For some years Marcus had been saying he wanted to do the North York Moors some time and I’d pored over the maps and tried to find any accounts of successful wild campers in that area more than once but without success. Besides somewhere else always seemed to appeal to me more. Having no experience of the Moors and judging by the maps planning a decent route with a viable wild camp seemed more hassle than it might be worth. Then i came across this report by Backpackingbongos and the trip to the Moors was on.
Another reason the Moors had stayed so long on the back-burner was getting there, because unless the wife let me have the car for the weekend, getting to the Moors by public transport was a right long and painful process. Its 62 miles as the crow flies or 91.5 miles as AA Route plans from home to Rosedale Abbey. Driving it would’ve taken two and a half hours. By train (2 changes) and bus (2 changes again) it took nearer 6 hours. Having said that the adventure began for me as soon as we got onto the last bus in Pickering. It was a slightly battered minibus and when i asked the lady driver how much to Rosedale Abbey she responded by saying ‘I dunno love. Does 2 quid sound alright?’ That’s my kind of bus service! No formality or rigid fare. Two old boys out for a day of shopping and now on there way home were the only other passengers. By this point the skies had filled with threatening slate-grey cloud and before we’d gone 5 minutes into this last stage the heavens opened and it lashed down. the poor old boy nearest the side door had to dodge a steady shower leaking through the top of the battered door and I reasoned that this was why the bus smelled slightly fusty and it wasn’t either of our fellow passengers after all.
Anyway the narrow winding roads had turned to fast-flowing streams of water with the downpour (which didn’t deter our cheerful lady driver from a rally sprint tour of the local villages) but by the time we reached Rosedale Abbey the rain had slowed to a steady drizzle and there were signs that the cloud was breaking up. The Met Office report was spot on.
Safely disembarked in the attractive village of Rosedale Abbey we quickly dug out our waterproofs and found our way onto the footpath following the River Seven NW toward the amusingly named Low Bell End.
Following the easy path we passed by several groups of walkers going in the opposite direction and before long the sun came out and the clouds thinned considerably. We crossed over a footbridge and up onto the small road into Thorgill, locating an overgrown path that led up Thorgill Bank to Thorgill Head and onto Blakey Ridge. It was a fairly steep ascent in places on a less than ideal path and before long Marcus was lagging behind which was unusual. I grew a bit concerned when he said his chest felt tight and he was feeling breathless and shaky but he said he’d been trying to shake off a chesty cold for the last few weeks. He soldiered on and when we got to the dismantled railway that runs the length of Blakey Ridge we had a good sit down so he could recover his breath and so I could dry out the map printouts in the sunshine and the strong breeze that was blowing up there. The Outdoor Designs map-case had somehow allowed rain to get into the maps. Luckily they weren’t too badly damaged. I need to get a Laminator so i can laminate the Memory Map printouts i use.
The weather continued fair and breezy for the length of Blakey Ridge, the embanked former railway track making the going very easy. We reached The Lion Inn by about 6pm, had a pint and a rest and filled our water bottles. Whilst we were sat outside we were approached by a guy who was camping in the adjoining field. He was over on his holidays from where he lived and worked in China. Apparently for the past 3 weeks he’d been doing Wainwrights Coast to Coast and he was absolutely knackered and had had a pretty rough time of it. Poor fellow. He’d bought the majority of his kit over in China and about half of it had failed him in some way, the worst of it being his tent which had proved not to be as waterproof as you’d expect! Dark clouds began to roll in again and there were some fairly ominous rumblings of thunder from the approaching dark wall in the sky so we set off, following the footpath westward around the back of the Inn and over to High Blakey Moor. The moors continued bleak and wild and the views down into Farndale were decent despite the steadily increasing rain and wind. For some unknown reason i neglected to don my overtrousers until it was too late and it seemed pretty pointless so i just slogged on. The thunder and lightning was pretty impressive but it certainly could’ve been a lot worse. The worst of it passed over within half an hour but it continued to drizzle from then on. We had only one thing in mind at that point and that was finding a pitch for the night. We decided that a spot down in Hillhouse Nab looked promising so we descended over halfway into the valley only to find that every likely spot was a swamp. Back up we went and in the end there was nothing for it but to pitch up not far from the track. The light was fading fast and so were our spirits. Once we’d got tucked up out of the rain and out of our wet kit neither of us could be bothered to cook so we ate cold snacks. I had a measly mouthful of Bushmills Irish Honey and settled down for the night. Marcus must have been in really poor spirits because he didn’t even drink a single sip of his Calavados which was very unlike him! The night continued as it had started with the wind blowing hard and the rain coming down steadily.
At about 4am I was brought awake by the sound of some guy calling out in a stern voice, ‘Chaps! Can you hear me!’ There was a big 4WD pickup on the track with its beams on full and engine ticking over.
‘Aye i can hear you!’ I called back.
‘Well, you know you shouldn’t be camping up hear! Its illegal!’
‘Yes, i know but we got caught out in that shit storm last night and had no choice’, I shouted. I was in no mood to deal with this busy-body and I was certainly not gonna get up and move.
‘Well alright but dont do it again!’
Well i can understand if this guy was a Ranger. They have a job to do and I’ve seen evidence of the stupid and irresponsible behaviour of the minority and I find it upsetting and beyond my understanding. They spoil it for those of us who are respectful and try to be as responsible and low-impacting on the environment that we love so much that we want and need to get out in it in all weathers.
Within minutes I was back to sleep and didn’t wake up until well after dawn.
The wind was still up but it was bright and dry so our kit dried out in short order and we set off westward along the track again after a hearty breakfast, making sure as always that we hadn’t left any trace of our camp. We both felt in fairly good spirits, chatting away enjoying the scenery over the lovely bleak moorlands to the north and down into attractive Farndale. We passed only 2 other souls and a lone young man in a 4WD who appeared to be doing some DIY on a Grouse butt or something down below us. Whether it was the guy from that morning i’ll never know but he paid us no heed and we went on our way.
On this trip i’d brought my newest piece of kit: a DrinkSafe Systems Travel Tap water filter bottle and I was determined to try it out. I’d only ever drank water that had been boiled and purified with micropur or similar tablets but i was game for this. Marcus had brought along his Millbank bag so we found a likely looking beck and strained the water through the bag into my bottle and i drank it straight from the bottle. Excuse the pun but Marcus bottled it!
Soon afterward we reached Bloworth Crossing and sat down for a brief dinner before turning along the path leading SE above Bloworth Wood, Bransdale to one side and Farndale to the other.
The weather continued wonderful, breezy but warm. Glorious conditions for backpacking. Particularly after such a poor end to the previous evening. We saw one mountain biker along this whole stretch of track and not a soul else until we turned off above West gill Head and headed down into Farndale.
Shortly after turning down this track we met a lone hiker, a gent over from the coast who came this way regularly and who we later bumped into in a car park in low Mill and offered to give us his bottled water. He was in his late 60’s but looked far younger. It always amazes me how fit and well old hikers appear to be. Hopefully it’ll work for me too!
Just below Double Crag the track all but disappeared under a dense jungle of Bracken. Marcus commented that he wished he’d brought his machete but I’m pretty glad he didn’t…his aim and reckless disregard for his immediate surroundings have been causing us mischief since we were kids (I still bare the scars to prove it! But then so does he lol).
The path wound gently down into beautiful pastoral farndale, passed a ruined old barn and on passed fields full of sheep where a farmer was out cutting the long wild grasses. We strolled easily and happily along the winding lanes where locals were out enjoying their back gardens. Swifts and swallows were darting and swooping about and all was generally peaceful and lovely. We stopped at the public loos in Low Mill and it was here where we met up with the old hiker gent again as he was getting into his car to return home. He went on his way and after having a bit of a freshen up so did we, following the lanes up to Cragg Cottage and up toward The Crag nearby where we found the perfect pitch purely on an instinct.
Our spot for the night was scant yards from a perfect viewing point over the valley and was well hidden from view. It was also on of the earliest pitches we’ve ever made. It’s a measure of how well hidden it was and perfectly situated that Marcus almost immediately settled on it. He’s usually the most particular and paranoid wild camper you’d ever like to meet.
We sat for a good hour looking out over the valley before cooking our evening meal and cracking out the Calvados and Bushmills Irish Honey and returning to look out over the valley and watch the sunset. A great end to a great day of walking in a beautiful setting.
I woke up the following morning with no recollection of getting into my bag, no idea what time we’d retired but feeling great and like I’d had the finest nights sleep in months. not only that but my glasses and phone were safely stowed and I was free of any aches and pains. Wondrous stuff that Bushmills Irish Honey lol Marcus was already up and about and feeling spry and clear-headed also, so maybe it was the moors air…? Anyway we had a leisurely breakfast and packed up. We were in no hurry as we had about 3 miles to cover before our bus back to Pickering at about 1500 (as it turned out we could’ve gotten an earlier bus but timetables and public transport being what it is in these rural areas its quite easy to overlook all of the options available).
The walk up and over to Rosedale was easy and again leisurely. The day was as warm and sunny as the previous day if not warmer and we made good time without the need to.
We descended down into Rosedale Abbey and whiled away a good few hours with food and a few pints of ale before catching the bus back into Pickering. Unfortunately we missed a connecting bus back to York and had to wait around for a hour longer than either of us would’ve liked but after such a great trip we were both full of more peace than usual and bore it stoically.