I love walking. Always have done since I was a small child. As little more than a toddler I would walk to my father’s farm across what is now the M62 motorway so that he could bring me back again using the old cart horse pulling a flatbed wagon. Later on he would take me on the bus to Tong and we would walk almost into Leeds before we got a bus to return home.
I went to a good boarding school on the East Coast between Whitby and Scarborough. We used to walk down into Robin Hoods Bay every Sunday for church, and then back again. We would often do the same on a Saturday too. Often to spend our pocket money in the Dolphin pub for a pint of Cameron’s Strongarm before slipping into the Sailors’ Institute for a few games of snooker on a three quarter table.
Every walk into Bay and back was another five miles. Our headmaster helped. He would send us out for a cross country run every morning snow, hail, rain or shine before breakfast for between three and five miles. I hated him. I never ran. Over 200 yards (small metres) I was the fastest in the school. Anything over that distance I had to be carried. So I walked instead of running, using my knowledge of local roads and paths and my innate cunning to find shortcuts and workarounds so that I usually arrived still in time for breakfast porridge (I was school champion at eating that too!)
When I was fifteen, spotty, thin and painfully shy, the school had the great idea of building my character by sending me and a few of my friends to undertake a real challenge – a long distance walk. Near our school there runs a recognised challenge walk, the Lyke Wake Walk. Legend has it that this was the trail that Vikings used to carry their dead to the coast for a proper burial at sea. Anyway, it’s 42 miles, roughly 68 kilometres across some of the harshest moorland in the country. It must be completed in one continuous walk within 24 hours.
We were dropped of in Osmotherley staggering under the weight of rucksack, bedroll, sleeping bad and food; for this was not to be one of those namby-pamby supported rambles but a tough challenge for some uppity teens. The school had mistakenly put me in charge of navigation and planning. I don’t think they expected us to finish, possibly not all of us would survive but it was to be a learning experience.
The route sounds as scary as it is, beginning at Scarth Wood Moor trig point or the western Lyke Wake Stone in Sheepwash car park, following the summit track from Live Moor over Carlton Moor, Criggle Moor, Cold Moor and Hasty Bank, Smuggler’s Trod, Bloworth, Ironstone Railway, Esklets or South Flat Howe, White Cross (Fat Betty), Shunner Howe, Hamer, Blue Man-i’-th’-Moss, Wheeldale Stepping Stones, Fen Bogs, Eller Beck, Lilla Howe, Jugger Howe ravine, Stony Marl Moor, to the eastern Lyke Wake Stone at Beacon Howes or Ravenscar.
They reckoned without me, cunning to the core. I planned a route which would take us three and a half days, walking the route during the day and then dropping down into the nearby village to pitch our tents and eat dinner. What our august teachers didn’t realise was that I had planned a route which took us close to every single pub in the area. I remember how light my feet felt as the evening came and we dropped our gear outside the Buck Inn in Chop Gate (pronounced ‘Chop Yat’ in the old tongue). Again, a pint or two of Cameron’s Strongarm bitter helped us sleep if any help were needed.
The walk was so successful that many of my school friends wanted us to do it again. So we did, and again. Eventually any excuse could be found to walk. I remember taking part in a protest walk from school to York a distance of more than 80 miles in three days. We were protesting against the cruel railway closures imposed by Dr Beeching on behalf of the Conservative Party. This meant the closure of the line between Whitby and Scarborough which served our school at Robin Hoods Bay. It meant significant hardship to us and the villagers of Bay. We trooped in good order to the Railway Head Office in York carrying our homemade placards in the hope of waving them in the face of the same Dr Beeching. We made the local paper. The line closed. Many of those axed lines are now reopening at great expense either as tourist destinations or to continue to serve the local community.
Since then I have walked some significant distances. The proudest was with my twelve year old son, Jamie, when he and I did the walk in a little more than 15 hours. He has done it twice since then without me by his side. Good man!
So, what has all this to do with Tenerife? I hear you asking. Well, nothing really except I just looked at my fitbit and, over the last week or so I’ve walked almost 10,000 steps each day in this heat. Not bad for an older one!