It’s fourteen years since I last backpacked with my mate Rich. In 2001 we scampered up the Munro’s of Knoydart without pausing for breath, heavy packs on our backs. Time is cruel to the human body as this time we wheezed up much smaller hills, faces red and contorted, sun reflecting off grey speckled hair, waistlines not as trim as they used to be. However I’m pleased to say that the threads of conversation remained the same, as puerile as ever.
Total distance – 27 kilometres with 1040 metres ascent
The car was left at the village hall in Chop Gate. It has a strange pay and display system which involved dropping a pound in a box and then taking a sticker from a roll which you display in your windscreen. The stickers had run out so we left the car wondering if some officious person with a name badge would come along and slap us with a fine.
It was early afternoon in the middle of September, the sky was blue and the sun hot. It was hard work climbing the slope up Cold Moor, especially for Reuben who was panting heavily in the heat.
The top of Cold Moor presented us with a view that possibly far exceeds that of any other 400 metre hill. The long moorland escarpment drops suddenly to the flat plains below, a patchwork of fields stretching to the far horizon. Despite the heat the air had the clarity which you usually get on a crisp winters day. It was good to sit there for a while, a cooling breeze drying sweaty backs.
We picked up the Cleveland Way, descending and then immediately re-ascending to the Wain Stones. They were busy with climbers and walkers that afternoon. We passed a young German couple backpacking with two dogs wearing panniers. Reuben was also wearing his, containing such luxuries as dog PJ’s, a soft blanket and gravy bones. This naturally meant that we struck up a conversation. It turned out that they were spending a long period of time in the UK. Backpacking with no fixed plan, dropping into farms to see if they could pick up work as they went along. They were thinking of walking up to Hadrian’s Wall but would see what happened along the way. We were just out for the one night which left me with a pang of jealousy.
The Cleveland Way gives a grand promenade as it heads east, a good path with numerous ups and downs to get us panting. We passed a couple, the bloke giving Reuben and I the filthiest look possible. I don’t think I have ever seen a face full of horror, fear and hatred like that before. Sometimes I think that I imagine these things, but Rich who was following behind confirmed that the bloke looked like he was going to attacked by a bearded man and his Staffy.
Approaching Round Hill we had both ran out of water and Reuben’s tongue was dragging along the ground. Maiden Spring is marked on the map, a possible source of water, although we did not hold out much hope considering how dry everything was. Obviously it was pointless both of us trudging over to it so I heroically looked after the packs whilst Rich dutifully walked over with our empty bottles.
Our destination for the night was Farndale, on the other side of a stretch of moorland. I find parts of the moors in the National Park a boring and featureless monoculture. We walked along a track that is good enough to drive a car along whilst an unbroken sea of heather spread to the horizon. The only wildlife was the numerous red grouse challenging us from both sides of the track. It felt like walking across an industrial grouse farm.
The best parts of the National Park are the numerous dales, woodlands and moorland edges. We left the security of the track near Bloworth Crossing and stumbled across deep heather, bog and tussock to the head of Farndale. With the sun going down we found an idyllic spot in which to pitch. Idyllic until the midges found us. They were so bad that I needed my head net to preserve my sanity. Poor Reuben had a reaction to them and his face around his eyes swelled up. He retired to the sanctuary of the tent early whilst we cooked outside. It was only once the sun had set and the temperature had dropped that they finally disappeared.
Later that evening whilst we stood outside chatting we spotted four bright torches heading our way. Naturally I initially assumed that it was four burly farmers who had come up to evict us from our pitch. It turned out that they were Mountain Rescue off for some night navigation on the moors (we found this out after saying that we hoped they did not get lost!).
It was one of those nights where the condensation was copious, everything was dripping by dawn. This however did not deter the midges who were up and waiting for us as we emerged. Poor Reuben’s face swelled up a second time due to the onslaught, Rich and I ate breakfast whilst walking around as quickly as possible.
We packed up sopping wet tents under a rapidly clouding over sky and saddled Reuben with his panniers. Farndale is a lovely secluded valley, a place to return to in the spring when the daffodils for which it is famous are in bloom.
To return to Chop Gate we had to walk across the grain of the land. A series of north to south valleys had to be crossed with moorland separating them. We climbed out of Farndale, legs complaining on the first ascent of the day to immediately descend into Bransdale. One thing that was becoming evident was that away from the honey pot areas the North York Moors are surprisingly quiet. We met the only hikers of the day in Bransdale.
Crossing the valley we had another climb, this time onto Bransdale Moor. For a while we had the pleasure of a narrow path before once again we picked up another vehicle track. This eventually dropped in a series of ugly hairpin bends into hidden Tripsdale. This is a lush valley full of trees, just beginning their first blush of Autumn. It would be worthy of exploration in winter as the rest of the time it is choked with bracken.
We were then faced with yet another climb onto moorland, this time Nab End Moor. The wide open Bilsdale was soon at our feet, the view ahead into Raisdale.
We were quickly back at the car, the skies getting ever darker, the promised weather front had finally reached the east of the country.