North Yorkshire is sleeping under a blanket of gently drifting mist and fog. According to the Met Office, the difference between the two is visibility. If you can see more than one kilometre then it is mist; however, to inject an element of ambiguity, the highway code states that visibility less than 100 metres is fog! So there you have it, depending on the book you use we could be driving in mist and walking in fog all without a change in the weather and either way we’re not going to see the vale and valley as we normally do.
I remember sitting with a poorly child in the middle of the night with Postman Pat on video. I’d be sitting with my arms around my little one who’d be sitting on my knee or, as they got bigger, they’d wriggle their way into the space (or lack of space) between me and the chair arm. I’d be stroking their forehead with my free hand and gently kissing their hair ‘to make it better’ but secretly checking their temperature and waiting for the Calpol to kick in.
On TV it was a foggy day and Pat had called in at Greendale Church and on his return to his van had discovered Jess missing; apparently, he’d run off chasing rabbits. Pat had gone into the fields to look for him and got lost in the fog then things got quite tense until Miss Hubbard, ever the practical one, advised the Reverend Timms to ring the church bells to guide them back out of the gloom. Pat was ever so grateful. We must set up a Miss Hubbard to look after our interests when we’re up on the tops in the cloud (or is it mist or fog?)
The closing credits were making their way up the screen when I realised the tiny human that I was still stroking gently had drifted back to sleep and their forehead was back to normal temperature – I learned to love Calpol!
As we drive into Osmotherley the cloud/fog gets a little thicker but all will be OK as it becomes merely a mist the moment we exit the cars.
We’re all well dressed for the cold, it’s not the bone-chilling windy cold, it’s a moist clinging chill that’s not as bad but still needs the protection of a few layers or a Paramo Jacket!
So, our route takes us up the hill towards the reservoir and raises the heart rate nicely. There are numerous jokes about the moistness of the day and one or two groans at the use of the word. As we approach the reservoir the mist is rising gently towards our objective and we’re hoping that it will become cloud and return to the sky by the time we reach the Drovers Road.
We choose the path through the woods and as we progress I notice a few green shoots just probing the surface of the leaf mulch; however, there’s no sign of life where the ground is bare. I don’t really think we’ll see much more than the odd snowdrop before February but who knows?
The reservoir looks eerie and dangerous in the swirling mist and there wouldn’t be much hope for anyone that has the misfortune to fall in. It would make a great setting for a murder mystery, especially with the weather as it is and I’m thinking of a list of folk songs that would do justice to such a scene.
There’s a lot of activity where Cod Beck feeds the reservoir and it transpires that volunteers are building a bridge to enable a complete circumnavigation of the artificial lake for the considerable number of people that come up to Sheep Wash and are tempted by the walk. Pete peels off to talk to them and comes back with a positive message of progress after some hold-ups around Christmas and New Year.
We pause at the Sheep Wash proper and it reminds me of days 60-odd years ago when we would be brought up here in my parents’ friends car (we couldn’t afford one) and in later years, on our bikes. It has to be said that the number of cars on the road meant riding your bike all over Hambleton when you were nine years old did not reflect badly on your parents. Provided you were back by bedtime your life was your own within the boundaries of custom and acceptable practice and we used this freedom to the limit.
One of our favourite bike rides was to Over Silton where we could climb the cliffs. We didn’t have ropes so falling off was not an option and we certainly chose climbs with deep crevices and good handholds. Our favourite had some rhododendron shrubs at the bottom that would have broken our fall but luckily, they were never necessary.
I found a baby owl one day and decided to rear it myself. My Mam was mortified but said I could if she didn’t have to get involved with feeding it. In fairness, I think she thought that it would be dead by morning. I used to go and buy mince meat from the butcher and when he found out what it was for I would be given enough for a few days free of charge. He also told me to roll the mince meat into the cinders scattered around the lane to create roughage. I think he may have been right because Olly survived and when he had fledged and started flying around and landing on my arm my Dad thought it was time for it to go back into the wild. In fairness, Olly turned out to be a healthy tawny owl and as a young adult, his wing span was nearing a metre (a yard’ish) which made him quite intimidating as he ghosted around the garden but his return to me was always gracious as he gently landed on my arm. His talons were getting stronger though and one day, in the summer, I was wearing a T-shirt and he landed on my unprotected wrist and drew blood. It was unintentional of course but Mam thought it was time he was ‘let go’. I was devastated and hadn’t thought about him having to go back to the ‘wild’ and knew even less about how to encourage it. Dad knew a gamekeeper called Jack Buckle who agreed to take Oly to complete his (owl) education by encouraging him to eat some of the game he’d shot.
I wasn’t to know it at the time but I did meet Jack several years later. I’d begun an apprenticeship at the North Riding and he worked there as a driver (I think). I was talking about Olly to my mates in the bait room and he overheard me and introduced himself. He confirmed Olly had taken to the wild without much encouragement and used to visit him occasionally when he was out and about for treats such as the odd duck or grouse. I was delighted and relieved in equal measure at this news as my adult self had begun to doubt the ‘Game Keeper Story’.
On another day, we’d biked up to Silton and crossed the beck which was running quite quickly after some storms. We’d been climbing the cliffs and set up a rope in one of the trees with a bough over the edge that gave us a great thrill when swung out over the drop. It wasn’t particularly high but it was exhilarating all the same. As we climbed down we notices some older boys, perhaps teenagers, were doing something with our bikes. When they saw us from such a long way off and the other side of the swift-flowing stream they thought (rightly) they could have some fun at our expense so one of them unzipped his fly and started peeing on one of the bikes to the great amusement of his mates. We could just about make out what was happening and shouted but there was little to be done. Then, an excellent piece of karma happened. One of the boys had picked up a bike and tried to throw it into the nettles but it didn’t make it; however, what it did do was land with the front wheel touching the back wheel of the bike being peed on and here’s the best bit…
The result was to create a circuit from the electric fence that was hidden by long grass and nettles through the two bike frames and finally along the arc of pee. The boy convulsed and seemed to launch himself into the air still holding his willy. His body was as rigid as the Manneken Pis, (the bronze statue of the little boy peeing into the fountain in Brussels), and the sound he was making was devilish, we could hear it even though we were still quite a distance away. The next time I’d hear a sound like that would be on Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells when the Devil takes over the child.
He landed on his back and didn’t stir for a few moments then he slowly stood up and fumbled with his fly whilst bending forward to check his equipment. When he was satisfied the damage was not going to be permanent he picked his own bike up and said something to his mates. Interestingly, he didn’t get on his bike as he ran down the road but his mates jumped on theirs whilst shouting unpleasantries at us. We eventually found a way across the stream but we didn’t know what had happened until I bent to pick up my bike and found myself on my backside with a numb hand and arm. One of my friends spotted the reason just too late to warn me. We tried to move the bike off the electric fence by pulling at the rubber tyres but we couldn’t get enough grip so a quick search was arranged and an old fence post was found in the hedge. It was then that the penny dropped with regard to ‘Manneken Pis – last seen running down the road with his bike’. I was left with the thought, “If it hurt me this much just by touching it with my hand?…”
This story got a lot of repeats over the following few weeks with various embellishments at every telling.
We turn on to the Drovers Road it’s the first serious ascent and it’s running with peaty water. It’s also surprisingly busy with people taking their dogs for walks and the ones coming down the bank right now are covered from head to tail in mud and every one of them wagging with delight.
At the top of the hill the mist is threatening to become fog and the tree that’s normally standing in grand isolation is a murky shadow – then it clears and we can see very nearly to the top of the moor.
There’re a few grouse making far more noise than their physical size would warrant as we disturb them in the heather and the water is running in quite deep rivulets along the track. It’s hard to imagine the drovers bringing huge herds of cattle from the Highlands of Scotland across the Hambleton Hills on the way to the markets of East Anglia, the Midlands and London. I read somewhere that their average pace was just 2 miles per hour which seems quite quick when you consider the beasts that they were driving and the conditions, especially if they were like today, that must have been a real challenge.
The track improves slightly at the moor top and we drop down to Chequers in double quick time.
Chequers used to be an inn and was known for a plaque that was pinned to the door and read,
“Be not in haste,
Step in and taste,
Of course, tomorrow never comes so they were safe with the offer!
We turn right onto the track towards Oakdale avoiding the steps at Square Corner which are lethal in the wet. There’s a nice bench seat that we take advantage of to indulge in a banana break to replenish energy levels and sustain us for the final four kilometres of the walk.
The mist, or is it a fog, increases again slightly as we drop down to Oakdale; this part of the walk is uneventful and we miss the views that it would normally bring; however, it’s more than made up for with wit and repartee…
The reservoirs have been drained and landscaped and whilst it’s not visible this time, I know what a fantastic job has been done and look forward to the next walk on a sunny day.
We emerge back onto the Osmotherley Road and elect to take the Cleveland Way route into the valley and enter the village via the woods and back fields. It’s a bit of a trek, especially up the steps but well worth the diversion and the back ally into Ozzy is interesting in its own right.
We assemble in the pub for a corn beef pie and other options – it didn’t disappoint!
A great walk with wonderful friends and whilst the weather was less than perfect the company was exceptional.
Just under 6 miles. Enjoy the snaps…G..x
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The rambling team today was George Layfield, Dave Rider, Peter Hymer, Chris Richardson, George Renwick, Dave Bowman and George Preston.