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Reports on a great weekend in the North York Moors..
Considering the storms that have been sweeping the country for what feels like months, it’s a testament to how much the British really will put up with walking in any weather that 30 of us assembled in Helmsley in the North York Moors on the last weekend of January.
There was the promise of high winds, mud, snow and perhaps heavy rain, but it was to blue skies that we all left the hostel on the Saturday morning, split up into a longer walk heading to the moors themselves and a shorter wander staying in the valleys.
The longer walk went to the northern edge of the National Park where the seas of heather drop off abruptly to the lowlands, giving views that stretch for miles. These summits are part of the Cleveland Hills, and the group made great progress against a strong cold wind to cover over 10 miles, including three ascents. In fact, the wind was so cold there wasn’t much time for stopping, and rapid progress was accompanied by rapid breaks to grab some food before the pace picked up again.
The team was so fast that despite having a longer route and a drive to get there, they were back at the hostel before the shorter walk. Which shows just how quick people want to be with a cold wind at their backs!
The shorter walk followed the Cleveland Way out of Helmsley towards the 11th century remains of Rievaulx Abbey to the west of the town. We stayed mostly in woodland, though there was enough of a climb to get a great view out over Scawton Moor in the south.
Not satisfied with the minor amount of mud encountered on the way to the Abbey, we then did a short loop including the sides of Ashberry Hill, where the bare winter trees allowed us a view down to the Abbey below, and the lower fields were suitably muddy for everyone to test their boots. Though the good weather mostly persisted, we were dealt with a brief snow flurry on the way back into Helmsley, which caught the fading light as we descended the final hill, the distant moors building up cloud as we retreated to the pub.
Sunday was cloudy and warmer, with infrequent bursts of drizzle. The longer walk headed out to Rievaulx Abbey and from there walked a longer loop than the shorter walk had done the day before. Surrounding the Abbey lie several deep valleys crowded with trees, and these provided excellent shelter from the light rain, our only exposure to it being when we crossed the hill into Nettle Dale and began the return journey. The fields and woods stretched away on all sides into the mist and after a very muddy descent, we were back in the woods.
The shorter walk went up one of the wooded valleys north from Helmsley, also taking advantage of the trees to stay out of the weather. It is these deep valleys, cut into the surrounding farmland or heather moor, that are so characteristic of the North York Moors. Many of them are too steep to farm, so species can live there in relative peace, disturbed only by the occasional walker or cyclist. Despite being narrow, they feel a million miles away from the world outside, distorting a walker’s sense of time and place.
The two walks reached Helmsley at lunch time and we finished the weekend with the usual round of fish and chips and a wander through the town. A few of us were even attracted by the ice cream parlour and stood in the rain eating them from cones, which must have looked a sorry sight to anyone in one of the cafés, but if they thought the Large Outdoors crew were going to be put off by a little rain, they obviously don’t know what we’re like!
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