To Blakey Ridge

Breakfast is below average, which isn’t surprising. The place is staffed by youngsters, and I guess they’re paid the minimum wage. They seem to have no incentive to make my experience special.

Bright sunshine and a light breeze greet me as I take my leave. The village is busy with tots and parents on the school run. The tiny shop supplies a lunch snack, and as soon as I’ve reversed out of its narrow confines I’m heading up the lane. A left turn puts me on a track that curves round the shoulder of the hill and climbs to the rugged edge of the North York Moors.

For many reasons, the day has a good feel to it. Most of the route will be new to me. The monotony of the low ground is in the past. Whereas yesterday began in the Yorkshire Dales, part of the Pennine Chain, the backbone of England, soon I expect to see the sea. And today’s moors recall youthful drives to happy holidays at Robin Hood’s Bay, where I shall finish the day after tomorrow.

Below me the A19 roars belligerently, but birds sing in my trees and soar above the airy fields. The distant fells remind me of scents and savours from the middle part of my walk. Bright yellow fields of oilseed rape blotch the green-brown plain west towards Richmond and north into County Durham. The path is easy, and I’m feeling strong.

The morning progresses pleasantly with a succession of short, sharp climbs, level moors and steep descents. Much of the route is paved and stone-pitched, so progress is rapid, though hard on the body. The bleak terrain to my right is dissected by steep-sided valleys that invite future exploration. Always there is a sharp drop on my left to agricultural land with occasional linear villages and remnants of medieval field patterns. The market town of Stokesley stands smartly in the middle distance, and further off the Teesside conurbation sprawls beside its industrial complex. Between land and sky is a grey-blue patch: the North Sea.

I truly couldn’t ask for finer weather. There are more walkers and runners than I’ve seen for a week, and we all seem grateful for the chance to enjoy such a morning. Joy does not, however, emanate from the woman who serves me at Lord Stones café. My smile is met by a blank face and abrupt service. I don’t care. She couldn’t spoil my day, not even if she burst into flames in front of me.

Here’s a brief digression on cafes. If you’re not interested, jump to the next paragraph. Fifty years ago there were cafes in all sorts of odd buildings. I was particularly fond of one that occupied an old railway parcels van. The décor and furniture were basic in the extreme. Those cafes served good, plain food at reasonable prices. A motherly sort in a pinafore assessed you as you walked in, and you sat in the warm atmosphere, inhaling steamy smells from the kitchen. You got the dish of the day. What you didn’t get was choice. If you enquired about alternatives, you were told firmly that today’s meal was, say, beef stew with mashed potatoes and vegetables. That was it: no variations. You knew which side your bread was buttered (but only if bread and butter was on that day’s menu, of course). So far as I know, such places are no more, so I’d like to open one. It would be located far away from roads and car parks, accessible only to serious walkers (and my Land Rover, naturally). The menu would be restricted. I’d use local meat and vegetables. Drinks would be limited to tea, coffee and water. There would be no crisps and snacks. I would employ a motherly sort to welcome customers, while I worked the kitchen. She would keep order, and if people showed signs of wanting to stray from the menu she’d point to the warning signs on the walls. She’d explain that the café was run to strict rules, and it was more than her job was worth to ask Grumpy for anything but standard fare. Grumpy would stay in his kitchen, producing the sort of food that walkers should eat. If they didn’t like it, they could lump it: let them walk on and be picky elsewhere! Grumpy would rarely be seen. Indeed, if he ever had to enter the public area he would stoutly deny his real identity. He would pretend that Grumpy was busy in the kitchen. If asked for anything not on the menu, he’d reply that Grumpy would throw everybody out if he dared to mention it. Grumpy’s Cafe would become a legend, but it wouldn’t last. One day old Grumpy would drift away in a waft of mouth-watering aromas, to float over the fells, dales and moors. He’d leave behind nothing more substantial than a folk memory, and that too would fade over the years with the passing of those who had been fortunate enough to sample his divine repasts.

Lords Stones café is, of course, a boon, being the only refreshment stop between Osmotherley and Blakey Ridge. It’s a busy place, with lots of paragliders and sightseers and plenty of noise. I’m soon on my way, up and down along the Cleveland Way, to my lunch stop near Clay Bank Top. I sit in the sun and eat my sandwiches, dry my T-shirt and socks, air my boots, and watch a man carry his bike up the steep and stony hillside I’ve just descended. It looks like a crazy pursuit to me: after a few level yards on the top, he’ll have to carry it down the other side.

Over the road is the last climb of the day. I’m glad it’s the last: I feel I can walk forever if the gradients aren’t too severe, but I do struggle in the second half of the day on steep ascents.

At the top, two family parties are taking a rest and a snack, and I pass with a wave and a smile. I’m now on Urra Moor. To me the name suggests a grim and ancient landscape that might shelter things I’d fear meeting on a dark night. The broad route through the dark heather is easy to walk. A few yards away ancient stone guide posts abound, reminders that this was hard terrain to cross in snow or mist, before vehicle tracks were made. For the rest of the afternoon I see no hikers.

The views north towards Teesside are gone, replaced by sightings of distant power stations to the south, probably Eggborough and Drax, between Selby and Doncaster. In the same direction, the patchwork of fields is spattered with vivid yellow oilseed rape. I’m acutely aware that, although the wild and silent moors seem big, I’m spending the day on a precious island that remains vulnerable to the decisions of Man.

At the head of Rosedale, a bitter wind sweeps across the old railway, searing the dormant heather and chilling me as the sun drops low. This day on the moors has been a real treat, and indeed an eye-opener for me. At last a trodden path leads up the bank to my left, and the roof of the Lion Inn protrudes above the uniform skyline. I’m quickly shown to a warm and comfortable room, and after a luxurious soak in the bath I join a growing crowd in the bar. The ales are excellent, and, as tomorrow’s walk is short, I indulge myself. The food is so plentiful, the atmosphere warm in every sense, and as more customers pour in – arriving by car, I hasten to add – I give up my space and shuffle off to bed, listening to the cold wind buffeting the old stone walls round the bleak camping ground.

                                                                                                                                                                           To Glaisdale >>