Sunday, 1 May 2016

Kildale to Whitby via the Esk Valley Walk

It is late April and I've for some time been planning my first true summer walk of the year, and with this in mind I have a new route planned that will take me all the way from the hills up in Kildale down to the coastal down of Whitby where I'll be able to enjoy some fish and chips before heading back home.

With this in mind I've been dusting off the shorts and I'm heading out nice and early in order to find some dazzling sunshine and heatwaves to warm my winter soaked legs. 

As I'm heading out on the early morning train and as I look out into the surrounding fields, I start to get subtle hints that I will not in fact get this highly anticipated summer weather. Most notably this realisation forms as I begin to notice the snow falling gently down into the surrounding fields as the train travels up the line.

By this point I'm already committed to my particular choice of trouser-wear, or indeed lack thereof, and so I'm just going to have to make the most of what I do have in the form of a winter hat and a woolly fleece and brave the worst the elements have to throw at me. Indeed, I'm almost looking forward to everything I might have to face on this snow laden that.

That is until my resolve starts to weaken as I hop off the train and as I take in the look of incredulity on the face of the train conductor, who proceeds to take in my shorts look up, look out, look back and raise an eyebrow. In this moment it is already far too late to back out and get back on the train, and so it is onwards and upwards and off to Whitby I go.

Before long though, I'm hardly considering my own situation as the fields come into sight and as I start to feel paternal concern for the young lambs out in the fields and shivering with every breath.

Very Cold Lambs
Despite their obvious discomfort on this coldest of summer days I can hardly just spend the day cuddling lambs in fields (although in all honest, I can't exactly tell you why not), and so must focus on my road ahead and my very own mini-Matterhorn looming into view; complete with a white snowy covering.

Looking Cold Up There!
It has now been just over a month since the clock change into what is supposedly the summer half of the year and whilst I had certainly been ready for some heavy showers at this time of year, I certainly wasn't expecting all this. That said, as far as photos are concerned the weather could not be any better and so its time to begin the photo montage:

Levels of Snow Cover Increase Going Up

Looking Out To A Green Plain Below

Hard To See The Plains Below Now!
By the top of this climb it becomes very obvious that the weather has been dramatically changing as I head higher up and as I move into the clouds that had formerly been much higher up above. Along with the weather change, the temperature has dropped considerably as a strong wind exists up here that simply didn't exist on the plains down below.

The wind is driving snow into my face now and so I'm now faced with the fact that I'm walking directly into a heavy snowstorm. In winter I'd normally carry a scarf that I'd wrap round my face to reduce the exposure, but having not expected snow that isn't an option today and so I'm just going to have to put up with.

That said, I'm not actually going to be going very far along this path and will soon be dropping down on the other side off these hills back into warmer conditions in the valleys below on the other side. This is fortunate as with such extreme weather up here, I'm not sure it would be wise heading on into a fairly exposed and quiet section of the North York Moors and so would otherwise probably be making new plans by now.

There Is a Snowstorm Raging Up Here
My Turn Off Is Beyond The Gate
Before long though, I've reached the gate that marks my turn off and while I'm pleased to be out the driving snow, my elation is short lived as I realise the condition of the path I'll be taking.

What is normally a nice track down the hill has now become a collecting channel for snow melt that lies far deeper than the depth of my shoes, so I'm going to be wading down this hill on are turning out to be fairly slippery rocks.

Still there is nothing I can do but get on with it and as I go the valley I'm heading down to starts to open up beneath my feet opening up an incredible view that has made all the adverse weather completely worthwhile.

Heading Down Through the Snow Melt

Reaching The Valley
It is here that I am able to take one of the finest photos I've ever been lucky enough to capture on my travels and as I move on from this spot I'm heading down into the greenery of the valley and towards a small cluster of farms that I try to head quietly through, but with little success as the dogs wake up and start barking.

Soon I'm mentally apologising to everyone I've just woken up and quickly scurrying through this little accumulation of houses and into the sheep fields beyond.

This proves to be a bit of an event of the day, perhaps not for myself, but at least for the local residents of this feed, who seem to be quite interested in this character out and about, passing through their fields in such conditions.

By this point the weather has actually calmed right down, but then just as hope of sunshine appears in my mind I reach the end of their pasture and start to climb up a hill as the snow begins to fall once again.

Snow Is Falling Once Again
Remarkably though, this snow fall turns out to be incredibly brief and by the time I've reached the top and stopped to catch my breath, not only has the snow ceased, but the sun has also come out to put on quite a merry display near the top of Kildale Moor.

Kildale Moor
With the arrival of bright sunshine it is likely that much of this snow will soon have melted, and here it is interesting to realise that whilst any snow melt on this side of the bank will head down to the River Esk, any snow on the other side will melt and act as the source of the River Leven.

This means that whilst any snow I'm standing on right now will be matching my journey along the River Esk and down to the seaside at Whitby, any snow falling just on the other side of the hill will instead be heading the direction I came and will eventually join the River Tees in Yarm only a small number of meters away from the house I left behind this morning.

This fact makes the hill marker above me of particular interest, but with my breath now caught I start moving again, keen to beat at least some of this snow to Whitby. Then as I start to follow the ridge the sun finally makes up for its late start to the day by coming into full view and putting on a real show.

The ridge upon which I'm walking now passes through a relatively wild stretch of the Moors that follows Baydale Beck to the road where it meets up with a pretty little waterfall at the delightfully named Hob Hole.

This will all be done in the bright sunshine, but the consequence of this quickly becomes very apparent as I once again start wading through the snow melt as I overtake it on its own journey down to Whitby.

The Path Grows In Size...
... And Turns Into A Stream
After a certain amount of walking and an additional amount of wading, the path eventually comes to and end and joins up with the road heading down to Hob Hole.

Back on Tarmac
Hob Holes are a surprisingly common occurrence on the North York Moors and the little creatures that gave their names to these places are in fact goblins.

A bit like the house elves from Harry Potter these (hob) goblins are supposed to be pretty helpful fellows, but not knowing the incantation required to make a presumably very wet goblin appear, I instead have to content myself with looking at the waterfall, admiring the car park and crossing over the bridge (living the dream here).

The Bridge Is Needed Today
Normally at this point, the bridge is not needed and you simply walk along the road, but with so much snow melt the road is now a very fast moving river that is almost certain to now beat me to Whitby (curse those water droplets).

I'll be sticking to the road for this next section and heading straight up the hill on the other side. However, it won't be the last I've seen of the Baydale Beck, which I will catch up with once again as I watch it give its waters up to the River Esk further down the line.

Having climbed up the hill, I'm slightly disappointed to find that the weather has (yet again) changed once and this time I'm treated to a cross between rain and hail that is battering down upon my head and keeping me honest.

Rain/Hail Falls (Looking Back)
By this point I've now reached a road incoming from the right that is the route of the Esk Valley Walk that starts near Battersby. From here I will now be following this walk all the way down to its end at Whitby, where the River Esk joins the sea.

This road coming in also means that I'm about to turn off down a path on the left which arrives very quickly and this takes me back off the roads and along the ridge of the River Esk valley.

Path Following The River Esk Below
By this point in the day the levels of snow visible on the hills are much reduced and once the view opens out further down the path, the evidence of the snowfall has mostly disappeared, with the day now turning into a proper miserable April English day.

Green View Out
Winding through the fields the true impact of this cold weather become apparent, and whilst great for photographs the reality is that the conditions are not great for the animals that live on these fields. Nothing makes this more apparent than my passing one case of a lamb that has passed overnight with lots of sheep gathered round looking concerned and unsure what to do.

By this point there is nothing to do and the lamb is dead having almost certain died of cold in the freezing conditions overnight. With so many concerned sheep I consider it best to simply head on from this scene and put it behind me as just a reminder of what this weather really means for the animals that live out here in the cold.

Heading on I have to put this behind me and try to focus again on my journey and my first sight of the River Esk.

Bridge Over The River Esk
Having started in Kildale rather than the source of this river as I have done before, I'm only joining up with this river once it has grown to a certain size and with the amount of snow melt around today, the bridge across is certainly necessary by this point.

Over on the other side it is time to take stock of what has been a very extreme start to my summer outing, take a quick rest and start to dig into my feed and drink as I sit trying my best to look warm and contented.
Looking A Touch Wet And Cold
Shortly after I sit down, the weather once more raises its ugly head and brings rain down upon me until I'm grumpily back upon my feed and following the River Esk once again, passing by the point where Baysdale Beck joins this larger river.

It is here that I finally catch sight of my first fellow walkers of the day, although I'm hardly able to greet them as I've found myself scrambling along the edge of the river whilst they've been rather more successfully following the actual path above my head.

In my defence I'd ended up down here after having to climb over a fallen tree and before long I'm back emerging back onto a road which I turn right onto, climbing up and then turning left at a crossroads onto a road that looks over and heads down into Castleton.

Castleton In The Mist
This can be a lovely view in summer (aka April onwards), but I'm now in the midst of a very misty periods and so visibility is not particularly good. This means that I'm not able to take in Castleton until I actually reach it, but here I meet some sheep on the green, cross over the river once again and prepare for a big climb up the other side.

Bridge Over The River Esk II
Over the otherside I'm following the road as it climbs up the opposite ridge and then eventually after passing the tennis courts (yep, tennis courts) I turn right and along a quiet lane that ends in a gate that opens out into a wooded glade.

My Valiant Steed
Path Ahead
The train line follows this whole route and as I'm passing into the woods the train is heading out on its second trip of the day (the first took me out and it runs back and forth all day). In time this will be the train to take me back from Whitby, but I certainly don't need it yet as I've plenty more to see through the rest of today.

Coming out on the other side of the trees, once again it is time for a bit more snow and this time it is falling at a very heavy rate and is blocking out my view of the valley down below.

Snow Falling Again
I now have little choice but to wander on through the snow until the path drops down the ridge to join up with the road before later turning off on the other side to drop down into Danby.

At long last the snow has stopped once again and so I enjoy this pause as I navigate through Danby and out on yet another road which eventually pulls off to the right leaving me on a second road that is hardly used and which forms part of the National Cycle trail.

One of the reasons this road is so rarely used is to do with its very steep climb and as I pause part way up, I'm able to acquaint myself with a delightful horse that is obviously dying to be out and about on a ride, before leaving my new friend behind and heading on a bit further and taking in the view.

This is one of the most visually dramatic roads on the whole North Moors from here it is not far to Danby Beacon which in theory gives panoramic views down to the sea and across the surrounding countryside.

However, today is not the day for panoramic views as I can hardly even see very far in front of myself as on queue the snow starts falling once again. This time it's snow-joke as it begins to fall with a real vengeance.

Pictures Don't Do Justice To The Sheer Volume Of Snow Falling
It isn't until I reach almost the end of this, one of the most beautiful roads on the Moors, that the snow disappears and visibility is partially restored once again and as the views start to become visible again.

The Only View I Get Up Here
From here it is a long trudge down into Lealholm where the sun is once again out in all its glory ensuring that all the views on offer are at their best once again and making a mockery of all the conditions earlier in the day.

Heading Into Lealholm
At Lealholm I have the chance to restock my supplies and so I buy some more food and drink at the shop before heading off for the final stages of my walk to Whitby pausing as I head over the River Esk to admire the sheer volume of water now flowing down.
Full River
This spot also provides the opportunity for some deer spotting, but not quite being the greatest nature photographer of all time, I completely miss my shot as the deer scamper away through the fields.

Instead I have to content myself with a climb up the road and towards Glaisdale and then here I reach my least favourite part of the whole walk as just before Glaisdale, the path turns off through someone's garden and down into the woods below.

Having grown up in the southern county of Surrey I'm well aware that tramping through someone's garden on a muddy day is very poor etiquette so instead of following the path as it lies on the map (the route through the garden is intentional), I instead stick to my principles and remain on the road and then wind through the streets of Glaisdale until I once again rejoin with the river (it only adds one extra hill to my journey).

Back With The River
In summer this is a lovely spot to sit and lounge by the riverside, but today that is not really an option unless you like relaxing in mud, as there is a minor swamp that needs wading through and with it all being slippery I just bite the bullet, head straight through the middle and do my very best not to fall over!

The path takes me now up the hill on the old worn stones laid on the path. Last time I walked this section I passed some hippy types apparently doing the Coast to Coast barefoot, but I'm not passing many people today. I don't know if this is because all the hippy types are in hospital with trench foot and frost bite or whether everyone else actually checked the weather forecast, but I've only passed one group of walkers today so far and don't expect to see many more.

With one extra group (a family) passed I continue on towards Egton Bridge and the famous stepping stones, winding through this forest and then down on the road into Egton.

At the Stepping Stones, I find that I will not be doing much stepping as not only are there no more Stones due to their being submerged under the torrent, but even the path along the side lies underwater today.

You Shall Not Pass!
Normally you can just walk down the path with the wooden railings on the right and then cross over the stepping stones, but with all these routes are submerged today I must take the far less fun road route and simply try to overlook my disappointment.

This takes me round to Egton Manor and here I take the path alongside the manor house on towards Grosmont and the final run down to Whitby.

Past Egton Manor (On The Right)

Old Toll House
In time the path reaches the road and here I will often turn right and end my journey at Grosmont, but the plan today is to turn left and to keep going along the River Esk until the bitter end.

One of the great things about this decision is that I'm back into farming country and being greeted by a wide range of farm animals, all trying to make the best of the bad weather.

By this point my time on the road is at an end and I transition onto a path through the woods and up across a field onto the road to Newbiggin Hall. Fortunately though, I don't join this road for long however and soon pass through into a field and through some woods (via some very deep puddles) and into a field full of sheep with their young lambs.

The sheep and lambs are all very wary about my passage except for a few very brave lambs which seem quite interested in me, but I offer very little threat as I slip and slide across the field at an agonisingly slow rate, doing my best to avoid any embarrassing crashing down to the ground and its muddy puddles.

With a bit of relief I eventually reach the end of the long fields and prepare to head down into the outskirts of Sleights. However, what I hadn't realised was that the biggest challenge was yet to come. Whilst I had completed the level, I hadn't yet defeated the boss to complete my challenge.

This boss, proved to be the slippiest downward slope I've ever encountered to the point where it may as well have been redesignated as a slide:

If Only You Had Slippy-Vision
Many, many slightly exaggerated hours later, I do indeed find myself at the bottom having defeated my nemesis and so can slip out onto the road into Sleights, winding down a pleasant lane, over a the river via a wide bridge and then over the train tracks.

Now I'm walking through the outskirts of Sleights and up the ridge on the other side heading towards Ruswarp and finally the sun is once again out and in full show, so all is very cheerful once again.

This sunshine and the spotting of some smoke in the distance gives an opportunity for the perfect photo of the steam train to Whitby, but my butterfingers mean that my first attempt is ruined so I just catch the end of the train at the second attempt as it disappears almost entirely from view behind the hills.

The End Of A Steam Train (I Won An Award For This Photo You Know)
Lovely Sunshine
The wildlife documentary segment of this walk also returns to action, along with the return of sunshine, as I take a very tricky picture of some static horses and a very easy picture of some galloping deer:

Pretty Good Shot, Eh? On Zoom You Know And Slow Action Camera!
By this point my walk is starting to come to an end, which is fortunate as time has been flying by and as I'm going to have to make a judgement in Ruswarp as to whether there is enough of a buffer to reach Whitby and the final train of the day.

From here my spirits are, however, raised by the fact that Whitby is well and truly in sight not too far in the distance and so being so close it seems pointless to give up at the final hurdle.

Whitby In View
Instead, I head down the hill and as I walk over the railway I reach the conclusion that whilst I'm going to reach Whitby in good time, I'm not going to arrive in enough time to buy any Fish and Chips.

This is actually a very big problem, because in reality one of the main reasons I'm here today is to travel from home to buy some dinner and to then return home, so in reality I've really just walked from Kildale to buy some fish and chips.

To remedy this I have a plan and decide to make up some time by picking up the pace with the aid of a quick jog on my way into Ruswarp, slowing down over the bridge to take some photos.
Train Line Through Ruswarp
On the other side I find my path and resume my light jogging pace that carries me the final miles in Whitby, where I can finally slow my pace to a walk as I take in the view and head off to get my well earned fish and chips supper before heading home at the end of a long, but rather exciting day.

Maps: If you wish to follow this walk the route can be determined using 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!