So Peeps, today we learn that there’s a wobbly scene reminiscing about tatie (potato) picking, that mud is a good substitute for ice and a glorious sunset can be the ideal ending to a brilliant day.
Have a read about “tatie picking” and reminisce with me about the conflict between backache and the joy of the ‘lowance. Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Beatles were in the charts and we would work in the fields for the extra money which was well-timed for Christmas.
Carol is predicting a slightly overcast day but temperatures around 13C and the rain band affecting Scotland is likely to stay there so we should be OK.
I’m driving to Swainby to pick up Peter and thence to Whitby. We take the moor road and it’s a pleasure today, we only meet two other vehicles which means there is ample time to appreciate the beautiful, if desolate, moor tops and there’s a surprising twist; there are several oases of yellow shining out in a stunning solar display lifting what would otherwise be a desert of heather with the odd loan tree. It’s the gorse and I thought it only blossomed in the spring but these plants have clearly got their clock wrong and it looks fabulous because of it.
We arrive in Whitby in good time and park in what are now free places near the whale jawbones on West Cliff. During the winter months, the parking meters are shrouded with a bag like a condemned man only the message is far better; it means we don’t pay!
Dave has got behind several tractors and is running a little late so we pass the time with our cameras taking the kind of photographs that have been shot from this point since Frank Sutcliffe prowled these parts with his big plate camera in the 19th century.
First the Abbey, then Captain Cook then maybe the whale bones, no not this time; we do our best to contrive something different and maybe we achieve partial success; however, there are only so many ways you can shoot Whitby from West Cliff so we settle on what I would advise you to do; put the camera away and appreciate this fabulous sight for what it is, a beautiful vista, forever changing as light and weather influence what you see and feel. We have a few glorious minutes of this and take time to appreciate the above before the two Daves and other two Georges arrive.
A quick change into walking boots later and we’re on our way down the Khyber Pass (that name has always amused me even from childhood days) to the fish docks and past the amusement arcades to the swing bridge. It’s still early but there are stalls opening and cafes moving from breakfast to mid-morning snacks and even a kiosk with hamburgers and chips, bit early for me but, hey, each to his own.
We cross the swing bridge and turn left on to Sandgate, call at the free toilets at the Market Place (we are of an age and prostates are bigger than bladders) then left onto Church Street and brace ourselves for the 199 steps. I remember counting these when I was a kid and something would always jump into my mind as I counted, then I’d forget where I’d got to, then I’d guess and at the top, it would never be 199, I don’t try this today but we do all walk-up in one go and I’m amazed and proud of our level of fitness.
We make our way past St Mary’s Church and on towards the abbey then turn left towards the cliffs. The Cleveland Way is well signed from here and the views are spectacular and will remain so for the majority of the walk.
It’s not long before Saltwick Nab comes into view and I can’t help but think about the erosion that’s taken place to create such a fabulous coastline. We’re not particularly high at between 200 and 300 feet (approx 100 metres) but it does mean we can be mesmerised by the rolling ocean breaking on the rocks at the bottom. There is a fence between us and certain death at this point but it’s not there for the entirety of the walk and it makes me think “Why should it?”. I do have an issue with our propensity to put up a sign that explains the obvious. “Dangerous Cliffs” seems to me to be superfluous and I’m quite certain that if you fall off this one, you won’t be in pain for long.
We’re approaching the Fog Horn station now and it’s the first time I’ve seen it, in fact, it’s the first time I’ve seen any fog horn and there are two pointing in different directions covering the North and the South of the coast. I’ve heard it on many occasions whilst visiting Whitby when I was working for the North Riding County Council many years ago and thought the monotonous drone came from near the Abbey but it’s a little further along the coast.
There’s a quick pee break and we’re off again and meet our first mud field where walking becomes a lottery between standing on something solid but with a coefficient of friction similar to ice on a bobsled run and standing on a piece of clay that looks solid but turns out to be 4 inches of sucking mud.
There’s a surprising number of people around and George informs us that for many of the schools this is the October break, he’s telling me that York schools have this week off. This knowledge and the smell of the mud and clay remind me that when I was a kid the October holiday was referred to as (potato) ‘tatie picking week’ and we’d walk along deeply recessed lanes with high hedges to a remote farmhouse to ask if there were any jobs picking taties.
The Beatles were singing “From Me to You”, “She Loves You” and Gerry and the Pacemakers were singing “I Like IT” when we would look for tatie picking jobs.
We would be paid 10 shillings to 15 shillings per day (50p to 75p), yes you read that right; and it was back breaking work bent over finding the potatoes and rubbing off any soil or mud and putting them into a basket. When the basket was full and it didn’t take long, we then emptied it into a trailer that would be moving along the adjacent rows, often driverless, at a very slow walking pace. The potatoes had been harvested by quite a crude machine with a rotating fork mounted on the back of a tractor. The twin tines of the fork would spin around and hit the ridge of soil at right angles to fling the white veg onto the soil at the side. Over the years some farmers planted other varieties and we had the delight of ‘Red Skins’ to pick during one harvest. As the name suggests they were a very pale red and as I’m colour blind (although I didn’t know it then) I struggled to differentiate them from the soil and would leave far too many unharvested for that particular farmer and had to look elsewhere for a job picking white ones.
We started work about half seven and as a twelve-year-old that time normally happened only once a day and that was during the evening. We’d work until ten o’clock and then stop for ten minutes for our allowance (usually referred to by the farmer’s wife as ‘lowance and the words, “Cum n get thee ‘lowance” were music to my ears. It usually consisted of an enamel jug full of strong Yorkshire tea with milk already added. This was poured into mugs that had chips out of the enamel and you had to be careful to hold them only by the handle as the conduction of the heat from the scalding tea meant the sides of the mug could render your digits free of fingerprints in seconds.
She usually brought scones that had already been cut in two and liberally spread with salted butter, sometimes they were still slightly warm and the butter would have melted into them, they were divine.
At lunchtime we got the same but the scones were substituted for ham sandwiches with the bread in slices that, when combined with meat cut quarter of an inch thick, created a doorstep of a sandwich that was the thickness of a paperback book. All of this is memorable but the outstanding thing was the butter; when you bit into a sandwich you’d leave tooth lines through the layer of lightly salted, artery coating, heart stopping yellow churn and when tasted with the salted ham the result was instantaneous heaven. We didn’t get the opportunity to wash our hands so they’d be grubby with mud or soil so on the first day we’d hold the bread using two fingers and thumb and not reposition them, once we’d eaten our way around our fingers and got as close to them using a nibbling technique we’d throw the last tiny bit away with the mud or soil still impregnated in the bread. After the first day and we knew how good it was we would eat the whole thing including the soily/muddy bit anyway and sod the consequences (in fairness, there were never any ‘consequences’ I don’t think a bit of soil ever hurt anyone)
By three in the afternoon the salt would have worked its magic and by the time afternoon ‘lowance came along it would be all we could do to resist the temptation to wrest the enamel jug from the clutch of the farmer’s wife and glug the contents with complete disregard to temperature or the needs of fellow workers such was the irrational and selfish result of the salt-induced thirst. The smell of the mud on this walk will evoke these memories at several points along the route, I’m OK with that, they were happy days.
The track is quite undulating, more than I expected but it does raise the heart rate and the views are good. As we pass Rainfall Slack there is more gorse as yellow as the sun on an autumn eve and we take some photographs to celebrate its joy. Yellow is such an uplifting colour and so unexpected in autumn.
Just another climb now through more mud and some quite challenging pools of clay and water, we see people heading in the opposite direction and one particular lady shows us the muddy results of her encounter with yet more mud near Robin Hood’s Bay, her back and backside are covered in the dried remains of what looked like quite a slide in the stuff.
**Robin Hoods Bay* There is an English ballad about Robin Hoods Bay in which Robin is purported to have nipped across from Sherwood when he heard there were French pirates causing havoc on the coast. He gave them a good thrashing and returned their ill-gotten gains to the local people, re-flowered the de-flowered virgins and resurrected the men who had been killed defending them. As an act of gratitude, the villagers named their row of houses after him as a thank you. OK, there may be a modicum of exaggeration and maybe a hint of embellishment but you get my drift.
It’s a cracking little village now with quaint narrow streets and secret passageways here and there. It used to be a major port for smugglers and you can see why. There are rumours of underground passageways that link the houses to enable contraband to be moved about quickly when coast guards or their equivalent came sniffing**
We’re lucky and manage to negotiate the wettest bits with only a minor incident and begin our final sector through a field where we meet Jan who did a couple of sectors with us on Louise Graydon’s Cleveland Way walk through the Summer.
Our final leg is down into Robin Hoods Bay. We’re on to normal ground where our feet stay where we put them and we make our way, with a little bit of direction from a local, to the bus stop. We’re 15 minutes early for the x39 that’ll take us back to our start point for free, we do like our OFP’s.
We normally call at Trenchers for our fish-n-chip reward but decide on the Fisherman’s Wife Restaurant on the Khyber Pass, it has great views; however, the prices are top-endish, the service average and the quality is only OK.
The day was excellent though and the trip back exposes us to some of the most beautiful skies I’ve seen for a while. There is every type of cloud formation including Mammatus clouds and they’re all lit up by a low sun. The sky is on fire and this is a great end to a fabulous day.
Enjoy the snaps…G..x
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This is life after an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm open repair. Don’t be afraid of the operation, it set me free. Please be encouraged and inspired to walk, it’s liberating…G..x
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