Helmsley to Yorkshire Gliding Club

Y’know, we get out in all weathers but usually, we manage to chose a day that is reasonable to good by careful planning over a glass or two of brown water on a Friday evening. This week it was planned with a little less time but the day turns out to be beautiful.

This walk is part of the Cleveland Way and we’d done it before in the summer when the flowers in the meadows and gardens were vibrant and, as I remember, the sky was as blue as it is today. There’s no wind either so whilst the frost is sharp it doesn’t rip your eyeballs out with vicious gusts, yes today could be a good’n.

We’re on the road now heading from four different directions to Helmsley where we’ll start and walk to the Gliding Club at the top of Sutton Bank where double egg, ham and chips await. It’s about eight miles and involves a lot of ‘up’, in fact, the ‘up’ is about 1200 feet but it’s steady rather than acute and that has its pros and cons.

I’m meeting Peter at the above club where he’s leaving his car and joining me to finish the journey to Helmsley. It’s so we can transport the drivers back to pick up their cars when we finish the walk this afternoon and whilst the concept is simple enough there is the added challenge of my car. I have a Jag with rear wheel drive and it’s been snowing. It’s great to ride about in such a car for 350 days of the year but for the other dozen when the snow or ice has made an appearance, it’s crap. In fact, it’s Crap with a big ‘C’. 

So I’m travelling along the Gliding Club road and it hasn’t yet been gritted or salted. It’s not surprising, it’s little more than a lane with very light traffic so the main roads get the urgent treatment but they’ll be along here, hopefully, by the time we get back on foot. The car’s computer is working overtime with the rear wheels and we can hear the juddering as it does its stuff but even with all of this technology it’s still crap and I have to plan my way to a high point in the parking area so that I’ve got half a chance of getting a little bit of momentum that’ll help me get back on to the road and give me a bit of a head start on the hill. Pete jumps in and off we go. It’s a little tense and the front wheels are, in fact, going where I point them, the rear ones, on the other hand, are not!

I eventually get the thing to go in a straight line and we’re fortunate in as much as this part of the road is also straight. Momentum is building and provided I don’t drop it into a ditch, we’re on our way. Once over the brow of the minor hill that’s causing me, or rather the car, all the grief, it’s plain sailing although I do take the precaution of slowing down 100 yards before I need to at the junction. It turns out to be good judgment as we slide to a halt short of the main road traffic then off we go again as Dave gives me the all-clear from his side then quickly adds, “After this one…”

I’ve written about Helmsley when we did the Cleveland Way and have added a link to that at the end of this article. We arrive en-mass and ready to start within a few minutes as we all take the precaution of wrapping up well, it is bitterly cold in the winter sunshine and we need to be moving as soon as we can to warm up.

There’s a mandatory call at the toilets followed by a reposition of the rucksacks to get them comfortable and then we’re good to go.

The Cleveland Way is well signed out of Helmsley initially following a track through a couple of kissing gates but the really beautiful, blue sky, sunshine, crispy frost day is the real star of the show. The frost has worked its magic overnight and where the shadows protect it from the sun there are twinkling prisms of diffracted light like tiny diamonds sitting on the blades of grass, it’s the ‘detail’ of nature that makes the ‘whole’ of what we see so sublime.  

The track leads us adjacent to Spring Bank Wood then down 250 feet through Abbot Hag Wood where the track joins the road with the River Rye on our left and Rievaulx Abbey on our right. The abbey was another victim of Henry VIII’s spat with Catholicism in 1538. 

Rievaulx Abbey was the first Cistercian monastery in the north of England, founded in 1132 by twelve Cistercian monks from Clairvaux Abbey in North Eastern France. Like all of these wonderful abbeys, there is a fascinating history. The monks actually changed the course of the river three times, initially to create enough unbroken flat land to create the building followed by more space requirements for the farming and mining that created the wealth in this beautiful valley. 

We cross the Rye passing one of my favourite gardens where a natural stream runs through the lovely grounds. We walk another couple of kilometres along the road eventually turning right onto a track towards Grass Keld Spring and Cold Kirby passing small lakes with aquatic birds variously landing on the smooth surface in a barely-controlled crash or taking off in a cloud of spray and feathers.

There are 4×4’s and flat-capped people strung along the track along with similarly clad men standing at marked points in the white-hoar-frosted field and beaters making noises in the woods. Dogs are sitting patiently for the call and seem quite unconcerned when the shooters fire their first rounds. I don’t see any evidence of birds falling out of the sky and the dogs remain unconcerned and carry on licking their willies, bums or both as only dogs can do.

The people nearest acknowledge us and wish us a good day and we reciprocate then look for confirmation of our safety on the track and gain a positive response. As we leave the track to enter Callister Wood, all shooting activity stops. We don’t see a signal but it is clear that safety is paramount and there are no more shots until we’re well clear and almost at a point exiting the wood.

There is a strange BBQ about the height of a hobbit in the middle of the meadow and a lot of activity within. We’re guessing it’s to do with the hunters further down the valley but don’t learn any more as we turn right and start a punishing walk seriously ‘up’ along a gully through the woods. In spring and summer, the smell in here is pungent with wild garlic and we always pinch a few leaves and flowers to lift a summer salad. Not today though, the snow has permeated the trees and created a fairly stable surface for our boots. There is no mud and if anything, it’s much safer today than our summer walk. We finally emerge from an arch of bushes that have grown over the track and linked branches to create a living tunnel and we blink at the top as we’re dazzled by the reflected sun off the field of snow that stretches out before us.

Time for a short break and we catch our breath leaning on a five bar gate and look at the field of winter brassicas planted to give some cover for the beautiful but stupid pheasants that are the ‘sport’ of the shooters that we passed in the valley below. 

Now refreshed, we start walking again, the slope much more manageable but still ‘up’. The horizon is blue and the sun is at an acute angle delivering very little heat but a lot of light and that’s reflected off the snow making it difficult for us to focus on objects that are far away but picking out trees, hedges and buildings or walls. It’s casting long shadows off anything vertical and reminding us that it’s still winter although just occasionally, we see evidence of snowdrops and the odd daffodil, but the latter not in bloom yet.

The track reaches its highest point and we can see Cold Kirby ahead but there’s the small challenge of a minor valley not much more than a gulley but a couple of hundred feet down followed by 300 feet up. Not particularly steep but the snow makes it hard work.

We regroup in Cold Kirby where the Pilgrim is looking out for an honesty box that contains homemade flapjack. She’d got some through the summer and it had made an impression! It’s not looking good though and we begin the final leg of the walk through the village when we hear a shout, Dave’s spotted the box and the Pilgrim gets her flapjack as we look for appropriate change to put in the money box. It is a little more chilled than the summer offering, in fact, it’s just about frozen and proves something of a challenge to eat but the slow release energy from the oats is exactly what’s needed and we set off again now with a spring in the step.

The track is now fairly level and zigzags around the perimeter of the fields hugging the wall or fence. It’s easy going and the next half hour sees us across several fields and now walking adjacent to Scawton Wood where we’re reminded of the time of year in which we walk as the temperature out of the sun is a good 8 degrees less than in it and when you consider that to be two or three degrees then the atmosphere now is pretty chilly.

We leave the shadow of the wood and emerge on the A170 not far from ‘Sutton Bank Visitors Centre’ and quickly cross the road onto High Town Bank Road that’s probably taken on the title of Glider Club Lane which is rather more descriptive. It’s lethal! There is compacted snow on the shaded bits although some have had a bit of sun and the ability to walk on tarmac, albeit in bursts, is a bit of a luxury.

At the glider station, we waste no time in ascending the steps into the cafe which is warm and comfortable. The eating area has a view of the field, normally green and flat and well tended. Today it’s equally flat but snow covered and white with gliders being towed or man-handled around in the sunshine. 

This little cafe is well worth a visit at any time of year. The food is freshly prepared with plenty of choice. The staff are friendly and have no issues with my own lactose intolerance but the real novelty factor is being able to watch the gliders being towed off the agonisingly white snow before soaring in to the cloudless sky above us then returning with the precision skills of the pilots bringing their machines to a gentle halt not 30 yards away from our vantage point in this cosy cafe. It’s excellent and they even have a few toys to keep the little ones amused.

This walk is about 8 miles (13.5km) and is gently but relentlessly ‘up’. We all feel well exercised.

Enjoy the snaps…G..x

Thanks, Cecilia Kennedy, George Renwick, George Preston, Peter Hymer and Dave Rider for your conversation, wit and company. This was an excellent walk.

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