Today we learn that friendships never wane and a walk reveals a lifetime of memories.
It’s a blue sky with some low cloud. Sixty years ago, there’d be significant excitement when we were told that we were going on a picnic to Sheepwash. It was only seven miles or so from Northallerton but when there was only one car in the street where you live the simple truth was that that going in a car was a big deal even if it’s just a run down the lane.
This was a proper run out so it was indeed a ‘big deal’ and opportunities like this only arose when there was a blue moon. We’d jump in the back of the car without prompting as the front was always reserved for the adults and off we’d go. The car belonged to the Bakers and whilst I can’t remember the make and model I do remember the registration number, ‘RPY 1’. I looked it up and can’t find a record of it but others with the numeral ‘1’ in the string are variously £32,000 to over a £6m, oh for that number now!
The Sheepwash was, and still is, a grassy area on the banks of Cod Beck where children like us could run into the swift-flowing but shallow stream in relative safety. It hurt our feet on the pebbles that were strewn around its bed but the icy cold water numbed our feet and ankles so, when it was coupled with the excitement of ‘tigs-on-high’ and ‘hide-and-seek’, we never seemed to notice.
Cod Beck feeds the reservoir of the same name. It was built between 1948 and 1953 by damming the lower part of the valley and served the area well until the early naughties when it was decommissioned due to the deterioration of the water quality and presence of cryptosporidium which is a nasty little bug that’s more effective than Weight Watchers, Slimming World and the Atkins combined; it’s not that good for your lungs either. Water for the area now comes from Thornton Steward Reservoir on the Pennines side of the Vale.
Whilst Sheepwash is being transformed into an idyl through the magic of childhood memories its alter ego can be found in some statistics from several years ago when 75% of parking tickets in the Hambleton area were issued to vehicles parked incorrectly on the roadside verges near the extremely popular authorised parking areas – it wouldn’t have happened sixty years ago!
Why am I telling you this, well, for a start, it’s in my head and needs to be out and the other reason is that we’re going for a walk. It’s a loop walk starting and ending at Sheepwash and measures about nine miles.
We’re all in separate cars to comply with the current rules and already split into two groups to keep numbers at or under six. It’s surprising and, paradoxically, not surprising how many cars are here already. The sky is blue with some low cloud drifting around Scarth Nick revealing the road from Swainby through a sinister swirl of mist. Looking towards the reservoir there are darker clouds and they’re heading towards us at a canter. As I look around, the previously donned dry-weather-attire has now been added to with a couple of layers topped with water-proof jackets, I join them in anticipation and it turns out to be a good piece of forward-planning.
Rob Boston emigrated to New Zealand fifty years ago and he’s here to see his family. He’s also had a hankering to walk with some old school chums – that’s us – and we’re seriously looking forward to it. The social distancing is not an issue and talking in the quiet of the countryside is easy although breathing AND talking has its moments as we negotiate some of the steeper elements of the trail.
The first group set off adjacent to the banks of Cod Beck as we wave then they disappear into the ferns. Within a couple of minutes, we hear some disembodied expletives being carried back to us as the recipient of a drenching shower generously supplied by a fern that’s been fully-charged by the torrential rain over the last couple of days. We smile and make a mental note to walk along the periphery of the fern-forest nearer the beck; it’s a poor day when you can’t learn from the generosity of friends!
Ten minutes later and we’re off. Cod Beck is running clear and doesn’t seem to be unduly swollen by the recent rain. It can become quite engorged and angry when the moor disgorges its excess water but today the heather, bracken, ferns and spongy peat must have been reluctant to release their share and all is well.
Through the trees, we get a wonderful view of the reservoir framed between the trunks of the pines and lit up by the sun. The atmosphere is still and windless with only the sound of birds echoing across the surface of the water that’s busy reflecting the trees like a Constable, Gainsborough or a biscuit tin lid.
At the dam-end, we turn left and start a series of climbs which will take us through the trees to the Drovers Road. This part of the Drovers road has been Hambleton Street, Hambleton Road and other variations on the Hambleton theme. For hundreds of years, it was used to drive animals reared in the north to more lucrative markets further south. It avoided taxes and tolls that would be levied on the lower routes and enabled a thriving community of Inn owners, monasteries and small communities to make a living from the transient drovers that took the route.
This one is well preserved if a little muddy and we make good progress reaching the de-licenced Chequers Inn with a spring in our steps. This wonderful place is well known locally with the following rhyme being memorised by the school-children of the area.
Tomorrow, of course, never comes so they’re on a bit of a winner.
Onward we go and at Square Corner, we’re challenged by some very heavy clouds and a rainbow. We reach for a top, water repellent layer and are ready for the rain well before it ramps up into a deluge.
We turn left on to Whitestones Ridge then double back towards Miley Pike. The rain is keeping heads down as we endeavour to keep our glasses clear and the ruts in the track fill with water and create puddles of unknown depth clearly there to be avoided. Then a glint, a reflection in the water, the sun is back out and the rain abates but wet-weather-gear remains in place until we’re sure it has gone.
The gamekeeper’s hut or shooting lodge stands lonely on the moor and must be a godsend to walkers in winter months when the weather can become really challenging. We’ve never found it locked and that’s a generosity that would be most welcome in the snow. We take a few minutes banana break and enjoy the moor and wildlife, there’s always something to see up here and it rarely goes unnoticed.
It’s also a point at which the remaining third of the walk is largely down although it does hold back a minor ‘up’ to challenge us a couple of miles before the end. The real treat are the views down Skugdale and across to the windmill farm off Redcar. On a clear day the view is exceptional but today with the moist air and mist it’s merely stunning.
The ‘up’ referred to earlier is out of Skugdale on to Near Moor adjacent to the dry-stone-wall. We’re protected from a vicious wind by Clain Wood and we’re grateful. Towards the end of the wall, we turn left and make our way across the open moor as the sun returns to lead us back through the ferns on a welcome well-defined track the enables us to reach the other group back in the car park without a further drenching from the waving fronds.
It’s about eight and a half miles and beautiful. It’s easy to navigate in good weather but not appropriate for those with mobility issues.
Enjoy the snaps and feel free to share…G. x