George sent me a note, “We’re walking from Clay Bank to Lordstones” tomorrow, “…are you available?” This is one of my favourite walks so he was leaning against an open door but they wanted to walk ‘there-and-back’ and I was short of time so with a little bit of deft planning, George had Peter lined up to pick me up at Lordstones so that my car was in the right place when the rest of the group were at the halfway point; I love this group!
We travel along the back road to Chop Gate through glorious Raisdale, Chop Gate has nothing to do with chopping but is derived from the Old English ‘ceap’ meaning ‘pedlar’ suggesting that this tiny hamlet was once a centre of trading ie. Pedlars Gate. It’s also known for its pronunciation with a soft ‘g’ and flat vowel i.e. Chop yat.
As car parks go, the one at Clay Bank takes some beating for value, no fee but no facilities either. It does; however, have astonishing views over the Cleveland Plain. On a good day, you can see Roseberry Topping and Captain Cook’s Monument together with various man-made structures across the Tees estuary.
We make our way towards Hasty Bank and onwards to Wainstones but that’s after a serious ascent and it’s different. George observes that the trees have been harvested since our last walk here and it has made a huge difference in both light and perception. We can see what we are about to ascend and at any point on the track we can now see a wider panorama although it could be argued that the trees were preferable. I’m good with what we’ve got and within 10 minutes we’re looking back towards Urra Moor and across the Vale of Mowbray towards Teesport and beyond to the windmill farm off the coast of Redcar.
At the top, we recount a lovely meeting with a mother and daughter who were doing the Wainstones walk last summer. The day was blue-sky and warm and we had our ‘photos taken sitting on a rock overhanging the valley below. Today is a little bit different in as much as the weather is grey and the Pennines in the distance are hazy due to the haar. The oilseed-rape crops stand out though. It’s like the yellow glow has been ‘switched on’ overnight and the soft glow diffuses in the mist.
On top of Cold Moor looking over the Broughton Plantation Ridge, the wind is blowing into our faces and we can see the whole of the Vale of Mowbray but disappointingly, in mist. The heather is throwing up green shoots and showing the promise of an astonishing display of colour in another two or three of months and there are pools of vivid blue in the woods below as bluebells announce the arrival of early summer.
We reach Wainstones in just over half-an-hour and enjoy the banter as we find our various routes down through the huge boulders. On a summers day or evening you’d be well advised to walk here and enjoy this wonderful and natural spectacle. Bring your kids; last year, as we passed there was a group of ten being shown climbing techniques by outward-bounds specialists and they were loving it.
As we emerge from our various routes through the rocks a group of Cleveland Way walkers (I think from Hull – if you read this please confirm) who are full of enthusiasm and all smiles. They tell us of extremely restricted visibility on the tops yesterday due to cloud and illustrate it by pointing at a huge rock only a couple of yards away and tell us that it would not have been visible. It’s a stark reminder that weather changes very rapidly up here and being prepared is not just for scouts. They stayed at High Paradise last night, one of our favourite watering holes in the summer, just along from Sutton Bank and looked after by a lady who is slightly eccentric and very easy on the eye. The food is good too, what’s not to like?
A quick photo later and we’re on or way down into Garfit Gap and girding ourselves for the next ascent to the ridge of the aptly named Cold Moor and it’s fair to say, we’ve never been here when it’s been warm and, ironically, each time we’ve reached the top, we’ve never been cold!
We’re out of breath but the view is always worth it. In mountain terms, it’s just a big hill but always a challenge to get up to the top without stopping and we decided long ago that it was better to stop occasionally if only for the views. We’re at about 1300 feet (400 metres) but the multi-coloured Vale of Mowbray, even when it’s misty, is beautiful.
We’re on the flat for a couple of hundred yards then it’s down again, on a zig-zag track for 300 feet (100 metres) into the opening of Raisdale where we pause to remove a layer or two as we survey the track up Crinkle Moor. It’s the steepest so far and also the most picturesque. There has been a huge amount of work to ensure that the Cleveland Way is not eroded and the evidence is the stones that we’re encouraged to walk on. Some of them have words carved into them and may have been gravestones, others are natural and quite rough; however, all of them have been carried to where they now lie and have been carefully set on some kind of foundation as we rarely find any that are loose or unstable. Thank you all you volunteers and rangers who maintain them, we certainly appreciate your efforts and laud your praise whenever we can.
This is the third climb in a little over an hour and requires more than one stop. Each break is accompanied by a drink and, more importantly, a look around. There is some pleasure in reviewing our progress and the track winding into the distance and up the side of Cold Moor is clear evidence of what we’ve done.
There is also the chance to exercise our other senses when we stop. Our eyes are always on the alert but quite often they’re looking for the next footstep or avoiding a hazard so the preoccupation precludes taking in the surrounding beauty.
Our hearing is analogue but can be inhibited by the wind and taking a short break allows us to tilt our head or even cup a hand over the ear to listen to the birdsong from the skylarks that are always busy with continuous chatter above us or pheasant and grouse scaring the crap out of us when we step near their roosting or nesting area.
Our ability to smell is never switched off during non-sleeping moments but we have to make a conscious effort to think about what we’re sensing occasionally or it can pass us by without notice. There is the odd fresh pat of cow-shit that steams and invades our nose from time to time and we don’t miss that but a pause at the side of a field of oil-seed-rape (a relative of wallflowers) or a lilac bush can transport me into a memory that’s long since been filed in a dark recess and it’s evoked in an instant by the smell. I don’t know what smell is. Does it have a physical form? Is it fine droplets of liquid or a gas? I’m not sure but I do know that it is so evocative as to be more powerful than all of the other senses and I love to dream.
Lilac reminds me of working in Czechoslovakia as Communism was on the wain. It was around 1990 and we were in Ostrava having won a European grant to deliver some state-of-the-art (then) computer-based courses to the professors and support staff. We were given excellent accommodation in a residential block a 20-minute walk from the university and gloried in the title of Visiting Professor which was all rather grand.
Obviously, when it came to CV’s it was ‘Visiting Professor’ that went down and there was much revelling in the moment – am I shallow/supercilious or what? I’ve learned a lot since then and no longer need a label – I’m happy being me.
We’d got some European money and sought permission from the Americans to take a small network of computers to teach the professors about modern machines and the first day or two was quite stressful as we gauged their level of proficiency. It turned out to be way beyond our assumptions. They demolished the 6 weeks extra work that I intended to leave them when we returned to the UK and they did this on top of the work done in my lectures as well as all the exercises in the hands-on sessions whilst I was there. The star of the show was a gentleman called Premsyl Tichy who linked our system into the university system within hours of us arriving. It’s quite easily done now (If you have the security privileges) but circa 1990 it was quite challenging.
The early morning walk through broad-leaf woods in the warm sunshine to the main teaching blocks was both glorious and stress relieving and the thing that initiated this beautiful moment of reverie is the smell of lilac and this is triggered today by a tiny lilac bush growing wild out of the crack of a drystone wall here at the foot of Cringle.
It’s well hidden in the bracken and very nearly invisible to the eye but… oh, what a beautiful smell.
Partway up Cringle we stop and talk. George is drawing attention to the fact that we would stop a half dozen times when we first did this walk and I observed the fact that the height was an issue for me, but not now; exposure is a great desensitiser and we’ve both come a long way over the years.
At the top, the wind is blowing the cloud away from the ridge and the mist is clearing, we’ve even got evidence of blue sky and sunshine as the haar recedes back towards the coast. We can see Chris at the stone lookout towards the far end of the path, he’s been off like a rocket today and good luck to him, he’s worked hard for it.
We take few minutes to enjoy yet more of the cliffs, hills, forests and vale; all now in sunshine but still a bit windy and a few photos later and we’re taking the downward track to Lordstones and a well-earned sausage sandwich.
We use Lordstones regularly and find them welcoming and reasonable, they’ve also been very generous in allowing us to leave a car there when doing a linear walk – it’s much appreciated, thanks Lordstones people.
Enjoy the snaps…G..x
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