It’s a beautiful morning with blue skies and sunshine, there’s a chill in the breeze that’s making a subtle suggestion that autumn has a plan. It’ll be the equinox in a fortnight thereafter, day becomes shorter than night and triggers what our American cousins so descriptively term, ’The Fall’.; however, that’s a few weeks away, we’re here to enjoy the late summer.
We’re meeting below the White Horse at Kildale with the intention of a walk through the fields to Gormire, a steep climb of five hundred feet or so to Garbutt’s Ridge and a return along the Cleveland Way peeling off at the Glider Club and cutting through the woody escarpment down a steep footpath back to the carpark. It’s only about six miles but it has its moments!
There are nine of us today and the announcement on the news on the way here means that our future walking will require a split into two groups to comply with the ‘rule of six’. None of us has an issue with that. It’s disappointing, yes, but it’s also for everyone’s benefit and we’ll fall in line to continue our walks.
There is a brief period of checking and rechecking that we’re all carrying water and a little sustenance to maintain energy levels and stay hydrated. The cool breeze is welcome but we’ll still find ourselves very hot in the woods and especially on that haul up the hillside from Gormire to The Cleveland Way.
I notice that we’re all either individually or collectively looking up at the White Horse. Close up it looks a bit shabby and needs its triennial maintenance. It was reputed to have been dreamed up and cut by Schoolmaster John Hodgson and his pupils and there is a plaque nearby asserting this fact. There are others who maintain that Thomas Taylor, a native of Kilburn, was the prime mover – you pays your money and takes your choice! Either way, the topsoil was removed and a layer of limestone chips was spread out on the exposed sandstone and, because of the steep gradient of the ridge, it slides and weathers creating folds and cracks so that, from close up, it looks a bit ‘tired’ but from further away, it’s fine so without close inspection, you’d never know.
We begin the walk with a downhill stroll into the woods below the carpark. There are numerous tracks throng the trees and George picks one that turns out to be one of the least overgrown. There is a lot of bird activity and the calls of the crows echo against the cliffs above us.
The track leads to a firebreak cum access-lane that leads us towards the fields tucked under the cliffs currently decorated with all shades of green and mottled with occasional splashes of purple sloes, black elderberries and the reds of haws as they prepare themselves to be the dinner table for the birds through a winter the depth of which is yet to be declared.
We walk along the forest lane and it prepares us for the real climb by undulating as it winds its way through the trees leaving us breathless for short bursts and then giving us the opportunity to catch-up on the downward slopes. There are numerous varieties of deciduous trees including mountain ash, oak and various maples which contrast significantly with the evergreens that are planted as quick wins for the instantaneous needs of the building industry. There’s also a sea of ferns and lichen covering any surface that is deprived of sun. This time of year is a sea of colour and as a colour-blind person even I can appreciate the richness and, if that’s not enough, the rain over the last couple of days has released musty smells that are both unpleasant and pleasant both at the same time, it’s just sublime.
Just over a mile (1.5km) along the forestry track a sign helpfully indicates an overgrown pathway that could easily be missed. It leads us into a field recently harvested and smelling like a summers day in the 1950s when we would play among the bales and get prickled and scratched on the sharp stubs of straw that were left in the ground after the corn was cut. I don’t remember combined harvesters at the time but I do remember the smell of the exhaust of the Fordson Major petrol/paraffin tractors and the sounds they made.
I’m lost in thought as we walk across the field towards Hood Grange. The sun is shining brightly now and the gliders are taking full advantage of the thermals as they’re towed or winched into the sky above us.
We pass the farm buildings and into a field that has a young heifer clearly unhappy at being separated from the herd occupying the adjacent field and makes an occasional push at the barbed wire fence that separates them. I walk towards her and there’s a moment or two when there’s a bit of a stand-off as she lowers her head. I maintain my stride and call to the others that I intend to walk out into the field in a loop in order not to spook her any more than is necessary to get to the gate towards the corner of the field. She’s still quite agitated but giving her the space works and we exit the field through the gate as planned. We leave the animal in the field that she’s in as we have no means of knowing if the separation from the herd is deliberate and leave the management to the farmer.
The main road is busy with traffic and we take our time waiting until we can see and hear a lull then climb a style with a sign that announces “No Sledging”, clearly not a fan of Steve Waugh then!
Earlier in the summer, this field would have been coloured with buttercups and daisies along with other meadow flowers and there’s still the odd one evident as we climb the first steep hill towards the exit. We have Garbutts Ridge to our right and catch occasional sitings of people walking along the Cleveland Way where it clings to edge and sports some of the most beautiful views in Yorkshire. We’ll be up there in the next hour walking in the opposite direction and looking across the vale, I’m looking forward to it.
We pass through Gormire Farm and onwards to the lake that appears like an oasis through the trees. It’s always dark and forbidding although not so much that would put us off skinny dipping when we were young. I remember it being so cold it would make our ankles ache when we first ran in and testicles would be catapulted into our necks as the water hit that part of our anatomy. Once in, we would warm up and be able to swim for short bursts then we’d run out, in theory, to warm up! There was a rope attached to a branch overhanging the water. I have no idea who put it there but there’s still one hanging there now so kids of today must do the same thing.
We stop for a snack before the long haul up to The Cleveland Way which is about 600 feet above us on ground that would be classed as soft to heavy in the horse racing world.
The track is indeed steep and unrelenting. We stop a number of times to regain our breath and to plan the next dozen or so steps as we slip and slide our way through the tangle of roots and broken branches that are the toll of the powerful winds that whip across the vale and penetrate these woods, especially in the autumn and winter.
At the top, we gather and joke about the steepness of the bank and lack of stamina. Two made it without stopping and I’m impressed although I know that level of fitness will return as we walk more frequently in the future.
We begin the return part of the loop along the ridge but now we have fabulous views towards the Pennines although the sun has created a haze so they’re a ghostly shadow in the distance. Gormire; however, is looking fabulous and we can see the track that we’ve just taken winding its way across the fields.
The Cleveland Way clings to the ridge at this point and we’re going to enjoy these views for the next three miles, I like it up here.
The Yorkshire Gliding Club is now on our left and there is a lot of activity as these wonderful light machines are towed, winched and, for some, powered into the sky to enjoy an almost silent adventure for indeterminate amounts of time.
Opposite the club, we peel off down a track through the trees. The story goes that Knowlson was a farmer around 1800 and he’d been out for a few beers at the Hambleton Hotel. Actually, he’d been on a bit of a bender and was relying on his horse and cart to get him home. He’d only gone a mile or two and was lost in the dark and quite out of control when the horse, cart and farmer all went over the cliff. He survived but the horse and cart didn’t! That ridge is now called Knowlson’s Drop and it’s where we bear right.
The track guides us through the trees for about half a mile and then into the sunlight and carpark that we left three hours ago.
A great walk with wonderful friends.
Thank you, Peter Hymer, Dave Boweman, Dave Rider, Chris Richardson, George Preston, The Pilgrim, Roger and Tony Wright.
Enjoy the snaps…G..x
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