To Osmotherley

As Julia and I are packing our bags, I’m mulling over my options for the day. These revolve around lunch, and they amount to a choice between sandwiches bought in Richmond or something at the White Swan in Danby Wiske. So far as I know there is no other convenient shop or place of refreshment on the twenty-five-mile route.

We make a leisurely start, but by nine o’ clock we’ve said goodbye. The first couple of miles are pretty enough, through woods and fields near the river. I pass Terry and Pauline, shake their hands and wish them well. Our schedules now diverge by one day.

It’s time to switch off the brain and switch on the feet, because the walking grows dull. The landscape flattens into the Vale of York. Most of the fields are sown with oilseed rape and cereals. The Swale has deserted rocky Richmond and now sprawls in its wide bed, noisily rattling over riffles before gliding sulkily under the first major landmark, the A1 road.

Catterick Bridge is busy with the early arrivals at a race meeting. Here’s temptation! I enjoy a day at the races. What should I do? If I were to win – hah! – I could rent a taxi and ride to Osmotherley instead of grinding out the long dull stretches.

But I resist. I stick to my task and bash along a grassy path beside the river until the gee-gees are well behind me. When I’m sure I won’t backslide, I stop for ten minutes to rest my feet, dry my socks, and eat an apple.

From that point onwards I pound the fields and lanes, scolding gormless cattle that have congregated at a stile, waving to noisy cyclists who must absolutely love the lightly-used, level surfaces, and humming or singing to pass the time. At the middle-of-nowhere village of Danby Wiske, I swallow a pint of shandy and chew my way through a welcome sandwich, sitting in the gusty wind outside the White Swan, enjoying the sun and resting my hot feet.

The village seems to be taking a siesta. The landlady is working the bar and kitchen solo. I’m the only customer, but, boy, am I glad the pub’s open!

‘Do you have any puddings?’ I ask hopefully.
‘I’ll have a look,’ she says with a smile, and a moment later, ‘Apple, raisin and cinnamon crumble? With cream?’

I just about manage to resist the urge to kneel and burble my thanks. Somehow I preserve my dignity, but as soon as her back is turned I fall upon the dessert like a starving refugee. Ten minutes later I’ve settled up and departed, happy as a dog with two tails. The road surface is hard, but the moors look much nearer than when I entered the village.

I’m intent on pulling a flanker by using a bridleway that takes me directly to Osmotherley without visiting the Inglebys. It’s south of Wainwright’s route, missing out Mount Grace Priory. After close encounters with farm dogs and poultry, my lonely tramp takes me through West Harlsey and up a long hill. From there I see the A19 at the foot of the North York Moors escarpment, and I can pick out my destination. At the next T-junction the bridleway sign points straight ahead, and I’m on my way with a light heart. Even my feet are happy in their sweaty socks.

Isn’t it often the case that, just as you congratulate yourself on how well you’re doing, things go wrong? After two fields, the bridleway ends without trace. The obvious way forward is through a wood, though such paths as exist are difficult to follow under the low branches, and soon they disappear. Exasperation creeps in, but I press on until forced to divert left and fight my way into a field, where a startled deer leaps away. I march forward and climb the fence onto the verge of the A19. Now, where’s the bridge for the bridleway?

Bridge? What bridge? It seems the road builders have saved themselves the expense of building one.
Traffic howls homeward at the end of the working day. I weigh up my chances of reaching the central reservation. It might be just about possible. From there, I’ll have to run the gauntlet on the other carriageway.

The more I think about it, the less I fancy it. What if I were to trip? Actually, there’s little doubt what would happen to me: I’d die. Cars and lorries would brake, swerve, skid and collide. It would all be my fault, rather than that of the bureaucrats who scrimped on the road scheme, or those who declined to expunge the useless right of way from the map. So, in the interests of myself and others, I abandon the short cut and walk along the verge into Osmotherley. It’s further, it’s hideously noisy, but I survive.

Maintaining my pace despite the long miles, I climb the final hill to the village, where the Newcastle Ramblers are finishing their afternoon refreshments before boarding their three buses. These doughty folk are great travellers. They appear all over the hills and dales of Northern England. Most look twenty years older than me, and they are usually seen filling their bellies after a walk in our incomparable scenery. Good for them!

The Queen Catherine Hotel (the only one in the country, and undoubtedly named long after Henry VIII had left the scene) fixes me up with the smallest room I’ve ever had. My kitbag and I occupy all the spare floor space. If I want to change position, the bag has to move first. I rearrange the furniture as effectively as I can, and as soon as that’s done, I make friends with a couple of pints of ale and also visit the pub across the road. I gratefully reflect on the happy fact that the dreaded crossing of the Vale of York is behind me, for ever, for sure.

                                                                                                                                                                           To Blakey Ridge >>