Monday, 29 July 2013

Lyke Wake Race - 13th July 2013

"Ower t' tops' I know only one better kind of tramping: the quintessence of the art. For there are wilder moods, when ones` soul thirsts for the untrodden tops amid the whams and the hags and the rough wiry heather. Moods when nothing will satisfy one but to tramp due north or south, keeping to the crest of the ridge and taking everything that comes along in ones` stride". I Wish I'd written that. However, that extract from Striding Through Yorkshire by Alfred John Brown is, for me, a fitting and everlasting comment upon taking on the Lyke Wake Route.

Sitting high up in the packed, noisy bleaches at Trent Bridge on Friday afternoon; sun hat on, sun protection applied, a cool beer in hand and enjoying a tense 3rd day of England fighting towards their first win of a hopefully successful 2013 Ashes campaign, I suspected, correctly as it would prove, that the following day was also going to be a scorcher. That day just happened to be the 49th running of the Lyke Wake Race - the annual 40 odd mile running of the walkers` route from Osmotherley across the North Yorkshire Moors into the Ravenscar Hotel grounds on the cliffs high up on the southern tip of Robin Hoods Bay on the East Coast.

As the day wore on, i couldn't get the thought of the impending heat out of my mind and so swapped the beer for a pitcher of iced water for the remainder of the day and crossed my fingers. I really enjoyed the game, the hospitality, the camaraderie of a gang mentality all day and then pootled off home to prepare for a day of solitude.

  ...... Antiquity.

That was my overwhelming thought going into, during, and after this trail encounter. This is an old race. The walk is 58 years old this year and even the first race was won way back in 1964, but the route, the legend, the archaeology and the folklore all stretch away into the far history and it wasn't long into the event, following my 6.30am start, before certain way-markers and landscapes gave a glimpse of that past.

The first of the stone markers was positioned just in front of the memorial stone to Bill Cowley who devised and completed the first crossing of the Lyke Wake Wake on the 1st October 1955. A nice shaded part of the track this. Undulating and dappled, this part of the path swept us up and down gently through the woods of the early stages - Scarth Nick, Coalmire, down Scugdale, passed Hollin Hall and up towards Heathwaite and away into the moors.

Little now remains here of the small, possibly Bronze aged, Fort below Live Moor .... although the Lyke Wake actually dissects its eastern corner. That these earthworks date from back then is probably confirmed by the old track directly up to the cairn field on Live Moor above.

 A glimpse back towards the low lying countryside, across Scugdale, to the plain of the Vale of York ...

... Before we turned north east: Up, up and away into the purple upper heath-lands of the Cleveland Way ... and all along the trackway towards the first peak of Carlton Bank where further stone sign posts guided us on our way.

"Slippery when wet" - these track slabs, laid in the 1990s` have helped prevent further erosion, and widening, of the path and resemble the old pannier trackways used by pack-horses and merchants of old.

Turning gently east of north east, the distant Roseberry Topping was framed nicely by the stones and trig point atop Carlton Bank Top. That landmark, however, is for another day and another race - take your pic of the Hardmoor Ultra series - coming shortly here - for further information on the history of "Odinsberg".

Back to the Lyke Wake and with an hour gone, the sun warming nicely through checkpoint 1 at Carlton Bank and then around the waist of Cringle Moor, it was timely to hit the dapple of the fir woodland path neath the Wain Stones.

The last respite from the sun that we'd receive all day: Up through Hasty Bank and over Urra Moor the path that joins the cinder track of the old railway at Bloworth is now a big exposed trek all the way to the Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge - some 18 odd miles (and well over 2 and 3/4 hours) into the event.

To the right of the track ... Farndale heads away to the south

and the Esk Valley Walk away northwards to our left ...

But for me, the mental challenge lies in running a 10k ish distance along this straight cinder track of the old ironstone mine railway.

Opening between 1858 and 1868, the Rosedale Railway came from Battersby Junction, up the rope - worked Ingleby Incline of a 1 in 5 before traveling the 10 miles to Rosedale - East and West via Blakey Junction. In its pomp of 1873, these lonely lines hauled over 500,000 tons of ironstone via steam engine before their eventual closure in 1928 and the final lowering down the hill of the locos in 1929. I thought of these facts and the workers in these extreme locations as a means of diverting my mind from the heat and hardship of trying to keep a steady pace going; aiming for the Lion and a first chance of a change of shirt and refreshments.

Refreshed, refuelled, recovered and revitalised, I decided to stay on the tarmac road around the head of Rosedale before the big final left and eastward turn onto the moors. Turning right off the Egton road, the top of Ralphs Cross nicked the horizon and I soon passed Fat Betty on my left hand side but more about the Moorland Crosses (well one in particular) later ...

A glance over my shoulder to the distant Lion on the far ridge at Blakey ...

and then onward, passing the new direction marker ...

and finally, and with much anticipation of what would lie ahead, onto the wild moorland.

In my few years of this race, I had never seen such cotton blooms. Every previous watercourse was now dry and drifted in white almost like snow - an absolute privilege to be up there on such a day. Bogs there were - of course, there always are - but these drifts of cotton remained with us along the tops for the rest of the day and they were spectacular.

In the September of 1917, Frank Elgee, a prolific writer and diarist of these moors, its history, people and archeology took a walk and observed:

"You have been urged upwards by that love for summits which is the mountaineers` joy. Suddenly you overtop the last rise, to behold a vast expanse of elevated moorland ... This moorland resembles nothing so much as a heaving sea, wave behind wave, swell merging into swell, hollow into hollow. Every moment you expect the crests to break into foam. Instead, shafts of silvery sunlight shoot down from behind the clouds, to reveal the blended greys, greens and reds of variegated vegetation. The light withdraws, and once more the moorland becomes sea - a strange immovable sea whose mountain-high waves have ceased to surge forward ... so that puny man might wonder and admire, generation after generation"

Like Elgee, my feelings for these moors are intense and I too cant get close enough. Later, in 1927 he added, following a paved way:

"The footsteps of the generations have worn deep hollows in the stones. Reverently I add mine to those of pannier man, farmer, forester, man-at-arms, esquire, knight, baron, the medieval iron-workers, and all the motley throng, less enduring than the stones on which they rudely tramp"

Around the left of Shunner Howe, the old knocked about Barrow, signaled the end of the boggy section and just prior to the Hamer Road clip point I happened across an old mill stone, flat on its` back at the side of the track with. amongst other indeterminate scribblings, the date 1774 roughly etched on the surface, reminding me that this quiet moorland spot was not always so.

Little, if anything, now remains of Hamer House: Over the years, the stones of these old buildings have been removed and the moorland now remains un-silhouetted however back in the 1800`s when Lime was transported north onto the acidic farmlands of Eskdale from the south of Rosedale and coal was mined near Egton and taken south to fire those self same kilns, this road was a hive. 

On the west side of the now by-road, just to the south of the checkpoint, lie the ruins of Hamer House: Famously, in a previous life - The Letterboard Inn -, an alehouse catering for the throng of passing traffic of both leisure and commerce. Back in the 19th century, this would be buzzing with life. Steaming dray shires attached to carriages and chaises would stamp impatiently in the yard and workers of every kind would be found inside. Even the great Whitby whaling Captain - William Scoresby - would be a passer by on this busy old road from his home in Cropton to board the Resolution in Whitby and head into the frozen north, famously inventing the Crows Nest and capturing 533 whales in 30 voyages - more than any other European whaler.

All now long, long ago. The Lime industry eventually died away, and with it the passing traffic, and the Letterboard Inn reverted back to a residence whose last residents - the Boddy family left in the 1930s. Earlier occupants included a large family who traded in Besoms which were dispatched from Lealholm railway station. This family numbered 12 children and a dog named Meg who, when commanded "Go fetch them Meg" would round up the brood and who, more importantly, when given a red handkerchief, always from the same drawer, would round up the husband when he saw the red `kerchief tied around the dogs neck!

Digressing. Ever onwards and eastwards, the track prior to the Blue Man i` The Moss was bone dry. No sign of any of the streams or rivulets of previous crossings and quite technically difficult to keep an even pace going between here and the Stape Road checkpoint.

Following a water stop at Stape - I could no longer hold food down - heading down, and across, the field on the track down to Wheeldale Beck, the sudden undulations underfoot confirmed I was trotting over Wades Causeway.

One of the best preserved, and exposed Roman Roads, in the country, Wades`heads up from the south - from Amotherby on the Malton to Hovingham road - towards Goldsborough and its` old signal station on the coast above Sandsend. The track is named after Wade - a powerful Saxon chief who lived at Mulgrave - and is likely to have provided the link between the Roman Forts of Cawthorn and Lease Rigg up near the River Esk. These Forts, built around 80 AD, were advanced up in the moors probably for no other reason than to station troops evacuated south from Scotland. What now remains is actually the foundations of the road and not its surface. Whilst Roman roads would have been uncomfortable to pass along they would not have been as bumpy as the track here at Wheeldale suggests.

Below the field and the climb down to the bottom of the hill, I grabbed the chance to sit in Wheeldale Beck in order cool my body temperature down before the final fag up towards Simon Howe, the cross over of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and the penultimate checkpoint at Ellerbeck on the A169 Whitby - Pickering Road.

Leaving Ellerbeck and crossing the busy A169 Pickering to Whitby road, my tanks were empty, my throat was dry, I was sick (literally) of the heat and needed to grind a run / jog / walk towards the finish but blistered feet put paid to any real pace so it was now a desperate shamble to the finish. Overtaken by several runners on this stretch I happened across Russell Webster on his first crossing on Race day and we made a pair towards the end of the race: He with fatigued muscles and cramps and me with bleeding feet.

After leaving Ellerbeck, at the top of the first hill we reached, the old Staincrossgate road from Scarborough to Durham crossed our path, little sign of which now remains, but we did have our first view of the sea. 

Standing by this junction of this North / South old way and the Lyke Wake track is possibly the oldest cross on these moors, and probably the oldest Christian symbol in the north of England - Lilla Cross.

Erected in 625AD, Lilla Cross marks the grave of Lilla, a chief minister of King Edwin of Deira, an ancient wolds based kingdom. It is reputed that Lilla flung himself between the King and a would be assassin, dying upon the blade of a double edged poison dagger for his services.

Most of these numerous Moorland Crosses were erected as waymarkers and boundary markers but crosses were conveniently used to remind the populace of Christ. In a treatise on the ten commandments entitled "Dives et Pauper" printed at Westminster by Wynken de Worde in 1496, the reason for the erection of these roadside crosses is ... "For this reason ben  crosses by ye waye that when folke passynge see the crosses they sholde thynke on Hym that deyed on the crosse, and worshyppe Hym above all thynge"

The day drew on into a hot afternoon and so no further lingering time left to do anything other than hit the dusty path to Jugger. It remained difficult for me to run so, on the pretence of taking another drink, I left Russell to stride on ahead with the purpose of a veteran.

Facing the Wall beyond Jugger ravine would be the final fag and once over that we were near the end of it ..

As happened last year, the sea fret blew in towards the radio mast on the crest of the hill overlooking Robin Hoods Bay and so once again I was foiled in capturing a picture of that view. Amazingly, we had no clouds all day and yet were to finish in a fog.

We duly trotted down the lane towards the Raven Hall Hotel, around 4.20pm in the afternoon, and were warmly applauded in by family, friends, marshals and day trippers who must have wondered what on earth we were up to. Whatever it was we were both up to we had both just finished it.

Race details of my day:

Again a problem for me in the heat - hottest day of the year so far and I struggled all day with the conditions. I could have easily handed in my number at any of the last three checkpoints but gritting it out is what these events are all about. I need to think about nutrition - one of my weaknesses, I may try a more supportive shoe next time and I may carry less "stuff" with me. Will there be a next time?

Of course. So many friends and fellow runners make this a great day out in my favourite part of the country. The team who run this always ensure we have a bagful of memories to take with us so congratulations to Paul Sherwood and his team and to all the competitors on the day. Thanks for saying hello and I look forward to it all again. Oh, 9.53 if anyone asks ... but whisper it. 

To conclude, I'll revert back to Alfred John Brown and his "Striding through Yorkshire"

"In an age that craves and discovers more and more fantastic sports, it is astounding that so few people know the thrill of crossing a moor from end to end in a direct line without any sort of guide. Yet, given the right kind of day, it is to be doubted whether there is any sport in the world to vie with it ..... the sustained lyrical thrill; the joy of free movement; the bluff assault and repulse of the wind; the feeling of fighting ones` way forward in the teeth of the elements, of contesting every yard of the way, of being beaten back and still struggling on".


  1. Hi Mike was good to meet you on the day, have enjoyed reading this and re-living some of the day. Like you I ended with badly blistered toes and the driest throat I've ever had in my life, so much so that I couldn't swallow solids afterwards. Looking forward to doing it all again next year.

    1. Hi Nigel, That's the issue with these jaunts ... strangely addictive :). Congratulations on your first race day crossing! Hope to see you next year on the 50th.

  2. Big congrats mike, i had entered, but the thought of the heat i endured the previous week at the pheonix put me off.
    see you around, and if not next years race!!

    Joe Williams

    1. Hi Joe, Wondered where you were ;-). I dont think it was as hot as the Phoenix but for me, not far behind. At one point I felt that dizzy in the sun that I thought you ran passed me and so I shouted encouragement. Heaven knows what that bloke thought! So, good call on your part. See ya soon and thanks for the congrats.