An Introduction to the Galloway Hills

Hill days for me have been at a premium recently as we completed our move from Yorkshire to the Galloway Forest Park in Southwest Scotland. After 3 weeks of unpacking I was very ready for a day out introducing myself to my new local hills.

Sunday was my first proper day in the Galloway Hills and what a day it was….
I was well aware of their reputation for being extremely tough…
But how tough only becomes clear when you’re actually out there…

I consider myself pretty much hill fit but Galloway hill fit is a whole new level of fitness….
The toughest day I’ve ever had in the hills….
No summit…
Socks, boots, trousers wet through by the end…
But what a fabulous day exploring and getting to know my new hills….

I opted for one of the smaller climbs today….
Millfore is a similar height to Kinder so I thought it a good hill to get a feel for the terrain….

The first part of the climb was straightforward….
Following a logging track up into the hills….
Easy enough….
The views of the surrounding hills obscured by the low cloud….

I knew there were no paths on the ground up here but I hoped I’d see some sign of where feet might have passed before me…..
Not a chance…..
Once you leave the track it’s straight into the long, wet grass and just try and pick a route that heads in the direction you want to go…..

Hard, hard going…..
Feet sinking into bog….
Holes in the ground….
The long grass getting me wetter and wetter….
I was glad I’d put my gaiters on, they are absolutely essential for this terrain…..

A fence to climb and then more thigh high grass to contend with…
Heather…..
Rocks….
Holes….
Streams…..
This is hard work, but it’s beautiful…..
So, so beautiful…..
I just wish the cloud would lift to show me all the beauty around me….

Then I’m confronted with a larger stream….
I can see a way across….
But I’m not too sure if it’s one I should risk while out here alone….
More traversing through the long grass….
paralleling the stream…
Looking for an easier route across…..

Finally one appears….
I’m going to have to paddle but it’s a way across….
My feet are still dry, for now….
Upwards, the walking becomes easier…..
The vegetation not so high…..
The ground wet but not as boggy…..
This I can deal with…..

Visibility however is deteriorating……
I’m in the cloud and the higher I go the less I can see…..

Knowing the descent is going to be hard work I decide to turn back before the summit….
I’m happy to walk by head torch but not in this, not yet….

Look at my map to choose my route down….
The easiest route navigation wise seemed to be head southwest to a stream then follow it down until I got to the electricity pylons…..
Then follow them back to the loggers track…..

Easy navigation, hard, hard going underfoot…….
I swore a few times….
My feet started feeling damp from all the constant water in the long grass….
My boots are great but nothing can resist that amount of water…..

My legs were tiring….
I got to the electricity pylons and was so happy to be less than a mile from a track…..
A fence to climb….
And then it seemed to get even harder…..
The ground so uneven…
Every time my foot went down through the vegetation I had no idea how far it would go…..
How uneven the surface I hit would be……
How boggy….
This was hard going….

Just a few hundred yards from the track I came to a stream…..
It was too deep……
Too wide…..
Flowing too fast…….
I couldn’t cross here…..
I could have cried…..
I wasn’t going back….
Not when I was so close…..

I weighed up my options….
I could follow the stream down but that looked really hard work, through a forest and my legs wanted no more….
So instead I walked upstream…….
Looking for an easier crossing point…
More hard walking….
But I needed a way out…

Finally, there it was….
A couple of metres wide….
Up to my knees…..
But flowing gently….

I waded across……
I got lots of water in my boots…..
I squelched all the way back to my car…..
But I was alive….
I really felt alive……

The toughest hill day I’ve ever had……
But what a fantastic day

Evening on Bamford Edge

There was a time, not so long ago. Where all that would have mattered to me last night would have been to sit in a pub, getting slowly rat arsed, shouting, swearing, singing……
At the box in the corner, showing 11 men playing football against another 11 men who represented a different country…..
It was very, very important to me that the 11 men who represented my country defeated the other…..
Because then I could drink loads of beer and be happy rather than drink loads of beer and be depressed….

I stopped doing that…..
And found something that makes me happy all the time…..
So last night, I headed to Bamford Edge for a wander on another hot sunny evening.

In my 28 years of living in this country this is the best summer I’ve ever seen and I’m enjoying every moment of it 🙂

Evidence of barbecues on the bank above Cutthroat Bridge Car Park, not great, this area is ready to go up in flames at any moment.

A visit to the stone circle on Hordron Edge then off for some nav practice across Bamford Moor. I get it wrong quite a lot…..
I’m not paying enough attention to what I can see……
The path is always clear if you look closely enough… …

Finally I make it through the moorland to Bamford Edge……
The views open up….
The beautiful cloud patterns in the sky….
The sun shining down on Ladybower below…..

This, right here, is why I’m here……
The world around us, is so beautiful……
How could I want to be anywhere else but here….
This, right here, fills me with more happiness than anything the TV box shows us……

I wander along the edge……
Venturing out onto the crags…..
Watching the rock climbers as they test themselves………
The sun dropping down towards the hills……
I find myself somewhere to stop for my tea…..
Sat on a rock……
Enjoying the beautiful views and the quiet……..

Then time to return…..
The mole on the path scurrying around, looking for it’s hole……
I watch for awhile….

Getting back to the car just before it got dark……

Turn on the radio, England have won……
Fantastic, but I’m turning you off again…..
I don’t need to hear anything more……
I’m going to drive home, in peace, enjoying the evening I’ve just had 🙂

Take the time to get outside, the world is beautiful and she has so much to offer us if we go be with her ♡♡♡

Discovering the Howgills

I’ve not been able to blog much recently, moving house has taken over my life for the last few months. Thankfully I’ve still been able to get outside regularly.

Saturday’s adventures come from the Howgills, I’ve often looked at this area on maps and thought “I must go there some day” but I’ve never made it until now.
What an area for walking, I see 3 people all day and the rest of the time I had it all to myself 🙂

Starting from the lay by near the Cross Keys outside Sedbergh I took the path to Cautley Spout but instead of heading up to the falls I headed up the short, steep climb to Bowderdale Head. At the top of the climb a large grass valley opened up before me, surrounded by imposing hills. It was beautiful, such a remote and peaceful place.

Following Bowderdale Beck through the pathless grass to the foot of Ram’s gill where I broke for lunch. Sunny day, blue skies, stream flowing next to me and birds singing. The perfect lunch spot. Life definitely doesn’t get much better than this.

It was at this point that it became apparent that I’d clearly bought Crazy Matt out for the day as I decided not to follow the nice easy path upwards but instead opted for the more direct route.
Straight up Ram’s Gill.

Had a look, yep this seems like a great idea.

It was hard work. My legs were burning. My feet were begging to have somewhere flat to rest.
It seemed to go on forever but I got to the point where turning back just wasn’t an option so ploughed on.
Eventually the gradient became much less steep and I was just on a gentle slope upwards through bog towards the Dales High Way. I was overjoyed to be in bog and no longer have my legs screaming at me that they were going to kill me while I slept tonight.
Joined the Dales High Way and headed to the summit of Hazelgill Knot for some absolutely stunning panoramic views.

Then headed back the way I had come to the summit of The Calf. I just didn’t want to come down, it really is so beautiful up there.

Crazy Matt then turned up again and said “This descent looks interesting”. I know what “interesting” means but I still thought “yeah let’s go for it”

Dropping down by Force Gill Beck and Red Gill Beck towards Cautley Spout. A lovely walk, stream flowing beside me, sun in the sky. I’d clearly made the right decision.

Then I get to Cautley Spout.
“Ooh that’s a steep drop”

The path down by the waterfall is probably called “Suicide Drop” and it may well have had a sign up calling it that but the sign dropped into the abyss years ago.

It was steep, near vertical would describe it best.
The drop down the waterfall to the right certainly made sure my whole focus was on getting down.
My knees screamed at me.
Hands were used, a lot.
It was slow, slow going.

I was so happy when I finally made it to the bottom.
I’m not sure I want to repeat that descent anytime soon but what a fantastic day out.

A Wander by Head torch 

After two days and nights of New Year’s celebrations we both desperately needed to get outside. Getting up late on New Year’s Day though meant this would have to be a head torch walk.  I really enjoy walking at night, it’s a whole new experience.  Familiar walks can be experienced in a whole new way, the sounds are all entirely new ones as the nocturnal creatures go about their business under the cover of darkness.  Most of all no one else,except these two daft buggers from Yorkshire, is out at night so you get the paths to yourselves.

We’re on holiday in Cornwall at the moment so we looked at a map and decided on the half hour drive to Lizard Point for a short wander. 

Parking up near the lighthouse, opening the car door suggested this could be fun.  The wind was fighting against me as I pushed to get the door open. Well there won’t be any cobwebs left to blow away after this one, hopefully nothing else blows away at the same time. 

After getting kitted up we headed down the path to Lizard Point. The path descending downwards to the sea with a brilliant , near full, moon rising behind us and the powerful waves crashing against the rocks below. Passing the UK’s most southerly cafe, we rounded the corner to be met by the strong wind trying desperately to lift us off our feet. Continuing on a bit further downwards to watch the waves before deciding to return to the cliff top path and following that round, past the lighthouse towards Housel Bay.

The wind was much calmer around this side and as we arrived at the bay we turned off the headtorches to sit and enjoy the beauty of the waves crashing below us.  

This is the beautiful part of a walk in the dark, when you turn all artificial light off and immerse yourself in the beauty around you.  The waves below, the moon and stars above.  

Beautiful, just beautiful.  Hello 2018, you look absolutely gorgeous.

A Weekend of Winter – Higger Tor

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The weather had taken another turn to winter towards the end of the week and temperatures were plummeting. With snow falling in the Peak District and more to come there wasn’t really much decision making to do about which area I’d be walking in this weekend. Both days were spent in the Dark Peak and what fun they were.

Saturday I drove down with the idea of returning to Higger Tor again, where I’d walked just a few weeks ago, this week it would be covered in the white stuff. Driving into the Peak from Owler Bar, Sheffield it was obvious I was in for a good day. The snow was everywhere, roads thankfully were nice and clear though and parking was easy as it seemed only crazy people were out today.

Parking up at Surprise View car park I got kitted up with the snow still coming down, a quick check I had everything in my pack and it was time to head into the hills. The climb up to Higger Tor was on paths that had become very icy, I did have crampons in my bag but didn’t think them necessary today. At least I had the option though if needed.

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The short climb down from Over Owler Tor was a tad slippy in places but plenty of conveniently placed rocks provided effective hand holds to assist. Then it was onto Higger Tor itself, skidding along the hidden ice and then being passed by a large group of runners who seemed happy to continue at a fast pace despite slipping around, see only the crazies were here today.

The path up to the summit was again quite slippy but there was plenty of fresh snow in places that assisted with the ascent and didn’t make it too tricky. A quick scramble up the rocks on the West side and I was there, along with very few other people. The views down into the valley were obscured by the cloud and snow today but it made a nice change to be up here and have it mostly to myself for once.

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A brief stop at the summit and then it was time for the descent, sliding my way down to Upper Burbage Bridge, before beginning the return journey over Burbage Moor to Burbage Bridge, sometimes these names make me feel like I’m walking through a chapter in Lord of the Rings, Gollum didn’t pop up from behind any rocks to start gabbling on about his precioussss though thankfully.

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Then across the road to Padley where I couldn’t help myself and stopped to build a snowman. I think it’s an epic masterpiece and shows great promise. I’m happy to take orders for future snow sculpting projects all at very reasonable prices. You best get in quick though because I expect the queues to be out the door with this level of artistry on display.

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After spending hours on the snowman (ok maybe it was only five minutes) I followed the stream back and then up over Owler Tor and back to my car.

An absolutely fantastic day and it’s great to have winter here again and finally a winter where the ground is frozen and I’m not wading through inches of mud. Maybe we’re gonna have a good one this year.

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Book Review – The Last Hillwalker by John D Burns

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Every so often a book comes along that grabs you immediately and just won’t let go. The pages come alive in your hands and every word speaks to you. This is one of those books.

A thoroughly enjoyable read about the authors life spent in the hills and mountains. His love of being in the outdoors leaps off the page and reminds me exactly why I love being outdoors and the feelings I get when I’m out there enjoying an adventure.

I was grabbed from the first page where the author opens in the middle of a perilous ice climb. You’re immediately transported to the cliffs and the tension and danger can be felt so clearly as you read. In the first paragraph I knew this was a book I was going to enjoy and I wasn’t to be disappointed.

From the streets of Merseyside to the Lake District Fells and then onto winter mountaineering in Scotland and Europe. The progression of the authors outdoor experiences are illustrated with well written descriptions of mishaps and great achievements in his outdoor career. The writing transports you to the mountain side with him, you feel the snow under your feet and the ice axe in your hand. There are moments of great tension and danger and also real laugh out loud moments. His joy at being in the hills shines from the page.

At the time of writing I’m waiting to receive the latest copy of TGO Magazine to see if this book has won the Book of the year award, if it hasn’t then the book that does win must be pretty special as this book was superb and one of my favourite reads of the year.

If you haven’t already, go out and buy this book now, but be prepared to lose a day or two as you won’t be able to put it down till you’ve finished.

 

Walking In a Winter Wonderland

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Don’t tell my boss but we’re at the time of year where I spend most of my working week keeping an eye on the excellent Mountain Weather Information Service  and checking the weather charts provided by Netweather . When I’m not doing either of those things you will most likely find me looking longingly at webcams of our various mountain regions, yes the winter months are a very productive time for me at work.

The reason for this fascination with the weather is that I’m hoping for a proper winter to appear, one with ice, snow and all the fun that brings. This week, I wasn’t to be disappointed. Friday night into Saturday looked like providing some good snowy conditions in the Western side of the Peak District so Saturday afternoon I headed off to Castleton for some winter fun, the view that opened up to me as I drove past Longshaw showed I wasn’t to be disappointed. The Peak was wearing it’s winter coat.

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Leaving Castleton I hiked up through the mud to the South East ridge of Mam Tor where the snowline began. Mam Tor, as always, was very busy and the climb up the South East ridge was a slushy muddy mess which offered no winter fun but a good chance of a slip in the mud on the steep climb up. There was no fun to be had here so I opted to traverse around the base of Mam Tor, walking through fresh, untouched snow towards Rushup Edge instead. Rushup Edge is fantastic, offering great views of Kinder Scout and the Edale valley, but is often overlooked as the crowds head instead to the summit of Mam  Tor and the Great Ridge instead.

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The snow showed others had come this way already but there was still plenty of snow on the ground to enjoy for my first real winter fun of the season. Heading upwards I had beautiful views behind me of the Great Ridge and the views over Kinder soon opened themselves up. It was fantastic to see the Peak looking so spectacular.

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The wind was vicious, whipping snow and hail into my face and , as i was walking into the wind, it made it very difficult to look up, every time I did my face would sting from the blows. Despite being well covered the weather was proving to be challenging.

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I continued on up to Lords Seat, enjoying the views before me. The green of the Edale valley and the white of Kinder Scout, also spotting the threatening clouds heading my way from Kinder, there was another storm on the way,

Being late in the afternoon it was now time to return, I decided to do this over the fresh snow rather than the paths I’d taken earlier. This gave me a surprise as I sunk up to my hips in a hole beneath the snow, thankfully it wasn’t bog. The wind was picking up and getting increasingly difficult to walk in, then the cloud descended and the snow and hail picked up making for an interesting descent. I had been taking my right glove off all day to take pictures on my phone but it had got to the point where my hand was so cold the phone couldn’t detect I was touching it, any more pictures were out of the question in this wind. It was now impossible to look into the wind as it stung the face too much, but then, as quickly as it had started, the storm stopped and the skies cleared again to reveal a glow to the sky behind me, and yes, my fingers worked once more.

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The final part of the descent was polished ice, the lady in front of me chose to slide down it sitting down rather than risk walking it. I couldn’t be bothered with putting crampons on for a short section of path so instead chose a completely different descent that had fresh, untrodden snow. It was a longer way around but there was no chance of causing myself an injury.

The return journey to the car was done through Winnats Pass in the dark, with heavy snow falling.

What a beautiful taste of winter, more of this please .

 

Back On The Grit

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After Saturday’s exertions I decided Sunday’s adventures would be of a more relaxed kind. I wanted to have a good walk without the need for map reading or any concerns about the weather so I headed back to the Dark Peak.

The Dark Peak is one of my favourite areas for walking mainly because I’ve spent a lot of time here so know the paths well, it’s gritstone country so even in the wet your boots grip onto the rock (none of that soapiness of limestone) and it’s near my Mother-in-laws house so I’ve got an excuse to pop in for Sunday dinner after the walk 🙂

There was no planning involved in this walk at all, all my planning this week had been for Blencathra on Saturday so this one was just going to be one I made up on the day. Driving down I had 2 options in my head, Curbar Gap for a wander on the Edges there (always fantastic views) or the short climb up Higger Tor near Hathersage and see where my boots took me from there.

Higger Tor won. So I parked up at Surprise View above Hathersage, a very popular place to park as the views of the valley below are spectacular without even having to do any walking to earn them. It really is a most fantastic place to come and experience the beauty of the Peak, with views down into the Hope valley and onto Mam Tor and the Great Ridge

Boots on I went through the gate at the back of the car park and begin the gentle climb up. Stopping to scramble around on the rocks that feature in this area in abundance. A climb up Mother cap was out though as there was already plenty of people having a go on that one.

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A stroll across Hathersage Moor and then a short climb up Higger Tor, finishing off with a new route by scrambling up some rocks to the top to enjoy the views down into the valley below. I love this walk, it’s so straightforward and accessible to all, you get a real feeling of openness but it’s so easy to get to.

After cavorting on the rocks on Higger Tor (I do get a childlike enjoyment from scrambling around on rocks) I headed down to Upper Burbage Bridge. This is where I noticed that my left knee really wasn’t happy with descents today. Each step was hard work and i uttered a few curses and yelps of pain as I headed downwards. I can only assume that my mountain adventures the day before had had an impact on my body and it was telling me that in no uncertain terms. This would be  a feature of my walk for the rest of the day, as my  knee got more and more painful.

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I returned via the path below Burbage Moor and onto the stream flowing through Padley, by this point any step down even a small incline was painful and I was starting to wish I’d abandoned the walk earlier.

Then the beauty of nature unfolded in front of me. As I followed the path through the trees, alongside the stream a beautiful sunset revealed itself to me.

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Moments like these are why I walk. Isn’t nature just so amazing? Every moment with her is just so beautiful but then you get those really special moments that make you so happy to be alive.

I live for those moments and I want to experience more of them!

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A Taste of Winter, Blencathra

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Blencathra, in the northern, Lakes has always been a mountain that fascinates me. Draws me in, calls me to come play. The name itself speaks of the age of the mountain, she has been there for a long time and seen so much. There is wisdom in these fells.

Like all mountains, there is a power there. An ancient power, one that existed before we arrived and will still be in the land after we’ve gone.

Blencathra, it’s a name that sends shivers down my spine. So today i was going to attempt to climb her, to investigate just a few of her charms. Spend a few hours with her, getting to know the secrets she’s willing for me to see. Blencathra, ah how I love you!

The mountain weather forecast had been for sub zero temperatures, 30 mph winds and the possibility of snow. So I was packed for winter. Insulated jacket was back in my pack as was a warm flask of tea.

Heading out of Mungrisdale wearing hat and gloves i soon started to question the ability of the weather forecasters, it was quite warm. Sun was shining, sky was blue and no wind to speak of. I was soon removing layers and undoing zips in the hope that i could cool down. The first issue of the day soon presented itself, the path had washed away in the floods of Storm Desmond so I had to wade across the river to continue on my way.

The climb continued up to Bannerdale Crags where i discovered the missing weather. Aye, it was a bit windy up here. Time to dig out those items I’d removed in  the valley.

The views up here were fantastic though.

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Then the rain started, cold biting rain, rain that seems to be attracted to your face, inflicting one more sting. The mountain is testing me, asking how much do you want to know me?

As i climbed up above Foule Crag the rain turned to snow and the wind was causing the snow to sting against my face, this was becoming unpleasant.

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Visibility was deteriorating rapidly and I sheltered at the foot of Blue Screes to see if a break in the weather would appear. After twenty minutes of waiting it was time to make a decision, if I climbed up further was I confident that I could get back down on my own given the conditions?

I decided that the answer was No. I wasn’t willing to be the reason that Mountain Rescue volunteers had to abandon their family on a Saturday and the weather was not getting any better.

So I turned around. The mountain had closed her doors to me but she would be there another day.

 

 

Home to the North York Moors

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Well it’s been a while since my last update. Working towards a house move has gotten in the way of my adventures in the hills, but nevertheless has been very enjoyable. I’ve still been finding time to have fun outdoors, just no time to write about it 🙂

My original plan for today was to head to the Lakes but when i got up I just wasn’t feeling it. I wanted a day of just letting the boots take me where they wanted to go and no real need for any map reading or planning. Days like that are what the North York Moors are made for (at least for me anyway). When i first returned to walking, the Moors are where I spent most of my weekends. Learning the paths, linking different routes together, exploring and having many great adventures.

This is also one of the reasons I mainly walk solo. I like to be able to make things up on the day rather than have anything too structured, the only person I walk with who is happy to do that also is my lovely wife, my partner in this journey through life who is only too happy to stick boots on and just go for it and see what happens.

I always carry a map.

I always know where I am.

I don’t always know where I’m going 😉

Once I’ve walked a path I pretty much know it for evermore so when I want a day of not having to look at a map and just making it up on the ground then the Moors is always the place to be for me. I know that, with my knowledge of the paths up there, I can have a great day without doing any planning in advance. The added bonus is that when you walk on the Moors, you can pretty much have the day to yourself. Once you’re away from the main tourist areas the only noise you hear is the noise of nature. It really is beautiful to experience. This is why I love the Moors so much and no matter how long it is between my visits it always feels like coming home when I return there again. There is magic to those Moors that soothes the soul, it’s a beautiful place to be.

When I left home I had two areas in mind as a starting point, Sutton Bank or Osmotherley. Both are great places to walk from. Sutton Bank has what James Herriot claimed to be “England’s finest view” (and it is quite fine indeed). Osmotherley has a fantastic walk up to the top of Black Hambleton and beautiful views down into the Vale of York, this also happens to be one of my favourite spots for lunch, sat on the top of Black Hambleton ,in Spring or Summer, enjoying the sunshine and the beauty of Yorkshire. What more could anyone need?

As i turned off the A1 towards Thirsk, Sutton Bank won though, there is a special place in my heart for Sutton Bank. My first solo walk on the North York Moors was done here and it always draws me back. I’ve walked here in sunshine, fog, rain and snow and I’ve loved every single one of those walks. So today I returned once more, to see what she had to share with me this time.

Today I was also going to be breaking in my new Scarpa Manta Pro boots, bought primarily for winter hill and mountain walking but they needed to be given a proper walk so my usual hill boots , Meindl Bhutans, were left in the car.

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Starting from Sutton Bank visitor centre I headed out on the Cleveland Way towards the White Horse, dropping down off the main path once I got to the gliding club. If you’ve never been up here this is a great place to stop and watch the gliders taking off from the cliff tops, just keep an eye out as they do come over the path quite low to the ground. My route now took me through the trees below the cliffs to the car park at the White Horse. Then doubling back on myself to circle below Hood hill. This is where the fun started, I was confronted with a field of mud to traverse. Normally this isn’t an issue but with new boots on that first step into mud is always very, very hard to take.  I looked left and right to try and find a route that was less muddy but it didn’t exist. As painful as it was to do I was going to have to go for it. My shiny new boots would shine no more (at least not till I’d got them home and cleaned them).

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The field of mud completed I headed over to another favourite of mine, Lake Gormire. This sits below the cliffs at Sutton Bank and is a great place to just sit and enjoy the peace. There’s a good reason why it’s peaceful, the climb back up to the cliff tops is hard, hard work. At this time of year it’s even harder. The paths up are inches deep in mud. Suck your boots off mud. Pull you back down the slope mud. Mud that is so desperate to own your boots it just won’t let go. Each time I do this climb I swear it’s the last, and it never is. I return again and again because, despite it being hard work, the views, when you finally get to the top are worth every hard fought for inch of climb.

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The return to the car was an easy stroll along the Cleveland Way in the gathering darkness. Yet again the North York Moors had worked her magic, put a spring in my step and made me feel so happy to be alive. I love this place 🙂