May 2015

Kirkby Stephen to Robin Hood's Bay

I decided to spend the late Summer bank holiday weekend plodding my way from Kirkby Stephen to Robin Hood’s bay. Partly as training for the Thames Ring 250, partly as a recce for next year’s Northern Traverse, but mainly because I fancied a weekend ‘away from it all’ (and an excuse to buy some new kit: the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30).

I got the train up to Kirkby Stephen after work on the Friday evening, and had fun playing ‘spot bits of the Fellsman and Spine routes’. I jogged down into Kirkby Stephen from the station and walked up to Nine Standards Rigg just in time for sunset. The subsequent bogs lived up to their legendary reputation, even though the surrounding ground was pretty dry. I did OK with staying on route across the bog, but then got lured in the wrong direction by a downhill farm track. Slightly later, on a track I was supposed to be on, I got paranoid when I though I saw some vehicle headlights closing in on me (‘what are they doing up here at this time of night?’). In retrospect it was probably just a car on the nearby, but invisible, minor road. I stopped for the night in a stoney, sheep-poo ridden field just outside Keld.

The next morning, just after the fantastically named Crackpot Hall, I ended up on a narrow path which led across a very steep drop. This made me feel a bit nervous. And very pathetic, given that hundreds of walkers do the Coast-to-Coast every year. That evening I was relieved to read in the guidebook that I’d made a common mistake and the path was in fact slightly further up the hill.

The next few miles, through the remains of lead mining, were my favourite part of the route: ruined buildings, fun climbs and rusting machinery spread across a lunar-esque plateau. And best of all, apart from one other runner, I had it all to myself. Wanting to try and keep a decent pace up, I jogged down into Reeth and stopped briefly for elevenses (a large bag of crisps...).

The next section to Richmond undulated through farmland, and I kept encountering walkers who wouldn’t believe where I’d started from (or where I was planning to go to). I’d had a mental picture of Richmond as a quiet, market town where I could have a pleasant stop for food. In fact (unsurprisingly in retrospect) it was crawling with bank holiday tourists and the best ‘quick’ food option was doughnuts and more crisps from the Coop.

I’d been vaguely planning to try and get to Ingleby Cross, and the edge of the North York moors, before stopping. However the never-ending flat, overgrown, poorly marked, and sometimes even obstructed, paths through fields destroyed my will to run-walk. I ground to a halt in Danby Wiske, with the justification that there wouldn’t be anywhere suitable for wild-camping for miles. The campsite there was in fact a small pub garden and, not long after I’d snoozed off, I got woken up by the contents of the pub, discharging to their tents. [I really don’t get why anyone would drive to small village in the middle of a boring piece of flat empty countryside, spend the evening drinking heavily and then sleep in a tent on a not very pleasant small patch of grass.]

When my alarm went off at 6 am it was raining fairly heavily, which was a good excuse for another hours sleep. Followed by several hours of dragging arse through even more fields. One farm had a selection of snacks out for sale, however on the whole the locals weren’t very welcoming. In the space of a couple of miles I encountered: plastic rats and skulls nailed onto a style, barking dogs let out as I walked (on a footpath...) through a farmyard and a field full of rowdy cattle. My back was also aching, making me wonder if the UD Fastback was a mistake. But I discovered that tightening the straps got rid of the ache (and by the end of the weekend I was a big fan of the pack).

By the time I reached the A19 I was thoroughly miserable and, thanks to not stopping to eat properly the previous day, running on fumes. I bought an armful of junk food from a petrol station and stuffed my face at a picnic table in the adjoining lorry park (much to the bemusement of the lorry drivers).

The next section following the Cleveland way (and the route of the Osmotherley Phoenix and Hardmoors races) across the North York moors was much more fun. And, having resolved to slow down a bit and enjoy myself, I had a nice lunch at the, rather poncey, Lordstones cafe. After Bloworth Crossing I was on new territory: a never-ending gently curving former railway track. In the end I decided to start running to get it over and done with quicker. At the end was the Lion Inn. It was packed with people, but I found a space at the end of the bar and had a huge veg lasagne and chips. A couple more hours run-walking took me to the edge of the moors and a sensible place to stop for the night.

The first few hours of the next day were a pleasant mix of villages, woods and moors, and the steepest road I’ve ever seen out of Richmond. But then things got frustrating. I could see the sea. But the route didn’t go straight there, instead it meandered pointlessly (as far as I could tell at least) before hitting the coast at a caravan park several miles North of Robin Hood’s Bay. Finally I fought my way through the crowds and down to the sea for a paddle.