Saturday, 12 December 2015

A North York Moors Backpack

It's early on a Wednesday; Chrissie and I ferry the dogs round to our wonderful neighbours, Sara & Gordon. They're VERY excited; the dogs that is. Then, a dash up to Kildale, just east of Stokesley, where we leave the car. By around 11.30 am we're pounding part of the Cleveland way along a newly tarmacked lane up onto Battersby Moor. There's a stiff south-westerly. It's dry but cold in the wind. We're glad of our cosy, comfy Paramo jackets. Along the way we pass this poignant reminder of the fragility of life.

We turn south east, crossing Ingleby Moor. It's easy walking, though the wind is harsh and bitter. Meeting The Flagged Road we drop into the valley of Grain Beck and it's here we find the ruins of Armouth Wath, a long abandoned coal mine. I love places like this; industrial archaeology in the wilds. Right at the confluence of two streams, wath is from the Old Norse for ford.

Searching around for a while we find a place flattish and big enough for our huge, by backpacking standards, Terra Nova Polar Lite 3. Regular readers will know we've recently decided this'll accompany us on our Arctic Sweden trek next August. We soon have the outer erected and I fiddle with guys as Chrissie hangs the inner. It'll pitch in one but we've opted to split the tent for easier load sharing. Once the tent's up, I organise our home for the night while Chrissie filters water.


Brewing up, we pass a pleasant afternoon and evening reviewing the tent. We've spent only one night in it before; that was with our lab, Tilly back in January. We bought this big shelter specifically to use with two of us plus dogs, but have only recently considered using it for just the two of us. Split, it weighs less per person than the two man we frequently carry for solo use with a dog. The space makes for really comfortable living. Our two mats occupy the centre and leave plenty of room each side for personal kit; two pockets on each side aiding organisation. There's sufficient room below our feet for both our rucsacs. The porch has space for boots, camp shoes and cooking. Headroom is more than adequate to sit up, right across the floorspace, meaning I can banish Chrissie to a corner when she misbehaves.

Tensioning (or trying to) guys we discover that the cord won't run round our MSR Groundhog pegs which are hard against tussocks and soft earth. We decide, once home, to solve this by turning the guys round so the fixed loop is pegged and the cleat adjustment passes through the loop on the tent. We also decide to add a mini cleat to the double guys on the poles so they too are not reliant on running round the peg when adjusting. Interestingly, our Hilleberg Enan does have two cleats on the similar pole double guylines. It also has its single guys t'other way around ie with loops for the pegs and cleats on the tent end. Open question; do Terra Nova do any real-world testing? In fairness, the guys might run easily round the supplied, smoothly-radiused pegs; only problem is, they bend ... like bits of cheese! I also can't believe they don't evaluate Hilleberg products since they compete directly with them, especially with the three pole tunnels like this one; a very Nordic design. And before anyone says, "why didn't you buy a Hilleberg?" Well, they're twice the price and, these guy details apart, I don't think they give twice the performance. The Enan's different, being a design nobody else does so light, so well. Enough said.

Viewed from outside the tent has a low profile relative to it's footprint, the benefit of this being clear as, through the night, we're battered by high winds. The tent stands firm against these, despite our inability to properly tighten the guylines.

There's heavy rain through the night too but, by morning, it's dry again. We enjoy home-prepared porridge breakfasts, tea and coffee, then decamp. With so much room inside it's easy for the two of us together to pack our sacs. There's a lot of pegging points on a tent this size, 21 in all, but we soon fall into an easy system between the two of us. Chrissie unhooks and stores the inner while I unpeg all but the rear guys, then the pegs along each side, leaving only the front and rear pegs in place keeping the tent erect. Once Chrissie joins me I remove the front pegs, then the rear ones while my beautiful assistant holds the tent fly against the wind. Poles are quickly removed and the outer stuffed into a separate silnylon bag. Easy.

And we're off again. Up over Baysdale Moor we climb before turning east, dropping into the little gorge of Hograh Beck. Here, we find a stone bridge, ancient grafitti on a flat stone and, unusual in this remote place, a commemorative bench with a pair of heartrending plaques. The wooden heart, hanging below the seat, a touching addition. We can't resist the temptation to stop for a break and a snack. RIP William and Carol.

Now following Skinner Howe Cross Road over Great Hograh Moor we find a memorial to Alan Clegg. There's a view right across to the shark's fin of Roseberry Topping on the horizon, if you squint and peer closely.

The ground is saturated from recent rain and walking the path's like paddling up a stream. We eventually meet John Breckon Road (they like naming tracks round here, it seems) which we follow into Westerdale.

Our route, now southerly, becomes a muddy plod across farmland. We stop for lunch before New House Farm. 'Seems we're now on the Esk Valley Way (or Walk, depending on who you believe).

Fed and watered, we continue our muddy trudge to the head of the valley then up over Cooper Hill to meet the track following the line of the old ironstone railway which runs down into Rosedale from here. I have a bit of a moment. I've been plagued by a variety of aches and pains from my left leg for a couple of months now, for no clear reason other than a couple of silly falls onto my knee a while back. Right now it's my ankle, exacerbated, no doubt, by the nasty, sticky mud we'd encountered back in the valley. I'm tired and light's failing just a little. My beloved rallies me, forcing me to stop, rest, eat and drink. She knows me well. I love her. Her chivvying enlivens me and we're off again, albeit with a slight limp.

We head west along the track towards Bloworth Crossing. We're looking down into Farndale. We've been here before, many years ago. An early backpacking trip; a shakedown for an ascent of Mount Whitney in the 'States and a trip into the Grand Canyon. Feels like eons ago ... it is ... probably twenty years.

Keeping an eye out for an easy water source we walk a mile or two and find a pitch for the night as darkness falls. Tent up, I filter water as Chrissie readies our beds. I listen to the RAF's fast jet pilots training above, their lights making tight turns in the blackness. The sky is clear so, unsurprisingly, it's cold. We warm ourselves with hats, gloves, light duvet jackets, tea and coffee, cosied against the elements. It's an exposed site but the air's relatively still. Too dark for photos.

Our spring/autumn bags' capabilities are stretched, bolstered by clothing, but we pass a fairly comfortable night. Rain again overnight and, by the time we rise, droplets are frozen on the outside of our shelter. A crisp morning, the sky clear and blue, we warm ourselves with breakfast then pack up again.

It really is a beautiful morning as we walk west to Bloworth Crossing ...

... me and Xena, my warrior princess.

From the crossing, we're back on the Cleveland Way, north along the edge of the escarpment, with views down to Stokesley, and Middlesborough in the far distance.

Stopping for a snack we see rain heading our way and don overtrousers just in time. The downpour, sometimes sleet, soon passes and, above Ingleby Bank, we regain our outward route and are soon on tarmac again, for our return to Kildale and our faithful, waiting Scooby Doo.

Back on the road, spontaneous fish'n'chips in Thirsk our reward for three days, backpacking in the cold.

Life is good.


  1. That certainly looks like a roomy tent. There is so much history out in what many people consider to empty and rather barren areas. Ordinary, working folk, having to travel many miles over moorland to slave away for a mere pittance of a wage.

    1. Given its relatively modest weight the tent's a palace. And yes folks working out there must have had a very hard life. Did you have to cancel your Scottish trip?

  2. Away next Monday Geoff, back a week Wednesday.


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