Cleveland Way Day 3 - Osmotherley to Clay Bank


We enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the Golden Lion in the company of several Coast to Coasters who regaled us with tales of their trials and tribulations along the way.
  For one unfortunate gentleman this had included a nasty tumble into Lakeland gorse bushes.  The poor guy was still trying to pick tiny thorns out of his arms and legs several days after the event.  Realising that we may find today’s walk a little crowded, after breakfast we quickly stuffed our belongings into our rucksacks and hit the trail ahead of the pack.  We’re not really anti-social but, when it comes to walking, we simply prefer the company of each other and the sounds of nature to the often forced small talk with strangers.

 

From Osmotherley both the Cleveland Way and the Coast to Coast follow the same route northwards, along a country lane to begin with, before turning to follow a track which climbs steadily along the edge of woodland, rewarding the walker with increasingly expansive views.


View over the Vale of Mowbray

 

At the top of the hill, as the path left the woods to cross the edge of Scarth Wood Moor, we paused for a while to enjoy an uninterrupted view across the Vale of Mowbray, over to the distant hills of the Yorkshire Dales in the west.  We were blissfully alone on this early part of the walk.  No babble of chatter from other walkers or the drone of distant traffic, just the sweet ascending song of a skylark.  The landscape was a patchwork in shades of green with foxgloves punctuating the margins of our path.  Having all of this to ourselves was such a treat.  It was hard not to dawdle, but in the distance behind us we caught our first sight of a group of walkers, gaining on us quickly.  Two such popular long distance trails were always going to be busy and so, in an attempt to prolong the solitude for as long as possible, we upped our pace.

 

 


A glorious view 

 A short distance further along the path we got our first glimpse of Roseberry Topping, rising like a pimple on the horizon to the east, while over to the north the industrial skyline of Middlesbrough was clearly visible.



Distant views of Roseberry Topping and Middlesbrough

 

The day was pleasantly warm with high clouds and a welcome breeze.  And, surprisingly given the number of walkers who’d overnighted in Osmotherley, somehow we continued to have the trail to ourselves.  In spite of being at a slightly lower elevation than the top of Sutton Bank, the views were no less spectacular and once again we slowed our pace, stopping frequently to drink in our surroundings and savour the moment.  I find that without making a conscious effort to remain mindful, it’s all too easy to get lost in thought and, in doing so, to diminish what should be an uplifting experience.  During the humdrum of the working week, stuck within the confines of a small office, I crave the space and freedom of a full day spent in the great outdoors.  This is as good a reason as any to take things slowly, let go of intrusive thoughts, look around me and just breathe.  And this is no doubt why, before too long, we inevitably found ourselves surrounded by a large and noisy group of American Coast to Coasters.

 

Having exchanged the obligatory good mornings, we quickened our pace a little to get ahead of the pack as the path descended at Scarth Nick before crossing a lane to enter Clain Wood.  Ahead of us awaited a section of the Cleveland Way with which we were already familiar – the rollercoaster of a path over Carlton Moor and on to Clay Bank.  As we approached Scarth Nick we could see the distant peak of Carlton Bank, prominent on the skyline ahead.  I viewed it with eager anticipation.  It’s one of my all-time favourite places to walk.



Approaching Scarth Nick
 

The chatter of Coast to Coasters echoed around the trees along the path through Clain Wood.  It seemed disproportionately noisy and crowded, so we slowed down to almost a snail’s pace to allow a particularly talkative bunch to get ahead of us, only to be quickly caught up by the party of boisterous Americans.  Having exchanged greetings again, we strode off purposefully and caught up with the first group.  Eventually we found ourselves almost jogging as we left the woods and crossed the lane at Huthwaite Green.  It wasn’t just the intrusive babble of chitchat that had made us virtually sprint along the path.  We were both on the hunt for a secluded place to answer the call of nature, which can be challenging at the best of times, but never more so than when surrounded by a crowd of strangers.  To our great relief we found a suitable spot amongst the bushes as the path contoured steadily uphill.

 

Before the crowd caught up with us again, we paused to enjoy another view over the green expanse of broad acres across to the distant hills in the west.


 


Another look west

 

Once through a little gate the ascent steepened, with a series of shallow stone steps aiding the climb.  Something of a workout followed as we ploughed onwards and upwards with hardly a pause to catch breath.  This, it turned out, was a good strategy.  The pursuing crowd had either slowed considerably to tackle the steps or had stopped to take a break.  I suspect both had happened, because for the rest of the section that followed we remained happily, and peacefully, alone.

 



Steps through the trees

At the top of the steps we emerged from woodland and rewarded ourselves with a short break to catch our breath.  Once again we could savour the expansive panorama with a feeling of freedom and tranquility.  It had certainly been worth the effort to push on up those steps!


We were now at the start of one of my walking happy places – the switchback of a path along the northern escarpment of the North York Moors.  With views over to Teesside in the north and across the expansive moorland of the National Park to the south, I find that I can’t fail to feel uplifted in such a landscape.


 


View from Knolls End


The feeling of freedom and solitude intensified as we meandered along this evenly paved section of path on the edge of Live Moor.  All the while we were surrounded by sweeping views, accompanied by the plaintive, bubbling cry of a distant curlew.  I stopped frequently to take photos and deep breaths of pure, fresh air.  It was so intoxicating that I no longer noticed the weight of my backpack or the chafing caused by its straps.  For a while I pondered on the comments sometimes made by well-meaning friends, that this kind of holiday can’t possibly be as relaxing as one spent lounging on a Mediterranean beach, a paperback novel in one hand and a cocktail in the other.  Each to their own, I thought, but I couldn’t help feeling that if I should ever find myself in such surroundings I’d spend most of my time pining for the likes of Live Moor on a warm but slightly overcast July morning.  Or even, come to that, a blustery March afternoon or crisp December morning.  



Looking back along Faceby Bank

It was past midday by the time we clambered down the stone steps at the edge of Carlton Bank to make our way to the conveniently situated café and shop at Lordstones.  I’d been eagerly anticipating this all morning.  We’d visited here several times previously, it had never disappointed us and today was no exception.  Just in time we found ourselves an outdoor table and ordered lunch before the pursuing crowd of Coast to Coasters arrived and a large queue developed.   Backpacks abandoned for a while, we enjoyed a plate of tasty sandwiches washed down with bottles of Helmsley Honey Beer and rounded off with an indulgent slice of cake.  This, I reasoned, was justifiable carb loading.  As we ate, snippets of conversation in thick American accents drifted our way from a nearby table.


“Boy!  Those steps!”

“Where’s Eric?  Has anyone seen him?”

“He’s taking it slow.  Blisters.”

“How are your feet?”

“I have blisters too.  But not as bad as Eric’s.”


I glanced up as a tall, middle-aged man with walking poles and a baseball cap emblazoned with the word ‘Raiders’ hobbled his way towards the adjoining table.  This, presumably, was Eric and judging by the way he was limping, those blisters must have been really painful.  Suddenly, the minor chafing caused by my rucksack straps seemed trivial.  At least my feet had remained blister free.  




Lordstones Cafe

It would have been easy to have lingered at the Lordstones café, sipping beer and feeding crumbs to the bold little chaffinches who fluttered speculatively onto the edge of our table, but the day was moving on and so must we.  Before we left the area we took a short detour to visit a nearby stone circle.  Prior to our first visit here, a few years earlier, I had mistakenly believed that this feature must have given the area its name.  However, once up close I had quickly realised that this couldn’t be the case.  Although the name “Lordstones” does indeed refer to a standing stone of ancient origin, this neatly arranged circle, situated on a plateau with sweeping views of the plain below, is actually a folly, erected in 2013 to coincide with the opening of the newly refurbished shop and café.  The original “Lordstone” can be found behind the café, by the side of a Bronze Age round barrow.  Its actual name is the “Three Lords’ Stone”, which derives from its original use as a boundary marker at the convergence of land owned by three lords.



The Stone Circle

From the Lordstones Country Park our path continued up steep steps to a promontory with a viewing area complete with a toposcope, erected in memory of Alec Falconer “Rambler”.  A once well-known walker in this area, in 1912 Alec had founded a walking club in Middlesbrough, a group which is still going strong to this day.  An active campaigner for the rights of walkers, he had also championed the formation of the Cleveland Way.  Sadly, Alec died in 1968, just a few short months before the official opening of the National Trail in 1969.


I love toposcopes, although I do prefer the ones that give some perspective by showing distances to the various places and landmarks mentioned.  From this vantage point I’m not sure that it would ever be possible to make out the likes of Cross Fell or Ingleborough, but it would have been nice to have known how far away such features were, I thought, as I directed my gaze in various directions.



Memorial toposcope

A second part to the Alec Falconer memorial can be found close by in the form of a substantial stone bench, which faces the toposcope and the view beyond.  This must be a welcome sight for many who have clambered up the steps from Lordstones – the ideal place to rest and take in the view.  Feeling sufficiently rested already, we continued on our way along the next rollercoaster section, following a neatly paved path along the edge of Kirby Bank and Cringle Moor.



Memorial stone bench


It wasn’t long before we found ourselves descending once again, steeply down to the valley between Kirby and Hasty Banks.  From this point walkers have the option of taking low level paths to accommodation in Great Broughton to the north or Chop Gate to the south.  This would, however, add a few miles to two days’ walking and it’s worth noting that accommodation providers in the area sometimes provide transport from the Clay Bank car park a little further along the way, then back again the next morning.  This is a great solution to avoid adding extra distance and only entails a diversion of a hundred yards or so from the route to reach the car park.  We had happily availed ourselves of just such an offer and had arranged to call ahead to our accommodation once we were within an hour’s walking distance from the car park.



Junction of paths

Familiarity with the area had enabled us to work out that the best place to make the call to our accommodation would be from the top of Hasty Bank, once we had passed the well known landmark of the Wain Stones.  Our first sight of this rocky outcrop came into view as we descended yet another dip in the landscape, a distant Roseberry Topping also prominent on the

horizon.



First view of the Wain Stones


I was both relieved and a little sad that the final climb on this wonderful day’s walk now lay ahead of us.  In many ways this section is the most strenuous on the Cleveland Way, but somehow that goes unnoticed to a degree, due to the stunning views in every direction and the sheer beauty of the route itself.  I have walked this path many times and not once have I tired of it.



Approaching the Wain Stones

 

The Wain Stones were now clearly visible at the top of the next peak.  A group of impressive sandstone crags, their steep buttresses and pillars are popular climbs, particularly those known as the Steeple and the Needle.  As we approached we could see a group of climbers at the top of one of the pinnacles, with their gear spread out on the grass below.



The Wain Stones


In spite of having spent well over an hour at Lordstones, and a good long while admiring the view along the way, we were still ahead of our schedule.  And so we enjoyed a pleasant half-hour, exploring the nooks and crannies of the Wain Stones, finding various shapes, patterns and carvings in the rock.  One particularly prominent rock resembles a stone head, rather like an Easter Island moai.   It perhaps comes as no surprise to learn that climbers can enjoy a route over this pinnacle which is known as the Sphinx Nose Traverse.



Sphinx Nose Traverse


Our explorations complete, we ignored the most straightforward route to the top of the Wain Stones and indulged in a spot of easy scrambling.  Once at the top we could enjoy yet another far-ranging view over the sweeping panorama below, a patchwork of greens with the occasional splash of yellow merging into a hazy blue horizon.  A good mobile signal made this the ideal place from which to contact our accommodation provider, so I perched myself on a rock and made the call, agreeing to be picked up in one hour’s time from the Clay Bank car park.




View from the top of the Wain Stones


The landscape and the view began to change as we tramped over the even paving slabs along the edge of Hasty Bank.  Ahead of us we could see the top of Urra Moor and the highest point on the North York Moors, which we were to visit on our next day’s walk.  

 

A steep descent led us towards the end of this wonderful day’s walk, the path clearly visible before us, snaking its way down to coniferous woodland, within which we would find the main road and our car park rendezvous point.  

 

At the foot of the hill we caught up with a young solo female walker, resting by the side of one of the most enormous backpacks I had ever seen.  As we approached she clambered to her feet and almost effortlessly hoisted the oversized pack onto her shoulders.  I was suitably impressed, and said as much.  A diminutive figure with a pack almost equal to her size, she introduced herself as Emily, a law student from Surrey spending a gap year hiking as many long distance trails as possible.

 

“I’m camping, where I can,” she explained.  “Tonight I’ve arranged to pitch up in the beer garden at the Buck Inn.  Do you know it?”

 

I definitely did!  Not only was the Buck our destination for the night, we had also enjoyed many a pleasant stay at this wonderful, if slightly unconventional, moorland inn.

 

“We’re heading there too,” I said.  “Have you arranged a lift?”

 

Emily shook her head and held up her phone.

 

“No signal,” she shrugged.

 

“No problem,” I replied.  “We’ve arranged a lift, I’m sure there’ll be room for you to share.”

 

Having made this offer I immediately wondered if I’d made a mistake.  The size of Emily’s rucksack would slow things down and I’d hate to keep our driver waiting.  I needn’t have worried.  Having thanked us profusely she set off at a cracking pace, leaving us practically having to jog to keep up with her.



Above Clay Bank

Keeping up with Emily resulted in our arrival at the car park ahead of schedule.  As we arrived a couple greeted us from a nearby bench. 

 

“Are you waiting for a lift to Chop Gate as well?” the man asked. 

 

That made five of us, plus bags.  I hoped the Buck Inn were going to send a big enough vehicle.  That question was answered when a small estate car pulled into the car park and a young man hopped out, looking somewhat surprised at the amount of people and luggage in front of him. 

 

“Erm, I don’t think I’ll manage all of you in one trip,” he commented.  “I was only expecting four of you.” 

 

“That’s my fault,” I told him.  “I hadn’t known there’d be so many of us, so I suggested Emily might join us.” 

 

A compromise was quickly reached and it was agreed that the car would take four of us and then return to collect Emily along with a couple of others who were expected to arrive within the next half hour.  I was about to suggest that we would wait, not wishing to leave Emily on her own, when I noticed that she’d already made herself comfortable on the picnic bench and had fished a thick paperback out of her rucksack.  That settled, we loaded our bags into the back of the car and set off for the short drive to Chop Gate. 

 

The Buck Inn is owned by Wolfgang, an uber friendly German who makes you feel instantly welcome and provides an excellent selection of German beers and cuisine, as well as English ales and delicious dishes using locally sourced produce.  We’ve stayed at the Buck many times and yet on each visit we have never found the layout to be the same. Sometimes a room might be set up as a bar for locals, another time it may be a tearoom, and then on another visit a games room.  At the time of writing, it’s been a while since we stayed at the Buck, but I know that Wolfgang is still there and therefore an enjoyable stay can almost certainly be guaranteed. 

 

Once we’d unpacked and showered, we ensconced ourselves in the bar where we enjoyed a delicious meal of belly pork, mash and sauerkraut, washed down with pints of Erdinger, my personal favourite German beer.  I was relieved to see a tent had been pitched in the beer garden, meaning Emily had arrived safely, as had several other Coast to Coasters, including the group of Americans we’d encountered earlier in the day.   I recognised Eric with the blisters, who still wore his baseball cap to dinner and was loudly entertaining the rest of his group with tales from along the way. 

 

As the evening wore on and the beer flowed freely, the conversation between tables grew progressively louder until we could barely hear each other speak above the hubbub of shared stories.  After what seemed like the sixth retelling of the tale of Alan’s encounter with the sheep in Swaledale, and the concern expressed for Sheila’s badly swollen ankle, we called it a night and retired to our room, accompanied by a couple of glasses of something a little stronger than the beer.  

 

It had been a wonderful day I thought, as I drifted towards sleep, and one day we must walk the Coast to Coast path. We, however, would not make such a fuss about it, I rather uncharitably thought, as I was jolted to full wakefulness by the sound of loud conversation continuing in the corridor outside our room. 



The Buck Inn, Chop Gate

 

I set the alarm on my phone for an hour earlier than planned.  Tomorrow we would be getting as much of a head start as possible.



Map of day three’s route

Coming soon……On day four we leave the Buck Inn to climb the highest point on the North York Moors, heading for two well known landmarks.



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