sign saying it’s only a mile to Danby Wiske, and lunch. On the next corner, another sign says ‘two miles to Danby Wiske.’ I sit down on a large stone and sulk.

When we finally arrive, the pub at Danby Wiske is gorgeous. The owner enthusiastically welcomes hikers, which is a nice change from the usual reserved tolerance for us and our muddy boots. Apparently, he is the only pub in town and gets three to four hundred hikers through a month, and fills three guest books a year. He serves great food at a good price, and even the loos are lovely – very important! – with wooden dressers and old framed mirrors. As usual, we bump into walkers we have met previously and enjoy a merry lunch with four nurses we hadn’t seen for a few days.

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We spend a strenuous, but lovely morning clambering up to the moors, where we look out over a patchwork of green and yellow hills, terracotta-red rooves, serpentine lanes, and endless horizons. Towards the end of day ten, we climb onto a colony of huge charcoal-grey rocks where the view looks over the National Park all the way to the Teeside petrochemical plant on its north-eastern rim. To the south, an emerald green valley is divided into odd-shaped patchwork squares by low, stone walls.

After eight and a half miles of trekking up hill and down dale, we find a tiny café, a miraculous oasis, newly opened and wondrously welcome. Wainwright has advised an overnight stop at Clay Bank Top – an odd choice – but we take a detour and strolled down to Great Broughton instead, only three miles further on, for a cup of tea, a bath and the amiable Mr. Robinson at Home Farm.

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 “Moors, moors and more moors!”

The North York Moors National Park contains one of the largest expanses of heather  in the United Kingdom. Designated as a national park in 1952, it covers an area of 554 square miles, and the area’s economy depends mostly on farming and tourism. The dale farmers have the right to graze their sheep on the moorlands, but they must share them with grouse shooting. (Luckily for us, it is not the season for grouse, so we shouldn’t end up with buckshot in our backsides!) Further south, arable farms grow barley, wheat, canola, potatoes, and sugar beets. The famous vet, Mr. Herriott used to live in a tiny hamlet on the western edge of the National Park, but we passed by further north, and missed the opportunity to meet him.

Day eleven, and after a terrific breakfast, we set off back to Clay Top to begin today’s trek to Glaisdale. Once back up on top of the moors, the path takes us along a ridge above the Cleveland Plains with breath-taking views in every direction. We can walk side-by-side here, on broad, soft pathways, surrounded by heather and sunshine. We descend onto an old railway line that takes us all the way to Blakey Ridge and the Lion Inn in the middle of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. From here, we have a panorama of moorland as far as the eye can see. An icy wind whistling around our stiffening, aching limbs becomes tedious, despite the easy walking. We distract ourselves by re-inventing our future yet again…

After a good rest and a satisfying lunch at the dark and isolated Lion Inn – think ‘The Slaughtered Lamb in the movie ‘American Werewolf in London’ – we head off for four more hours of the same bleak moorland scenery. Heather, old and new, dead, charred, interminable: Mr. Wainwright you are welcome to it, I’ve had enough! With only two miles to go, and still no sign of change, we become hysterical, giggling at even the slightest variation in the landscape: a puddle, a wobble in the path, a solitary blackbird or raptor…

Eventually, after a sudden downpour about a mile and a half from Glaisdale, we drop off the edge of the world, and wind our way down, down, down through an isolated farmyard, past a couple of bungalows, before we find ourselves unexpectedly in the middle of town. A friendly woman in the post office, with ill-fitting false teeth, sets us off again, giggling as we discover that even the signposts suffer from speech impediments: railway station has been reduced to ‘r—w-y st—-n.’

The town of Glaisdale is in two parts and slides down a steep hill to Beggar’s Bridge and the ‘RWY STN’ at the bottom of the valley. Here, we fuel up on coffee and tea cakes before following the river to Churchdale Farm. This square, stone farmhouse is tucked into a crease of the hills, overlooking the river in one direction, and up the valley to Glaisdale, which is trimmed in tall, leafy trees, and thick hedgerows. Above the village, the hedges morph into low stone walls, stretching towards the moors.

Our room here is a delight, with high ceilings, a tall, shuttered window, and a vast, white bed. Dainty blue and white china is liberally spread across the mantelpiece and over the dressing table, and the walls are entwined with vines and bright red berries. It’s the prettiest wallpaper I have ever seen. I may stay here forever.

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Day twelve. Our last day. The final lap to Robin Hood’s Bay. As the fog descends, we say a swift farewell to Wainwright, and find a short-cut to the sea, through the woods along the River Esk. Bracken and beech trees drip with raindrops, reminding us of the Tasmanian forests. I rave on endlessly about the flagstones set into the path, the plashing of waterfalls, the birds, the trees… everything!

At Egton Bridge we come across a plethora of riverside homes, smooth lawns running down to the river. A pretty pub is draped in wisteria, a laburnum drips yellow branches over the grass in the beer garden, and a horse chestnut spreads its foliage wide enough to camp under. A private road that once charged a toll – sixpence for a hearse – takes us past Egton Manor and into Grosmont in time to see the steam train setting off to Pickering.

The climb out of Grosmont (1:3 incline) is exhausting, and seems to go on for hours, up, up, up into the mist. When we eventually reach the top, the view has been completely blotted out. Yet, in the gauzy mist, the moors take on a different character, mysterious and alluring. Some brilliant navigating by the One & Only gets us to precisely the right spot to lead us down to Little Beck, a pretty hamlet tucked into the fold of a steep gorge. Two cyclists we pass peddling furiously up the hill have all my sympathy.

At this point, we tear ahead along the road and across a final stretch of moorland to reach the cliff-side town of Robin Hood’s Bay.  Here, our cosy world of lonely woodland paths and fireside camaraderie vanish in a puff of smoke. Or rather, in a tidal wave of tourists and day trippers. We throw our pebbles from the Irish Sea off the rocks into the North Sea. Our trek is done. Our feet are weary, but our heads are full of the glories of northern England, and tomorrow, it’s on to York. By bus.

*With thanks to the One & Only for the photo.

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