Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Introduction

I consider myself fortunate to be able to count myself among those people who can be found early on a Saturday morning - while everyone else remains comfortably wrapped up in bed - stepping out into the fresh (and often bracing) air with a pack upon my back and a day’s walking laid out before my feet.

Occasionally such a beginning will be held at the start of a glorious sunny day, but come rain, shine, wind or snow I’ll still often be found up bright and early, tying up my shoes and heading out; off to have my next great adventure in the great outdoors.

Walking is a major part of all our lives, ever since that moment when we decide that we no longer can achieve all we want to achieve via the crawl, but it has become more of an activity of mine ever since I moved up north to the country town of Yarm back in late 2012, to begin my first spell of employment following University.

Being a new arrival to this part of the world - having grown up down south and having studied in bonny Scotland (Edinburgh) - this presented a chance to head out and about and discover an area that was entirely new.

The town of Yarm is an interesting place in itself, being on the border of two very different worlds. To the North and East lies Stockton, Billingham and Middlesbrough, backed by large industrial complexes, while to the South lies North Yorkshire and the spectacular North York Moors.

The purpose of my moving to the area was simple... to make my mark whilst being able to live somewhere where I would be able to get my head down and explore and ultimately in time to fulfil my life goal of living in the countryside in Yorkshire; and what I found was some of the most underrated countryside in the British Isles.

There are few places in England where you can have countryside like the North York Moors on your doorstep, coastal towns such as Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay down the road, the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales an hour’s drive to the west and Hadrian’s Wall relatively accessible to the North.

These tales are narratives of some of the walks I have taken through this countryside, showing you - the reader - some of the hidden delights often overlooked by many a traveller to the area. But they will also hopefully be an advertisement for an area that deserves far more than it is ever likely to receive. For sure this is no London or southern suburb, but that is precisely what makes it such a marvellous place to live.

At a time, this was the very centre of the modern universe, with the Darlington-Stockton railway - running past Yarm - being in 1825, the world's first public railway to use steam locomotives, but these days the area is more frequently associated with call centres, modern housing estates and casual shopping.

This seems a sad association for an area featuring tumuli and stone circles that date back to the Bronze Age and discoveries of flint arrowheads dating back to Mesolithic and Neolithic periods.

All this gives the area a rich and often hidden history, with the area being most heavily transformed by the discovery of ironstone in 1850; with the impact of this discovery readily apparent when walking in the area, particularly when following the old railway tracks up on the Moor itself.

More recently the walking routes in the area have been boosted by the inclusion in Wainwright’s coast-to-coast, even if much of the acclaim goes to the Lake District.

Despite  my interest in the history of an area, I have to admit that I’m no historian... and to be honest I’m probably not classed as much of a ‘proper’ walker, so if you have ever been lucky enough to have passed me travelling across some of the country's most beautiful countryside, I probably haven't looked the part. 

Indeed, some of my fellow travellers have gone so far to have been kind enough to mention this to their companions while I’ve gone past. So far my favourite is: “you know that someone doesn’t know what they’re doing when they’ve got shoes like that,” - but that is fine and after much counselling, heartache and minor breakdowns I’ve officially got over it; or at least one day I hope to.

Typically I’ll wear trainers, shorts or jogging bottoms and a zip up hoodie and/or fleece. Then I add the shades if its summer or hat and scarf if winter, and that completes the look. I've been out in snowstorms, thunderstorms, baking sun and unbelievable winds and this setup is yet to let me down and so for any budding walkers out there my advice is to take appropriate layers, but just get on and head out and about.

I have done the whole hiking boots thing, but no matter how well sized the boots, I would come home with blistered, bruised and thoroughly miserable feet. Then one day I went for a run along one of my walking routes over the Moors, swapping out hiking boots for running shoes and 21 miles later I had beautifully fresh feed. I've worn trainers (running shoes really) ever since, much to my feet's delight. It works and I can live with the ridicule much easier than I can live with the foot pain.

The downside is that with no proper waterproofing the water flows right in, but on the flip side it also flows right back out again and so while my feet get wet they also get dry pretty fast as well, which works fine just so long as you carry a few spare pairs of socks in winter.

I still get plenty of pitying looks from the pole equipped storm troopers, but as far as I can tell the only special gear you need is a map and plenty of liquids.

My longest treks require a 6am rise and over time I've found that by gently building the distance up, I can happily extend up to 35 miles a day. For new walkers this must sound like an awful lot, but the secret is to build up the distance over time.

When we are born a few simple steps can be a great challenges and so it is that even as adults it takes time to get that additional distance in. If 10 miles is your limit then try to find routes of this length, but occasionally try and go that little bit further and repeat this over time as the distance starts to climb.

Give it a few years of regular exercise and the only thing holding you back will be the hours of daylight available through the day.

For the past few years (this is now 2015) I've been hitting the paths of the North York Moors and surrounding countryside with increased vigour, but with no lasting record of the trips I've taken and journeys I've trekked.

In hindsight this has left some level of disappointment as I can't look back and nostalgically reminisce over former trips, so I’ve planned to right those wrongs in this journal and if you would like, you are welcome to read along.

Over those year's I've experienced some great stuff: snow burdened hills all white and clean, great lightning storms crashing down onto (thankfully) distant hills and mile after mile of countryside to die for.

From now on I want these photos, tales and memories and although I plan to skip any repeats or mere country strolls and stick to the good bits, I'm looking forward to seeing what flows.

If anyone but myself does indeed read this, I hope you enjoy my tales at least partly as much as I enjoyed the walks that inspired them. To my older (and hopefully wiser) self, keep walking, never look back and enjoy each mile as if the first on an exciting new hike... even if it’s the last of a long and tiring day!

Rob Lalor
August 2015