I was watching an episode of QI a couple of weeks ago when the land line rang.
It was Louise, she’d seen that I’d been on some walks with the old farts and wondered I’d like to do a reconnaissance of a walk that she intended doing with her rambling club. My thoughts turned to a quick jog up from Staithes to Port Mulgrave, about a mile or so, followed by a nice home made curry with the pair of them and a couple of glasses of wine. I thought, that’ll be nice.
However, I was wondering why a fellow athlete Dave wasn’t going and here is the reason.
The Home Secretary had telephoned him personally to ask him if he could help the Secret Services to save the world. He’d been asked to form a new unit consisting of ex-paras, commandos, the SAS and the SBS. They were to be the Tactical Warfare Anti Terrorism Squad, an elite unit consisting of the best of the best. Apparently, he was the only person in the world on whom they could rely. There was to be only two from each unit and he had to whip them into shape. Dave had retired some time ago and refused saying that he’d done his bit for his country and he was still dealing with flashbacks from risking his life in Leeming, Linton on Ouse and occasional visits to the Scorpion at Catterick.
The Government officials were not put off and invited him to a fish and chip supper in a private room at the Magpie in Whitby. There they plied him with cod and mushy peas. They were cold-blooded with their techniques and threatened to take his cod off him if he refused to fulfill this one off, last contract. The coercion was relentless and he succumbed to their demands when the orchestra in the corner had begun to play irritating discordant phrases that increased in both volume and pitch as they turned powerful torches into his eyes.
So, that’s how he ended up on the cliff face at Port Mulgrave leading 8 of the most ferocious characters selected from the most distinguished units in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. The swim from Whitby Pier had been challenging against the tide and the run across the beach being harassed by Yorkshire terriers and whippets equally demanding. However, the cliff face had been the biggest challenge when the strata of rock had given way as they neared the top! That’s when he’d had to call on his superhero strength, developed over many years of press ups, sit ups, triathlons, and ironmans, if it hadn’t been for this dedication those eight battle-hardened and loyal individuals would have faced certain death.
Dave’s highly attuned hearing had given him the vital edge when he heard the whispering of the rocks. These skills had been acquired when he’d had to leave the JP Club having got lucky with someone else’s girl and had to leave via the downpipe on the wall from the first floor. It was this that he’d called upon when he felt the rope begin to tighten as each of the men below had left the cliff face adding to the already considerable weight that was now the only connection between them and certain death. He’d been able to wrap the rope around his leg as they slipped off their respective foot and hand holds like a zip. When he’d taken the weight of all eight he hadn’t been sure that he could hold them. He needed to be able to take their weight with one hand whilst searching for another crevice into which he could gain some purchase. Inch by inch he’d worked his way up the cliff, the orchestra playing a dramatic and earsplitting loud crescendo leading to a gentle, harmonic melody as he eventually hauled himself over the edge and into the relative safety beyond. The music changed again as each of the lucky octet were pulled away from the danger of the long and agonising drop to the rocks and then drifted into Land of Hope and Glory as they joined him on the soft grass at the top. He remembered thinking of his wife and lovely daughter and this gave him the extra willpower to cope with the pain of the rope which by now had stopped the blood flow for so long that his leg was pain-free below the knee and excruciating above it. The last thing he could remember was the blue of the sky as a backdrop to Louise running in slow motion towards him, she was crying and imploring him to stay away from bright lights.
Anyway, back to the ‘phone cal, Louise said, “Dave can’t come because he hurt his leg, would you like to come?” I said yes, I’d like that.
Sooo. Here I am in the car with Dave and Lou being taken to a lay-by just off Boulby Mine. We arrive and fall out Dave waives a cheery “See you later” and makes his way back to the house. The weather is perfect for walking, blue sky and air that’s slightly bracing.
We’re using the old the road towards Cow Bar which is a small hamlet of a few houses on the cliff about half mile from Staithes. We arrive at a point where there’s been a fight between the elements and the cliff. The elements won and the road has suffered for its sins. My toes hurt when I’m shitting myself because of the height. Lou’s face gives an indication of her assessment of the situation.
We enter Staithes and cross the stepping stones. I hold back just in case Lou makes any mistakes and becomes the cabaret. Lou makes reciprocal arrangements as I make my way across. Luckily (or unlikely for the camera) we don’t make waves.
We walk through Staithes up some steep steps and look out across Penny Steel a rock formation that creates some interesting seas when the wind is in the east and the tide is running high. This is one of the most famous Jurassic sites in Northern England is between here and Port Mulgrave. It has to be ‘cos Lou’s just told me.
We walk past Old Nab and the contour lines get a little closer together so when we reach the top we’re ready for a sit on a bench seat so thoughtfully placed at the point where your lungs are about to burst. I take the photograph of Brackenberry Wyke and Old Nab in the distance.
After a banana break and drink we carry along the tops of Thorndale Shaft past some houses with tiny windows. I think that if I had them I’d invest in the biggest picture window I could afford and just sit and watch the sea.
After a pee break we walk through Port Mulgrave and head towards Oakwood where I make a remark which I regret as the words leave my mouth. “There’s a lot of Oak Trees down here”, says I… Fortunately, Lou’s mind is occupied by the fact that a bridge that should traverse what is currently a small stream but may well be different in a fortnight’s time, is not very well, it’s dead. There are some stepping stones so the group that she’s taking around can at least be warned so that they can get their cameras out for any pictures of colleagues taking the plunge. The mind can only take so much and the picture of a 70 year old in a wet ’T’ Shirt competition is too much.
Lou wants to talk to the Landlord of the pub where they occasionally slake their thirst. A delightful free house, a real ‘local’ with real ale at £1.90 a pint. I don’t indulge during the day and certainly not on a 10 miler so we have a soft drink appease and Lou makes here arrangements for next week. She tells me about a dangerous mix; it’s Dave, a few pints, an electric bike and New Year. It’s really not a good combination 🙂
We set off from the pub and pass some fishermen after some trout in the local stream. We find a convenient seat randomly placed near the water and eat the sandwiches that were to keep us fuelled for the rest of the stroll.
Returning to our feet we make our way past some old mine shafts one of which has an alluring point of light at the other end. It draws you in, well it would do if you’re not a couple of scaredy cats and we had the rest of the hike to do anyway.
Lou seems to know where’s she’s going but the next part of the journey has a cunningly challenging twist. Just as I feel I am coasting and enjoying the woods, the sunbeams shining through the branches, the autumnal colour of the leaves and the musty smell of the woods, those contour lines squeeze closer together again and there are lots of them. I take a break against a lichen-covered tree and Lou comes
When we break out of the woods we cross a railway line and then into a field that slopes up, and up and up. There are no clouds at the top of this hill but that’s only because there are no clouds in the sky!
We reach the trig point and the promise of the views from the cliffs is all the encouragement we need. We’re just at 9 miles and Lou seems happy that the walk to Staithes will nudge it up over 10 which should be just about right for the group she’s leading in a couple of weeks.
Back on the cliff tops. The views become even more amazing as the sun begins to drop behind the beautiful moors that are now behind us and the softer, warmer colours lengthen the shadows to create the most astonishing three-dimensional effect to the patchwork of fields to our right. This contrasts with the flat blue of the sea and sky and with regard to the latter it’s difficult to see where the sky ends and the sea begins. Just beautiful.
Thanks Lou, good walk this. Time for that curry 🙂