The Adventures of Captain Jayneway
You haven’t had much sleep. You tried to go to bed early because you knew you had to get up ridiculously early, but spent much of that minuscule time wriggling about in bed thinking about what you were about to get up to do in a few hours. From time to time you pop your head just far enough out of the duvet to see the digital clock at the other side of the room. At this moment it’s saying half past one in the morning. You think to yourself out loud, ‘Fuck, I’ve got to get up in two hours’. The next few hours seem to drip off into the ether and you’re sure you can’t have had more than a wink of shut eye. You reach down onto the floor to retrieve your cell phone so you can turn off the alarm that hasn’t even come on yet. It’s not quite half past three, there’s something quite satisfying about beating your alarm clock to it.
You flick on the light and immediately cover your eyes with your arm because the three spotlights nearly burn a hole in your retina. There on the floor are the clothes you threw down there last night. The items are loosely arranged on top of one another in almost the correct order in which you need to put them on; bra, knickers, thermal top A, thermal top B, stay dry Nike leggings, hiking socks, boots and gaiters. Such were your eccentric organisation skills you probably could have got ready in the dark. Getting up this early is like having an out of body experience.
You’re dressed, you’ve swung your brand new swanky backpack over your shoulder with an admiring smile and you’ve flicked off your bedroom light. Darkness. Better get used to it. You shuffle out of your room and out on to the landing using the light from your mobile phone to see where you’re going. You’re trying your hardest not to wake the whole house up, it’s not four yet and it’s Sunday. Sunday is lay-in day around here. You know the dogs have already heard you creaking about upstairs. You also know that their routine predicts, for them at least, three rudimentary things; belly rubs, breakfast and walkies, in that order. You know that they know that it’s your footsteps and nobody else’s coming down the stairs, and you also know they are going to knock you over with excitement as soon as you open the kitchen door and see you as if for the first time in years, just as they always do. Dogs have no concept of time, I love that.
You try to stop the dogs wagging their tails because the enthusiasm with which they are doing it, up against the kitchen units, sounds like a whip cracking multiplied by two. You try to force a bowl of muesli down your throat, which feels like being force fed chicken feed with a stick a la foie gras. You give the dogs a bowl of milk, just to keep them quiet for a few minutes. Things are calmer now, but you still have to have a conversation with the big black Labrador to explain that he can’t come. He sniffs your gaiters and knows they mean ‘expedition’. He sits patiently wagging, trying to stare you out, waiting for you to whisper the ‘W’ word. You really wish he was coming too and you give him a big cuddle that doubles as some sort of an apology.
You’re glad you made the three rounds of ham, cheese and homemade chutney sandwiches on Hovis before you went to bed. You wander if your common sense tactic of putting the chutney in between the ham and the cheese will have prevented the bread and your only proper food for the next fourteen hours from going soggy. You’ve arranged to get picked up a fifth of a mile away, down the farm drive at the cattle grid. As you glance at the wall clock, you estimate how long it will take you to get from here to there even though you’ve done it a thousand times collecting the mail. With a pat on the head and a dog biscuit each, you quickly escape out of the door before the hairy ones try to follow.
It’s cold outside and the vapours off your breath are thick like sea fog. You think it must be about three degrees and then belt out ‘When will I see you again’ in your internal jukebox feeling quite jovial for the time of day. Marvelling at how bright your head torch is, you tiptoe off down the drive trying not to wake up the border collies, one’s deaf and still hears you. You go over to the kennels and say hello. You think afterwards you probably blinded both of them with your new super-bright LCD headgear and feel a bit guilty. You manage to slip past the other place without any disturbance; your ninja manoeuvres even manage to sneak past their ridiculously bright football pitch security light.
You’re at the cattle grid with ten minutes to spare. Your ears are playing tricks on you; all your senses are bolt upright. You look up from the floor to see a collection of big beady eyes staring back at you. You say ‘hello ladies’ to the cows in the opposite field; they soon loose interest in the extraterrestrial bright light pointing at them. As you’re watching your breath in the air, above in the sky beyond you see a shooting star. You make a wish at that point and have an internal contented feeling that everything is going to be all right.
Your lift arrives and you feel like you’ve already had quite an epic morning, a lot can happen in half an hour… but you know a lot more’s going to happen over the next fourteen…
The Lyke Wake Walk
Andy dropped me and my best friend Rach off at the starting point in Osmotherley at about 4.45am on the 14th October 2012. We set off towards Coalmire plantation both thinking we were a bit mad. I’d never done any hiking in the dark before, apart from maybe on some crazy camping escapades in the old school days, nothing of this magnitude. Rachel’s scared of the dark, but she did really well and I did my best to take her mind off it with my whit and rambling back catalogue of useless information. I’d done the first part of this walk a few times recently in preparation for this moment, so I was very familiar with the track, but saying that, everything looks very different in the dark. The shadows from your head torch creating bobbing shadows in the trees around you, even the sound of a mouse in the undergrowth sounded like an elephant approaching.
The hike up to Carlton Bank was all done under the cover of darkness. We did this part in less than two hours and was a distance of about seven miles. The track in this section is all part of the Cleveland Way and really good under foot. We passed the pile of stones before the gliding club and saw three owls, which was amazing and we laughed back at the grouse laughing at us from the scrub. It was still dark when we reached the triangulation pillar on Carlton Bank, but the view over a sleepy Teesside was amazing at daybreak, you never get to see things like that unless you get your arse out of bed, the silence, as they say, was golden. We scoffed our first sandwich as the sun started to come up at about 6.45am, by the time we left only ten minutes later we didn’t need our lamps, I’m sure Rach was relieved it was light at last.
The next four miles felt like considerably longer and was akin to a miniature version of the Three Peaks challenge. Just when you got one hill out of the way, there was a bigger one waiting over the brow. What a difference a bit of sunshine makes though, what a beautiful morning. The view from up there was stunning, sixty miles or more visibility and I saw a massive valley over the back which is practically in my back yard that I never even knew existed. I think my comment at the time was, ‘that must have been a fuck off glacier. ‘The mouth of a drunken sailor.‘
The first very steep path took us up on to the top of Drake Howe on Cringle Moor. I love the Olde English names for hills and moors. Cringle dingle dangle wangle. Down the other side of this towards Broughton Plantation was around about the point when Rachel fell on her arse much to my amusement. We climbed up through this impressive rock formation on top of one of the peaks, it was a bit like Brimham rocks, another feature you would never know was there unless you went up there. We did an accidental off road section here around the side of the hill and we had to climb along a very steep boggy path, which was good for nothing but goats, and hurl ourselves back up on to the top laughing. Spirits were high and we were happily taking it all in our stride, we felt like we were on top of the world. The next steep hill, called Hasty Bank, was long and steep. I think they must have been taking the piss when they named this one, because a speedy ascent was never going to happen. Once we’d got up and then down to the bottom of this we stopped to refuel with another round of cheese and chutney for me, lucky Rachel had a choice of three fillings. At this point, we’d roughly covered about eleven miles. Remember when you’re thinking distance though, that eleven miles on the flat in the car to get your shopping and eleven miles on the hoof up several helping of 500m with rocky downage are entirely different challenges.
It’s easy to forget how changeable the weather can be on the moors when you’ve been treated to such a lovely morning. We knew this though and we were fairly well prepared for it, at this point we just hoped it wouldn’t rain really. We could see the cloud forming ahead, I already knew from the weather forecast I’d seen that it was going to be cloudy over towards the coast so we weren’t that surprised when we approached the next section. At 9.5 miles, the next bit was supposed to be the longest and take about three hours. We had a steep climb up Carr Ridge, then onto Urra Moor. This is where things started to feel a bit like American Werewolf in London. Eerie and desolate. Stick to the roads. We really were in the middle of nowhere now, surrounded by nothing but a few Scottish Blackfaces, heather and grouse. There were ancient boundary markers made out of sandstone dotted about which added a bit of interest, but aside from that it was bleak. The further we got over the moors, the less we could see. We were amazed to bump into some other people, a group of five who must have been in their sixties, they were Scottish. We had a quick chat with them; they were doing the Lyke Wake as well! I was quite impressed until they told us they were doing it over three days, and then they looked at us as though we were mad when we said we were doing it all… today. I said it didn’t count if you didn’t do it in less than 24 hours. One of the ladies in the other group said, with a laugh, that she was a scout leader and could get hold of any badge she wanted. Hardly the point love, I thought.
We overtook these people and were off. We thought we were going at a good speed really, we were on track, we thought. As we got a bit further ahead, you couldn’t see more than about 2m in front of you, the fog was so thick. This pea soup went on for what seemed like ages. I see now that at that point we were at the highest point of the whole walk, I think we had our heads in the clouds. No change there then, I thought. It was here that I switched on the GPS that TVNZ had bought me for a leaving present when I left a few years ago. They quipped at the time that it was so I could find my way back from the pub. No better an expedition than this to properly put it to the test, and it didn’t let us down once. The digital compass was brilliant; it even tells you how much time you’ve spent farting about when you should have been walking, as well as walking time and speed. We trudged along in what seemed like darkness to Round Hill at Botton Head and then on for another couple of miles to the old railway line.
My map reading skills were getting better with every few miles, it can be a bit daunting when you first look at the OS maps if you’re not used to the scale of the things. It’s a good job one of us sort of had the hang of it; Rachel wasn’t really one for maps I discovered. You really had to trust your skills when you come to a spider crossing, I’ve just invented that, but it’s when there’s a crossroad with more legs. We also had the ‘official’ guidebook, which I now have very mixed feelings about, but up to this point had been fairly useful. We were expecting to see old railway sleepers and were quite excited about wandering down the line like Huckleberry Finn. There was nothing remotely resembling that and that’s where the confusion set in because what I had imagined didn’t exist there, this is not unusual with my imagination to be honest, but this wasn’t a problem, my map skills got us on the right track this time round.
There were a couple of old sleepers poking out of the ground, but you’d just as easily have missed them had you not been looking for them. We headed off down the beginning of the old railway line. This was the point where we both started to feel it in our legs, and we knew we weren’t even half way there yet. It was an odd sensation being back on fairly flat ground again and I think I preferred the steep hill climbs with view and variety to this pretty monotonous five miles where nothing much changed. The wind was howling and the first real rain shower landed upon us. We hoped it was just a passing shower when it stopped, but about ten minutes later it couldn’t have rained any harder, and it was coming in sideways.
A few weeks ago I was out walking the first part of the LWW with Diggy and I don’t know why I still think about this now, curious disbelief maybe. Just through a gate, I let two men who were hiking the track get past us. Diggy was doing his usual horse snorts and dancing like he does as they approached, he’s not a fan of strangers, though sometimes I think he just does it because he knows it makes me laugh. Just as they were passing us, one of the men had a right good perv at my walking poles. You could tell he was trying to see what make or brand they were, probably to see if his were better than mine. At the ten quid I paid, I’m pretty sure his probably were. I mention this because I really don’t get this pretentious bollocks. I have a car, which is not brand new, but works perfectly and is great because it means I can go places. Similarly, I’ve got a pair of probably the cheapest walking poles you can get, but they work perfectly and have done a brilliant job of keeping me out of plenty of sticky situations lately, more of which I’ll come to later. But why are some people so bothered about how everybody else perceives them? My point is, who really gives a shit? Not me, thankfully.
You won’t be surprised then, when I say that when the next monsoon broke as we were trudging along the railway, I swung my backpack off and fished my umbrella out. In the absence of a jacket that might actually do what it says and keep the water out, who cares what you look like, really? The blue umbrella complimented the colour of the heather I thought. So there we are, Rachel holding her hood up over her head and me holding my brolly sideways to keep the rain off, I’d already whipped my waterproof trousers on over my leggings. We got absolutely pounded by the rain. Such are the rubbish signposts for the entire Lyke Wake we completely missed the short cut up to The Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge. We had to back track, which probably added on another half a mile to our journey.
We were like drown rats by the time we got to the top of the hill and into the pub. I don’t think I’ve ever drunk a cup of tea in a pub, but this is what we had. The pub was packed with people eating roast lamb dinners and Sunday fayre. I sat dripping all over the floor wrestling with the Ordinance Survey maps. I knew soon that map one would be ending and the other one would have to come out, it was the joining them together just for that little transition that was a pain in the arse, both maps together were about 10 foot wide. I was still confused where this supposedly boggy section was, and I never did get round to asking Dad before we left.
We finished our cup of tea and although I was thinking we were completely insane setting off in the rain and darkness, we got ready to head out. The Scottish people we’d marched past earlier came into the pub just before we left and negatively said we had an awful long way to go still. Not exactly trying to pass an apple for an orange then, I probably rolled my eyes at that. We left the pub and it was really cold and wet outside. This is around the time when I completely fell out with the ‘official guide book’. The claptrap directions in that handbook sent us off on completely the wrong track. I knew it wasn’t the right way, the track was too good and although it was a bit boggy, it was nowhere near as treacherous as what had been described to us. The rain was pelting down again at this point; we turned round and went back up to the pub to get directions. Rach went into the pub to ask and I had another look at the maps. When Rach came out and said we had to walk two miles up the main road to get to a turn off I couldn’t believe it. It says nothing about this in the guide, well, it says turn left, but that’s it. So we’d probably wasted about half an hour doing this, but we set off in the rain up the road, this to me felt like we were going back the way we’d come, but you have to trust local knowledge. If you stood me in the heather and spun me around a few times, we’d be buggered to be honest, but it’d be easy for anybody to get disoriented on the moors. This walk up the road took us up to Ralphs Crosses, when I saw this sandstone cross over the brow of the hill, I knew we were going in the right direction. Actually from the cross you could see the ocean in the distance, if only it had been so close as it looked at that point.
From here we had another two miles on the tarmac before we got back on the off-road route. I think this little unmentioned bit adds on another four miles to what you thought you were originally doing. Rachel probably got sick of me going on about how I thought the bloke who wrote the book must have been from Kazakhstan, he’d done the walk once and then had his scribbled notes translated into English, parts of it might as well have been written backwards. It was past 1pm now and we knew we were going to be finishing it in the dark as we’d started, but we kept the job in hand and marched on. The clouds eventually parted and the sun put in an appearance, which was such a relief, but even by now my feet were wet. I hadn’t bothered changing my socks because there didn’t seem any point if I was about to go slopping about in the peat bog and umskah. In the book it says “This section should only be done in times of good weather and with a reliable support team”. ‘Sink, sometimes when you least expect it’ is also mentioned.
At this point I think we had probably hiked about twenty five miles, this is including the minor excursions. This is one of the only places on the entire expedition that some useful soul had graffiti painted ‘LWW’ with an arrow on the road, not long after this there was a stump in the ground that said Lyke Wake. We knew we were going the right way now! We set off up over a narrow rocky path, it wasn’t until we got over the brow of the hill to see the moorland expanse ahead that we saw how boggy the track was. This section was to continue for five miles and in places there wasn’t really a path to follow, just a black slop with bog weeds growing out of it and deep puddles of sludge. The five miles probably extended into about seven because of the zig-zagging you had to do just to navigate your way through the plother. We would both agree that it felt more like fifteen miles the going was so hard. We were covered in shit by now, my feet were squelching around in my boots, but at least the friction of leaping through the scrub was keeping them warm. There were staggered sandstone pillars sticking out of the ground along the way, some distance apart, the tops of the stones had been painted white, so you at least could follow some sort of line, it would have been so easy to get lost.
Just when we thought we were getting through it we arrived at a really dodgy section. At the time, only from what people had told me and what I’d read, this was the reason why I’d decided not to take Diggy on the walk with us and after now having survived it I’m so glad I didn’t take him. I don’t know what this place is like when it hasn’t been raining, but given that it has done nothing but rain for the entire year in this country, I wondered if there had ever been as much water, mud and bog there. I reckon I’d have lost the dog in there if he’d come. My ten quid poles are worth a thousand quid now, we wouldn’t have got through there without them, not a chance. You couldn’t put a foot forward without prodding the ground first, and there were areas, which if you’d fallen in, you would have probably disappeared. We went through a multitude of emotions here, shit, fuck and bollocks to start off with. Then one of my poles got sucked in half, clean out of my hand and down into the peat bog at I was long jumping over it and we nearly pissed ourselves laughing. We had to do so many u-turns and back tracking, it did quite literally become a joke. I eventually led us out on a bit of a wide detour onto the top of some heather, this was still boggy, but at least you could tread softly on top of it and know you weren’t going to get swallowed by the bog monster. We cleared this crazy part of the boggy stretch and we still had about another 2 miles to go over and around more of the same. That is what I would call extreme walking and Bear Grylls couldn’t have done it any better than we did. I would not attempt it in the dark, he probably would, but he’s got a support team!
We were so happy to reach the road, even though the tarmac sensation under foot was only to last about five minutes. We spotted a pathetic little sign over the road that pointed in no particular direction, it was really no use to us at all. After consulting the map, I guessed a gap in the undergrowth in the moorland opposite where we’d just come from was the entrance to the next section. A quick check on the compass and I was happy that it was just pointing in an easterly direction. We crossed over the road and headed into no mans land. I think this was the point where Rachel started to get really tired and I think she’d about had enough to be fair, but she did really well and ploughed on. They reckon, those who’ve trodden it, that it really starts to get to you after the 25 mile point. I’m opposite in that I usually get a burst of energy when I’m on the home straight, I’m like a racehorse, or maybe a donkey with a carrot dangling in front of it and the carrot on the end of the stick is moving away faster. I will have that carrot. I’ve always been like it, even at school when I hated running, I always found that extra something to fly in at the end, rocket at relay. That, and my middle name is perseverance.
We didn’t think anything could be as dicey as the last section we’d just done, but for me this bit was the worst part of all. Imagine being surrounded by nothing but heather, everything looks the same, there’s no path to follow. It’s starting to get dark and over your shoulder you’re watching the sun slowly disappear. You know in your heart of hearts, even though you daren’t tell Rachel, that it could take another five hours from here to finish it, maybe longer if it’s all shit like this. The ground is boggy, muddy and wet, and so are your feet inside your boots. The ground is littered and strewn with the most impossible selection of hard-edged rocks and boulders that are slippery and craggy and sometimes not visible, all of this you have to navigate your way over. This section is nine miles long, but you try and put that out of your mind. After a little sprinkling of rain a beautiful rainbow appeared in front of us, and I said to Rach, ‘this is it, we’re going right through the middle of that.’ We headed east for a few miles and I had to get the maps out again. In the guidebook some woods to the left of us were called something different to what they were on the OS map, which pissed me off enough to have another rant about the man from Kazakhstan. I deduced that he was wrong and the map was right and so was I. If we kept the woods to the left of us all the way, we’d eventually come out at the road we needed to cross to get on to the last section at some point. I’m not sure how confident Rachel was with my navigation skills at this point but she was too tired to care. We walked another four or five miles and then it was dark, we finished the last two or three miles of this rocky pit in pitch darkness.
Out on the road to begin the final section. We found the first stile that we had to cross to get down to Wheeldale Beck. This is where the real problems began. We had lost all our reference points; we couldn’t even see Flyingdales any more. For those who don’t know, Flyingdales is a Royal Air Force station on Snod Hill in the North York Moors. It is a radar base and is also part of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System. It is usually clearly visible from miles away, but then I haven’t been on the Lyke Wake Walk track before. Even when we were coming across the previous section and it was dark, we could see the single red light on top of the main building, which looks like something out of Star Wars. Our aim was, we were to head towards Flyingdales, or onto the edge of the boundary. All this was now gone, and all we could see was about two meters in front of us where my head torch was shining and nothing else. We climbed over the stile into the field, I could hear the beck trickling in the near distance, I knew we weren’t far off where we needed to be. We agreed to walk down the field a bit, but could not see where we were going. The grass was soaking and freezing, I’d guess the air temperature was about 2 degrees. We came back up the field to where we’d climbed in and walked down the top of the field along the line of the fence looking for the old Roman Road, which was our key to finding our direction. We could not locate it. We fucked about, and I was getting my angry bird head on at this point, for about half an hour trying to find clues in the dark, but we just couldn’t see a thing apart from the thick cloud of our own breath and the mist rolling in off the moors.
I don’t think I have ever been so disappointed, or I can’t remember the feeling if I ever have been. I knew I was going to have to can it. We climbed back out of the field and made the necessary phone calls. Both of us were absolutely gutted. We were so close to finishing it; we were only about six miles away and after having come all that way to not romp over the finish line had never entered my head. I can’t really put into words how I felt, but I don’t want to feel like that again. Quitting doesn’t come into my vocabulary, but sometimes you have to get your sensible cap on and do what’s right for the greater good, and then I suppose there is the safety factor. I’ve since imagined accidently crossing over into the Ministry of Defence boundary in the dark, dropping my trousers for the umpteenth time for a wee and having an AK47 poked in my face. I am able to laugh about it now, not finishing, but it doesn’t make it any less a bitter pill to swallow.
It’s amazing how the adrenalin stops when the mission is aborted. I went from being on fire and fury, to feeling like somebody had just pulled the plug on my energy. We sat down in the road in silence and both changed our socks, which for me made no difference what so ever, my boots were full of water and I don’t think they’ll ever do water again. I might have to frame them though; I’ve done thousands of miles in those boots! Once we’d stopped you could really feel how cold it was and I said we must keep walking and moving to keep warm. We set off walking down the road and carried on until Andy came to find us, I think we’d have done well over the forty-mile mark by the time we sat down in the car.
I think two is a good number to do the walk, I think too many heads on the job would be a nightmare to be honest. I’d do it with Rach again any day, if I ever do, that is! I think you need to know who you’re going with… very well. Nothing can prepare you for the Lyke Wake walk. No two days would be the same out there in the wilderness, and the experience would be completely different for everybody who does it. One factor that will remain constant though, is that it is hard, and unless you’re into extreme running and marathons on a regular basis, it’ll probably be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. Without an equal balance of mental and physical endurance, you will struggle. I challenge anyone to say it’s easy, because it isn’t. When I was sat on the road in the dark and the cold, I said, ‘well, what a bastard, the worst thing about not finishing is, I’ll never do it again.’
But, saying that, I’ve had a few days to get over it now… You never know!
Until Next Time..
Captain Over & Out x