Sunday, 12 July 2015

Exploring the Eskdale

The River Esk is a lovely little river that runs from the hills up on the North York Moors along a 28 mile course down through the Eskdale, whose steep valley sides were created by glaciers during the last major ice age, and out into the sea at Whitby.

Providing passage through this spectacular landscape is the Esk Valley Walk, which in full runs for 35 miles (56km) from the head of the Esk up on the Moors and then down and out to meet with the sea down in Whitby.

Today I will not be walking the full length of this path, but will be heading out from Battersby train station to climb up and join with the very beginnings of the River Esk and the Esk Valley Walk that I will then follow down through the Eskdale to finish at Grosmont and head back home on the train.

This route will not take me through the final phases to Whitby, but will take in some of the finest countryside Britain has to offer, taking in some seriously good views.

For its sheer variety, featuring dramatic climbs up old railway tracks, walks across moorland that feature heather spread from horizon to horizon and river-side walks further down the Eskdale, this is a spectacular and highlight rich walk through some incredible country.

The drawback to all this variety is that to meet the final train of the day at 7:30pm, requires a 6am start from my house to walk to the station and catch the first train of the day out at 6:44am, which means an early night and a willingness to wake up when my alarm goes in the morning.

After a bit of a yawny start and two trains later I get off at Battersby train station at 7:30am, near the base of the North York Moors, cross over the tracks and head towards the main road, where I turn right towards Ingleby Greenhow, and just before reaching the village, pull left head back towards the original path the old train line would have tacked beyond what is now a terminus at Battersby station.

The Crowd Goes Wild At My Leaving Party
While I head up into the hills, the train I have just got off will be pulling off down through the valley of the River Leven, from which it will then head across to Castleton and on to Castleford where I will rejoin the train line and pass the train multiple times as it heads up and down the line all day.

In the meantime, I continue to follow the road round until it takes me up to a farm and this is where I can rejoin the original train line and turning right onto the old tracks, head up on the route to the Moors above.

As I go, the track pushes through a valley of sorts, and as such offers phenomenal views from all angles of the hills that are increasingly starting to loom above my head.

There are no shortage of photo opportunities, although the images can’t do full justice to the sheer panoramic effect of the surrounding hills. On my left rising above me is a steep ridge that carries the section of the Cleveland Way that has come from Kildale, while to me right I can see the stretch of hills that make up the North end of the North York Moors stretching out before me.

A View of the Hills to the West
As I continue on down this path, the base of the climb I've been preparing for comes into view and this incline will elevate me from my current position down on the plains, up onto the top of the moors above my head and into a bit more sunshine in the process.

This stretch here is known as the Ingleby Incline, or the Battersby Incline, and was used in the latter half of the 1800s to get the wagons of iron ore down from the top of the moors and empty wagons up to the top of the moors.

The View in the Late 1800s
The gradient on this incline section is very steep and with the laden wagons being much heavier than the empty ones coming up, the full wagons could be used to pull up the empties, saving the need for any locomotives along this steep section. The wagons that reached the bottom would then head off down towards Battersby, with any run-away wagons being diverted off down run-off stretches.

Up on the top the wagons would be hitched up to a steam locomotive that would then take them on to the Rosedale mines where they would be loaded up and then sent back down to Teesside.

In the old days, the workers would often take a ride up on one of the empty wagons, but today I have no such luck and so instead I must get on with it and climb up the hard way.

Before long the climb has taken its toll, but I have been up before in worse conditions which have included a snowy day when a passing jogger had the temerity to casually pass me by and leave me in his dust and so, in every future climb I have been content simply to see no sight of such pesky joggers belittling my noble progress; and indeed there are no such monsters around today.

Before long I must halt my progress to 'take some photos' and also on a side note delay my decay into a quivering exhausted wreck (don't worry folks, no one died in the writing of this article - it just felt like it at the time).

I Had to Stop to Take Some Photos
Having taken as many photos as I thought I could get away with as a legitimate delay, I am able to get back to the job of continuing to conquer this climb up the never ending mountain moving into the bright sunshine.

The Climb Just Keeps Going
But the Views Aren't All That Bad
Having climbed this route before I know that I'm now not too far off the top so I give it one final push and soon I have reached the end of the steep section of the climb and am able to look back down to the plain below.

The End of the Steep Climb
From here the views are simply superb and the weather has turned just in time to put on a show for my camera and to allow me to catch some sheep sunbathing at the top of the hill.
I'm Re-Energised by the Enthusiasm of the Crowd at the Top
This is the Best View I Could Find
Proof I Didn't Use a Drone (The Helicopter is Out of Shot Right?)
Having reached the top it's a flat walk across the moors ahead and so I'm back into a pleasant stroll and able to fully enjoy the countryside which is good news because the views up here are simply fabulous.

And Yet the Views Aren't Too Bad
From here on the journey will be heading on across the moors until I join up with the River Esk which will be adding a beat of greenery to the proceedings in the second half of my walk.

In this moors section of my walk I am now surrounded by an endless expanse of heather and meet my first fellow travellers of the day, passing both a group of walkers and being passed by some joggers. It's 9am in the morning and its fair to say that anyone jogging up here at this time is likely to be pretty hardcore, so its best to show a bit of respect for these guys.

By this point I'm approach Bloworth Crossing where I will continue straight over. To my right is a path that would take me round to the hills I've been looking out over (the Cleverland Way). At Bloworth Crossing the path to the left would take me round towards Kildale (again the Cleveland Way), the next stopping point of the trains onward trip in my absence, while I'm not sure where the path to the right would take me except that its probably somewhere exciting (at a later date I found this goes over wilder moorland - find out more later).

Having crossed over it has become clear that I am now well and truly in the heartland of the moors with the scenery much bleaker, with heather surrounding me in a wide circle. Before long though the path starts to reach the dale that runs through the heart of the moors and whilst I'm still clearly on the moors, the scenery becomes much more dramatic.

A Stream Running Off the Moor
View From Path
The going has been fairly easy along this path up until this point and since it was the old railway track the path has been raised above any valleys which has saved a lot of trips up and down through every minor valley.

Normally by this point it is a quiet route with a limited amount of access for travellers by car in this region, but instead I keep being passed by numerous joggers who are clearly out here for some sort of race meeting as they stream past one at a time.

View Out to Greener Pastures
Before long the paths stops winding and straightens out, and this is the signal to start looking out for the path to the left that marks the beginnings of the Esk Valley Walk. Before long this path is visible in the distance and a signpost points me off the trail, leaving the joggers behind and heading down the hill.

The Path Starts to Drop Down to the River Esk
Having turned off, the path now begins to descend down the hill where I will join up with the early stages of the River Esk where the scenery starts to become much greener.

Down in the Esk Valley
Coming Up to the River Esk
At the bottom of the descent I cross over the stream and continue to follow the valley on the left hand side passing through fields of sheep that frantically dash about in an attempt to escape from the prowling terror that is my passage through their field.

The moors have now been well and truly left behind and I now travel along this green and relatively leafy valley following the passage of the stream off the hills.
Looking Back Across the Valley
Looking Forwards Along Valley
Very quickly the path drops away from the farm track and drops down to the river and crosses over and back up onto the other side where the going gets a bit tougher as the path gets wetter and less clear.

During winter this is a heavy going route with it inevitable that boots will become filled with water so I'll normally be carrying a few extra pairs of socks ready for this route. However, it being summer I don't have spare socks or waterproof shoes for that matter, so I have to be a bit more careful to keep my shoes as dry as possible.

Despite the water this is an enjoyable stretch of the path following a pretty and often unexplored stretch of the valley.
The Going Gets Rugged for the First Time
This Little Chap Was Keen Not to be Stepped On
Pushing on through the valley the terrain starts to transition further into farmland completing the transition off the moors and into the farmland around the river.
Transitioning into Farmland
Soon the path winds down alongside the river and after a short stretch alongside the river a small bridge comes into view that takes me across the river and back onto the left hand side of the valley.

Bridge Back Across the River
The Crowd Is Still Ecstatic Over My Progress So Far
Having crossed the river I pass a group of cows that must be struggling somewhat in this heat being very hairy with some impressive looking horns, but whilst my passage seems to be one of their more notable events of the day, I soon disappoint by moving on and pass through a series of fields across a number of sheep fields.

With my sheep scaring duties complete I soon start to climb up onto a farm track where I once again have an elevated position from which to look out across the valley and back towards the countryside from which I have arrived.

Having reached this ridge my path follows on at a steady level without much ascent or descent along the edge of sheep fields with views out over the valley below. Then I reach a point where I have gone wrong before, but on this occasion I spot the Esk Valley Trail sign on the gate and find the correct path on.

A few freshly cut fields later I arrive into another field full of excitable cows. These cows whilst seemingly friendly are clearly boisterous and both outnumber and outweigh me considerably so I'm fairly cautious as I pass through knowing how unpredictable cows can be.

In the past I've both been reared at by a relatively young cow and have taken a cautionary head-butt from a very large cow which has impressed upon me just how powerful these creatures can be and so I always try to be polite in the company of cows.

Having made it safely out the field, the path starts an ascent back up onto the moors and soon I take a rest at a point offering a good vantage point back over the fields through which I have passed.

Looking Back Having Reached the End of the Farmland Phase
Ahead of me is a brief climb back onto the moor that will take me round to Castleton and it's only a brief climb back onto the higher land.

Road Back Up Onto the Moors
Having got back onto the moors the horizon-to-horizon view of heather returns and the path follows this road back to one of the main roads, but its hardly full of traffic and its very much a proper country road through the moors.

Reaching a Road Across the Moor
A left turn will eventually take you back to Kildale, but my the route turns right on this road before pulling off on a footpath on the left that follows the ridge along the left hand side of the valley.

This brings me back into more wild terrain with the path at times fading slightly, but continuing on through the heather tracking the path of the river. After a while the path drops slightly and the terrain becomes greener with the path moving through a grassier section of the ridge.

At this point the path follows the ridge, winding about as it goes and passing through a mix of terrain under trees and at times back up to the heather higher up on the ridge. Then a descent begins with the path dropping off the ridge heading down towards the river.

The Path Starts to Descend Down to the River
At the end of the descent the path crosses a footbridge over the river back onto the right hand side of the valley.

Across on the otherwise the path follows along the river along a slightly forested stretch in which I resume sheep chasing duties as a cluster of sheep escape my clutches by heading down the footpath head of me.

After this stretch along the edge of the river I eventually reach the road where I turn right and up along the road up the ridge just above Castleton.

Looking Back Having Climbed Up On Road
On my way up I pass a horse (with a rider of course) coming the other way and this is now clearly horsey country with numerous stables and as if for the avoidance of doubt as to the purpose of the stables, a horse being trained to jump in a field below.

At the next junction I turn left and transition onto a road that winds along the ridge and then drops down into Castleton where the whole village plus much of the surrounding area seems to be out in force in the central park making the most of the summer weather.

At the far end of the park a game of rounders is in full flow while on my left some young intrepid explorers are in the river hunting for fish with some big nets and everyone seems to be having a jolly good time whatever it is that they are doing.

I pass them all by and use the road bridge to cross over the river and start the ascent up the hill past the train station which marks my re-joining of the trainline. For those looking for shorter walks (however ludicrous such an idea that might be) Castleton offers a means back to Middlesbrough on the train and the logical three part split of this route is to travel from Battersby to Castleton, from Castleton to Lealholm and from Lealholm to Grosmont, breaking it into three relatively short chunks.

Being such a might adventurer, I will not be bailing out at this stage and so instead follow the road up the other side of the ridge until I can eventually pull off to the right past a cluster of homes perched on the edge of the ridge.

The views up here are pretty, but across the whole of this walk views have been fairly plentiful and its nice to experience a bit of a change when the path drops into a small forest.

The Path Goes Into a Small Group of Trees
It's Nice to be Out of the Heat of the Sun
Being among the trees offers a chance for a break in the cool shade and I take full advantage of this opportunity to take a rest by finishing the last of my drink and go crazy by breaking out the oranges.

It's nice to rest in the shade, but I've not come here for a picnic in the trees so I'm soon back to my task, heading back out into the sunshine and along the fields above Danby looking out over the river and the railway line beneath the ridge before starting to drop down into the edge of Danby.

Starting To Drop Into Danby
Soon I'm joining back up with the road which I follow briefly before turning off onto a footpath on the right that takes me in between the houses and releases me into the centre of Danby where I am re-united with a river of sorts once again.

With the river crossed I turn left onto the main road and then right past a cyclist sat resting on a bench and once again find a climb ahead of me as I head up this road.

The climb only lasts so long and before long I reach a turning off on the left that is signposted towards Danby Beacon which is my next major destination, with a very large climb lying between me and the beacon. The climb up here should not be underestimated, but this is a popular climb for foolhardy cyclists and once up to the beacon the views are unrivalled.

With over half of the climb behind me I hit a split in the road, with the road to the left heading to the beacon and the road to the right following the ridge. On cloudy days there isn't much point heading up to the beacon, but today the skies are clear and will offer views out to the sea so I take in the views and prepare for the final stretch of the climb.

With frequent looks back at the view developing behind me I complete the last of the climb until the beacon comes into sight.

The Beacon Comes Into Sight
During world war two an RAF base was built up here and prior it had played a key role throughout history in watching out for any potential invasions, but today the beacon is all about the fantastic panoramic 360 degree views in all directions from this spot.

Among these views are sights of the sea and whilst images do the views little justice the best taster that can be given is via a photo montage: (apologies for the lack of explosions and star-outs)

Zooming To See The Sea Near Staithes
View To Valley From Danby Beacon
Another View From Danby Beacon
Having seen the beacon I could now simply head on along a footpath along the top of the ridge, but I much prefer the lower road, although this now means either a wander across the heather or turning back the way I've come and retracing my steps. Not wishing to wade through heather with soft shoes and knowing that no real paths exist across I head back towards Danby until I return to the point where I turned off and then turn back the other way along the lower road which offers some stunning views over the countryside below (my photos still don't do all these views justice).

View From Road
Another View From Road
Having backtracked, I can now spend some time on this road tracking the edge of the ridge and soaking up the views whilst also being able to return to my highly experience role of sheep scarer.

Whilst sheep obviously find me deeply intimidating - I think it must be something to do with my impressively big 5'5 frame - they seems to have no fear at all for fast moving cars. The result of this is that if I'm not careful I risk scaring formerly casual sheep directly into the path of one of the few cars passing through up here, with alarming consequences for any of the drivers on the moors.

Without causing any fatalities (that I was aware of) the road eventually starts to descend and as it does I start to see cyclists bravely attempting the climb but seeming more than cheerful as they pass by despite their desperate challenge.

Soon I meet a road junction and can turn right and begin my descent into Lealholm.

Descent Into Lealholm
Last time I completed this walk I ended my journey at Lealholm and the next train is rather temptingly going to arrive half an hour after my own arrival ready to take me home, but it is around 5 miles to Grosmont from here and I'm keen to push further on.

Being among those people who like to check and check again still I pull off into the station to check up on the train's progress and to check train times for the late train, but the screens aren't working so in reality I only achieve the knowledge I already knew - that the last train will be at 7:30pm.

Right now its just before 4pm so I still have plenty of time and cross over the tracks and head down into the village to buy some more drink at the village shop to quench my thirst, to offset the heat of the day, and simultaneously give myself a sugar boost.

With my thirst quenched, I head through Lealholm and meet up with the path heading towards Glaisdale and head off down a farm track past some pretty chilled sheep that very casually watch my progress through their fields.

Following the path I soon head through the middle of a farm (quite literally) and out the other side past freshly cut fields to be re-united with the river. On the exit of the field I soon leave the river behind, instead following the railway before turning off to the right on a fresh farm track down to the ford and footbridge across the river.

View From Footbridge Across River
By this point the river has certainly grown since I first began to follow it so I am glad of the footbridge and aware at this point that the train must be running behind time as it should have passed this point roughly at the same time as myself.

I pause for a brief period wanting to catch sight of the train before it heads off to Middlesbrough, but noting that it must be running late I head off up the hill on the other side of the river up to the road.

At this point the path officially travels straight through someone's garden (literally!) into the woods near the river's edge, but my southern sensibilities make this part of the route particularly discomforting so seeing that the residents of the house are in the garden I must travel through, I instead head on to make the trip by road rather than using the official route.

As daft as it is for me to avoid a clearly marked footpath, if I had the choice of walking many extra miles, drowning in the river or missing my train home over having to walk through someone's garden and potentially engage in small talk, I'd say bring on the drowning please.

This chance of course adds a certain climb to my route, but on the way I befriend a small horse in a field neighbouring the road who is exceedingly friendly and on the main road turn left and left again to drop down into the stretches of Glaisdale beside the river.

This road takes me along round past the Arncliffe Arms and down to the water's edge where I pass over a tributary to the River Esk and then wind round till the path pulls up the hill.

Not wishing to head off up the hill yet I cross the footbridge next to the ford and head over to pay a visit to an old bridge that crosses the river just the other side of the railway line and of course to snap a sneaky little pic for you my readers (congrats by the way on reaching this point - we're nearly done for the day).

Bridge at Glaisdale
This bridge forms a point of interest for many of the Coast-to-Coast walkers passing through and having paid my respects to the bridge I head back across the footbridge by the Ford and head up the hill soon to descend back down and find myself by the water's edge.

The River Esk Has Grown By Now
Looking Up the River Esk
At this point I am back following the Coast-to-Coast path having briefly followed the same path from Bloworth Crossing, but having dropped off the same route when I dropped down into the Esk Valley.

Personally I'm surprised with the different route the Coast to Coast takes in the intervening stretch missing out on Danby Beacon and other notable sites I've visited since, except perhaps in that my route has been slightly longer. From here, however, the Coast to Coast route is as far as I am aware the same route I will be taking all the way to Grosmont.

Having taken in this stretch of river I head up the hill past of all things a barefoot walker along a series of stones that have clearly been moulded into shape over time by either traffic along this route or by rainfall levels.

Heading Up the Hill
Having reached the top, the path starts to move away from the river and into some woods where a big friendly dog comes bounding up to me with a big bark. After me and my new best friend quickly get acquainted I have to say my goodbyes and head on towards the road.

Here I turn left and drop down the hill into the outskirts of Egdon Bridge. Upon entering the village I reach a crossroads and here I pull off the road heading down some steps to cross over the stepping stones.

The Stepping Stones
On The Other Side
With the excitement of crossing these stones behind me (it is more fun than it looks), I head up the other side to join the road. To head towards Grosmont I will turn right, but I have time to spare so instead I turn left to take in a lovely stretch of the river.

Stretch of River (Sorry About the Sunshine)
As strange as it sounds this spot is particularly interesting for its fish, which have a fairly regular habit of jumping up out of the river in summer before splashing back it.

Sadly my photo skills were not sufficient to capture this phenomenon, but while sat by the river there was a large trout (I am no fish expert, so if grey it is a trout, if it is pink it is salmon) that would occasionally leap out of the water and crash back down with a giant splash.

I take a rest sat watching out for the jumps, but soon get back on my feet before I start to get too relaxed and begin my final stretch towards Grosmont.

This involves walking back along the route I have just arrived and continuing on before turning left then right past Egdon Manor and along the path that winds past the house and round past fields until passing under the railway line and coming out on the road by the river.

Here I join the road for the final trip into Grosmont passing over the bridge and note how much the river has grown by this point before continuing over and into Grosmont.

The River Esk is Now a River With a Capital 'R'
Had I arrived earlier in the day I would have been able to see the steam engines pulling trains down to Pickering or Whitby that pass through Grosmont (and indeed you can go see the train shed if you really wish), but there are no trains about so my photo opportunity is gone and instead I settle in to wait for the train, taking a lazy photo of the platform instead:

Final Destination
I will now have to wait an hour for the train and will actually see my train pass through in the wrong direction on the way to Whitby before it comes back to pick me up, so I have plenty of time to reflect on today's epic and one of the most highlight rich walking days possible.

Maps: If you wish to follow this walk the route can be determined using 93 (Battersby Stretch Only) and 94 (Esk Valley). This post is designed as a narrative and not designed as route directions to be followed... always use a map and be sure of your route before you leave the house!