Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Blencathra (Lake District) - July 2014

Blencathra stands like a gatekeeper to the Northern Lake District.  At 2,847 feet (868 metres) it's the first mountain you encounter when driving towards Keswick from Penrith.  I can't properly explain why, but the first sight of this mountain always brings a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat.  There's just something about being surrounded by mountains that feels like "home" to me, and no matter how long it has been since my last visit, as I drive along the A66, Blencathra seems to be calling out to me... "Welcome Home".

This was partly why, at the start of a week's holiday in Keswick, I decided that our first climb would be Blencathra.  Also, I now feel as if I have just a hint of a vested interest in this beautiful mountain.  Earlier in the year the current owner of Blencathra, Lord Lonsdale, announced that he was putting the mountain up for sale to raise funds towards a large tax bill for death duties.  Almost immediately the Friends of Blencathra was formed with the aim of purchasing the mountain for the people and, at the same time, to register it as a community asset.  I pondered for a while as to whether I should donate to this project.  After all, the mountain, like the Lake District as a whole, is so well protected with legislation, nothing should change with regard to conservation, land usage and access by the public.  But then, I reasoned, why not?  Why not become a part of a community dedicated to such a beautiful mountain?  No one can truly know what the future holds, so why not contribute?  And so I did.  I made a donation, purchased a promotional hooded top and in doing so became one of the Friends of Blencathra.  Now, as one of the mountain's little friends (a Blencathran, if you will), it was time for me to really get to know her.

We arrived in Keswick on a rather overcast Saturday morning and spent the day browsing around the town centre and lakeside area until the time came to collect the keys for our holiday rental - a fourth floor apartment with stunning views, sweeping round from Walla Crag, across to Catbells, Grisedale Pike and then, the main feature, an almost uninterrupted view of Skiddaw.  Later that evening I sat out on our balcony to study Wainwright's Pictorial Guide to the Northern Fells, searching for the best route for Blencathra.  I had hoped to be able to walk from Keswick, climb the mountain and walk back, although having checked my OS map I decided this was perhaps just a little too ambitious.  I really wasn't sure which route to take, although I was adamant that I would not be including Sharp Edge, a hazardous scramble which Wainwright described as "sharp enough for shaving". 

Still undecided, I tentatively posted a question on the Walker's Forum Facebook page:  Was it possible to walk to Blencathra from Keswick, climb the mountain (avoiding Sharp Edge) and then walk back?  Almost immediately I received a very helpful reply recommending that we catch a bus from Keswick to the hamlet of Scales at the foot of Blencathra, from which point we could ascend via Scales Fell, traverse the mountain to descend via Blease Fell to the Blencathra Centre, from where we could pick up a path back to Keswick.  This turned out to be excellent advice and, after a quick check through the local bus timetables, I discovered that a bus departed from Keswick at 8.25 the next morning.  Perfect!

I awoke very early the next day and immediately threw open the curtains to reveal a cloudless Skiddaw, softly side-lit with early morning light.  The sun was shining as we walked through an unusually quiet Keswick town centre on our way to the bus station.  Although Scales wasn't listed as a bus stop in the timetable, the driver assured me he would stop there for us and so we sat back to enjoy the short journey from Keswick which took just over ten minutes.

The bus dropped us by the White Horse Inn in the little settlement of Scales, which is right by the side of the busy A66.  From the bus stop we walked back a couple of hundred yards along the side of the road until we located a public footpath sign directing us uphill by the side of a cottage garden.  The sky was blue but there were low clouds stacking up over the fells in the west beyond Keswick.  Above us though, Blencathra appeared to be bathed in sunlight - at least for the time being.

The climb starts here!

Our chosen path climbed quite gently to begin with as it ascended through the bracken, skirting the edge of Scales Fell.  After a short distance I turned to look back and the clouds seemed to be heading our way, hanging low over the fells beyond the village of Threlkeld in the valley bottom.

Clouds gather in the west

We left the main path as it bent around the contours of Scales Fell and took a subsidiary path which climbed at a steeper gradient.  The main path was heading towards Sharp Edge and, as I wished to avoid this route, we followed an alternative, lesser defined path which would take us to the edge of Doddick Fell.  Before turning towards the summit I paused to admire the view across to Great Mell Fell standing in isolation with the distant Pennines on the hazy horizon.

The view across to Great Mell Fell

Below the countryside appeared shrunken, like a miniature landscape just waiting for a model train to pass through.  To the south I could see the Mosedale Viaduct and I half expected to see an old locomotive, gathering steam as it approached.  But today the Penrith to Keswick line is deserted, having been closed in 1972.  Like many dismantled railways it is now used as a public footpath and cycle track, although there are proposals to have the line re-opened in the future.  For this reason a proposal to have the viaduct demolished was rejected in 1997.

A landscape in miniature

The ascent was very straightforward and relatively easy, although I made frequent stops, ostensibly to take photographs with the added advantage that such pauses enabled me to catch my breath.  It didn't seem to take us long though before the summit was in sight.

The summit beckons

So far all the best views had been to the east and south east, but then suddenly, as we skirted the crest of Doddick Fell, we were treated to a breathtaking view over Threlkeld Common and beyond to the western fells, with just a glimpse of Derwent Water.  The cloud cover had lifted slightly and I stood in wonder for several minutes, just drinking it all in.

A stunning view (one of many)

The views to the east were diminishing now, obscured by the flanks of the rolling fells, and the clouds to the east were thickening over the Pennines.

Rolling fells and distant Pennines
The path continued to be well defined and easy to follow as it snaked its way progressively upwards.  Unlike many Lakeland mountain paths, this one was evenly surfaced, very pleasant to walk along and its meandering  line meant there were no seriously steep gradients to negotiate.  In short, it was a highly pleasurable walk which could be completed with ease by anyone with a reasonable level of fitness.

A very pleasant path

The gentle nature of this path may elicit the question why Wainwright described Blencathra as a "mountaineer's mountain". This can be answered in two ominous words.  Sharp Edge.  This knife-like ridge of rock has been described in guide books as "the most difficult obstacle on any walker's path in the Lake District".  It is a route only to be tackled by those experienced at scrambling and one to be avoided on wet or windy days.  From 1947 to March 2014 the Keswick Mountain Rescue Service has recorded 85 incidents on Sharp Edge, 11 of which resulted in fatalities.  Many climbers simply become what's known as "cragfast", which is to say stuck, or possibly frozen with terror, part way along the ridge.  For the confident scrambler and those who are not of a nervous disposition, however, Sharp Edge is said to provide one of the best experiences in Lakeland fell-walking.  As for me, I'm not an adrenaline junkie, and I'm certainly not exactly confident in my mountaineering abilities.  I simply want to climb mountains for the satisfaction of having got to the top, to enjoy the views (when the weather permits) and in doing so to improve my fitness.  That may change with time, but right now I would rather leave Sharp Edge to others and simply admire it from afar.  And with the very pretty Scales Tarn filling the corrie below, it certainly makes for a lovely mountain scene. 

Sharp Edge and Scales Tarn

I could have spent many hours, sitting overlooking Scales Tarn and Sharp Edge, capturing the varying moods created by the ever-changing light.  But the summit beckoned and we pressed on, pausing to watch those brave enough to traverse the knife-edge.  From a higher vantage point the Sharp Edge arĂȘte didn't look quite so menacing and Tom was all in favour of descending to the tarn and tackling the scramble.  After peering through the binoculars at one walker wobbling his way precariously over the rocky ridge, however, I was relieved that I was able to talk Tom out of it.  If he'd gone, I would have followed, as much as I know that I would have disliked it.  In the event, we plodded on with our original intended course to the top.

It doesn't look too bad, from this angle

As we approached the summit the clouds in the west seemed to descend. Or possibly we had climbed above them.  Even though we were at this point denied a sweeping panorama of the mountains to the west, we nevertheless had a wonderful view across to Derwent Water, with a hint of Thirlmere emerging beyond the valley known as St John's in the Vale.

Clouds lowering in the west

On maps the summit of Blencathra is marked as Hallsfell Top.  Unlike most Lakeland fells, the true summit is not marked with a cairn but instead there's a circular stone Ordnance Survey triangulation station.  I rather liked this.  It made a change from a heap of rocks or the usual concrete obelisk used for trig points. 

The summit

From this vantage point we could see a little more of Thirlmere but a little less of Derwent Water and nothing at all of the western fells as the clouds began to roll in.

Derwent Water disappears

As I stood admiring the view Tom took a quick photo of me with his phone.  It may be grainy and blurry, but it's just me and Blencathra, and for this reason this particular image is now a personal favourite.

Just me and a mountain

Blencathra's alternative name is Saddleback, due to the mountain's distinctive shape, and the route to our descent via Blease Fell entailed a traverse of the "saddle".  This section of the walk was a sheer joy.  The sun was managing to filter through the lowering clouds and to the north we had a sweeping view across to the Skiddaw massif.  It was glorious and, almost without thinking, I found myself singing, skipping and dancing along.  It was a feeling of sheer euphoria; of being alive in the moment without another single thought in my mind.  Fortunately , and unusually, we were the only people up there at this point, but if there had been others it wouldn't have made any difference.  In more than one sense, I was experiencing a high.  It was, quite simply, fantastic - which is probably why I kept on signing, over and over, "Fantastica...." (the tune from a recent World Cup themed advert)!

Looking across to Skiddaw

Our route back down via Blease Fell was as straightforward as our ascent had been.  It was steep in places, but not so steep as to cause any problems.  A short way down we passed an older couple with whom we exchanged greetings as they plodded their way upwards.  To our astonishment, just a short time later, the same couple came bounding back down the mountain at quite a speed, eschewing the stony path in favour of a direct ascent down the steepest part, thrashing through the bracken.  I have the greatest admiration for fell runners and could only stand in awe as they hurtled downhill and disappeared from sight.  What strength they must have in their knees! 

As we descended below the clouds we caught our first sight of Keswick, peering out from beyond the tree-lined slopes of Latrigg.  As I paused to photograph the scene, another couple ascended towards us.  I immediately spotted a Friends of Blencathra t-shirt and spent a happy few minutes chatting to the couple about t-shirts,  the pending purchase and the mountain in general.  At the time of writing the negotiations over the sale of the mountain are still ongoing, but I'm very hopeful for a favourable outcome for the "Friends" and for Blencathra.

The path down and a view of Keswick

The gradient gradually decreased as we descended the lower slopes of Blease Fell and the cloud now robbed the landscape of light.  Below we could hear as well as see the busy A66 as we tried, with difficulty,  to pick out the course of our return route to Keswick.

Descending Blease Fell

Beyond the parked cars at the foot of Blease Fell we spotted the next target on our route.  The Blencathra Centre was formerly a sanatorium but today it is owned by the Field Studies Council, providing environmental study courses for schools and universities.  Our route was to pass through the grounds of the centre to pick up a public footpath which would take us all the way back to Keswick.

Above the Blencathra Centre

The route from the Blencathra Centre was easy to follow and clearly marked with signposts.  After passing through the centre's grounds we crossed a field which led us to a footbridge over the Glenderaterra Beck, just above Brundholme.  Here we paused for a while to enjoy the peaceful sound of water cascading over moss-covered rocks as a hint of sunlight began to filter through the trees.

Crossing Glenderaterra Beck

After a short stretch of road walking we turned into Brundholme Wood and followed a path which climbed up through the trees above the River Greta sparkling with reflected sunshine as it wound its way through the woodland ravine.

Above the River Greta in Brundholme Wood

The path emerged out of the woods and we passed under a bridge with the traffic on the A66 thundering high above our heads in sharp contrast to the tranquil scene of trees, river and little cottages below.

Return to civilisation

We were now on the outskirts of Keswick and just a short walk took us back into the centre of town where a very welcome pint of Jenning's Snecklifter awaited.

Blencathra, I had discovered, is a mountain that can be as benign as she can be perilous.  Of course, our chosen route is just one of many ways to discover this iconic mountain and I have every intention of exploring alternative ascents in the future.  But for now, as I sipped on my beer, I could simply  reflect on a wonderful day spent making the acquaintance of my beautiful new friend: Blencathra.

Coming soon... My Lakeland adventure continues with an ascent of Great Gable and a day in complete contrast to my experience with Blencathra.  A mountain that beckons me closer, chews me up and spits me out the other side (at least, that's what it felt like).  If you'd like to receive updates for my blog (and other stuff) please feel free to follow me on Facebook.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Captain Cook's Monument & Roseberry Topping (North York Moors) - June 2014

It was the morning after Midsummer's Day, the weather was fair and I awoke very early feeling eager to go for a nice long walk.  A quick look at my list entitled "Walks I would like to do" and I instantly knew which one I favoured.  This was to be a 12 mile circuit over high moorland at the very northernmost edge of the North York Moors, visiting a couple of well-known landmarks along the way.

It was still quite early and the roads were quiet as we drove out to the little Cleveland market town of Guisborough.  This being a Sunday, parking was free and unlimited along the main street where we left our car.  Before we could get up onto the higher ground, however, we first of all had to navigate our way out of the town centre.  After a couple of wrong turns we eventually found ourselves on a dismantled railway line which skirted the southern edge of the town.  This was the line of the former Middlesbrough and Guisborough railway which closed in 1964 and is now known as the Guisborough Greenway.

The Guisborough Greenway

As with many former railway lines, the Guisborough Greenway is an excellent footpath and cycle track which certainly lives up to its name in sections where the cinder track seems to be like a leafy tunnel.

A very green way

After a mile or so the track opened up to a country lane which led us to Hutton Village, a small settlement built to house miners and agricultural workers.  Judging by the number of cars parked along this quiet lane, this is a popular starting point for walks and cycle rides through the nearby woods and moors.  Just before entering the village we found the path we were to follow uphill through Hutton Lowcross Woods.  The day was becoming rather hot as we climbed up through the woodland, pausing for a while to enjoy the shade and to admire the wild foxgloves growing among the trees along the banks. 


As the path climbed steadily uphill we eventually left the woods behind and emerged onto the open moorland of Great Ayton Moor.  Here we enjoyed a lovely view back along our route, over the town of Guisborough and beyond to the sea.   The area was obviously very popular with cyclists as they seemed to suddenly appear from all directions, up the hill, down the hill and across our path into the woods and over the moors. 

The view looking back

A short distance along the moors and we found ourselves once again on the Cleveland Way - a national trail we regularly encounter on sections of our moorland walks.  Today we followed it for just a few yards before it turned off to head north-eastwards on its way to meet the sea at Saltburn.  Our route from this point was along a dusty moorland track at the side of which the heather was just starting to show early signs of coming into bloom. 

The heather begins to bloom

The day was rather overcast now, but muggy and hot with occasional bursts of sunlight through the clouds.  Across a valley we caught a glimpse of the monument which was to be our first destination and at this point our route took us sharply downhill along a deeply rutted track and then steeply uphill to once again meet up with the Cleveland Way just above the village of Kildale. 

First landmark in sight

There then followed a very pleasant stretch of level walking through woodland at Coates Moor, following the Cleveland Way until it emerged out of the woods and climbed up to the top of Easby Moor and the Captain Cook Monument.  In the distance, almost peering over the top of the hill, we also got our first sight of Roseberry Topping, silhouetted against the skyline.

Approaching the Captain Cook Monument

The Captain Cook Monument is a 51 feet high obelisk, made from local sandstone, which was erected in 1827 at the top of Easby Moor.  From this point, high up on the moors, it can be seen for miles around and its position is close to the village of Great Ayton, which is where Captain Cook had his boyhood home.  On the side of the monument facing out over the Cleveland plain there is a plaque with an inscription which reads as follows:

In memory of the celebrated circumnavigator Captain James Cook F.R.S. A man of nautical  knowledge inferior to none, in zeal, prudence and energy, superior to most. Regardless of  danger he opened an intercourse with the Friendly Isles and other parts of the Southern  Hemisphere. He was born at Marton Oct. 27th 1728 and massacred at Owythee Feb. 14th  1779 to the inexpressible grief of his countrymen. While the art of navigation shall be  cultivated among men, whilst the spirit of enterprise, commerce and philanthropy shall  animate the sons of Britain, while it shall be deemed the honour of a Christian Nation to  spread civilisation and the blessings of the Christian faith among pagan and savage tribes, so  long will the name of Captain Cook stand out amongst the most celebrated and most  admired benefactors of the human race.
The Captain Cook Monument
We sat for a while, below the monument on the edge of the escarpment, enjoying the view whilst eating our packed lunch.  From this vantage point we could pick out familiar landscape features along the line of the Cleveland Hills, such as the Wainstones and Carlton Bank.  We could also see rain clouds approaching from the direction of Middlesbrough and so we quickly finished our lunch and set off again to follow the Cleveland Way.
View from the monument

Before long our next landmark destination came fully into view.  Roseberry Topping has a very distinctive shape, caused by a combination of a geological fault and a mining collapse which occurred in 1912.  As we walked downhill from the monument, its Matterhorn-like profile was clearly visible over the top of a nearby coniferous plantation.  Even from this distance we could clearly see the paths leading up the hillside and also the outlines of people gathering on the summit.
Looking across to Roseberry Topping's distinctive shape
Our route now took us steeply downhill to cross the road to the visitor car park for the Captain Cook Monument, after which we climbed up again onto Great Ayton Moor.  At the top we looked back along the path we'd just followed and we could also see that the threat of rain was going to pass us by.  This section of the walk was very busy with walkers, tourists and off-road cyclists.  It was also popular with midges and I realised too late that I had forgotten to apply any insect repellent before setting off that morning.  I certainly regretted this omission later in the week!
Looking back towards the monument
After about a mile or so the path turned off giving us the option to climb Roseberry Topping.  At just 1,049 feet its summit falls a thousand feet short of being classified as a mountain and yet, bizarrely, in a recent poll by "Trail" magazine, this iconic hill was ranked by readers as the 16th best mountain in the UK.  I was very keen to walk up to the top again because in February 2013 this had been the highest peak I had attempted for some considerable time and I had found it both daunting and exhilarating.  Now, after almost 18 months of walking and climbing, I was interested to see if I would notice any difference.
Approaching Roseberry Topping
As I began to climb up the stepped pathway to the summit my attention was drawn to a fat, hairy caterpillar wiggling its way along a branch.  My first thoughts were that this was a Red Admiral butterfly caterpillar but I've since realised that this is incorrect and, to date, I haven't been able to positively identify the species. 
Unknown species of caterpillar
Happily my climb to the top of Roseberry Topping was completed with ease.  It hardly seemed like a climb at all and I only stopped once on the way up, to photograph the caterpillar.  A rest stop wasn't necessary and when I got to the top I was hardly out of breath.   It was good to have had this chance to monitor my progress and I felt extremely pleased with myself.  Finding somewhere to sit down at the top to have a drink and enjoy the view proved rather more of a challenge.  It was so crowded up there!  But eventually I found a perch with a view over the village of Great Ayton and across to the Cleveland Hills. 
View from the top of the Topping
From the top of Roseberry Topping our route back to Guisborough could not have been more obvious.  A very clear path led into woodlands over the top of which the town was clearly visible.
The way ahead is clear
Before entering the woods which would lead us back to Hutton Village and Guisborough via the Greenway, I glanced back at Roseberry Topping. From this angle its shape was not so distinctive.  It just looked like any average sized green hill and yet I could see why it enjoys so much popularity.  It may not actually have the stature of a mountain, but those who climb to its summit are rewarded not only with a sweeping 360 degrees view, but also a sense of achievement, whatever the level of fitness.   Little wonder then that this modest peak had its place in a list alongside the likes of Snowdon and Ben Nevis.
The less distinctive side of Roseberry Topping
Directions for this walk:
For a slightly shorter version of this walk you can park on the side of the road approaching Hutton Village.  However, this is a busy road and parking is limited.  On a Sunday parking is free and unlimited on Westgate in Guisborough and the town also has pay and display car parks.
From the centre of Guisborough head for Rectory Lane and turn onto Enfield Chase, just after the Lidl supermarket.  After a couple of hundred yards or so turn right onto the dismantled railway line known as the Guisborough Greenway and follow the track for a mile or so until it meets up with Hutton Village Road.  Follow this road until just before Hutton Village and then take the public footpath uphill through Hutton Lowcross Woods and out onto Great Ayton Moor.  Here a sandy track can be followed to a point known as Percy Cross from where a deeply rutted track to the right leads downhill to Lonsdale Farm.
After the farm follow the quiet country lane steeply uphill until a sign for the Cleveland Way points to the right.  Follow this footpath which will take you all the way to the Captain Cook Monument on Easby Moor. 
From the monument take the Cleveland Way to Roseberry Topping (climbing to the top is recommended but optional) and then leaving the Cleveland Way a path can be taken through Hutton Lowcross Woods, either to Hutton Village Road or back along the Greenway into Guisborough, depending where you have parked.
Total distance - 12.25 miles.
Coming soon...It's time to climb some proper mountains!  We head off to the Lake District for a fantastic week of walking, beginning with beautiful Blencathra.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Bilsdale and Bransdale (North York Moors) - May 2014

A week before setting off to walk the Yorkshire Wolds Way we paid another visit to beautiful Bilsdale in the North York Moors National Park.  A lack of time prevented me from blogging about this prior to our Wolds Way walk, and so what follows is a short step back in time to a weekend in mid May.  Our base for the weekend was the Buck Inn at Chop Gate, which is rapidly becoming a firm favourite.  Aware of the fact that we needed a "Wolds Way Warm-up", I planned two consecutive days of walking around 12 miles each day. 
I've decided only to write about the first day's walk because, to be honest, the second day contained little of interest.  It was basically a day of following a large circuit over open moorland which, apart from the occasional grouse butt, was featureless.  Day one, however, was a different matter.

Leaving our car in the pub's car park, we set off along the main road northwards, as far as the hamlet of Seave Green where we turned to cross a stream before following a farm track uphill.  

Seave Green Ford

The track passed through a small wooded area which was carpeted with bluebells - a glorious sight in the late spring sunshine.  Then, after passing by a farmyard, we entered an area of coniferous woodland at East Bank Plantation, following a path which climbed steeply towards the edge of Urra Moor.

Through a bluebell wood

It was hot work but thankfully, once at the top, a refreshing breeze cooled us as we took in the view over Chop Gate and Bilsdale. 

View over Bilsdale

Our route then followed a sandy track, along the edge of the moor, with views across to the Wain Stones and beyond to the Cleveland plain.

On the edge of Urra Moor

It was such a wonderful view and the track was broad and level, so I wasn't exactly watching where I was treading, when suddenly I became aware of movement by my feet.  I had almost stepped on a red grouse chick, nestling in the grassy centre of the track.  The tiny bird was well camouflaged in the dappled sunlight.  I picked up my camera and zoomed in for a close-up just before it scurried away, chirruping for its mother who was calling out from the heather.  This was the height of the grouse breeding season and we spotted many more chicks during the course of the day.  

Red Grouse Chick

We continued to follow the sandy track as it turned eastwards to join the Cleveland Way, taking one last look over towards the Cleveland Hills escarpment.

A wonderful view

As the Cleveland Way gradually ascended, we passed the first of two unusual standing stones.   This was a waymarker, possibly erected in the early eighteenth century and crudely carved with a hand indicating a route across the moors.  Below the hand it was just possible to make out lettering, which reads "This is the way to Kirbie" (Kirbymoorside) and on the opposite side "This is the way to Stoxla" (Stokesley). 

The Hand Stone

Urra Moor is the highest point on the North York Moors and the summit, known as Round Hill, can be found close by the Hand Stone.  We left the track to climb the final few feet up to the trig point which, at 1,454 feet above sea level, not only provided us with an excellent view but also a very pleasant breeze.

Round Hill - The highest point on the North York Moors

A short distance further along the Cleveland Way we passed by another intriguing standing stone, this one carved with a crude face.  Both the age and purpose of this stone are uncertain, although it is believed to be much older than the Hand Stone, possibly dating from the medieval period and it may have been erected as a boundary marker.  The earliest mention of the Face Stone can be found in an estate boundary document dating from 1642 where it's referred to as "the bounder call Faceston".

The Face Stone

From Round Hill we continued eastwards, following the Cleveland Way to Bloworth Crossing.  Here we were to turn south to follow the old coaching road which ran from Kirbymoorside to Stokesley.  Known as the Waingate, its name derives from the Anglo-Saxon word for a wagon, the wain (as in "haywain" or "wainwright") and this ancient isolated track was once busy with packhorses, wagons and stagecoaches transporting food, wool, timber and passengers.  Bloworth Crossing is the point where the former Rosedale Ironstone Railway crossed the Waingate as it headed towards Ingleby Incline above the village of Ingleby Greenhow.    Today the only evidence of the railway are the remains of some sleepers at the crossing point.

Bloworth Crossing

We followed the Waingate southwards along Rudland Rigg for almost two miles.  It was a dry, dusty route across open moorland which, typically of the high moors, is practically featureless and looks much nicer later in the year, when the heather is in full flower.

Rudland Rigg

Eventually we reached the head of Bransdale, with a lovely view down into the valley and beyond to the hillside we would be climbing later, to take us back across the moors to Bilsdale. 

First glimpse of Bransdale

Our route now took us steeply downhill along the side of the southern end of Bloworth Wood and onto grassy pastureland as we approached the little settlement of Cockayne.


At the foot of the hill we followed a quiet lane for a little way before crossing a stile and walking downhill to Bransdale Mill.  Currently in the ownership of the National Trust, the former  watermill is now used as a bunkhouse for volunteers working in the area.  It was built in 1811 by one William Strickland of Farndale whose initials are displayed in large iron letters on the front of the building .   It was very peaceful down in the hollow by the mill and we sat on a bench by the old millstream to eat our packed lunch.

Bransdale Mill

From the valley bottom at Bransdale Mill we were faced with a long, slow ascent to the top of Bilsdale East Moor.  A short distance from the buildings, in a field overlooking the mill, can be found a sundial bearing the inscription "Time and life move swiftly".   This had been placed there by William Strickland's  son Emmanuel, who for a short time was the Curate at Ingleby Greenhow.

Bransdale Mill Sundial

The climb back up to Bilsdale Moor was hot work and about half way up I paused to take in the view across Bransdale, looking over to Rudland Rigg and picking out features in the landscape we had passed a little earlier.  I could clearly see our path down the side of Bloworth Wood and could just make out Bransdale Mill, nestling among the trees in the valley bottom.

View of Bransdale

While studying my OS map, I had noticed a feature marked as "Stump Cross" and, as we reached the top of the hill, this was an instantly recognisable feature.  At this point the path follows the route of an ancient road known as the Thurkilsti Track.  Stump Cross is the remains of one of the old wayside crosses which were erected along the side of tracks from early days of  Christianity in England.  The tradition of erecting crosses at junctions continued until at least the 15th century.  However, many were damaged during the Reformation or the Commonwealth periods, which may have been the reason this one is much reduced in size and missing its crosspiece. 

Stump Cross

From this point we could see across to the moors above the western side of Bilsdale, and Chop Gate didn't seem so very far away.  It was the day of the FA Cup Final and, although not a football fan myself, one of the teams was from Yorkshire so we had decided to try and get back to the Buck Inn for the late afternoon kick-off.  There was just a short hike across the moors, or so I thought, to be followed by a descent, and then we'd be back with time to spare.  As we walked along the top of Bilsdale East Moor we passed a couple of shelters used by grouse shooters, and these provided a rare focal point in an otherwise featureless landscape.

Bilsdale East Moor

I have to confess that many times when I look at a map I fail to properly study the contours.  I seem to have developed the habit of just looking at the footpaths, landmarks and place names, without really paying attention to those little wiggly lines that delineate the gradients.  This can often result in a bit of a surprise, as was the case at this point on our walk, when suddenly we found ourselves faced with an entire valley to cross.  We had reached the beautiful and isolated moorland valley of Tripsdale, a tributary valley of Bilsdale with some intriguing rock formations, the most well-known being the "Ship Stone".  Sadly, we had neither the time nor the energy to explore Tripsdale on this occasion, but I made a mental note to return and investigate at a later date.  Any excuse for another stay at the Buck!

We continued out of the valley, following a dusty road which snaked its way up the side of the hill and, looking back, we had a view over Tripsdale and across to the route we had just taken.

Above Tripsdale

Presently the road brought us to the escarpment above Bilsdale from where we followed a path downhill and back to Seave Green.  This route took us along the opposite side of the wooded area which we had passed through at the beginning of the walk and, suddenly, I was met with a sight which almost took my breath away.  There were bluebells.  Acres and acres of bluebells, growing wild along the bank which descended to a stream and then up among the trees.  They were growing in such profusion that the land all around me was almost entirely blue.  It was the most spectacular display of these lovely flowers that I've ever seen and I spent a lot longer than I should have done, just happily taking photographs in the afternoon sunshine.

So many bluebells!

Eventually the lure of good food and beer got the better of me and I left the bluebells to return to the pub.  Later that evening we spent a happy hour or so chatting to two lady walkers who had travelled all the way from Australia to walk the Coast to Coast.  At Chop Gate they were nearing the end of their epic 192 mile walk and they told us they had loved every minute of it.  I had been getting a little anxious about own impending long distance walk which, at 79 miles, was less than half the distance of the Coast to Coast, and talking to the two Australian ladies certainly helped to dispel some of my concerns.  There was now just one week to go to our departure on the Yorkshire Wolds Way and I couldn't wait to get started!

The Buck Inn, Chop Gate

Directions for this walk:
From Chop Gate follow the B1257 for about half a mile to Seave Green then cross the road and walk along the lane for a short distance to a ford.  Cross the stream and take the public footpath which leads up a farm track to East Bank Plantation.  Follow the path which climbs up through the woodland and onto the edge of Urra Moor.  At the top of the hill turn left and follow the dusty moorland track which eventually turns right and leads to the Cleveland Way and Round Hill.  Continue along the Cleveland Way to Bloworth Crossing and here turn right and walk along Rudland Rigg for approximately two miles.  After passing above Bloworth Wood a track leads downhill to the lane which leads to Cockayne.  Turn left and walk along the lane for a short distance until a stile leads into a grassy field where the path takes you downhill to Bransdale Mill.

From Bransdale take the path uphill, past the sundial and across a couple of fields and crossing two quiet country lanes before climbing uphill onto the moors.  Take the moorland track all the way to Tripsdale, down the valley and up the other side and along to Stonehouse Cote where a farm track will lead you back to Seave Green, the B1257 and Chop Gate.

Total distance - 12.5 miles.

Coming soon...We return to the Cleveland Hills to walk from the town of Guisborough, visiting two iconic sites - the Captain Cook Monument and Roseberry Topping.