Coast to Coast Day 13 – Blakey Ridge to Grosmont

Published 18 October 2010

“Tomorrow, Ernest, it’s breakfast, then a bit of a walk, then we get the train and go to the beach!”

In many ways walking in Britain can be described as being just one great big pub crawl. And as you’d expect from a pub crawl, you’ve got the good, the bad and the ugly. And so it was on the Coast to Coast.

Well okay, maybe not the ugly. We hadn’t been in any particularly awful pubs on our trip. And the bad might be pushing it a bit, but when it comes to the good, well the Coast to Coast certainly scores very highly. And when it comes to location well the Lion Inn beats them all.

The Lion Inn sits high up in the hills on a road on Blakey Ridge with next to nothing near it. Just cars, some tents and views across from miles around. After we’d eaten tea the night before, we’d popped out to get some air and saw a superb sunset in the distance. The golden sun was overlaid by low, thin clouds which were given a kind of golden halo thanks to the position of the sun.

Perhaps the best view on the Coast to Coast

Five minutes later we would never have seen it. Indeed I popped in for my camera and by the time I’d got back, it was almost all over. The sun had gone in; its main showing finished for the day.

And here was a packed pub whose occupants had travelled from miles around and yet most of the punters were blissfully unaware of what they’d missed. Even those who’d popped out for a quick smoke had missed the spectacle as the sunset could only be seen from the back of the building. To be able to see the best view in the area when most hadn’t, made it feel even more special and I felt a sudden pang of envy at those in the tents nestled in the field alongside the pub.

That said, without doubt it’s the campers who are the most extreme of the Coast to Coasters, with their large, heavy rucksacks, sore-footed shuffles and wild looks on their faces.

Usually putting in huge distances every day and starting at the crack of dawn, we rarely saw them on our own travels unless they were going in the opposite direction (and being people who go against the flow, such people were almost always camping.) But on occasions we’d see them in the pub at night, staggering around on stiff legs, talking to anyone who would listen. Most of them were solitary walkers, invariably male, who even when walking with others seemed to stay a respectful distance from their companion.

We saw one camper with a particularly wild look and perhaps the lowest slung rucksack you’d ever see. Most of it was dangling loosely below his waist; every time he stepped forward it bounced against his back. It must have been incredibly uncomfortable and certainly very bad for his back. From the way he shuffled along, stiff legs flapping around, slowly placing one foot in front of the other, he certainly didn’t seem to be enjoying himself.

Ourselves, well we seemed to be in some kind of very rare breed – staying in B&Bs or hostels yet carrying our luggage on our backs. Most walkers – and there are a substantial number in summer – do it the easy way, by making ample use of one of the several baggage transportation companies which work the route with a fleet of vans.

Just as we marvelled at the weight the campers carried on their backs, so too did others marvel at the size of our sacks. However as I pointed out to them (and to myself everytime I stared at a camper), you just get used to the weight after a few days. Lifting the rucksack on in the morning was always a chore, but once it was up, it was no bother.

Even so it was usually the campers who seemed to struggle the most although that was probably more down to their own punishing schedules and tight deadlines. If you ever hear of someone doing the Coast to Coast in eight days, they’ve probably camped.

But then camping is without doubt the cheapest and most flexible option. We’d booked our accommodation in early May and found many places – especially in the Lakes – declaring themselves fully booked for July already. Planning everything in advance as you need to with B&Bs in that scenario offers no flexibility; no options if things go wrong. Thankfully for us, it didn’t.

With there not being huge numbers of villages and B&Bs on the trail, you find one of the potential “problems” of the Coast to Coast is that you often feel like you’re setting off in some sort of convoy. So it was as we left the Lion Inn, traipsing down the roadside verge with a steady stream of walkers following behind us. Still, the shape of the hills made up for it; the required U-shaped journey along the ridge was perfect for taking in the local sights and attractions.

Young Ralph’s Cross

Well we took in the local sights. Young Ralph – an old stone cross on the hillside – is just a few hundred metres off route and provides a stunning view, but it was completely bypassed by everyone bar us and the cars which drove past it. And probably a fair few of them didn’t notice. Which was a shame because it was in a lovely spot with a fine view off in the distance.

Young Ralph has an older cousin named, cunningly, Old Ralph, situated a little deeper in to the moorland, accessible by a vague and indistinct path over the heather which we couldn’t really find and in the end decided not to bother with.

However in our efforts we spotted a slightly more modern piece of stonework – the bizarre sight of a small, modern looking pottery angel. On further inspection we appeared to have stumbled on some sort of “remembrance garden” littered with plaques hidden in the heather. Looking all rather hotchpotch, and presumably very unofficial it was a strange sight.

When Margery, Betty and the two Ralphs meet at night, a wedding invariably follows by all accounts. We didn’t find the Margery stone – apparently a plain but ancient menhir that is supposedly extremely noticeable so perhaps it had popped off for a holiday when we tried to find it; but Fat Betty was much easier to spot.

Fat Betty

A large rectangular stone with a circular top, Betty is given a regular coating of white paint and can be seen across the moorland for miles around.

Our guidebook proclaimed that travellers used to leave coins or food on the top of crosses like the two Ralphs and Betty in thanks for a safe journey, and over at Betty that tradition continues to this day. On her top were a smattering of pennies, a packet of mints and various biscuits, many of which were no doubt the result of a food surplus from many a Coast to Coaster’s packed lunch.

Gifts for Fat Betty, or a chance to get rid of something from your packed lunch that you really don’t want.

And most walkers tend to end up with quite a bit. Earlier in the trip we’d ended up with quite a few apples which I’d eventually managed to get through, and now we were suffering from too many bananas, whilst a Mars bar and a Snickers had sat forlorn and uneaten for several days until we chomped on them in celebration at our arrival at Keld.

Whilst not as flat and easy going as the day before, the moorland was hardly taxing and we made good progress along Danby High Moor and Glaisdale Moor with its fine views of Fryup Dale. Nothing to do with sausage and eggs, it’s named after the beautiful Norse goddess Freya whilst the “up” derives from “hop” which is Ye Olde English for valley. As ever the language was corrupted over the years until it got its more artery clogging modern day name.

Fryup Dale

With Fryup Dale on the left we soon gained Glaisdale on the right and on Glaisdale we collapsed in the heather for a spot of lunch. It was an idyllic spot with just one slight problem – a contingent of agitated bees seemed to be circling the area – one so much that I got up and left it get on with whatever it seemed keen on doing.

The recipient of their anger was not us sat on a hive or anything but another bee – presumably a drone, missing half its wings and which was struggling to do anything bar saunter along the floor.

An episode of QI had once informed me that drones are often forced out of the hive by the workers towards the end of the summer season, and their wings bitten off to prevent them returning, thus ensuring the hive’s precious resources are not wasted on those lazy insects and that the worker beers can survive the leaner times of autumn and winter. One could only presume this is what was happening here as we munched on our sandwiches.

We left the hills and headed to the valley floor at the village of Glaisdale where we admired its nice little train station (and felt much less well inclined towards it after spotting the sign which proclaimed there was a £1000 fine for not closing the gate – a concept which frankly sounded ridiculous) and then felt much better admiring the beautiful old packhorse Beggar’s Bridge.

Beggar’s Bridge, Glaisdale

Now made redundant by the necessity for wider bridges which can carry heavier loads than a mule and his master, it’s apparently a bit of a tourist attraction in the village, a fact one couple canoodling under it seemed blissfully unaware of until I turned up and pointed my camera in their vague direction; they quickly disentangled themselves whilst I attempted to look nonchalant from a distance.

Perturbing people over, we headed for a brief stint in East Arnecliff Wood with its mediaeval stone flagged path (laid centuries ago for the pannier ponies which once walked along the route taking goods between villages) and as this ended we heard the age old woodland sound of a loud, mechanical “hmmmmmmmmm”

Emerging on to yet another road (this section having suffered greatly from the old tarmacadam) we found a road sweeper moving barely at walking speed along the otherwise quiet country lane. We followed it all the way to the village of Egton Bridge where we finally lost its company, thus allowing us to pull the cotton wool out of our ears once more.

We passed a lovely looking country pub, festooned with hanging baskets and positively glowing in the sun that had finally poked its head out through the cloud. It was hard to resist its charms but somehow we managed it and made our way to the stepping stones and the track to Grosmont.

We had a slight hurry in our step, and the reason was waiting for us there. At the heart of the village sits a level crossing and two train stations, sited side by side.

One – a single platform sparsely decorated and even more sparsely populated was the mainline railway platform for services to Whitby and Middlesborough. The other was the far grander looking home of the North York Moors Railway, a steam railway which was doing a roaring trade with its engines in full flow.

Who wouldn’t want a journey on a steam engine at the end of a day of Coast to Coast walking?

Heritage railways are wonderful things and it is naturally compulsory to stand on the platforms with huge grins as the smoke of the engine fills the air, and that had been good enough reason as any for us to hurry along earlier in the day. We’d arrived with just enough time to catch the 4:30 bound for Pickering although we wouldn’t be able to do the full route. Instead we’d have to change at the penultimate stop of Levisham in order to catch the last train back to Grosmont, but it was good enough for me and the trip through the forests and moorland was well worth it.

Our outbound train had been packed to the rafters but our return was far quieter and being at the front of the train I naturally spent much of the journey sticking my head out of the window as soot hit my face and filled my hair – which I’d be finding for weeks after.

It was not until we arrived back at Grosmont that we found out that the rest of the passengers had turned their noses up at our relatively modern carriage and had instead been enjoying the polished wood of some rather old LNER carriages, whilst the end of the train was a plush “first class” viewing carriage with an armchair looking out on the rails. Could there be a finer way to travel? Surely not.

I longed to spend more time on the line, popping on and off, exploring the stations and the land around them. The steam trains also make regular trips down the mainline to Whitby which must be a fantastic way to arrive at the seaside. Sadly we didn’t have the time – a real shame but without a day to spare, we’d never have been able to do it justice.

On a North York Moors Railway train, after a day walking the Coast to Coast

With the steam railway and its huge wooden level crossing gates at the heart of the village, Grosmont seemed like a village stuck in a timewarp, helped by having its own proper old fashioned Co-op. Local teenagers – girls as well as boys – wandered around happily in overalls and NYMR high visibility vests, whilst train drivers drove their engines with huge grins on their faces.

Even our B&B acted the part, decked out in an almost Victorian style with old flowered wallpaper and brass taps; a grandfather clock standing tall and proud in the hallway.

It was a difficult place to leave the next morning, even more so by the huge steep climb up the hill out of the village and the fact that the railway seemed to decide to do some major steam train shunting just as we wanted to leave, resulting in us being stranded on the wrong side of the level crossing… Yeah, I’m sure we could have made it across somehow… But hey, sometimes you’ve just got to stand around and watch trains… Hoot hoot…

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