Coast to Coast – Glaisdale to Robin Hood’s Bay – THE END!

Robin Hood's Bay

Robin Hood’s Bay

Chapter 15 – Glaisdale to Robin Hood’s Bay

The last day – and the first without a pack!

It had taken a long time in coming but the final day had arrived. Today, baring any disaster, walking from Glaisdale to Robin Hood’s Bay I would finally reach the North Sea and the end of the walk. (Whitby is on the coast of the North Sea but the wrong bit as far as the Coast to Coast walk is concerned.) But it wasn’t just a stroll. This was still a serious walk and I estimated I had close on 29 kilometres before I could say that I had finished the whole of the long distance walk.

First I had to get back to where I’d finished the day before. There was a bus but that would have meant a late start so the option was the train back along the same route I’d taken the previous evening. In the Arncliffe Arms in Glaisdale I had been told that the train is, in effect, the local school ‘bus’ first thing in the morning and at mid morning and this was evident at the station when close on a hundred school children must have walked through Whitby station. But that’s a good thing as it means, at least in term time, that the train would be almost guaranteed to run and not being subject to arbitrary cancellations.

Although the weather was, yet again, dull and overcast this is still a pleasant train journey. The eventual destination along this line is Middlesbrough but going inland and through the hills rather than along the coast, the quickest way from Whitby. In the summer months, or just on a bright and sunny day in whatever season, this would be a worthwhile journey. The only thing I can’t work out about it is why it’s cheaper to go up hill in what is considered peak times than it is downhill in off-peak times.

The scheduled journey time is only 27 minutes so I would be starting to walk, more or less, at a similar time I had adopted from the start.

A very slight diversion at the very beginning of the walk is a visit to the so-called ‘Beggar’s Bridge’ (quite a beautiful bridge with the vegetation growing on it), built-in 1619 specifically for pack horses, and which is one of a number that cross the Esk River, the route of which the railway line follows as it heads further in land before turning north towards Middlesbrough. I don’t realise this at the time, taking a picture of the information board but not taking the time to read it and so didn’t look out for two of the other bridges in the villages of Egton Bridge and Grosmont I would have to pass through on my trek east.

Beggar's Bridge, Glaisdale

Beggar’s Bridge, Glaisdale

As I wasn’t carrying a rucksack all I considered I might need had to be either worn, in the pockets or around my neck as I didn’t have a day pack. For some reason, even though I’d been ‘dreaming’ of this freedom I didn’t actually feel free as I followed the path through the woods on the banks of the river. Also I wasn’t moving as fast as I thought I would. My timings for the stretch from Glaisdale to Egton Bridge were based on a load and I barely kept to those times. I don’t think that was anything other than the inability to adopt my normal walking pace. For so long, 12 days, I had forced myself to just plod along and it seemed as if I couldn’t get out of second gear.

(The previous day I had considered walking to the next station down the line after a quick pint in the Arncliffe Arms. Fortunately that plan was quickly forgotten as I relaxed in the bar otherwise I might had made a bit of a faux pas as the station in Egton Bridge is at the far end of the village and I might have cut it too fine to catch the last train to Whitby.)

Before leaving Egton Bridge there’s a large church, not that far from the railway station and just a very short diversion from the path. I decided to try the door and was slightly surprised it was unlocked, there seeming to be no one around. Obviously in some parts of the country churches are opened on a regular basis for the occasional passers-by, but I’m not used to that in the north-west. What I found interesting was the frescos in the apse, behind the altar, it not being usual to find such paintings in churches built-in the 19th century. In trying to find out more about the church later I discovered that the ‘stations of the cross’ were in the form of painted reliefs on the outside walls of the church, something I’ve not come across before. I took a few minutes to go inside but obviously missed a lot. Also read that this huge church for a very small village (and it’s not the only church) has been nicknamed ‘The Cathedral of the Moors’.

Altar St Hedda's Church, Egton Bridge

Altar St Hedda’s Church, Egton Bridge

The next village (the walk today would pass through a few of them) was Grosmont. Again a small village but perhaps with three things that make it different: Grosmont is pronounced with a silent ‘s’ and ‘t’ – presumably some French connection – for all I know other letters might be silent in the local dialect; it’s the terminus of the North York Moors railway, which operates steam locomotives. It seems it was this train that was used in the ‘Harry Potter’ films – not a franchise I found particularly interesting or memorable; and there’s one hell of a steep hill you have to climb to get out of the village if doing the C2C.

It’s a quiet country road, with limited traffic but it’s still a bit of a shock to the system as the climb goes on for close on 2 kilometres. Towards the summit of this climb (which allowed a view of Whitby and the distinctive abbey ruins in the distance to the north-east and a ‘welcoming’ strong and cool wind as you arrive at the moors) there was something else I’d never seen in real life – a hedgehog escape ramp from a cattle grid. Top marks for thinking about the poor hedgehogs but I’m not sure that the positioning of the tyre (presumably to protect the fencing) made life that much easier for the erinaceina.

Hedgehog Cattle Grid Escape Ramp - with obstruction

Hedgehog Cattle Grid Escape Ramp – with obstruction

After a relatively short stretch across the moor the path heads down to the very quiet village of Littlebeck and from there into the Littlebeck Wood, a local nature reserve. This is so different from the moors that have dominated the route for the last 3 or 4 days. And a welcome respite from the constant wind that I have been walking into on heading east. This path through this nature reserve is about 3 kilometres long and heads only slightly SE so you’re not making much progress towards the sea but would be a welcome break if doing this walk on a hot and sunny day. Although closed by the time I passed through (but only by a matter of days) there is a café next to a small waterfall (probably much more impressive after a lot of rain) as well as a Victorian folly, a huge rock carved out to produce what is known as ‘The Hermitage’. A few drops of rain started to fall as I walked through this wood and feared that once out in the open I would have to face unpleasant weather (something I’d miraculously avoided so far), but nothing came of it and amongst the trees I was unable to get any idea how the weather that day was developing.

But this green and sheltered section gave way to the open road and then a couple of stretches of open moorland. But this is not an area where you can just follow the most direct route and the path often takes the opposite direction to the way you want to go as this is the only way to get through without wading up to your knees in bog water. Again, even though I was beginning to find walking into the wind tiring these unusual weather conditions were drying out the land and the relatively dry summer meant I was probably passing through in the easiest of conditions underfoot.

Sneaton Low Moor

Sneaton Low Moor

I left the moorland behind me for good, on the Coast to Coast, once I had picked up the quiet road that leads to Hawsker, the last village before the true end at Robin Hood’s Bay. The pub there was closed, fortunately for me as a delay there would have blown all my plans apart – although it was only as matters developed over the next two or three hours that I came to realise that. The main road north to Whitby passes through Hawsker and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted, when I came across the bus stop, to leave the last section till the following day and instead head to Whitby for my baggage – but I rejected such a cop-out and trudged on. As I left the main road and headed for the coast a there was a sign post indicating that Robin Hood’s Bay was 2.5 miles away. It was a little bit of despair that after about another 30 minutes quite brisk walking I came across a signpost that indicated 3 miles. This is due to the fact that the official path follows the cliff path to then drop down to the sea but to get there you have to head north through the caravan and camping sites, completely deserted of people when I passed through but, I’m sure, heaving in the summer.

Welcome to Robin Hood's Bay!

Welcome to Robin Hood’s Bay!

It had already been a long day and as I came to each headland on the cliff path I hoped that I would get my first view of the village. My problem, self-created in that I had left my rucksack in Whitby, was I was working around bus timetables and as time went by my options were reducing. But I didn’t do myself any favours in this respect.

On finally reaching the edge of the town I walked past the bus stop that would take me to Whitby and anyone I asked was a visitor and couldn’t answer my query – why is it that when you need some important information about a location that the only people you come across can’t give it to you? Anyway, by the time I got the necessary details I was then in a pub at the water’s edge and had missed the bus I wanted to catch. Even though I had the time for a very quick pint, and I had actually completed the whole of the walk, having walked past the signpost that is at the bottom of the steep hill in Robin Hood’s Bay, there was no real sense of achievement or celebration.

I couldn’t relax as I had to head seven or so miles north to recover my belongings. If I had taken a step back and really considered the options I could have left my gear in Whitby, had headed to the YHA with what I stood up in and then made the bus trips the following day. But I didn’t so that’s the way things go. But the diversion to the pub did provide me with important information and that was the quickest and most direct route to Boggle Hole. There’s a path along the cliff top but at low tide it’s also possible to reach the bay along the beach – and as luck would have it that afternoon the tide was on the way out. Still didn’t know exactly where it was but at least I knew that I would eventually get there on the sandy route.

But before that I had to get to Whitby. The bus was easy, it was the rest that was difficult. I realised as I looked at the timetables that I had 23 minutes after arriving in the town to get up to the abbey ruins, collect my bag and then get down to the bus station. That meant an extremely brisk walk and an almost run up the 199 steps, a short prayer that someone would be at the reception so that I could get in and out again with my bag and then follow the same route back to the bus stop. I did it with about a minute to spare.

And this mad rush was after 7 hours walking and just under 30 kilometres. Not the relaxed and triumphant ending I had been expecting. There was another bus a couple of hours later which would have allowed me to experience Whitby’s famous fish and chips but would have led to an interesting walk along the beach to my bed. This rushing about was the only really downside of having a rucksack free day but, all in all, worth it. But I’ll have to make a return visit to Whitby in the not too distant future. It was a place I immediately warmed to although my time there was so short.

It was getting dark as I headed along the beach, once more back in Robin Hood’s Bay, to the hostel. Fortunately the woman I asked for more accurate information in the gloom beside the North Sea didn’t a) panic and run or b) was a local so knew what I was after. So after all that messing around I finally got to the location of my bed for the night at about 19.30.

The Coast to Coast route had been successfully completed, not without a certain amount of pain (but not too much), without truly adverse weather and with everything going, more of less, to plan.

So at 19.15 ish on the evening of Wednesday 2nd October it was 192 (approximately but most certainly more) miles down and no more miles to go.

THE END - official!

THE END – official!

Practical Information:

Accommodation

Boggle Hole YHA. The best thing about this hostel is its location. It’s in a small cove very close to the high water line and that must be interesting on a stormy day in winter. Boggle is a local name for a goblin that is also supposed to haunt the place – but not on the night I was there. The building was originally used as a water powered mill and before that the cove was supposed to have been a smugglers favourite but it seems to be too close to the village of Robin Hood’s Bay for that. At the same time giving a place a name that will frighten the ignorant and superstitious was a well-known tactic of smugglers.

I originally planned to stay for a couple of nights, the one on arrival and a final ‘rest day’ but decided to cut my losses and run when I had to find somewhere else to stay when a drunken slug arrived just after I had turned out the lights. He fell asleep immediately and then proceeded to snore like a drain. I hadn’t enough alcohol to sleep through it and didn’t want to risk another nigh, and anyway didn’t really need to relax after the walk. If the weather had looked more promising I might have stayed but the greyness seemed set for some more days. The YHA did a special deal if you stayed for two or more nights and that came to £34 for 2 nights B+B. And for fans of ’60’s music, Jimi Hendrix stayed in one of the outhouses – presumably before it was a youth hostel.

Jimi Hendrix wus 'ere

Jimi Hendrix wus ‘ere

An issue with the YHA and its relationship between school groups and the rest of the population arose at Boggle Hole in a strange way. The main building had been virtually taken over by a large group of 16-17 year old school girls. The few of us not in the group were ‘banished’ to a modern annex, all well and good. When I went to the main building to use the wi-fi I was directed to the common lounge area. There was a room directly off this lounge that I, at first, led to a work room and that some of the girls were working late on a project – there was a classroom close by. It was only after a while that I realised it was a dormitory and they were getting ready for bed. The YHA could think a bit more about such arrangements to make it more convenient (and socially comfortable) for all concerned. But that would take forethought which is so sadly lacking in many aspects of British society.

 

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Coast to Coast – Urra to Glaisdale

'Fat Betty' on High Blakey Moor

‘Fat Betty’ on High Blakey Moor

Chapter 14 – Urra to Glaisdale

The day of the wind

The penultimate day. It seems a long time since I arrived in St Bees but now I know I’ve broken the back of the journey – I’ll get to Robin Hood’s Bay if I have to do it on my knees.

But yet another long day. Not a lot of climbing, in fact the only real climb of the day was the first ten minutes after leaving the B+B, but I estimated that I had a trek of something like 30 kilometres to arrive at the day’s goal.

It was a penultimate but also, if everything went to plan, an ultimate day. Accommodation choices in the latter stages of the route were limited, or if they did exist expensive. For that reason I had booked into the YHA at Whitby which meant that I would have to catch a train from Glaisdale in the afternoon and then return the following day to pick up where I had left off. I’d investigated the transport options and considered that, although slightly messy, I could leave my rucksack at Whitby, do the last day’s walk to Robin Hood’s Bay, and then return to Whitby by bus. Ideally I would be able to stay the last couple of nights of the trip in the YHA. I had tried to transfer my booking whilst at Osmotherly but had been told that Whitby was all booked up. I still had a faint hope that I could arrange something later in the afternoon. This is a long and convoluted way of saying that today would be the last day I would walk with a big backpack.

As I said in the last post there was no need to back-track and return to where I had left the C2C route the day before at Clay Bank Top. If you look at the map Urra makes a very ragged triangle with Clay Bank Top and Round Hill being at the other points. The people in the Maltkiln had produced a home-made sketch map which made a lot of sense when placed against the OS of the area. Also talking through the route before I left I knew what to expect. (One thing I meant to, but forgot to, ask about before leaving was the pronunciation of the word Urra, whether it had a long or a short U. So I still don’t know how to pronounce the name of the place.)

The first ten minutes was steep through overgrown bracken. I think the only people who make that route might be people staying in the Maltkiln as it’s not really on any through route. I have already mentioned the smell of the rotting vegetation that had transferred itself to my skin a couple of days before but here the smell of decay was stronger, probably because the process of death was a little more advanced here, being as Urra is 250m above sea level.

I had been asked to give a final wave once I had reached a wall after which I would be out of sight from the valley. When I thought I was at that point I turned back and saw the flash of their hands waving, surprisingly clear at so far away but standing out against the dark background of the trees. They had been running the place for many years, long before people expected perfection and complete uniformity in their B+Bs, wherever they might be, and had probably been going through the same ritual as guests left for most of that time. I even had my picture taken, all loaded up, just as I was about to leave, making sure that my sandals were in the frame. At the Maltkiln there was a much more individual approach which is becoming a thing of the past now and if they manage to sell up it will disappear in Urra as well. (One of the places I stayed in on the Hadrian’s Wall walk was run in a similar, more laid back and personable manner.)

But as soon as I reached that ridge that left Urra behind I came into a strong wind from the east and that was to dominate the weather all day with no let up whatsoever and with low grey cloud making all the colours seem flat.

Yet again the moors were dominated by shooting as I hadn’t been walking for much more than half an hour before walking along a wide, drivable, sandy track and seeing numbered grouse butts. These were three-sided, rectangular stone structures, with turf on top of the walls, and acted as hides for those with the guns.

Boundary Marker on Urra Moor

Boundary Marker on Urra Moor

Coincidences are said to be more common than we sometimes think they should be and I arrived at the junction with the ‘official’ Coast to Coast route at exactly the same time as an Aussie I had met for the last couple of kilometres of the walk the day before and spent the next couple of hours chatting to him as we headed east along the flat, wind swept moor, eventually following the route of an abandoned railway line. (Also, coincidentally, he had gone to a college in Plymouth just at the time I left.)

It was useful meeting up with him as I probably walked a little faster in company. It had taken me a day or so at the beginning of the route to slow down and adapt to the extra weight. Now, after 12 walking days, I had adopted much more of a plodding pace and keeping pace with him (he carried virtually nothing) meant I made better progress.

I was to make a slight change to my original planned route this day after talking to the people in the Maltkiln. On Blakey High Moor it takes a dive south to then go back up north, for no other reason than to pass by the Lion Inn. Under other circumstances that would have been tempting but not today. There were a lot of kilometres to put behind me and today was unique for all the walking days in that I had transport to catch to take me to my bed for the night. Not an ideal situation but one I’d decided on a good few weeks ago when I was making the arrangements – and had to live with. There was plenty of slack in the timetable but I’d rather spend the time in the pub at the end of a route, knowing that the station was only a couple of minutes away, rather than have a lunchtime beer when I was barely at the half way stage.

So I took a short cut across the moor rather than continue on the disused railway track to the Lion and then trek back up along a busy road. Looking at the map that saved me close on 3 kilometres and if it’s considered cheating, so what? – there’s no official route for the walk anyway and exploration is allowed. This short cut path is not shown in the Stedman book but is quite easy to find once you know what to look for. There’s a long, straight as a die, stretch of the disused railway and just as it makes a curved turn to the right a path crosses it, clearly signposted, and heading down towards the River Esk. If you carry on another 150m or so look out for a flat stone with the letters (in yellow paint) LWW on the left hand side of the track. From this point a faint path, and even some wooden post markers with faint white paint on the top, can be seen heading off to the north-east. (The LWW is for the Lyke Wake Walk and is the route for those who don’t want to call in to the Lion. This is a 40 mile walk from Osmotherly which gets many hundreds of people attempting to do it in 24 hours on the 21st June, the longest day.)

This path is marked on the OS maps and although it becomes indistinct a couple of hundred metres from the railway track as it passes through a swampy area it’s easy to follow if you keep heading north-east and look out for the wooden and even the occasional stone marker. A couple of kilometres and you’ll arrive at the main road at another large, standing stone, the Lion seen back down on the right. The path continues directly across the road, now signposted C2C, and is the best option to pick up the road heading east/south-east above Rosedale Head.

There are a lot of standing stones on this day, in fact on all the days that you walk through the North Yorks Moors. They vary in size and function. Some are boundary markers (and some of those have interesting carvings), some indicate paths or the route of paths and others are just there, often for unknown reasons. After walking across the moorland at Rosedale Head you arrive at a quite road and directly across the road there is a large stone with a smaller one perched on top. The smaller one is circular and has a rough, primitive face carved into it. Now the top half is painted white but how long that’s been the case I don’t know.

This stone is known as ‘Fat Betty’ (and it’s the image at the top of the post). ‘Tradition’ – where do people get all these ‘traditions’? – states that passers-by should take some of the food that had been left there and leave something different in its place. I went against ‘tradition’ for a couple of reasons. A. I didn’t have any food, other than the Mars bar I ate as I sat next to Betty and B. I’m getting too cynical and don’t trust such unknown quantities. You don’t know how long anything might have been there and even if it had only been left a matter of minutes earlier I have passed enough bottles of ‘whiskey’ over the years, half full with amber liquid, to know when to leave well alone. What a comment on our society – or at least my reaction to it?

Another large standing stone is at the next junction, 25 minutes or so along the road. This is called the Millennium Stone and I assume (and hope) it was put up in the year 2000 rather than a much more ancient stone being carved in situ. It has a rough face towards the road but the other face has a cross and the letters AD MM carved into it. At the bottom are the letters NYMA which, I surmise, stands for the North Yorks Moors (or perhaps Millennium) Association. The Christians can’t refrain from vandalising pagan symbols and locations even into the 21st century. When I was in Cuzco in Peru in 1991 I attended a meeting where a speaker was decrying the vandalism of the followers of Karol Wojtyla, the neo-Fascist incumbent of the Vatican from 1978-2005. On his visit a few years earlier a large cross was installed next to the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, high above the city, and this was seen by many as a continuation of the policy of the ‘extirpation of ideology’ (the elimination of anything religious that might be seen to challenge the supreme authority of the Catholic Church) that had guided political and religious policy in South America after the Spanish invasion. They’re even trying to maintain that policy in Yorkshire!

Millenium Stone Danby Moor

Millenium Stone Danby Moor

This stone does have its uses, though. When I arrived three shepherds were there on their quad bikes, having their lunch break. They left as I arrived but I don’t think I chased them away. But this large stone did provide something of a wind break as although the wind wasn’t exactly cold you needed some protection as the constant blowing would soon cool the body down.

From here it was a long trek across the moors down to the village of Glaisdale. In good weather conditions the views would have been impressive, looking along some of the valleys and soon getting a closer view of the North Sea, but as with many of the days the cloud was low and the colours flat, so yet again I only took a few pictures. Today I saw few fellow walkers doing the Coast to Coast. Once I left the disused railway track before the Lion Inn I didn’t see anyone on the route until I met a few people who were taking a short walk from Glaisdale.

I didn’t get to know Glaisdale itself very well as it has a strange arrangement. Most of the village (apart from the pub (I only am aware of one) and the railway station) is built quite high up the valley. Then you seem to leave the village along the road and it’s another good 10-15 minutes before you come to a few more houses, then the pub and after that the station, on the very edge.

I arrived there at 16.45 but the next (and only train in the evening outside of August) was just under a couple of hours away. I entered the pub with good intentions, just to have a pint and then walk to the next stop on the line, so as to reduce the length of the walk the following day. Those good intentions didn’t last long after I’d taken off the backpack so I only left in time to catch my train.

The landlord seemed to be touting for custom for the B+B. The problem is that there seems to be no sense of negotiation and they would rather have rooms empty than reduce the prices. Even though I was making the walk at the end of the season there was no reduction in the cost of the rooms, especially for anyone travelling alone. This was the case along the whole route. OK the season may be short but there still seems to be a lack of imagination to tout for custom at times when things get quiet. Even with the transport costs of getting to and back from Whitby I was still saving on what I would have been charged in a place with limited accommodation such as Glaisdale.

Having spent such a long time now on this walk I had met, and talked to, quite few people and it helps to build up a general picture of what’s the motivation to attempt it in the first place, why they do it, what they get out of it and what they think they’ve achieved at the finish. And in an almost empty pub I was able to get another couple of perspectives from the conversations I had in the short time I had available before the train.

An Aussie was cherry picking the sections he wanted to do. He was ‘used to the outback’ and didn’t think it was real walking if you went along a road. Considering the size of Britain and how developed it is, even in predominantly rural areas in terms of a road infrastructure, you’re never going to be that far from ”civilisation’. Even in the Lake District if everything went wrong you could get down from the most remote spot in a relatively short time. With that sort of attitude I didn’t understand why he had bothered in the first place. If you want to go somewhere on these islands where you in the middle of nowhere then he should have chosen the Scottish Highlands rather than a walk that takes you through National Parks and moorland. To me he didn’t seem to accept the concept of a long distance walk. I think I’ve written about this before but it’s all about the constant moving on, keeping going even if you don’t feel like it and overcoming the problems, both physical and psychological that comes from making the body do something that it is not used to. At least that was the way I thought about it.

In a natural break from this strange conversation someone else made a comment and I ended up talking to him for a while. He had another (to me) strange revelation on his journey. He was moving through a bit faster than me (by a couple of days) so wasn’t quite racing but neither was he taking his time. For him it was ‘an almost spiritual experience’, his words. He had started out with an MP3 player full of things he thought he would listen to on the long stretches when there was ‘nothing to do’. But he found that he didn’t use the player once.

As far as I’m concerned what he had wasn’t a spiritual experience but just a return to reality. Why is there this obsession in our society to be always in the process of receiving information produced by someone else? People go out jogging, cycling, walking, travelling in a bus or train, shopping and many other daily activities and before any of that can happen some sound system is plugged into their ears. What’s wrong with just taking in what’s going on all around us. This is especially the case when town dwellers go into the countryside.

If you’re never far away from traffic noise in your everyday life why don’t you appreciate the noises of the moors. He must have startled any number of grouse and pheasants as he walked along the moorland paths but what can he have got out of it if he had had Led Zeppelin blasting in his ears. What’s the point of making all the effort to complete such an arduous walk if you don’t take something from the environment through which you pass? He might just as well have gone and walked the same distance on a treadmill in an expensive yuppie gym.

OK he didn’t use the player, it seemed that he did get something out of the silence. Perhaps he thought about things. Perhaps it was the first time he had thought about things for a long time, if ever. But that doesn’t make it a ‘spiritual experience’. That was just getting back to something too many people have lost. Being constantly attacked by other people’s creations, ideas, outlook on the world which we get from constantly listening and watching TV/radio/MP3 players and all the other assaults of a modern age on our senses means there’s no time to yourself. If you happen to live in a place with other people means you have another problem in not being able to switch off other people’s obsession with noise, mostly receiving but also transmitting the meaningless chatter that accompanies most family interactions.

Whether he will change after his experiences is unlikely, especially if he sees thinks as being somehow mystical. But the chances are that when he got back home and next went out jogging he would remember his MP3 player before his trainers.

I was running short of cash and expected to be able to pay for the train by card, so spent most of my cash in the pub. However, the conductor’s card reader wasn’t working and as I counted out my pennies to try to make the fare she told me to just give her the silver. A good job she took that approach as I didn’t have enough money and don’t know how matters would have turned out if she stuck to the real cost. And can anyone tell me why the single fare from Glaisdale was £4.40 (off-peak) yet to Glaisdale (peak) was only £4.00. Why do some questions have no logical answer?

So at 16.45 (but still a couple of hours before the train journey and then a walk up the hill to YHA) on the afternoon of 1st October it was 176 miles down 24 to go – but see the previous day’s post for the questioning of distances.

Practical Information:

Accommodation

Whitby YHA. £26.60 B+B. The YHA is part of the Abbey complex and is in an interesting location, looking down on the town. It’s a bit of a challenge to get though, as it’s at the top of a flight of 199 steps that end up in the cemetery of the church. It’s bit of a rambling, but interesting, building. Busy for the next couple of days with school groups so no chance of changing from Robin Hood’s Bay to Whitby. That’s a shame as I liked Whitby from the short walk I made from the railway station to the hostel – and their fish and chips are supposed to be among the best in the country. It was interesting that the receptionist warned that there would be a big group of children arriving for breakfast at 08.00 the next morning and suggesting that old farts might want to arrive earlier. That suits me as I need to get into town for the 08.50 train back to Glaisdale.

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Coast to Coast – Osmotherly to Urra

Pheasant at the Wain Stones

Pheasant at the Wain Stones

Chapter 13 – Osmotherly to Urra

The day of the hunter and stolen land

One aspect of walking alone is that you have a lot of time to think and whilst walking through the fields the day before I had realised that I might have planned things better accommodation wise towards the end of the route. I had already planned to stay at Whitby on the penultimate night of the walk (catching a train there at the end of the day and a train back the following morning) but realised that it would make sense to stay in Whitby for the last three nights (rather than the last two at the YHA of Boggle Hole in Robin Hood’s Bay). That, I thought, would be the best use of my time and as they were both YHA places there would be no problem in making a transfer, if their was space available. I had asked on arrival at the Osmotherly YHA if they could make enquiries about such a change in arrangements but as I was having breakfast I was told that an email had arrived back saying that Whitby was full with school groups.

I have been more than happy with my logistical arrangement so far, everything has worked out well, but if I had thought around the issue a bit more as I was making my accommodation arrangements I might have thought of this idea earlier. By using public transport it wasn’t really too much of an inconvenience.

First thing the weather looked as promising as it had the day before but by the time I had breakfasted, packed and walked out of the building the cloud had started to hide the sun and it started to feel cool so needed an extra layer before I was even out of the approach road to the hostel. Osmotherly is slightly off the ‘official yet not official’ Coast to Coast route but there was no need to back track to the place of the pheasants as the road heading north from Osmotherly cut across the path about 3 kilometres away.

(A strange name Osmotherly. No idea where it comes from. The place was much bigger than I expected and looking in the guide-book it seems to have quite a bit of history and some places of interest. But, as I’ve said before, doing a long distance walk means that such cultural asides are not really practicable.)

The first part of the walk, once I’d returned to the C2C route proper, was through woods and then farmland but most of today would be on open moorland, the majority of it reserved for hunting game birds, and that was going to be the dominant terrain until arriving at the coast.

I’d passed through a few of these moorland, hunting, sites before, since leaving the Lake District National Park, and at the gate/entrance to this ‘private’ land there would always be a sign put there by the company who claimed ownership. These were always condescending notices. There would be a bit of information about the flora and the fauna but there was always a rider that basically said you were allowed access to this land at the discretion of the owner and that really these wild moorland areas only existed due to the management of the areas by the grazing of sheep there and also the careful stewardship of the heather for the game birds. (It seems that both the pheasants and the grouse like the old-established heather for nesting and protection from predators and the weather but the young heather provides food. This is why you’ll see areas of recently burnt heather in order to allow the regrowth of the more tender shoots. This is a process that goes on every year, presumably after the killing stops.)

This condescension, this permissive approach, this talking down to anyone who might pass through as if they were children who had no understanding of the environment, this declaration of superiority is all intended to hide what is the basic truth and that this land has been stolen from the people of the country and these declarations merely intend to maintain the rights of the thieves.

In this country we tend to think that privatisation is a more recent affair, with the ‘selling of the family silver’ by the Thatcherite Tories in the 1980s when their failed economic policies meant they had to search for a way to pay the bills or they would have been out on their ears at the next election. Thatcher gets the ‘credit’ for this change in economic direction but it was probably some prick of a junior minister or civil servant who came up with the idea in the first place and it was Thatcher who ran with it, she being notoriously lacking in imagination.

However, the people of the UK have been robbed of their land and inheritance for centuries, and the same ones who ultimately benefited from the privatisation of the 80s where the heirs of the thieves of the past. Enclosure of ‘common land’ had been going on since the Elizabethan times but it really exploded at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries. To make the most of the technological and scientific advances in agriculture (both horticulture and livestock) the old system of dividing up the land in strips had to be eliminated and the common lands were also rip for the picking. When the common lands were taken from the ordinary people (not just those working the land but also those involved in household industries) they found they couldn’t exist. It was access to the commons that allowed them to graze the handful of animals that would feed them through lean times. When that safety net was taken away there was nothing else for them to do but starve – or migrate to the towns and seek work there. Whether by design or chance this meant that the factories being supplied by the new machinery, as a product of the industrial revolution, had a ready and cheap supply of labour.

The landowners of the farmland and the industrial capitalists made their fortunes and looked to the past where the aristocracy used to indulge their pastimes in hunting, so throughout the 19th century the moorlands, unsuitable for most agricultural practices, were enclosed and ‘privatised’. It was from that time that the moors that are not devoted to shooting came into existence. It was from that time that hunting became the expensive luxury of the rich and the criminalisation of anyone who dared to attempt to take something for the pot to feed their families. Of course this had always been the case on certain tracks of land (since the Norman conquest) but the extent of the land now involved increased drastically in those areas deemed unimportant in the past.

In preparing this land for easy access a vast amount of labour was required. Much of the path today was paved, and not a shoddy job but one that was done with planning and a lot of skill. It’s relatively flat here so there’s not the problem to which many of the paved paths in the hills are subject – erosion from flowing water – but they must have had some maintenance over the years. Whether these paths are still used by hunters I don’t know, there were none around on the day I passed through and what I saw at Grinton seemed to indicate that present day hunters aren’t perhaps as hardy as those of yore, and prefer to be taken in a 4×4 (or something more military) to the spots where the game birds are encouraged to fly overhead.

Easy underfoot, but still a bit of effort needed for this section. There are basically three moors on this stretch to Urra and that means three times climbing up, quite steeply, and three times going down, equally steeply. I thought I’d left those hard descents behind me but that was only because I didn’t study the maps adequately when I going through the planning process.

The first ‘down’ arrived at a place known as Lord Stones. This is at a junction with a ‘B’ road going north to south. In September 2013 it was still a building site as the old building/café (which had been there for some time, I understand) was being renovated. It’s a big job and must have cost a fortune. Whether it just aims at the local day trade or whether it has higher ambitions I’ve haven’t been able to discover (the website tells us it’s ‘Coming soon’) but is reasonably accessible from Middlesbrough and is high enough to give even car visitors a view towards the North Sea – it was too grey when I was there to tell where the sky finished and the sea started.

Middlesbrough from Carlton Bank

Middlesbrough from Carlton Bank

It was here that I learnt, again, of my notoriety. A couple I hadn’t seen before asked if I was Michael. Not for anything more than they had noticed the sandals. They had met people I’d seen before along the earlier part of the route and I’m probably the only walker making the trip solo wearing sandals.

The weather improved as the day advanced but there was an almost consistent wind blowing from the east. This wasn’t that cold but persistent and was probably keeping the rain from advancing from the west, so I shouldn’t complain too much. On these moors there’s no shelter whatsoever and it would have been hard work with both the wind and the rain. And those conditions made it a not too unpleasant day for a group of young (11-12 year old) school children who were being taken out on a day trip from one of the centres nearby.

As for the route most of it was clear and very difficult to go wrong apart from when you reach the area known as the Wain Stones. This is a distinctive collection of upright rocks that are at the top of the third ‘up’ of the section. There is a very clear, and very narrow, path that goes off to the left, seeming to skirt around the rock face. It gets you to where you want to go but there’s a VERY steep, though short, section to get back on the path. There is a route through the stones themselves but, I understand from talking to someone later on, that is also a bit tricky.

As I was getting close to the final descent of the day, down to the road at Clay Bank you could clearly hear gun shots down in the valleys to the south, not seemingly on the moors themselves. Throughout the day many birds had crossed my path, both grouse and pheasant. On earlier days the grouse were the red variety, here they the black seemed to dominate and there were also a fair few pheasant, including the one that walked across the path at the Wain Stones (the picture at the top of the post).

Accommodation wasn’t plentiful close to the path here and I was staying at a hamlet called Urra. This entailed a walk down a somewhat busy and unpleasant road. It would have been an even more unpleasant route if I had had to retrace my steps the following day but had been told that I could get back up on to the moor in the morning by a direct path from the B+B.

What made this road section even more remarkable was the number of carcasses of pheasants (as far as I could make out) who had come off worse with the traffic. They are panicky birds and fly off at the least opportunity. But they fly so slow, are so cumbersome and don’t really gain any height that I they get panicked by a vehicle and there’s something bigger coming behind or the other way then they have no chance. Along this stretch of about a kilometre there were dozens of corpses in various stages of decay. If in the road they were flattened by the traffic, if they had bounced back onto the verge then just rotting away. On this trip I had never seen so many live birds at the same time. Now I hadn’t seen so many dead ones in one place at the same time. I assume that most of the fatalities happen at night so if anyone reading this is into road kill then the B1257 at Clay Bank is the place to go in the autumn.

The road up the Urra seemed to go on forever but I still arrived at a reasonable time.

So at 15.30 on the afternoon of 30th September it was (this is just an estimate as I’ve been going off track for accommodation and sometimes I gain and sometimes I lose and now am starting to get lost with the totals but something like) 157 miles down 43 to go (but that last figure is incorrect. If I walk 45 miles further to the east I’ll be very wet indeed, and considerably off shore in the North Sea – possibly beside an oil rig).

Practical Information:

Accommodation

Maltkiln House, Urra. Been established as a B+B for Coast to Coast walkers for years, although the couple who own the house want to sell up and go to the South of France. Needs a 15 minute walk down the busy and unpleasant B1257 (not like a ‘B’ road at all) from Quarry Bank Top and then another 15 minutes to the village/hamlet/settlement of Urra. Maltkiln House is the last house as you go on the tarmac road past farms and houses. Cup of tea and biscuits brought out from the house and able to sit on the veranda at the front of the house in the autumn sun. No one else there and had a twin room, en suite, for £35. Decided on a full dinner (with a sherry appetiser and a few glasses of white wine) for £15 (got a little reduction from advertised prices – they got to know me a bit at the dinner table).

No need to make the trek back to Quarry Bank Top as there’s a path up to Urra Moor from behind the house which eventually joins the Coast to Coast path near the trig point at Round Hill.

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