Posts tagged ‘North York Moors’

October 18, 2015

Feeding the midges – backpacking Bilsdale

by backpackingbongos

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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We were quickly back at the car, the skies getting ever darker, the promised weather front had finally reached the east of the country.

 

April 19, 2015

Newtondale – backpacking the North York Moors

by backpackingbongos

Navigating the steep hairpin bends between Lockton and Levisham made my stomach flutter with a bit of excitement. It wasn’t the angle of the road but the fact that I thought that a new series of the League of Gentlemen was being filmed. I’m almost certain that I passed Tubbs and Edward standing by the side of the road decked out in grubby Barbour. Sadly it turned out that they were just supporters of the local hunt, which was being led by a man with the reddest face imaginable.

Levisham turned out to be a delightful village, basically a long village green backed by beautiful stone buildings with a pub at the far end. The only road in and out is the aforementioned country lane which plunges down to Levisham beck before climbing out the other side. I bet it gets cut off a lot in winter.

We took a track to the right of the pub after Reuben was saddled up and the car abandoned on the main street. We were passed by several vehicles heading into the village. Where they came from I have no idea as the track ends on rough open moor. The occupants of every single vehicle pointed at Reuben as they passed, perhaps they have never seen a Staffie wear a pair of overstuffed panniers before?

I had read somewhere that the Hole of Horcum is the Grand Canyon of Yorkshire. I have never visited the Grand Canyon before but I feel that there may have been a bit of exaggerating about the Yorkshire version. It is a very nice spot though and I was glad of the shelter it provided from the strong and cold wind. I would give it a few more extra points if the busy road to Whitby did not run along its eastern edge.

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A steep climb to the north led us up to the lip of Yorkshire’s Grand Canyon. There we were able to turn our backs on the hustle and bustle and head across the moors towards Newtondale.

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It was only my third visit to the North York Moors and I am beginning to work out the parts of it that I enjoy. The moors themselves are dreadfully dull, a flat monoculture of heather criss crossed by land rover tracks. Nothing really to invigorate the senses or lift the soul. The word sterile comes to mind. The contrast with the various dales however could not be starker. These are full of life, trees clinging to steep slopes, lush vegetation and a feeling that they are somehow wilder. Quite the opposite to many other upland areas I find.

I enjoyed the walk down into Newtondale immensely.

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The North York Moors Railway runs its way through the dale, although the trains had not started running this early in the spring. All was quiet with not a soul to be seen in this reasonably isolated valley.

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After following a forestry track north for a while we struck directly up steep slopes once past the plantation. I’m glad that the bracken was still brown and crunchy underfoot. In summer our chosen route would be simply impossible. You would also probably end up covered head to toe in ticks.

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A squelch across the flat moors and an idyllic spot was found next to the infant Blawath Beck. It was flat, dry and covered in springy moss. Although early I did not hesitate in getting the Trailstar up, I’m someone who does not pass by a good pitch. Reuben seemed happy with the chosen spot, as soon as his panniers were removed he was pulling his best breakdancing moves.

It was a pleasant evening chilling out with my kindle, listening to the first snipe of the year drumming somewhere overhead.

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Despite a night camped next to a stream there was zero condensation when I woke up. The sun had finally come out and the air was alive with the sound of bird song. It was tempting to have a lazy morning enjoying camp but I’m sure that wild camping in the North York Moors is probably frowned upon.

The pastures around Wardle Green contrast nicely with the austere moors and regimented conifer plantations. The old farm is surrounded by Scotts Pine and broadleaf trees. An oasis buzzing with life on an early spring morning.

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A bridleway and forestry track led us to high above Newtondale, a fine path leading along the edge of Killing Nab Scar. It’s probably one of the finest paths in the country as it winds its way high above the dale giving splendid views down into the valley. It was a shame that a haze had built up.

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A bench had been handily placed in which to enjoy a rest in the sun and drink in the view. All morning I had heard the buzz of trail bikes somewhere in the forest. All of a sudden half a dozen came tearing down the path I had just walked. I had to hold Reuben tight as they passed in front of the bench, inches from us. In my head I challenged them, waving my fist until they saw the error of their ways. In reality I just sat there glumly and nodded my head as they passed.

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A steep path took us down into the valley and then past Newtondale Halt. Climbing once more up the steep southern slopes there was a section that involved the use of steps built into a rock face.

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Although not marked on the map there is a narrow trod that continues on past Yewtree Scar and all the way to Skelton Tower. Another grand promenade, equaling the path earlier along Killing Nab Scar.

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Skelton Tower occupies a spot close to the steep drop into the valley, feeling much higher than 170 metres. It provided a place to sit out of the wind and rest before the final mile or so back to the car.

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I think I am going to have to make more of an effort to visit the North York Moors. They are a much quieter alternative to the Peak District with not much further to travel.

October 19, 2012

Rosedale and Farndale – backpacking a double horseshoe

by backpackingbongos

I have to admit that I have only previously visited the North York Moors twice.  A bit of an oversight considering that they are only two and a half hours drive away.  That makes them my second closest upland area after the Peak District.  With a reasonable weather forecast over a Friday and Saturday I decided at the last minute to head there for an overnight wild camp.  I noticed on the map the long line of a disused railway track contouring high above two valleys.  This was used as the main skeleton around which the rest of the walk was planned.

Day 1 – 10.7 miles with 610 metres ascent

It was gone midday when I parked up in the lovely village of Rosedale Abbey, using one of the free car parks.  Reuben was along for the ride so I saddled him up with his Ruffwear panniers full of his food and warm camping clothes.  The village was pretty much deserted as we passed the campsite and climbed a stile into a very boggy field.  This field was the toughest section of the whole trip and my trail shoes were soon filled with muddy water, my trousers filthy from the knees down.  Three cows watched lazily from a corner, thankfully unfazed by Reubens presence.

I don’t know much about golf but something tells me that the golf course in Rosedale Abbey is not up to international standards.  The whole site is on a steep hill, much of it at around a 45 degree angle.  Surely any ball that is hit would simply roll down and get lost in the hedge at the bottom?

A steep path zigged zagged its way up the hillside, finally coming out at the wonderfully situated cottages at Bank Top.  High on the edge of the moors they have got a stunningly extensive view.  Rosedale Abbey lay below in a pastoral scene of green fields, the flat and extensive moors filling the horizon.

The dismantled railway track gave easy level walking, little effort for the big views.  A large bench with the words ‘Work shift over, in the sun, on the hill, having fun‘ caught my eye as a good place to sit for a while and satisfy my rumbling belly.  I’m not sure it was as appreciated by my canine companion though.

After a rather late lunch stop it was an easy mile or so along the railway track before heading across the open moor.  Approaching the road along Blakey ridge I was surprised just how fast and busy it was.  On the map it is shown as a minor moorland road, when in reality it is more like a main thoroughfare.  We quickly crossed leaving the noise and fumes behind and descended through the heather towards Farndale.  The view that opened out was rather lovely, another valley with a patchwork of green fields backed by heather moorland.

It looked like the heather had only turned recently and it still had a purple tinge to it.  I would imagine that it would be an impressive sight when in full bloom, the North York Moors being the largest area of continuous moorland in England.  The ealy autumn colours were rather vivid as we descended along a narrow path into the dale.  The green grass of summer replaced by shimmering browns, the bracken dying down and the leaves on the trees just changing colour.

We walked through the small village of Low Mill, the area being famous in spring for its daffodil display.  Here I passed the only hiker I would see all day, a rare occurrence in a National park.  A narrow lane followed by a bridleway took us into the secretive West gill, a subsidiary of Farndale.  I sat for a while on the bridge over the stream for a snack, dismayed when I realised that what I was sitting on was sticky with creosote.  A smell that reminds me of growing up in rural Suffolk, but not welcome when it makes the seat of my trousers sticky!  The bridleway climbed though pastures before turning into a narrow trod across the moors, a lone tree emphasising the bleakness.

We picked up a track heading north along Rudland Rigg and started a long and dull route march.  The track is open to vehicles and its width and the numerous signs negated any feeling of wildness.  I was glad it was a Friday as I am sure it would be busy the following day, sure enough the next morning I heard the unmistakable sound of scrambler bikes.

With the sky becoming grey and a cold wind blowing I was just keen to get this section over as soon as possible.  The views from the top were not that special to be honest, just flat and very manicured moorland stretching into the horizon.  The only points of interest were the odd marker stone and a couple of boulders.

Even Reuben was underwhelmed.

A waymarker pointing across an area of dense rushes signaled the end of the trudge and we left the track for a bit of heather bashing.  The right of way did not exist on the ground and it was hard going through deep heather and hidden drainage ditches.  Finally the moorland gave way to sheep cropped grass and the possibility of a decent wild camp started to look promising.

We ended up descending further than originally planned to find a good flat pitch.  I was aware that we were coming close to the network of fields rather than remaining on the moor.  In the end the extra descent was worth it when I found a perfect area of flat short-cropped grass next to a band of trees above the stream.  It was beginning to get dark so I pitched the Trailstar and went to fill my water bags.  It was a beautiful location, sheltered and with a feeling of seclusion, the nearest dwelling still a distance away.  I spent an enjoyable evening in my sleeping bag reading my kindle, looking out into the darkness every now and then.  Reuben as ever was keen to try to get onto my thermarest, which I am sure is not built to withstand his claws of steel.

Day 2 – 11.5 miles with 390 metres ascent

The night was cold and still, producing copious condensation within the Trailstar.  I had pitched it as high as possible giving maximum headroom and extra ventilation.  Even so I woke to being dripped on, showing that no shelter is immune to condensation in the right conditions.  It was a perfect early autumn morning, the rising sun slanting through the trees.  The sunlight slowly made its way down the hillside, finally warming and drying out my shelter.

The surrounding hillside had some impressive fungi.

Packed up we set back off the way we had come the evening before.  The contrast could not have been greater, there was not a cloud in the sky.  The sun had chased away the chill from the air and it looked like it was going to be a warm day.

We battled through deep heather once again until we came to the line of the disused railway track.  This gave exceptionally easy walking as it contoured around the head of the valley.  Our pace quickened accordingly, just stopping every now and then to take in the view.  Being early in the morning we had the track pretty much to ourselves.

The track soon became busier, indicating that we were approaching civilisation.  We turned a bend and spotted The Lion Inn sitting high on the Blakey ridge.  As usual, Reuben managed to garner a few comments about his panniers from those that we passed.

We took a short cut and climbed directly up a path across the moor to the pub, the car park already busy with visitors.  I felt that it was too early for a visit so crossed the road with its speeding traffic.  A waymarked path led down towards the disused railway track that contours around the head of Rosedale.  Here nature has claimed it back a bit more than the one around Farndale.  At times it is little more than a single groove through the heather, widening to a soft grassy track.  It was much more of a pleasure to walk than the wide hard surface of earlier.  The views were pretty good in the quickly changing light, the odd dark cloud providing contrast against the sunshine.

I soon found that the easy and level surface made my legs ache after a while.  I am used to walking slowly across rough ground, so perhaps the change in pace and the repetitive manner of my stride was affecting my leg muscles.  I found a grassy nook out of the wind and got the Jetboil on for a cup of coffee and a packet of couscous.

After lunch the landscape changed and became much greener, with evidence of the past mining activity.  A fascinating area to walk and the sunny weather had attracted the crowds.  I highly recommend that you park up in the Village of Rosedale Abbey one Sunday and catch the Moorsbus to The Lion Inn.  You would then have an exceptionally easy walk along the railway track back to the start.  Great views with almost no effort, my sort of hiking!

At hill cottages we took to a network of field paths that led us back to the car at Rosedale Abbey.  There was one moment of brief excitement as a cow decided to run up a hill towards myself and Reuben.  A bit of jumping up and down whilst waving my arms persuaded it to stop before any damage was done.  I am beginning to realise that the main hazard of walking with a dog is cows.

I was pleased to find the village shop still open, where a homemade sandwich and a drink filled a hunger gap before the drive home.

January 24, 2009

Bothying in the North York Moors

by backpackingbongos

Last weekend I had planned to travel to the North Pennines with a mate to stay in a non-mba bothy.  We were also going to check if a remote building I had spotted from a distance years ago was a bothy we could use on another trip.

Alas the plan had to be changed at the very last minute, my mate had hurt his back and the weather for the Alston area was showing 100mph winds on the tops and heavy snow!  It was now me on my own and I could not face the long drive and the bad weather.  I got out my maps the night before and decided to head for The North York Moors, an area I have only visited once.  There was also a bothy that I could stay in as the wind was still going to be pretty strong – maybe too strong for a backpacking tent up on the moors.

I left Nottingham at 7.00am and found myself in Pickering only 2 hours later, much quicker than I had anticipated.  I had decided to do a short day walk near Goathland before heading off to the bothy.  This was pleasant enough but could not under any stretch of the imagination be called exciting.  A bash through the heather to the 260m trig point, passing a guy in shorts (it was cold and just a bit breezy!) followed by an attractive riverside stretch along Wheeldale beck.

Back to the Bongo for a spot of late lunch then a short drive to park up the van for the night.  One of the reasons why I like bothies is being able to spend the evening in front of a roaring fire.  Therefore my rucksack weighed a ton as it was full of wood and coal.  It took me nearly an hour to stagger just over a mile with that damn rucksack, the track was a quagmire and I was covered in peat up to the knees.  Just at the last minute the bothy appears, I looked for any sign of smoke from the chimney but could not see or smell any.  Opening the bothy door I was pleased that it was empty and clean and tidy.  I claimed a single sleeping platform then went out into the gloaming for a look around, noticing two figures on the horizon heading towards me.  I have to admit that my heart sank as I was looking forward to a peaceful night on my own, so went back in to continue unpacking.

5 minutes later two lads opened the door and pleasantries were exchanged.  They were from Scarborough and had come to stay at the bothy many times in the past.  Within a few minutes the bothy was full of chatter, a fire was lit and beers passed around.  Looking like it would be a good night.

As the evening progressed the wind outside got stronger and stronger until it was a steady roar, rain bouncing off of the tin roof.  My curry for dinner played havoc with my stomach and I had to step outside with the bothy spade and go for a long walk across the heather.  The downside to bothying I suppose!

More food was eaten, whisky was then drunk, then a night spent sleeping on a hard wooden platform.  The morning dawned lovely and sunny with just a touch of ice on the puddles outside.  I love bothy mornings as it saves packing up a wet tent!  Lots of coffee, curry noodles and a stomp / slosh across the moor brought me back to the van and the drive home.

Just a shame I forgot my camera!

Pinkneys bothy (not my own picture)

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