Monday, 19 June 2017

Lyke Wake Walk - The Third

In the beginning, the universe was created...

...this has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.  Then, some five billion years ago in the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy, an accretion cloud around a small unregarded yellow sun coughed up a lump of rock that went on to form into an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose tectonic motions led to the formation of large mountainous regions. One such region eventually over a few millennia drifted north where rolling ice sheets and glaciers ground down the peaks and carved deep valleys, leaving a desolate upland moor some 42 miles end to end, that the planets ape descendant life forms still think walking over in under twenty four hours is a pretty neat idea.

It was on the 16th of June, around two thousand years since one bloke got himself strung up for saying how great it would be to be nice to people occasionally, and exactly a year and one day since they had last done the same thing, that two of the planets ape descended carbon based bipedal life forms, admittedly probably not quite as far down the evolutionary tree as would be ideal, joined a small group of other such like minded, but considerably younger or physically better crafted specimens, on the outskirts of a distant urban backwater, to head for the inhospitable terrain of the planets island uplands, to once again prove to themselves that walking the breadth of the so called 'North Yorkshire Moors', isnt as neat an idea as previously thought.

This is their story.

The two above mentioned thick browed members of the species Homo sapiens sapiens are generally known, for administrative purposes at the request of the Glasgow Pay Office, as Bob Hooks [late of the 5th Rifles; 7th Royal Horse Artillery; and  6/8th Queens Ganja Rifles], and on Her Majesties Service for the benefit of the Military Correction Center Colchester, as Martin Barfield [8th Btn Light Infantry; Kings Own Yorkshire Yeomanry (light Infantry); 256 sqn RAF Quick Reaction NAAFI (reserve); and the 27th Foot in Mouth (east Doncaster branch) (ret.)], and we find them at 23:00 on a friday night slowly manouvering into a holding pattern close to the Kendray Hospital, Barnsley. With an expected 45min to wait, all eyes, a total of eight, are on the traffic lights at the road junction above. This would be their third crossing of the Lyke Wake Walk, the second over the East to West route, and their first supported.

Into this scene arrives a small motor vehicle, whose passenger side door swings open. After some moments, Bob steps out to investigate, and we get to meet the first of our fellow victims, Chris.  We divulge our kit out onto the street, and await the arrival of a minibus. During the intervening moments, we start getting to know each other and our motives.

At about 23:45, although I dont believe we checked, the minibus arrives, predictably some way up the road on the other side. We drag our kit over and meet Brian, the brains behind the fiendish torture plan, who ensures we are ticked off his list for the Prudential's loss adjusters. We embark on the vehicle, and find the first challenge of the walk is to actually get on the bus, which despite not yet having many people on, is already crammed full of supplies, aisles blocked with boxes, end on tressle tables, and the welcome nostalgic sight of a Burco boiler. We squeeze ourselves into whatever nooks we can find.

From Barnsley we now traveled to Osmotherly, where whilst awaiting the last few self loading freight to arrive, several of us partook of a parlour game known as 'find somewhere to have a pee'. I believe I won this round by going in the graveyard behind the chippy, several others finding themselves receiving a rather cold and odd reception in a local hostilery. With the last of the pickups arrived, including Gerry, one of the well standing members of the Lyke Wake Club, we again crammed ourselves back on the bus, for the journey to Ravenscar, the time being passed in amiable chat, interspersed with fruitless attempts to work out where we were.

Arrival at Ravenscar was close to first light. Dawn was slowly creeping over the cold of the North Sea, while a bright half moon added to the illumination of the landscape. Packs were hauled onto backs, headtorches on, and last minute decisions over sweatshirts and gaiters were made. Boots were tightened, and a final brief given regarding the distance, timings etc of the first stage. We were all eager for the off, and with the weather shaping up to be fine, the ground underfoot good, we launched into the first leg of the Lyke Wake Walk.

Sunrise over Ravenscar

Now, I should probably mention at this stage a brief overview of the group. Our group this time consisted of around seventeen people, of which a quarter were guides, a quarter forming a youth contingent who looked like they had their meals delivered to them in the gym, and much of the remainder formed from older but time served marathon and fell runners. Leaving myself and Bob as the ancient tub of lard posse. A predominantly male group, only two young ladies, who ultimately would arrive at the end looking as fresh as if they had had a days shopping expedition.

Very soon, myself and Bob began to appreciate that we are not built for speed, as the group took on the first leg with a murderous pace! We just aimed to try and keep from being the tail end charlies. Myself and Bob are much more your slow moving pack horse types. But, with stout boots, little weight and a pair of trekking poles each, we pounded our way down towards the A171 and Jugger Howe. At that time in the morning, a little after 03:00, the road was quiet. Predictably, there was a bit of stringing out to the group, as those of us not quite a fleet of foot slowed a little. But the ravine of Jugger Howe Beck predictably brought the lead group back within range of the rear party. Although I didnt appreciate it at the time, as I write this I am now suffering the bites of the damn midges.

Out of the dip and up onto Fylingdales Moor, and the steady climb to Lilla Cross. With the oddly attractive sight of the RAF's PAVE-PAWS adaptive UHF phased array RADAR in view, lit by the early morning light as the sun began to rise behind us, Bob stopped for a pee, and became an interesting foreground object in a sunrise photo. The usually rather moist passage over Eller Beck was not as damp as previously, and the group split several times as each guide presented their own preferred route to Eller Beck bridge, and the first checkpoint.

Golden Reflections

I decided that my feet were fine at this point and so didnt bother changing socks, but took the time to recover from the blistering pace. A mug of tea, cup of scalding hot tomato soup and a buttered roll for breakfast. With the weather now very clearly set fair, a mad scramble reorganisation of the pack to ditch any unnecessary weight was in order. But here, the situation was about to take a dire, and ultimately disappointing turn for Bob.

Some Moorland... Somewhere

Now, both myself and Bob are not as young as we were, and suffer from a number of ailments that we generally prescribe to our home towns gene pool being more akin to a slipper baths. These generally take the form of ruined knees, which is the main cause of us being rather sedate travelers on foot. But Bob also has a common but little known heart condition. Ordinarily of course, we walk as a pair, tailoring our route and pace to suite, and both of use aware of how to deal with any issues. However this time, the sudden stop from quite intense exercise, and a rapid intake of sugars, triggered an attack, which needed somewhat more intervention than hoped. I was swigging down hot soup when Bob called me over, and the look on his face was all I needed to know what the situation was.

Getting Warmer

At this point, it was back to being just me and Bob - if he asked me to bin it, it was binned. It became clear that Bob wouldnt be sorted before the step off on the second leg, but would hopefully rejoin at the 2nd checkpoint. It was decided that Bob would sit out the next stage, but I would press on. The group set off again, forging on down to cross the North York Moors Railway, and on to the long march over Simon Howe and down through Wheeldale Beck. It was here that last year we ran into an irate resident in the dark. Luckily he didnt seem to be around this time, but on crossing the beck a group of walkers who were on the verge of being reported overdue were spotted, slightly off course and probably feeling somewhat lost. One of our guides detached to go and assist them and get them back on route, as we all slogged up to the roman road and the bloody awful rocky path of Wheeldale Moor.

This was one of the longest sections, and rough going, simply a slog. After passing the Blue Man'i'the 'moss, the second checkpoint came into distant view. But to reach it, first one of the boggy sections had to be crossed. I was thankful for the good weather, as it was really not too bad. I had however, as expected, dropped to near the end of the spread of walkers. And, on stopping to take a leak, lost considerable ground, to come in last. At the checkpoint, more tea, a change of socks, and more kit lightening. Plus beans and sausages. I also got to catch up with Bob.

Food, Glorious Food!
Bob had thankfully managed to get his condition under control, and had done so in just a handful of minutes, unfortunately, with no comms (only one working radio between us and I had that) he couldnt tell me, otherwise I would have drifted along until he caught up. So instead he rejoined us at this point. In all fairness to Bob, having missed a section and now not eligible to count the walk as successful, he would have been well within his rights to sack it off and come back another day, but instead he decided to rejoin and fight it out with us.

The next section was relatively short, but we knew from previous experience what to expect - the bog! Once again the lack of poor weather for a while was marvelous, with many areas quite dry and springy, or at the very least not saturated. Not that it mattered, as most of us managed to find a section to go at least knee deep into! One poor chap, walking in shorts, went near waist deep with both legs! But with the bog conquered, we hit the mind and foot numbing tedium of the metaled road, winding its slow but uphill course to Fat Betty and the car parking where the minibus was waiting for the third checkpoint.

The Mob, plus some kids from Scarborough College

3rd checkpoint. More tea! Buffet lunch and chocolate. Contemplated changing to trainers, knowing that the next section involved the long drag up the railway inclines, but decided against it, as previous experience of the crossing over from Flat Howe suggested likely wet feet! And we were right. But once on the railway, the full force of the now blazing sun beat down on the bedraggled mob. The youngsters and the marathon men forged ahead, soon out of sight. For a good while, the weary trio of myself, Bob and Chris, now taking on a startling resemblance to a freshly cooked lobster thermidor, plodded slowly along, passed by and passing by a family on bikes several times as they stopped for picnics. It was somewhere along here that I started with my nose running from a single nostril! Bloworth Crossing came and went, and we eased over Round Hill summit, which I pointed out to Bob, as we still need to 'bag' that one on the radios! Passing over here we recollected last year where we stopped at the bench just before the descent to Clay Bank, and where we had a 'shout out' on a local radio station. Our only thought now as we bumped painfully down the stone steps was to not be the last of the group to complete the section!

Onwards, ever onwards!

Starting to take its toll. Chris the Lobster far left

4th checkpoint. Lots of fluids, more tea. Change into trainers now and fresh socks. Hot stew. One thing we noted was that it was all simple fare, but exactly what we needed. It was now mid afternoon and swelteringly hot. A cooling breeze across us much of the time, but there were calm moments where we just baked. At this point, there were two route options. The more traditional route up and over the summits, which would involve a starting climb up stone steps - the exact steps which almost took me out of the game last year. Or, the more refined low level path, which passed through woodlands. The vote was called, and returned unanimous - the woods! The now somewhat less rowdy mob moved off. The trees brought much admired shade, but where the canopy thinned the sun burst through like a furnace. But, this was a short and relatively level section. Quite easy going in many ways. However, as nice as trainers are for many things, they are not good for small sharp pebbles, of which this path is liberally scattered. Although myself and Bob were very much the tail end of the group now, and beginning the first skirmishes of the battle for the end, we managed to keep up a reasonable pace for us. Gerry dropped back as 'sweep' to ensure we didnt drop off the trail, and we passed the time in chat. An apparent incident ahead had Gerry nip off to give assistance, but it turned out to be an altercation between parties of dog walkers, not an accident as feared. On reaching Lord Stones Cafe, we both regretted not having any cash - an icecream or chilled can of pop would have been very welcome at that stage!

Nearing Lordstones Cafe

A view towards civilization (well, Gisborough)

Me no likey

The 5th and final checkpoint was a little beyond where expected. More tea, topped up water, the last of the Lucozade retrieved from our reserve pack and distributed. Between us, me and Bob would consume some six liters of 'zade, plus around three liters of water, and probably a liter of tea. Yet I would still finish with my throat like a Bedouin flip-flop. My left nostril now rubbed sore from attempts to deal with it running, each time just rubbing the accumulated grit and grime over my face. The left side of my neck was incinerated. My left arm griddled. One final push remained. But, it was a long one - six miles, and started with a stone stepped climb with little breeze, to the summit of Gold Hill. For a while, we managed to keep pace, but by now we were flagging. But at least our feet were good. I had just the beginnings of a small blister on my right heel, almost certainly due to the fewer than normal sock changes i'd decided on. Bobs feet were a bit more battered. As we dropped down through the woods to the houses at Huthwaite Green, Gerry showed us a way to avoid the wide woodland steps, which could well cause the end of a walk for an unwary traveler of those parts. Knowing that we had the ford of Scugdale beck ahead of us, followed by the final appalling climb, I made myself a promise to freshen up in the beck, which I surely did, splashing the fantastic cool waters over my face and neck. By now, there were no other walkers from our party in sight. We pressed on up the meadow and into the woods, at least now safe from the sun. Only one horrible section remained - the woodland steps up to Coalmire. Not exactly a great altitude change, these long drawn out timbered steps come at just the wrong place on the end of such a long walk.   By now, my body had reached its metabolic limit. There were no energy reserves left. I forced dextrose tablets down my gullet and tackled each small group of four or five steps at a time, before a pause for breath.  But then we were clear of them, and out onto the road to the car park.

Bob attempting to be manly

The final little section, along the road to the second car park, and the marker stone. We regrouped and completed this as a trio. As we came level with the rest of the group a cheer went up. I acknowledge this with a wave of a pole, and attempted a slow dash up to the stone. We had made it. Despite our troubles, fitness level, and age. And we had our official time - 16h 19m. After all that, we were still within half an hour completing as the rest of the group. Admittedly though, because of us, they did get longer rest periods! A few photos, which certainly show the state we were in, and we slipped down to the minibus, where we accepted a round of handshakes and congratulations, and a slightly warm but very welcome glass of bubbly!

Permission to Die, Sir?

The End. Tea and Medals

Badges and condolence cards were handed out. Bob being somewhat surprised to receive them, due his missing a leg. Packs off and thrown into the bus, the ordeal complete. We clambered awkwardly back in, and eased into nooks and crannies among sweaty, filthy boots and stinking bodies. A short drive down into Osmotherly to drop off Gerry and some others who had joined there, and then onwards for the run back down to Barnsley. During the early part of the return drive, I took some time to extract everything from Bobs big reserve pack, sort out whos kit was whos, and redistribute into the appropriate packs. I then started the campaign to remove my socks for a fresh pair, deciding to spend the majority of the journey barefoot! Bob was sat behind me, seemingly marshaling the Grenadier Guards Massed Bands tuning up, though in reality a loose Burco boiler lid. A gentle odour of stale fish beginning to permeate the bus. I cant vouch for Bob or anyone else, but with the chat subdued compared to the journey the day before, I tried to get a little kip.

I cant think let alone take a good photo

Dead Men (finished) Walking

Back in Barnsley, we debussed, hauled our packs out the back of the bus, and were relieved to find Bobs car not only still parked in the same place, but still complete. We said our farewells to the other walkers, and to Brian. We crossed to the car with Chris, whos ride was waiting parked behind us. I spied a four pack of large Stellas on the passenger seat! Im sure he enjoyed those! Myself and Bob eased into the car, and on the route back to Doncaster found that the previously noted scent of gamey haddock was emanating from us!

And so, with the evening finally beginning to turn cool, our intrepid hikers arrived back at Bobs, in time to be roundly laughed at for the state we were in. Plans were decided for the evenings relaxation, mostly involving baths and beer. Decisions made on how to gain Bobs third qualified crossing in the near future. I myself have my three valid crossings, and await now only the Inquisition. At some time in the next few weeks, others partaking of the Lyke Wake Walk, may see an odd sight - a small blue car with a large radio mast attached, at various places where the path crosses roads. This will be me, and I may or may not be frying bacon at any stage. When this vision is seen, then eager walkers may happen upon the apparition of a lone heap of rags, somewhat resembling an early human of the Neanderthal strain, tramping the route. This will be Bob. We will be in constant radio contact as he completes his third and qualified crossing.

Next march, we will face the Inquisition. We will attain Master of Misery. And we will truly appreciate the name!

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