2016 Walk 8 – Ripon Rowell


A quiet stretch along the Ripon Canal

Despite considerable time spent planning my itinerary I somehow managed to book my accommodation such that I was forced to travel on a bank holiday Monday. What was I thinking? My next destination was Ripon, a 52-mile journey by car but a six hour odyssey by bus. The two hour drive to York took over three hours due to gridlock after Malton. Had it not been a bank holiday I could have caught a bus from York to Ripon but today the only option was to go via Leeds. It was a long day but I eventually made it to my b&b in Ripon and went for a short walk around the city to stretch my legs.

I’d never been to Ripon before and so I was keen to explore the area and walk part of the Ripon Rowell. The weather forecast was for deteriorating conditions and so I chose to walk the next day. My plan was to walk a 16 to 18 mile section of the 45-mile circular route in a clockwise direction heading south.

I left the b&b at 9:30am under ominous skies. The clouds were dark and being driven by a strong northerly wind. The forecast indicated it would stay dry but the skies looked like they could open up at any minute. Getting on the Ripon Rowell was easy as it passed within a couple hundred yards of my accommodation. I followed the River Ure south and along the eastern edge of Ripon. After skirting the fields the trail cut back toward the city at which point I crossed a tributary via stepping stones. It was a short walk along lanes and across one busy road to join the Ripon canal.

The walk along the canal towpath was lovely despite the cool weather. There were very few walkers about but an abundance of bird life. I passed the Ripon racecourse, a popular venue for thoroughbred horse racing. I spent a good hour walking along the canal but shortly after Ox Close House the Ripon Rowell veered southwest and away from the canal. The easy navigation was over and from this point on I would be continually checking my maps to ensure I remained on track. The signage along the route was inconsistent and so day-dreaming was not an option.

I emerged from a small wood at the edge of a village called Bishop Monkton. The Ripon Rowell enters the village at it’s opposite end and follows a roundabout route that takes a good half hour. It was pleasant enough as it weaved its way through open fields, through hedgerows and along a long track. The wind continued to howl and as I passed a farmyard windmill it sounded like it was going to take off. I do however enjoy watching the wind as it sweeps across the crops in waves producing an almost hypnotic effect.

Bishop Monkton

Bishop Monkton

Bishop Monkton is a pretty village with a stream running through it’s centre. I stopped off at it’s church, St. John Baptist, and took some photos of its small war memorial. I continued on and through a campsite which included a small and friendly dog that seemed intent on following me on my walk. A long stretch of fields and tracks followed before I arrived at Burton Leonard, another pretty village where I enjoyed half a pint of Dalesmen Bitter at The Royal Oak. Finding the route out of the village was hampered by poor signage but a local lad on a bike confirmed that I was headed toward Limekiln Lane and so on I went. I passed a nature reserve and a number of farms before emerging on a road where I met two lady walkers from Harrogate. They had parked at South Stainley and were part way through a circular walk. We walked together for about 20 minutes, chatting all the way, until they headed off in a different direction.

South Stainley was smaller than the other villages and within a few minutes I had left it for a path cutting through a farmers field and towards the busy Ripon Road. I crossed it at what appeared to be the only opening in the hedgerow on the opposite side, an unsigned track leading into more fields. Although I couldn’t be sure this was the right track it was going in the right direction and so on I went. After about a mile my confidence began to ebb as I had yet to see a sign of any kind. I was looking for a sign when I spotted a single red poppy bobbing in an immense field of green. I took this to be a good omen and carried on. Ten minutes later I passed a Ripon Rowell footpath sign.

The next village I encountered was Markington which included an enticing looking pub however I resisted the temptation and carried on through the cricket ground and onto a track that led to Waterloo Farm where I had a brief chat with a gentleman working on a fence.

Markington Hall

Markington Hall

A short section of thick brush and forest followed before a zig zagging road led to a large open field and Markenfield Hall in the distance. The Ripon Rowell passes directly beside this impressive and gothic-looking mansion. More fields followed before I joined a track next to Bland Close Farm. It was shortly after this that I left the Ripon Rowell as it veered off towards Fountains Abbey. I’d been walking for nearly six hours with very few breaks and so I chose a more direct route back to Ripon. Shortly after I arrived at my b&b the rain began to fall and was forecast to continue to do so next day.

Update: I have just returned from a 6-day visit to Ypres where I walked and cycled through Flanders Fields. I’ve posted three articles on my Doing Our Bit blog which you might find interesting. When I return home I will write up my experiences exploring Ripon, Harrogate and Knaresborough and the north Norfolk coast.

2016 Walk 7 – Goathland Moor


Goathland Station on the North York Moors Railway

It was my final day in Goathland and with a long bus trip planned for tomorrow I wanted to find a walk that didn’t require public transportation. I chose to head in the opposite direction from yesterday and began by taking the public footpath towards Abbots House. This is an old favourite that forms part of a short circular walk around the village. After passing through a handful of fields and a campground I turned left and followed the old rail line back to the village, past the cricket ground and exiting on the road near the Goathland Hotel. The groundskeeper was busy rolling the wicket for a Sunday afternoon fixture and I was tempted to hang around to watch but the weather was misty and cool, not the greatest for spectator or player.

I headed to the Goathland train station to have a look around. I didn’t ride the North York Moors Railway this trip but I have enjoyed the steam train on previous visits. The station and the village of Goathland will be familiar to viewers of “Heartbeat“, a British TV programme that was extremely popular for the better part of two decades. It still attracts visitors today despite the series having ended in 2009.

I used the footbridge to cross over the tracks to the other platform and then followed a footpath behind the station that led up to the moor. The trail passed a reservoir and continued to climb to the main road that leads into Goathland. The path was mucky in spots and the temperature continued to drop as the wind intensified. I followed this minor road for a good mile, not the highlight of the day as it was exposed to both the wind and the holiday traffic. I joined a track that led to an old quarry at which point the moor really opened out in front of me. The vista wasn’t spectacular but it certainly was atmospheric with the mists rolling across it.

Stone markers from 1784

Stone markers from 1784

My mid-90’s Ordnance Survey map showed a large forest on the horizon but there has been considerable logging since then. Fortunately the power pylons are exactly where they were two decades ago and so I was able to track my progress. I was looking to link up with a bridleway through the heather and noticed a pair of old stone markers from the 1784 Sneaton Liberty Assizes. There were no clear signs of a bridleway but a closer look revealed a broken bridleway marker lying in the heather. I carried on down a soggy sheep trail towards the corner of a what used to be a forest and then linked up with a dirt track that was more or less going in the direction I wanted. It followed the contours of a hill and slowly began to descend through fields filled with sheep and a herd of cattle that included a bull.

I carried on for another mile or two and had been walking away from Goathland for a good 2.5 hours. With the weather deteriorating I decided it was time to plot a route back. I decided to backtrack a short distance and to look for a bridleway that would provide an alternate route back to the main road. I spotted the bridleway sign pointing through the middle of a field that disappeared up and over the horizon. I marched off in the general direction, through long grass and grazing sheep, looking for a gate. I couldn’t see one so I did what I normally do in these situations and made for the fence and followed it until I came to the gate. I was now back on a dirt track which passed through several stone enclosures and fields. I soon realized the track was going to merge with the power lines which meant I had missed my turn. I could tell from my maps that I was meant to cross the power lines near a pylon at the top of a small hill and so I replotted my course towards what looked to be a likely candidate.

Beck Hole

Beck Hole

Before long I was back on a track leading to the busy main road which I followed for ten minutes before rejoining the minor road I had followed this morning. I wasn’t on it for long though as I headed down an even quieter road signposted for Beck Hole and Greenlands Farm. I’d never been on this road before although I did cross it when I walked to Whitby earlier in the week. The scenery was lovely, all the more so when the road descended towards Beck Hole and then through the tiny hamlet.

It was bank holiday Sunday and so the Birch Hall Inn was packed with walkers and day trippers. It was my final visit to the pub and so I shoe-horned myself into the public bar with at least 18 others and 5 dogs. I supped my pint of Black Sheep and soaked up the atmosphere one last time.

2016 Walk 6 – Wheeldale Moor


The track down to Julian Inn (not what you think)

A late morning start but one that would see me revisit the Roman road atop Wheeldale Moor. I left Goathland on the route that passed the small tarn I photographed on the day I arrived in the village. I carried onto the moor and could see Hunt House road below. I needed to find my way down to it and after some back-tracking through the heather I did so and followed it for a mile or so. Parts of the route were familiar, especially the section approaching Wheeldale Lodge which was a youth hostel the last time I visited but has now reverted to a private home.

Just before Wheeldale Lodge I met a walker from Sheffield and his dog, a golden Lab who spent as much time as possible in whatever water it could find. A farmer at Wheeldale Lodge asked him to put his dog on a lead as it was lambing season but he claimed not to have one. A conversation ensued which had the potential to heat up but the farmer let it drop. I thought the farmer was being very reasonable and that the walker was being more confrontational than necessary. Attitudes like this do nothing to improve the relationship between walkers and land owners so I was glad to see the back of him when we parted ways at the top of the hill.

The Roman road atop Wheeldale moor

The Roman road atop Wheeldale moor

If you’ve never visited the Roman road in this remote region of the North York Moors I highly recommend it. As the photo shows the cambered road is remarkably well preserved and the drainage ditches on either side are clearly visible. I followed the road south for a good mile or so until it merged with Wheeldale road at which point I turned back in the opposite direction. Half an hour later the road descended steeply to a ford where several vehicles were parked and one family was enjoying a picnic under overcast skies. I took a break here myself and found it cool enough to put on a fleece.

While the walk to this point was familiar territory the remainder would cover new ground. From the ford I climbed up a switchback road until I joined a footpath that traversed the hillside and eventually summited near a farm. After crossing several fields I joined a dirt road leading to Hillion Farm where I passed a group of six walkers and their dogs. The track, featured in the photo at the top of the page, was very picturesque and led me down the hill through pasture and a small woodland to a farm called the Julian Inn. The gate in the farm yard was roped off but I was confident this was a right of way and so I untied the rope, made my way through the gate and tied it up again.

The farm track gave way to a footpath as it descended the hill and then entered a woodland that included some steeper descents and muddy spots. Concentration was necessary to ensure I didn’t end up on my backside or hung up on the barbed wire that bordered sections of the path.

I had the woodland entirely to myself and emerged at a footbridge near … wait for it, Beck Hole. In case you’re counting this is my third visit but I’ve made a point to arrive by a different route each time. I enjoyed a pint and a pork pie at the very busy Birch Hall Inn although most walkers were sitting outside and so the public bar contained only myself and two ladies and their very soggy Spaniels. I returned to Goathland via the ‘Incline’ and rested up for my final day in the North York Moors.

2016 Walk 5 – Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay


The Footpath Diversion Welcoming Committee

It was a quiet morning at the Goathland bus shelter with the majority of traffic consisting of ewes and their lambs going about their business. This included lying in the middle of the road, fertilizing the common and staring incredulously at the humans standing in the bus queue. The staring matching finally ended when the 840 Coastliner double-decker arrived and whisked us (the humans that is) away to Whitby.

Over the years I’ve walked all of the coastal portion of the Cleveland Way from Staithes in the north to Scarborough in the south. Today I was walking one of my favourites sections, a 7-mile stretch from Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay. I planned to visit Whitby later today and so I immediately crossed the bridge, headed through the old town and made my way up the 199 steps to Whitby Abbey, famous in its own right but all the more so when it became the setting for Bram Stoker‘s most famous novel, “Dracula”.

Confined to Barracks

Confined to Barracks

The Cleveland Way follows the cliff face and provides plenty of spectacular views of the rolling coastline. The only blight on the landscape is encountered one mile south of Whitby at the large caravan park at Saltwick Bay. I last walked this stretch in 1998 and I remember it then however it has grown a great deal since my last visit. The RV section is definitely new and there are many more static caravans than before. I’ve never understood the attraction of holidaying in the great outdoors when you’re crammed together in rows of buildings resembling barracks in a 21st century Prisoner of War camp. That being said there wouldn’t be so many of them if they weren’t popular so what do I know.

The footpath between Whitby and Saltwick Bay was fairly busy but the foot traffic tapered off considerably after that and I likely passed no more than a dozen walkers on my three hour walk to Robin Hoods Bay. The views were as stunning as ever and the walk was very pleasant on this overcast, mild and extremely calm day.

One fact that won’t escape anyone’s attention is the how erosion is effecting the coastline, the footpath and the farms that border it. I saw signs of several recent landslips including one about two-thirds of the way along that required a diversion through a field. Unfortunately for the lady and her dog walking ahead of me the field in question was full of very curious steers. She was forced to take a longer detour but I managed to talk the cattle into moving back a foot or two so that I could climb over the stile. They then followed me down to the other stile where I rejoined the Cleveland Way. The diversion was obviously the most interesting thing to happen to these bovines in quite some time.


Coastlines invariably involve some ups and downs

The route includes it’s share of ups and downs, often involving stone stairs, but it’s gentler than I remember. Perhaps this is because I now have the South West Coast Path as a reference point. The fields and hedges included a lot of wildflowers and as I neared Robin Hoods Bay the skies began to clear. The sun was shining properly when I began the very steep descent into Robin Hoods Bay.

It was the Friday afternoon before the bank holiday weekend and so visitors were beginning to stream into the village, towing caravans or emptying car loads of supplies into their holiday cottages. I enjoyed a pint at the Ye Dolphin pub and the landlord mentioned they were expecting the onslaught to begin in earnest around supper time.

I had a brief nose around the village and then climbed back up the village to catch my bus back to Whitby. The 5-mile journey took ten minutes and cost £4.20 which I thought was a bit pricey. I’ve taken a lot of buses on this trip and this was by far the most expensive considering the distance travelled. For example my 20-minute “school bus” rail journey yesterday cost £3.50 while my return ticket from Whitby to Goathland cost £6.90 (and a few days later I spent £11.80 on a 3-hour bus journey from Goathland to Leeds).

I spent a couple of hours exploring Whitby and enjoying some chips from the Magpie Cafe. The sunny breakwater was the perfect place to sit and stare up at the Abbey ruins while watching the boats come and go out of the busy harbour.

2016 Walk 4 – Goathland to Whitby


One of many painted bikes I encountered in Eskdale

When I awoke on my second day in Goathland I had yet to decide where today’s walk would be although I had several routes in mind. Initially I’d thought of revisiting the Roman road atop Wheeldale moor however the low clouds and mist prompted me to choose a lower route. After consulting my 20-year old Ordnance Survey maps I decided to walk to Sleights and then return along Eskdale to Grosmont and back to Goathland.


NYMR steam train heading to Grosmont

I headed out on the quiet road to Darnholme where I descended, crossed a ford and then climbed up onto the moor. As I reached the top I heard the whistle from a North York Moors Railway steam train on its way to Grosmont and was just in time to snap a photo. I carried on across the moor which was fairly boggy in spots from yesterday’s rain. The rights of way on my old maps seemed slightly out of date but I managed to find my way using more permanent landmarks such as farms and roads.

After half a mile I crossed the road heading down to Beck Hole and carried on along a track which skirted Arundel Hill and led to Greenlands Farm. The valley views were excellent but required a steep descent down a slippery slope where I crossed a beck and then headed straight back up the other side. A distinct footpath was difficult to find but there were at least a dozen sheep trails to choose from and so up I went. I stayed close to the drystone wall and eventually spotted a track where a local farmer in a Range Rover was tending to his flock.


Whitby and Whitby Abbey on the horizon

I carried on up the track where I was rewarded with my first distant views of Whitby and the North Sea coast. I crossed a road and continued on past a working quarry. I knew I had to begin my descent into Eskdale and was walking along the fence looking for a gate when I heard the disheartening sound of Gortex Paclite ripping apart. In the space of one week I had broken my $200+ shoes and torn my $200 jacket on a piece of barbed wire. I soon found the way through the fence and began a very steep descent littered with muddy patches and carefully chosen expletives. The combination of mud, the angle of descent and a field of curious young steers soon had me concentrating on the task at hand and not on my rapidly deteriorating kit. I soon emerged onto a minor road that led to the main road into Sleights.

While munching on a Cheese and Onion roll I decided to alter my route and walk to Whitby where I could find something to repair my jacket with. Whitby was only four miles away and so I would have plenty of time to complete the walk, sort out my jacket and find a way back to Goathland. The path out of Sleights started near the railway station and then climbed up and along the southern edge of Eskdale. Prior to arriving in Ruswarp the footpath descended to cross the railway track and carried on along lanes, a road and finally a bridge.

A sign-posted flagged path led from the village through an alley towards Whitby a mile away. My troublesome knee had been behaving itself all day but locked up on the final climb and descent into town. The knee soon sorted itself out and after investigating my options for returning to Goathland I began my search for a means of repairing my jacket. In the end, in true Red Green style, I settled for black duct tape and it seems to have done the trick.

I decided to take the train back to Grosmont and unknowingly opted for the late afternoon service which doubled as a school bus. I needn’t have bought a ticket because the driver and conductor locked themselves away and let the students run riot. They occupied most of the seats in both cars, that is of course when they actually sat down. Most of the time they moved about socializing, playing jokes on each other and eating. One girl had brought a tin of biscuits which was quickly emptied by the steady stream of kids walking past. It was a noisy journey but very entertaining.

Once deposited in Grosmont I followed the rail trail for two miles past the train sheds and on to Beck Hole. Not surprisingly the Birch Hall Inn reeled me in without much of a struggle but after a pint I carried on to Goathland and called it a day.

2016 Walk 3 – Goathland to Beck Hole


“The Tarn” near Moss Rigg, Goathland

After my walk from Llangollen I decided a new pair of walking shoes was in order and the next day was spent in Shrewsbury looking for suitable replacements. I was hoping to find a pair of Eccos but only one shop carried them and only women’s shoes. After visiting several shops I settled on a pair of New Balance hiking shoes, the most comfortable Gortex-lined pair I could find. My Eccos were donated to a Shoe Bank in Ellesmere.

The following day I headed to Goathland in the North York Moors, a full-day journey involving two buses and three trains. Goathland is one of the “old haunts” I referred to in a previous post. Back in the late 90’s I operated a small group walking tour company and the North York Moors was one of my favourite destinations. It’s been 17 years since my last visit and I’m pleased to report very little has changed.

I arrived late in the afternoon and headed up onto Moss Rigg to stretch my legs. The light was wonderful but a brisk northerly wind meant it was downright chilly. Half an hour next to the coal fire in the lounge of my b&b was in order after my short walk.


The Birch Hall Inn in Beck Hole

The forecast for tomorrow afternoon was grim and so I decided to make best use of the morning. I headed out immediately after an exceptionally good breakfast and managed to get a couple of miles in before digging out the rain gear. I looped back to Goathland and headed down to Mallyan Spout where I encountered a group of 20+ walkers. I followed the beck for a short while before seeking refuge in one of my favourite pubs in Britain, the Birch Hall Inn in Beck Hole.

The Birch Hall Inn’s public bar is tiny, about 12′ by 12′, and hasn’t changed in 17 years. I suspect very little has in half a century. It’s perfectly suited for muddy walkers with (or without) soggy dogs and its close confines guarantee you’ll soon be part of the conversation. I met a British couple who were amazed to learn I was from Victoria. For the past 12 years they had escorted caravan groups through British Columbia and knew my city well.

After enjoying good beer and good conversation I returned to Goathland via the ‘Beckhole Incline‘, a one-mile path following a short-lived mid-19th century horse-drawn railway. A visit to the Goathland War Memorial rounded out a short but enjoyable walk in the North York Moors.

2016 Walk 2 – Llangollen to Ellesmere


A bright but showery start to the walk

I awoke to bright blue skies and the forecast suggested a fine day with a chance of a shower near noon. In the time it took to eat breakfast the forecast had deteriorated to showery weather with the chance of a break near noon. Nevertheless it was lovely and bright when I hefted my fully loaded pack onto my back and headed up the hill to join the Llangollen Canal.

A 10k run was underway and marshalls were positioned along canal although I never saw any runners in the 3k stretch that paralleled my route. A handful of narrowboats were tied up alongside however most were moored at a purpose-built facility next to the winding hole a couple hundred meters in the opposite direction. I remember the winding hole well as this is where I turned my 69-foot narrowboat around for the return journey to Middlewich in 2003. It looks nothing like it did then but addition of a dozen or two slips no doubt helps to reduce the congestion in the busy summer months.


Canalside Latte

Within ten minutes of starting out a heavy shower fell from what appeared to be clear and sunny skies. The showers continued on and off but I made good progress through Trevor and then on to Pontcysyllte where I crossed Thomas Telford’s magnificent aqueduct, and World Heritage Site, towering 126 feet above the River Dee. On the other side a narrowboat cafe with a very posh coffee machine built into the bow was tempting but I decided to push on.

Once past Pontcysyllte the towpath was very peaceful and I made good progress. Much of this section was covered by overhanging trees which offered some protection from the increasingly heavy showers. I’d been avoiding putting on my wet weather gear but with the clouds getting darker I decided to take advantage of the shelter and get suited up.

I passed through the Whitehouses tunnel at the same time as half a dozen kids in kayaks but from the din I thought I was approaching the Spanish Armada. They too suffered from some questionable navigation and spent most of the time careening into the tunnel walls at right angles. Nevertheless they seemed to be having a lot of fun doing it.

I carried on to Chirk by which time my right knee was giving me grief, so much so that I thought I’d be unable to carry on. I considered using a bus but being Sunday there were none and so I opted for a cup of tea at the second narrowboat cafe encountered this morning. I sat in the drizzly weather next to the Chirck aquaduct and chatted with three English walkers that had walked from Llangollen and were taking a break before heading back.

After my break I decided to carry on to the next town. My knee flared up now and then however I was able to maintain a brisk hobble for most of the day. By noon the weather seemed to be improving and so I was able to shed the Gortex and enjoy the occasional sunny break.

The towpath wound it’s way out of the hills and into the lovely Shropshire countryside. In my opinion Shropshire is one of Britain’s best kept walking secrets. The Llangollen Canal towpath eventually becomes part of the Shropshire Way which in places was a bit rough underfoot but wonderful for wildlife viewing, and in unexpected ways too. I met an older gentleman walking his barn owl, as you do. The owl was perched on his arm and he commented that he had a messy face because he was a messy eater. He was a wonderful looking bird despite the messy face.


A frustrated Heron sharing the towpath with a relentless walker

Marton Locks were the first I encountered on my walk and although they are few and far between on this side of Ellesmere that is certainly not the case on the other. If I remember correctly we navigated through 25 locks on our trip from Middlewich to Llangollen in 2003 and of course the same again on our return trip. Today’s walk featured nearly 40 bridges and a single Heron who, like the sheep I encountered yesterday, I repeatedly drove forward for at least a mile.

Another shower rolled in but it would prove to be the last one of the day. By the time I reached Frankton Lock, at the junction with the Montgomery canal, it looked as though the sun was here to stay. I took a brief break on a bench and then continued on, sticking to the towpath rather than following the Shropshire Way across the fields. Judging from the towpath very few people did so. I did however walk by a narrowboat that had just moored for the day. It contained two friendly couples who offered me a cold beer and canalside chat. Things had warmed up considerably and so the beer and conversation were just what the doctor ordered.

I continued on towards Ellesmere which eventually rejoined the Shropshire Way. I remember cruising this stretch back in 2003 and the rural views are truly magnificent. By this point in my walk I had covered nearly 20 miles and so despite the beautiful scenery I was greatly relieved when I hobbled in to Ellesmere.


Mereside Farm in Ellesmere

I was staying at Mereside Farm just on the edge of town which provides excellent self-catering accommodation for singles. I stopped into town for some groceries and got some helpful instructions from proprietor Nicky and a local I met along the way. Before long I was resting comfortably in my room in a converted stable block. The former occupants were in a field only meters away and I wasn’t sure how they felt about this. However I was far too exhausted to give it more than a passing thought.

My knee was feeling better but I’ve decided to invest in some new walking shoes and so tomorrow will be spent in Shrewsbury looking for replacements.