During July, I read Barry Lopez’s Horizon and its prose has the same elegance and attention to description that I enjoyed when reading Arctic Dreams, one of his earlier works. The main reason that I mention summer 2020 reading here is that it mentions the explorer Captain James Cook and this trip report includes two different excursions into countryside that he would have known well. After all, he had his upbringing in Great Ayton that was the start and end point for two very distinct walks.
It was not so much the routes that differed but the weather and ground conditions. The first encounter was on a wintry Wednesday in 2018 while the second was on a summery Saturday with many more about since it also was during a school mid-term break. In fact, the weather drew many to travel by train to Whitby and it was a mild if greyer day spent there that took me past Roseberry Topping and Great Ayton in the first place.
The North York Moors have lain beyond the extent of north of England hill wandering for a long time before I made an actual incursion. Part of this is because getting to the North York Moors is a little awkward from where I live, especially for a day trip. For one thing, train travel takes quite a while and that especially applies to the Esk Valley railway line, scenic though it is. After all, it takes a few hours to get from Middlesbrough to Whitby and service frequency is of the order of number of trains per day rather than number of trains per day. As it happens, bus travel from Leeds can work just as well so that probably is saying something.
Given that, it perhaps is unsurprising that I undertook a reconnaissance visit before undertaking anything more intensive. That was how I got to going to Whitby on the Wednesday before Christmas 2017 and looking back at photos made then surprises me for I was a lot luckier with sunny spells than I then had supposed.
When I reached Whitby after savouring the scenery along the way from Middlesbrough, I naturally got to pottering about the place to get a closer look at the ruins of its abbey and anything else that caught my eye while I was there. There even was a bit of coastal walking and a chance to dip my footwear in the incoming waves of the North Sea.
Not wanting to await the next train to Middlesbrough, I caught a bus to Leeds from where I started my train journey home again. Sitting in the top deck of that double decker meant that I spent more time looking at what lay about me on the way than progressing with any reading material that I brought with me. After all, I was getting to see places where I had not been and that was the point of my outing. It duly achieved its purpose and the possibility of a walking incursion into the North York Moors became all the more real.
That I only got to glimpsing Roseberry Topping in reality during my 2017 reconnaissance trip might make you thing that I may not have known of the hill for very long but that is not the case at all. After all, the photographic craftsmanship of Joe Cornish is something that I have appreciated for nearly two decades and this has been one of his favourite subjects. More recently, I got to know that it is a local hill for world-class mountaineer Alan Hinkes.
It also is low in stature and near a train station once you get there so that made visiting it on a day trip more realisable than other parts of the North York Moors. That made it a plausible option when I desired a short afternoon stroll even when cold weather was forecast. It also helped that I could add to the route, thus gaining a wider appreciation of the area.
On arrival at Great Ayton by bus, I was greeted by bright sunshine and the frigid forecast proved to be correct with a thin coating of snow and many icy patches that required extra care as I went. The village looked well in the sun as I left it to go via the train station to Great Ayton Moor accompanied by views of the Captain Cook Monument on Easby Moor. The folly of thinking that going by bus would give me more time was exposed by the arrival of a train from Middlesbrough as I passed on the bridge over the station. It was only later when I needed to await a bus after missing a train that any wisdom such be extracted from the approach.
Nevertheless, I continued along Dikes Lane before leaving it for a public footpath near Gribdale Terrace. It may been how icy the road had been that encouraged such a choice, especially with my going uphill. In time, I would meet with the Cleveland Way for the next part of my hike.
That was to lead me over Great Ayton Moor and Newton Moor while previously clear blue skies became filled with cloud cover. There were few others about so I enjoyed more solitary strolling with views opening up around me to include Roseberry Topping itself. The Cleveland Way does include the aforementioned hill as a side trip on its way from Helmsley to Filey and that decided the route I would take to reach its summit.
First, I needed to drop down carefully off Newton Moor after passing Slacks Wood. As I did so, I debated the good sense of proceeding with the ascent given the conditions. Looking at the photos since then though, I realise that I missed a trick because not all sides of Roseberry Topping were coated with snow so I could have gone with an alternative route to that which I took. This might have saved reproaches against my stubbornness and coming off a different way might have appeal if I had not scared myself on the way up.
The way down was testing with the prospect of a long slide down steep slopes not appealing to me given the chance of injury. There was a short controlled slide but that only restored confidence rather than causing the feared outcome. It all slowed progress in declining light and I sensibly put aside the possibility of missing a train in preference to risking a more serious slip.
Thankfully, the steepest descent was behind me quickly enough though I retain a few lessons about looking for a less snow-coated route, having better traction equipment and even leaving a possibility for another time. They were being stored as I continued down to Aireyholme Farm where I met with a tarmac track back to Dikes Lane again. Though I missed the train by a matter of minutes, it was better not to rush and I returned to Great Ayton to await a bus instead. Then, my journey home began.
More like Summer
It was partly a desire to capture a photo of Roseberry Topping in sunnier weather that drew me back to the North York Moors and a February day that felt more like summer offered just that. Added enthusiasm came from the suspension of a Northern Rail strike that meant that no Saturday services had be operated by the company for many months. The train service restoration had the effect of encouraging me to embark on numerous trips to Yorkshire during the spring of 2019.
My previous encounter had happened on a wintry Wednesday so it was very quiet with plenty of solitary walking. It was not just the unseasonably mild weather that added company the second time around for this a Saturday during the spring school mid-term break too. That pretty much guaranteed that Roseberry would have plenty of people around as might be spotted in the photos by careful observers.
The first part of my way up there was quieter though and was a reprise of my previous descent route via Aireyholme Farm. With all those who were around Roseberry Topping my call to the summit involved little in the way of delay with some leaving me pass since they were slower than I was. In any event, I was seeking quieter surroundings and it did not take long to find them.
All I needed to do was to go following the Cleveland Way as far as Highcliff Nab. That journey carried me over Newton Moor, Hutton Moor and Black Nab along the way. As I crossed near Hutton Lowcross Woods, the landscape took on something of a desolate quality to my eyes for some reason. The variety of landscapes encountered on the day made sure that I would dwell on such an impression.
The final part of the journey to Highcliff Nab was a simple out and back affair that involved spending a little time around the crag. That said, it did not detain me and others were stationed there already so I started on the next part of my hike. That took me across Codhill Heights and Kildale Moor where I met with a tarmac lane. Then, I doubled back to meet with a path that went across Great Ayton Moor. As I got closer to the car park near Cockshaw Hill, I encountered more people again and there was a certain recognition of where I was since I was going past places that I first saw on my previous visit to the area.
Reaching Captain Cook’s monument was an attraction for quite a few visitors so I needed to share the trail over Cockshaw Hill and Great Ayton Moor to reach the obelisk on Easby Moor. There were still quite interludes though since it was by then later afternoon. After spending some of my own time up there, I continued down to Great Ayton’s train station and gained more solitude along the way. The path down through Ayton Banks Wood was gentle at first but later became steep enough that I resorted to holding onto tree trunks in an effort to steady my nerves. That was behind me soon enough so I trotted along a bridleway and a byway to reach the Dikes Lane and the train station again after a good day of hill wandering. Even so, the possibilities of this area are far from being exhausted and other halts on the Esk Valley Railway may offer additional departure points for future explorations on foot.
Getting to and from Whitby involved an outbound train journey with changes at Manchester and Middlesbrough while the way back made use of the Coastliner bus service to get from Whitby to York from where I continued back to Macclesfield with a change in Manchester. The first trip to Great Ayton needed a return train journey between Macclesfield and Middlesbrough with a change in Manchester and bus connections were used to get between there and Great Ayton. With changes in Manchester and Middlesbrough, the second journey to Great Ayton was an all rail affair unlike its predecessors.