Tag Archives: North Yorkshire

A Walk in the Country.

12 Nov

What do retired gentlemen of a certain age do when they get together? Some may go to the pub to sort out the world’s problems over a  couple of pints. Some may gather on the park green for a sedate game of bowls. Others might gravitate to a local football match to moan and groan at their team and curse the referee. What I particularly like though, is to go for a walk in the country. Luckily I have a few friends who share this preference. Think– ” The Last of the Summer Wine.” I am fortunate enough to live near hills, woods, moors and coast, so there’s always somewhere attractive and interesting to explore. Last Friday was a case in point. My friend, Ian, and I decided to go for a 6 mile hike on the edge of the Cleveland Hills in North Yorkshire. We meet about once every month to stretch our legs, get some fresh air and catch up on mutual news. Some may find it surprising that men can actually talk about things other than football. Ian and I can manage this quite easily, with only passing references to Middlesbrough and Chesterfield FCs. So this was to be just another pleasant walk ( and talk) in the country — or so we thought.

No matter how tightly planned walks are though, they invariably throw up something unexpected. I like this. It’s a mini adventure! For instance, a few weeks ago, out with another friend, I saw a bob-tailed roe deer bounding gracefully along the border of a field and a local wood. Sometimes the surprise is unwelcome however, like when one comes across a huge bull, nervous cows with their calves or a herd of frisky bullocks in a field that one has to cross. Time to be a coward and creep stealthily round the far edge of the field, heart pounding and hoping not to be spotted. Once I made the mistake of running away from a group of bullocks. They thought I was playing and chased after me! As I heard the thundering hooves closing in, I hurled myself over a barbed wire fence, ripping open my padded coat- sleeve in the process. Only 2 weeks ago, the start of  a walk in the North York Moors with the local U3A ( University of the Third Age) was ruined for me by encountering a posse of pheasant shooters with their beaters and retriever dogs. This has happened more than once. As an animal lover I abhor hunting and shooting( not to mention fishing.) I fail to understood how fellow humans get pleasure from slaughtering innocent creatures whose only “crime” is to share the world with them. The hunters are always full of bonhomie, greeting us with loud, jolly “good mornings” and “lovely days”. Perhaps they are embarrassed about being “caught in the act” or couldn’t care less and are simply looking forward to the killing spree ahead. They don’t seem to realize that other people find their activities obnoxious.  Sorry — time to get off my high horse!

Usually though,  a walk throws up pleasant experiences and discoveries. One might catch a glimpse of a rare bird or wild animal,  discover a beautiful wild flower, witness a picturesque landscape or  gaze at a dramatically changing sky. On this occasion Ian and I had the multi-coloured autumn trees to look forward to. You don’t have to trek to New England to experience the glory of the “Fall”. We set off from the lovely village of Swainby, south east of Stokesley. Swainby, to quote my guide book, is a “charming and peaceful village, divided by its tree-lined stream” and gives “few hints of its dramatic past.” How about that for whetting the appetite? It actually owes its existance to a tragedy. Just up the hill above it, is the deserted village of Whorlton. In the 14th century, the inhabitants of Whorlton were devastated by the coming of the plague. The Black Death as it was then known, struck England between 1348 and 1350 wiping out a third of the population. The shocked survivors of Whorlton left their plague infected homes, full of  heart-rending memories and moved down into the valley. Thus Swainby, which up to then had only been a sleepy hamlet, was suddenly expanded into a full-blown village. All that is left at Whorlton today is a ruined church, an eerie graveyard and the shell of a medieval castle.

Much later, in the 19th century, Swainby was once again shocked out of its peaceful, rural slumbers by the opening of ironstone and jet mines in nearby Scugdale. We were to see the spoil heaps from these mines later on in our walk. Apparently, Swainby became a lively, rough and ready, “Wild West” type town, crammed with miners and their equipment, full of smoke, dust and clatter. It must have been something to behold. However by the 1920s the mines had been exhausted, the miners and their followers had moved on and Swainby returned to its previous, peaceful tranquillity.

It was peaceful and tranquil as we set off, passing the old church, crossing a quaint little bridge and walking along the banks of the gurgling stream. Local residents gave us friendly “hellos” as they went about their business. A man on his cycle gave us a wave. The trees as expected were beautiful. Leaves of yellow, orange, copper and red shimmered in the sunshine. We were lucky with the weather considering it was well into November. Storm Deirdrie was smashing into the western coast of Britain, but in Swainby, in the north east of England, we were enjoying a fine morning with the bonus of sunny periods. It wasn’t totally peaceful though. The local refuse collectors were proceding down the High Street with their noisy, rubbish- crushing lorry and a team of tree surgeons were just getting started with their saws and axes. We also had to leap on to the grass verge rather sharply when a young woman in a hurry swept past us in her car, making no allowances for pedestrians who didn’t have the sanctuary of a pavement. We headed up a steady hill that climbed  out of the village and soon entered a wood, joining a path that is part of the Cleveland Way. It was mixed, decidious woodland and the brightly coloured autumn leaves were particularly lovely.

After a while,we left the woods and descended through a field with views of tree covered hills opening up on either side. We were now largely looking at pine forests sweeping across the hillsides. To our surprise, some of the pines seemed to be retaining their deep green colour while others had needles fading into pale orange. It was quite a dramatic sight. A broad swathe of orange sat beneath a broad swathe of green and both were topped by a dark band of moorland. We crossed a stream and climbed up through more woods until we reached those high moors. We had now left the balmy calm of the valley and were suddenly being buffeted by cold, blustery winds. We put on our thick jackets and kept on climbing. The views were extensive. We looked over the Cleveland Hills including the dramatic collapsed cone of Rosebury Topping ( undermined by metal miners), across a wide, flat valley towards the distant chemical works of Teesside. Beyond that, faintly visible, was the sea, merging with the increasingly grey sky. The wet weather soaking the west was due to arrive in the later afternoon. We hoped to have finished our walk by then!

Now we spotted a couple of fellow ramblers, descending quickly down the path towards us. Naturally, they stopped to chat. This nearly always happens in the countryside. People are friendly and  say at least  “hello”. It is very different from the grey, anonymity of the town. These were a young couple, on holiday from London. By a complete fluke they had exactly the same walks- book as us and were trying to follow exactly the same route. Unfortunately, they had got lost, failing to find a crucial turn off, and had reluctantly decided to retrace their footsteps, until they met these two old geezers plodding up the hill towards them. After a brief conflab and a quick game of guidebook snap we hit upon a plan. During the conversation I rather recklessly admitted that I had done this walk before, a couple of times. I offered to guide the others back on to the designated route. What I didn’t admit though, is that I had got lost on this walk before and the last time I did it, I was just following someone and not paying much attention. However, Ian still retained his faith in my navigational skills and the others were quite happy to tag along. So now we were a group of four and I was the “leader.” It must have been the teacher in me rising up again even after many years of retirement. I admit that I enjoy being in charge. That way, if all goes well, I get all the credit. Unfortunately, the flip-side is that if it goes wrong, then I get the blame! So we set off, like a little army patrol, with me in the lead and Ian bringing up the rear. The wind was still blasting us and the thought  crossed my mind that this would be an excellent place to read “Wuthering Heights.” Emily Bronte and her famous sisters would have walked cold and windy moors like these almost every day.

We passed 2 stone cairns and eventually found a mysterious concrete post. The book’s instructions were a bit vague at this point. However, the obscure path through the bracken to the left was thankfully found and I basked in my moment of glory. I accepted the grateful thanks of the Londoners and gave them the instructions for the next section of the walk. Then we let them go, as they were quite a bit younger than us and we were feeling a bit tired. Ian’s dodgy left knee was now playing up a little, but he bravely ignored this and we returned to out Last of the Summer Wine chatting, putting the world to rights yet again. If only May and Trump would listen! We now passed over the knobbly, grassed-over spoil heaps, eventually entering a steeply sloping pine wood. The carpet of fallen needles was slippery and we had to be very careful as we gingerly descended. After negotiating a couple of styles and another field we emerged on to a hedge-lined lane leading to the pretty village of Faceby. I have it on good authority that Faceby has some of the most desirable and expensive properties in the whole region. I didn’t bother to consult my bank balance! Above Faceby stands Whorl Hill ( old Norse:” hverfill” –“high hill with a rounded top.”)

The hill is covered with an attractive wood of  larch, scots pine and beech trees.  Again the multi-colored leaves were lovely. In spring this woodland floor is carpeted with a mass of bluebells. We walked and chatted, trying to ignore the steepness of the initial hillside that had us puffing and panting a little. I confidently stated that we were now nearly home and dry. All the difficult navigation and confusing directions were now behind us. However, I spoke too soon. As we came out of the woods I suddenly realized that I hadn’t a clue where we were. I didn’t recognise the place at all and had a gut feeling that the waymarked footpath was going in the wrong direction. By now it was 2-30pm and our coffee shop visit was well overdue. Ian was yearning for his cappuccino. Also the grey clouds were darkening and thickening on the horizon. There’s only one thing worse than getting lost and that’s getting lost in the rain. A consultation of the large scale OS map revealed no clear answers. I had got my knickers well and truly in a twist and wasn’t thinking straight. A feeling of panic started churning up in my stomach. I could also feel Ian’s trust in me rapidly draining away! What to do?

You see, we didn’t have modern technology to magically dig us out of the hole. Our smart-phones probably had google maps and sat-navs but we didn’t know how to use them. At our age, one becomes technologically challenged. In the end, at Ian’s wise suggestion, we resorted to an old fashioned,  but tried and trusted method of finding our way. We asked a human being. Opposite the exit from Whorl Hill woods was a modern farmhouse. We opened the gate that had “No Right of Way” signs all over it and knocked on the door. I admit to feeling very nervous at that point. A man eventually came, accompanied by two border collies. One of the dogs was barking loudly and baring its teeth, but its bark thankfully proved to be bigger than its bite. Having been bitten by a dog when I was a teenage paper boy, I have always been a little nervous around them. The secret I’ve been told is not to show your fear, but that’s easier said than done. The dogs’ owner proved to be very nice, assuring us that they were OK. He was surprisingly kind and patient considering we had so rudely interrupted his afternoon peace. He seemed to have suffered some sort of stroke because he had difficulty in walking and his speech was slurred. However, he still insisted on coming out and showing us the way. It was very nice of him. The path we were on had been right. It was just my instincts that were wrong.

We resumed our walk, the rain still luckily holding off. Surely now we were on the last lap? We could almost smell the coffee and taste the toasties we were so looking forward to. We crossed a style and started walking down a sloping grassy field. Up ahead I at last spotted the deserted village of Whorlton. We were back on track. We had to make a detour around a large fallen tree and continued strolling downhill. I heard a distant shout and looked round in alarm but nobody was there. We carried on, pleased we were nearing the end, but then the shouting resumed, much louder, and obviously full of  anger. A man, presumably the farmer whose field we were in, was approaching rapidly with 2 dogs. The dogs were fortunately quiet but the farmer was full of hell, Apparantly, we had failed to spot a style and were now trespassing on his land. When Ian calmly explained that we had got lost and were merely trying to find our way to Swainby , the farmer angrily replied “I don’t believe you!”  Did he really think that we had deliberately ignored the style and walked on his field just to wind him up? The field didn’t have any crops or livestock in it. I looked into his eyes at this point and they were blazing with rage. “If anyone else walks down my field and bends my gate by climbing over it, I’ll snap their f-cking heads back!” he threatened. Obviously if lots of other walkers had made the same mistake as us, it was his signage that was at fault. Ramblers were clearly not his cup of tea! In the end he took great satisfaction in ordering us to walk all the way back up to the top of the field to find the style rather than letting us through the gate he had just come through. We didn’t enjoy being verbally abused. It was upsetting and unnecessary. In the end though, I ended up worrying about his blood pressure and wondering whether there were any good anger-management courses in the Swainby area. He probably went home and kicked the cat before swearing at his wife.

Well reader, we found the controversial style and walked down the same field, but this time on the right side of the fence. At last we reached a lane and walked into Whorlton. Nothing survives there except the ruined church and crumbling castle. Only the gatehouse of the latter remains. It last saw action in the English Civil War when the Parliamentarians shelled it and captured it from the Royalists. The Holy Cross Church has an arched nave open to the sky, approached by an avenue of yew trees. Some find it a disturbing place but I prefer to use the word “atmospheric.” The tiny chancel is roofed  and locked, but through a flap in the door one can glimpse a 14th Century, wooden effigy of a knight. We strolled straight past both church and castle, too tired to take any proper interest. Luckily, I’d seen them before. At the bottom of the hill we returned to Swainby, guided by its tall church spire. It was now just a case of dragging off our boots and collapsing into the Rusty Bike Cafe, very much looking forward to our well earned repast.

Unfortunately the day had one last unwelcome surprise for us. We got into the cafe so late ( nearly 3pm) that they had virtually run out of food. It is very popular with cyclists and motor-bikers and they had obviously descended like a swarm of locusts and devoured most of the goodies while we were getting lost and being verbally abused. So no toasties, no sandwiches, no sausage or bacon roll for Ian. It was a disappointing anti-climax at the end of our walk in the country. I managed to order a salad and a small delicious quiche and Ian put a brave face on things and even managed the odd smile as he sipped his cappuccino. But even with this damp squib of an ending and even after being attacked by Mr Angry, it had still been a great day out. A lot had happened, enough even to write a blog! Hopefully you have enjoyed it.

 

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