It was a pleasant surprise to be on the edge of the North York Moors a little over two hours after leaving Nottingham, in my head the distance was greater and I’m left re-evaluating where else I should class as being “on the doorstep”. Autumn’s arrival was felt with a shift to cooler temperatures and an abundance of new colours presenting the perfect incentive to pack a bag and disappear for 24 hours.
I’m a North York Moors virgin and was unsure of exactly where to head. My propensity for getting lost and the fact that I needed to be back in Nottingham to make Sunday dinner for the kids resulted in a simple back and forth route on the western edge of the moors near the Cleveland Hills with the intention of an early getaway in the morning.
Leaving the crowds and queues behind at Sutton Bank, a narrow road snaked through the autumnal woodland and open moorland the only other traffic were small groups of lycra clad cyclists making the most of the sunshine. Once past the tiny hamlet of Hawnby, I left the car off the road in a sheltered patch of grass by Locker Low Wood. You know you’re onto a good thing when you’re car’s parked in a half decent wild camping spot. A cyclist from Geordieland was pushing his bike up the relentlessly steep climb in the direction of Osmotherley, as we were both walking we kept each other company as far as Low Cote Farm, it turned out he’d made his own frame from scratch, clever chap. I left the road to climb up to Snilesworth Moor, a clear sandy track lead the way up to Arnsgill Ridge. Tracks can be a blessing when you need to make good time, though today I was in no rush and felt more at home on to the higher ground to walk amongst the rocks and vivid purples and greens of the heather and moss. I spent a peaceful hour wandering out onto the moor finding springs and waterfalls on the way and indeed an other places to stop and do nothing. I stopped several times to eat, take photos and almost drifted off to sleep on a patch of dry grass under the midday sun. Maybe I’ve rediscovered my inner idler.
A faint grassy track provided a gentle climb alongside a small stream near Prod Hills, this led to the northern side of the moor and revealed Scugdale Head. A further hours detour was taken walking through the marshy ground and amongst the tall grass of Scugdale with a view to scout a potential place to pitch later, I was hopeful to find a flat patch of grass out of the wind next to the stream but it wasn’t to be.
After rejoining the track the route continued over Barkers Ridge which was criss crossed with smaller footpaths heading down to the red rooves of Chop Gate. If the wind had picked up I had my eye on some sheltered patches amongst the heather that would have comfortably housed a one man tent. Don’t think less of me for this but off the beaten track I found a perfectly formed sheep’s skull which I decided to keep, thought it might look good perched on the cistern.
The ridge broadened out into Bilsdale West Moor and the more pronounced shapes and summits of Drake Howe and the Wain Stones came into view on the horizon. There had been a great number of shooting butts on the previous moor and the sound of gun cracks were now regularly ringing out, this was clearly a popular place for those who love guns and hate grouse.
As the afternoon passed I neared a large hut which was marked as the gliding club on the OS map, the closer I got the more apparent it became that this was where the hunt was congregating. I counted 14 Chelsea Tractors and dozens of figures in green waxed jackets in the distance, I got the sense that they were finishing off for the day and was keen to avoid them. I can’t help but feel that backpackers and shooters don’t generally make great bedfellows. I later passed them as they drove off the hills, each and every one of them looked exactly like David Cameron, polite waves and nods were exchanged but I’m not expecting any Christmas cards.
I had the option of venturing further on to Drake Howe but for various reasons was lacking the necessary motivation and was finding the option of heading back in the direction of Whorlton Moor somewhat more appealing. Maybe today was a slackpack day.
As the light began to fade and the temperature began to drop it was becoming questionable as to whether I would find a promising spot, underfoot was either spongy marsh or densely latticed with sharp heather roots that would make a meal out of my groundsheet. To my left a small shooting house came into view, I was little paranoid about being seen, but there was no sign of activity from the hut. A larger shooting house (Swainby I think) was perched on the distant horizon but soon dipped out of view as I joined Stonymoor Sike.
My working theory is that if you carry on walking you eventually find a decent spot to pitch a tent, this was once again proven infallible and sitting aside some reed grass was a perfect tent sized area of short flat grass within easy reach of a stream. Once pitched I got my priorities straight and made a brew, there really are fewer greater pleasures than a proper cup of tea after a days walking. Nearby, the stream was bridged by a large flat rock, I lay down on the rock for a while and thought of absolutely nothing and felt better than I have felt for a long time. Whilst the days walking had been somewhat unfocused and had involved a degree of aimless wandering I was very content with where I had ended up and spent some time soaking in the surrounding sights and sounds.
The night remained warm and still, the forecast of wild wet and windy weather seemed misplaced. A full moon was bright enough to cast clear shadows. After a wonderful recent bivi on Kinder, sleeping with a roof on such a clement night felt almost claustrophobic, however the howling winds and driving rain that presented at 3am forced me to reconsider my position.
A cloudy sky shrouded the anticipated morning sunrise but this was well compensated by the lush autumnal colours that were brought out by the nocturnal washout. After a couple of hot drinks and a stretch, the tent was down, leaving behind a subtle indent on the grass. The morning felt fresh and wild and it was a joy to follow the stream down the valley. I passed a number of archaic round stone mossy grouse butts, far more inconspicuous than the normal wooden boxey contraption.
Before long I joined another track that led down through to Locker Low Wood, I had to pass through the grounds of a rather grand house (Snilesworth Lodge) and although it looked okay on the map I’m fairly sure i was trespassing through someones garden. I had no choice but to pass by a very old posh couples massive kitchen window, I now know that very old posh people have crunchy nut cornflakes for breakfast. The surrounding moors were blanketed in low cloud and there was a cool damp to the air. I reached the car by 08:50 and stopped to have more coffee by a stream in the woods and took the opportunity to expand my collection of photos of cups of coffee in idyllic locations (see last photo).