The Cleveland Way 1999

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 1 - Preparation and First Day - Helmsley to Boltby

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About the Walk

The Cleveland Way is a National Trail of approximately 110 miles in length running from Helmsley, skirting the western and northern edges of the North Yorkshire Moors, then meeting the East Coast at Saltburn. It then follows the coastal path southwards to Filey, initially ending abruptly at the county boundary with Humberside, but more recently extended to a more natural finishing point on Filey Brigg. There are now other official trails, which link up with the Cleveland Way: the Ebor Way joining it at Helmsley and the Wolds Way at Filey. In addition, an unofficial 'Missing Link' walk runs from Filey back to Helmsley to make it into a circular walk.

Along its length, the Cleveland Way traverses some of the finest areas of the North Yorkshire Moors, at one point sharing the route for about 10 miles with Wainwright's Coast to Coast walk and the Lyke Wake walk. The coastal section of the walk passes over the highest sea cliffs on the East Coast and encompasses Yorkshire's Heritage Coast.

Compared with some of the walks I have done, the Cleveland Way is relatively easy. Most of the route follows well sign-posted footpaths, which generally have good surfaces and are easy to follow. The exception to this is along the coastal path, which, in some places, is overgrown and uneven underfoot. The amount of daily ascent and descent is also moderate, with much of the walk being on level or gently sloping ground. There are a number of steep ascents along the section from Osmotherley to Urra Moor and at some places along the coast, but these are generally of no more than one or two hundred metres at a time. This means that there is plenty of chance to recover from one ascent before facing another, although it is sometimes frustrating to find that, no sooner have you climbed one hill than the path drops back down again, only to face you with another hill to climb.

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Planning the Walk

Having done several long-distance walks before, the planning was relatively easy as I had a good idea of all the things I would need and the sort of daily mileage of which I was capable. Nevertheless, there are always difficulties when it comes to working out the overnight stops, as there is seldom accommodation to be found within the ideal walking distance and this inevitable means that some days involve more miles than desired and some days less. Using a Cleveland Way accommodation guide from the Internet, a National Trails Companion, an old Coast to Coast Accommodation guide and the Youth Hostel Association, I set about planning the walk over seven days, with six nights' accommodation needed.

My preferred accommodation on long distance walks is in Youth Hostels, but for this particular schedule, there were only two hostels in convenient places, Whitby and Scarborough, and Scarborough was already fully booked by a school party. This meant that I had to spend the remaining five nights in bed and breakfast accommodation, as I would be able to get a lift to the start in my daughter's car on the first day and a train back from Filey on the final day. One of the problems with the first half of the walk is that much of it is high up on the edge of the moors, whereas most of the accommodation is down below and some distance from the route. There are, however, one or two farmhouse bed and breakfasts up on the moors, fairly close to the route, and I was able to use these to avoid adding much extra distance to the walk. Along the coastal part of the walk, there are some sections which have several miles between places where accommodation can be found, and this meant that my final route involved a little over twenty miles both on day 5 and on day 6. I generally try to avoid days with more than about 18 miles wherever possible, but in this instance, it did not seem easy to do without adding an extra day to the walk. I just had to resign myself to the fact that I would have two rather hard days one after the other.

In all of my previous walks, I have had to keep a tight watch on the budget, but this time my financial situation had improved and I did not have to worry too much about costs. Some of the bed and breakfast accommodation can be a little expensive, especially when including an evening meal, but I was able to overlook this when it provided me with a bed which was not too far off the route and at a convenient distance from the previous stop.

From the point of view of route finding, I already had the two Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure maps numbers 26 and 27 covering the North Yorkshire Moors. I didn't see the need for a guidebook as well, especially as I had already walked about two thirds of the walk at other times. The only section of the walk that was not covered by my maps was from Scarborough to Filey, but I didn't think it would be a problem following the coastal path. In fact, I found that there was very little need for maps most of the time, as the sign posting was usually of a very high standard. However, it would be foolish to attempt the walk with neither maps nor guidebook, as there are always a few places with missing signposts, making it necessary to consult a map.

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Diary of the Walk

Day 1 - Sunday 27th June - 17.5 miles - Dinner, B&B 27

Helmsley to Low Paradise Farm, Boltby via Rievaulx Abbey and Terrace, and Kilburn White Horse

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Marker stone at the start of the Cleveland Way in Helmsley
Start at Helmsley
Ruins of Rievaulx Abbey - a short detour from the route
Rievaulx Abbey

The weather forecast for the day was not very good, promising rain, which should clear in the late afternoon. I set off from home at 9 a.m. in my daughter Jen's car along with my wife Jean. They were going shopping in York after dropping me off at the start. On the way there the weather was dreary and overcast with some rain, although it did look slightly brighter at Helmsley with only a little drizzle from time to time. Helmsley is a very pleasant and popular market town, but I only stopped for long enough to say my farewells and for one or two photographs as I was keen to get started on the walk. There is a large stone monument at the start of the walk near the car park and this is carved with the acorn symbol used to mark National Trails. I started walking at 10:30 along the steady incline, first through fields, then through woodland up to Whinney Bank on the way towards Rievaulx. This is the northern edge of Rydale and, by a clearing through the trees, the River Rye and the other side of the dale can be seen over to the left. Despite the rather dreary weather, the temperature was quite pleasant for walking in shorts and a tee shirt, although the humidity was very high.

Through the woods, I came across about four animals on the path before they noticed me and took refuge in the undergrowth. I think, from later attempts at identification, that they were stoats, as they were brown with black tails, but it is not always easy to identify animals from a very brief encounter.

A descent through the wood brought me back out onto the minor road leading to Rievaulx Bridge. At this point, the Cleveland Way continues straight on, but a detour to the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey figures in most people's schedule, if time permits. I had remembered to bring my National Trust membership card with me, but was a little taken aback when I realised that the abbey is owned by English Heritage with a 3 admission charge. Not wishing to pay more than a very brief visit, I decided not to go in and instead made my way up the steep hill towards Rievaulx Terrace, which overlooks the abbey from 100 metres above. Again, there was an entrance costing 3, so I decided that, having taken the trouble to climb up, I might as well pay up and go in. However, to my surprise again, the Terrace and Temples are owned by the National Trust, so I was able to get in free using my card. There is a one-mile circular walk through the woods to the Tuscan Temple and back along the Terrace to the Ionic Temple. I reached the Tuscan Temple at 11:50 in time for an early half-hour lunch stop. It was very peaceful up there, as there were few people about despite the fact that it was a Sunday.

The view from the terrace, which is a level area of lawn stretching for about half a mile between the two temples, is well worth the climb to get there. There are some fine views of the abbey below through clearings in the trees and extensive views over Ryedale and the surrounding area. Whether it is worth a 3 admission fee is debatable, as the temples are small and only the Ionic Temple has anything to see inside with a painted ceiling and laid out dining table, as well as a small exhibition display underneath. It is a pity that they abbey and the terrace are not combined under the same ownership with one admission fee.

My detour added about three miles to the day's walk, although a visit to the abbey alone would add a little over a mile. With a fair distance still to cover, it was time to move on and return to the Cleveland Way, so I descended back down the steep path, which is a shortcut back to the road, where the weather took a turn for the worse and it started to rain. I put on my waterproofs and headed back to Rievaulx Bridge, where there is a very pretty garden leading down to the river by the bridge. The next place on the route is the village of Cold Kirby, three miles further on. At first the route follows the road, then a forest track, where I made right turn too early and nearly ended up in a grouse farm with hundred of young chicks. Fortunately, I had not gone very far before I realised, so didn't waste much time. After a steady ascent on a track through fields, there was a good view of Cold Kirby church across a small valley and the rain appeared to have stopped. I took a photograph of the church and removed my waterproofs before proceeding down the path across the valley, where my legs and shorts were promptly soaked by the long, overhanging grass. Five minutes later, coming up through the village, the rain started again, so I had to put my waterproofs back on - I would have been far better off if I had left them on.

A further steady ascent through fields led up to Hambleton on the busy A170 road and on to Sutton Bank where the scenery suddenly changes from gently sloping fields and woods to dramatic steep slopes and cliffs overlooking the Vale of York towards the Yorkshire Dales. I missed the shortcut through the wood, which cuts off the corner on the way to see the White Horse at Kilburn, so walked along the main road to Sutton Bank and then along the edge. The views from here are always impressive, even on a dismal day but far better on a clear sunny one. At this point, the rain had almost stopped, but there were some very dark clouds looming in the distance. Over towards the White Horse, the route passes a gliding club, which is very popular, as the winds sweeping up the edge of the moors provide good uplift to help keep the gliders airborne.

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White Horse at Kilburn
White Horse at Kilburn
Storm clouds descending on Sutton Bank
Sutton Bank before the storm

At the White Horse, which is made from limestone chippings laid on the hillside, there were still quite a few people around despite the weather. Most people park in the car park at the foot of the hill and climb up the steps to the top of the horse. It is difficult to get a proper view of the whole horse from such close quarters, and even down by the car park, the view is still distorted. It is best viewed from a distance of a mile or two, although it can be seen from a very long distance on a clear day. I went down the hill to take a photograph before reversing my tracks back to Sutton Bank and onward towards my overnight accommodation at Low Paradise Farm. Shortly after my visit, an item appeared on the television news showing a new treatment that was being applied to the horse to make it whiter, as the limestone chippings are rather grey, especially in damp conditions, whereas the new surface is a brilliant white.

On the way back to Sutton Bank, the dark black clouds eventually encroached the hillside and torrential rain ensued along with a strong wind, which made it fell like being in a cold power shower with large droplets of rain hammering at my face. I still had four miles to walk, so there was nothing else to do but press on as quickly as possible. I didn't have the time to take shelter and wait for it to pass - not that there was anywhere that would have provided an effective shelter from such a downpour. The path turned into a stream with deep puddles and the visibility dropped to about 50 metres during the worst of the rain, which lasted for about twenty minutes. Afterwards, the rain eased off somewhat, but was still quite heavy although the visibility did improve to about a couple of miles. The walking became a little more tolerable with, at least some view of the fine scenery along this part of the walk. It also meant that I was able to see my destination as I approached, although I didn't make a very good job of finding my way down the hillside to it. Without my glasses on, the detail on the map of the route to the farm looked rather confused. What I should have done was to continue along the Cleveland Way until I reached the farm road going down the hill but I couldn't make out on the map that this was a farm road and thought it was a footpath. I turned too soon and ended up trying to make my way on farm tracks, which petered out. I was then faced with waist high nettles and thistles, fences, brambles and a stream before I eventually reached a footpath leading up to the farm, where I arrived just before 6 p.m.

My clothes and rucksack were saturated, as there is very little that will protect against that intensity of rain, but everything inside the rucksack liners and other plastic bags stayed dry. The other thing that I was pleased to see was that my new, rather expensive, Ortlieb map holder had kept my map perfectly dry throughout it all. Most other map holders are next to useless in the wet, as they use Velcro as a fastener at the bottom and this wicks up the water to the map inside. They also tend to be made of harder plastic, which cracks very easily, in cold weather. The Ortlieb map holder uses Velcro at the top, only after the plastic has been folded over a few times and the plastic is much softer to avoid cracking. At least someone has used a bit of intelligence in the design, even if they charge a heavy premium for doing so.

After cleaning up and changing into dry clothes, I had dinner of soup, roast chicken and fruit with ice cream. Outside it had brightened up into a pleasant evening, so I strolled up the farm road and phoned home on my mobile, as there was a better signal there than in the farmhouse. On some other walks, I wouldn't even bother to take a mobile phone, as there is generally little or no coverage in remote areas. However, the Cleveland Way runs mainly around the edge of the moors with line of sight view to several nearby towns, so most of the way gives very good coverage, except when caught between hills. Low Paradise farm is in a beautiful setting with the Hambleton Hills on one side and Bleaky Hill on the other, so it is easy to see where it got its name. There is also a High Paradise Farm right on the Cleveland Way but they have stopped doing bed and breakfast due to ill health, as I later found out from a couple I met. I did wonder about taking a walk into Boltby to see if I could find a pub. However, the shortest route of a mile and a half was back down the footpath that I had just arrived by, so I would have needed to wear my boots again, which were still very wet. It is just as well that I didn't, as on later investigation I couldn't see one. I decided instead that I would have an early night to prepare myself for the next day's walk. My first day's walk had been a little longer than I had planned because of the extra walking up to Rievaulx Terrace, so I had walked over 17 miles, and had a similar distance to cover the next day. The heel on my left foot was a little sore underneath with a blister almost starting under the skin, but otherwise I was feeling fine.

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