Swainby, Sheepwash, Drovers, Gamekeepers Lodge Loop

So, the weather has been somewhat inclement of late and the track, if expressed in terms of the racing community, would be ‘heavy’. Scuba divers and ducks would be comfortable in the heather-covered depressions and walkers are well-advised to wear waders.

We exercise our old farts passes and take the excellent Abbotts service from Northallerton to Swainby and within a few minutes we’re heading up Shepherds Hill the crossroads of the Cleveland Way and an abrupt turn right later we’re raising our heart rate on the steps towards Osmotherley. In the early years, these would have required four or five stops out of necessity to regain control of breathing and, if I’m frank, to remain upright. Whilst it would be wrong to imply that we’re now capable of jogging to the top, we do find that the one-stop that we do make is more to do with the opportunity to take photographs and less to do with necessity; it really does feel good!

We’ve walked about a mile and the ViewRanger app is telling me that the elevation is approximately 250 metres (800 feet) the walk up on Shepherds Hill that preceded the steps is a good warm-up. We take a short break at the top to sit on the strategically placed bench seats that look out over the Vale of Mowbray towards Teesside then beyond to the coast and beautiful Durham.

The track leads to a cattle grid where we make the decision to continue along the road to Sheepwash and onwards to the Drovers Road where huge herds of cattle would be brought from the Highlands of Scotland through the counties of the beautiful but unforgiving counties of Northern England and onward to the markets of East Anglia, the Midlands and onward to London. There are records indicating an average speed of 2 miles per hour which is remarkable if you consider that we don’t achieve much more than that if you include breaks.

We walk for twenty minutes and George calls a short break as he confirms our route across the moor proper. We don’t normally go off-piste but on this occasion, we need to shorten the walk by a couple of miles and there is the remnants of a track that we have used before. To our right running North West is Bad Lane which we have used before and is quite overgrown; however, to our left running South East is what we want to follow and it makes Bad Lane look positively defined.

We turn left through the gate and begin our orienteering work along Solomon’s Lane. It really isn’t clear but there’s are remnants of a drystone wall from time to time and plenty of boggy water which is not surprising after the deluge of the last three weeks. This element of the walk is tougher than track walking and we have to pick our way carefully as the heather-covered troughs are full of peaty water that isn’t deep enough to be dangerous but is definitely deep enough to render you uncomfortable for the rest of the walk.

This yomp is about 2km (over a mile) and takes in very few landmarks save grouse butts and a tiny copse but the track has occasional evidence of its previous existence in the form of a dry stone wall that is slowly being subsumed into the moor by lichen, gorse, and heather.

At the intersection of the two tracks, we take a break for lunch and take the opportunity to appreciate the vastness of the moor. The wind has dropped and the sound of the birds becomes evident and the next few minutes is spent in near silence as we enjoy the sounds of the moor and the taste our sandwiches.

We turn left on the new track and head North, North East towards the Gamekeeper’s Lodge. It’s easy walking now although there has been three weeks of torrential rain the moors have done a sterling job of draining it and we don’t have to spend so much time concentrating where our next foot should fall. Each bluff exposes more moor and we eventually see the Lodge on the moor horizon and we exchange this for the Bilsdale Mast which has been one of our triangulation for our location until now. For info, I do use an app on my phone which will show our position to within a couple of metres but it only gets used for verification so we don’t lose our ability to navigate should there be any failure on behalf of technology.

The Gamekeeper’s Lodge is also a marker for a fork in the track. It’s another 100 metres or so North and we take the left-hand fork that takes us due North and then North, North West towards Swainby. It’s a clear day so we’re expecting to see Whorl Hill at the foot of the wonderfully named Scugdale and within a couple of kilometres, it shows itself as we begin to descend.

I always like this view. I worked in Teesside for twenty-five years and its reputation for pollution is well out of date but, sadly,  it is maintained by the slang name of Smoggies to label Teessiders and is neither funny or appropriate. I would urge you to have a look at the Teesside towns and explore the banks of the Tees where huge investment has taken place in fact, I’ll feature the area in a future walk and try to dispel a few myths about our wonderful region.

There’s a chained gate at the cattle grid. It’s been a bone of contention for several months now since a notice declaring ‘No Public Access’ was erected. We’ve ignored it obviously and in fairness, the gamekeeper that we’ve met on a couple of occasions has been perfectly amicable and generously helpful so we’re not sure of the game being played.

We’re on what we call Cardiac Hill and walking through the trees as the Vale of Mowbray opens up in front of us as we descend. It’s spring so the rooks and crows are in full voice. The way to tell them apart, I’m told is:

A crow in a crowd is a rook
A rook on its own is a crow

(I’m happy to stand corrected).

At the bottom of the hill, we cross the Pennine Way and, looking left, we see the steps that we traversed three hours ago. Through the gate and down through beautiful Swainby to the Rusty Bike to enjoy their pies and salad.

A great loop walk with numerous spring flowers.

Thank you George Preston for planning it.

Enjoy the snaps…G..x

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