Forest tracks, rolling open pasture, steep gravel paths, desolate open moorland and lush green, deep-sided valleys.
This is day 1 of my hike around the North Yorks Moors and the longest distance of the week.
The Tabular Hills Way is a relatively new route which links the two ends of the inverted ‘U’ of the older Cleveland Way to create a complete circumnavigation of the North York Moors. The Tabular Hills are relatively flat-topped hills cut into by steep-sided valleys or ‘dales’. I had chosen to stay at Swan Cottage in Newton on Rawcliffe for most of the first week because they offered lifts to and from each section of the route if I booked for five nights.
The first official leg is from Scalby, on the coast above Scarborough, to Levisham; a distance of 21 miles (33.5km) plus an extra couple of miles further to Newton on Rawcliffe – a step too far for me in one day, especially the first. From the OS map I had seen that a shorter section was possible that also missed out much of the urban area around Scalby so I asked for a lift to Cockmoor Dykes above Snainton which would make a walk of 14.5 miles (23.3km) back to Newton.
The region is peppered with dykes: prehistoric earthworks comprising rows of parallel banks and ditches whose purpose and age is unknown. I come upon several of them during the week and my starting point provides a fine example.
A straight track through Cockmoor Plantation with more deep dykes on each side of the sun-baked path, a surface I walk on repeatedly until the very last days of my hike. The sunlit verges covered in wild flowers with the dark woodland fading into mystery beyond. My first experience of the little Tabular Hills waymarkers with their colourful logo, often a welcome encouragement, sometimes an annoying absence, my GPS coming to the rescue.
The path climbs steadily through the forest, emerging into the sunlight at a gate; onto high pasture and a rolling field covered in sunny dandelions.
Along the ridge of a steep scarp at the edge of Dalby Forest with its leisure walks, cycle trails and information panels; multiple route markers vying for attention. The hump of Blakey Topping peeping through the forest edge and then clearly in view across the valley: “an outlier of the Tabular Hills glaciation” an information board tells me. Blakey Topping is high and steep and I am relieved that I don’t have to climb it. The huge early-warning radar ziggurat of RAF Fylingdales gleams incongruously white on the far horizon, almost as far as the coast.
Midday and onto ‘Old Wife’s Way’ romantically named but prosaically paved in ridged concrete – I can find no information about its provenance but it is blindingly bright, hard underfoot and stretches for nearly a mile. The old wife tips me out onto a busy main road at Saltergate and I head towards the car park hoping for a seat to eat lunch. No seat, but I arrive simultaneously with a Mr Whippy ice-cream van, manned in this case by Mrs Whippy. I fumble in my back-pack for extra change, flustered by the hills and dales of Mrs Whippy’s cleavage as she leans out of the serving hatch. “Don’t worry luv, there will be a bit of a wait while the machine gets ready, you can pay what you’ve got.” No arguing with that offer and it was worth the wait!
Across the A169 the Hole of Horcum plunges 400 feet deep and three-quarters of a mile across, fringed by Horcum Dyke with the freshly-leaved trees of Horcum Wood lining its steep sides. The vast natural cauldron was, of course made by a giant: Wade the Giant threw a clod of earth enraged by an argument with his wife. Perhaps it was her way I had been on.
I skirt the rim of the Hole (Wikepedia will tel you how it was actually formed) and drop down below the dyke away from the traffic. A patch of sheep-grazed grass provides a soft seat for lunch. Groups of ramblers cross the valley below but my route lies uphill across Gallows Dyke to begin my trek over the largest ancient monument in the North York Moors.
The heather of Levisham Moor hides the remains of life and death: field systems, enclosures, monastic settlements and burial mounds are dotted all around, hard to spot but marked in places by low bronze plaques. A drove road crosses the moor and wayfinding is easy, especially on a bright sunlit day. I pass Seavy Pond and later Dundale Pond; boggy depressions that provided water for cattle and now give a measure of progress across the moor.
Another hour or two and finally off the moor down Limpsey Gate Lane into the village of Levisham, its neat, ochre stone houses lining a wide green with the Horseshoe Inn at its head and St John the Baptist to one side. The church houses the ‘Levisham Dragon Stone’: a Viking era grave slab. A cold drink is welcome refreshment.
St John’s is not the original church but replaced a much older one built below the village in a steep dale. I sit and sketch, enjoying the peaceful solitude and the late afternoon sun.
I feel as if I am near my destination but instead of taking the short route, the trail leads along the beautiful valley of Newton Dale for another couple of miles, passing through steeply sloping fields, bluebell woods and kissing gates, crossing the beck and the railway before taking a dog-leg turn at Farwath and climbing a heart-thumping track up to Farwath Hill Top, East Brow Road and finally the last stiff climb up Newton Banks into Newton on Rawcliffe.
I climb the stairs to my room and run a deep hot bath with a good dose of Radox.
14.5 Miles (23.3km) and 6 hours walking.
The hole of Horcum looks pretty impressive