As we were up near Whitby for a weekend bassoon course Debbie was attending, I decided to take a hike over Roseberry Topping early on the Saturday morning. It is one of the Trail 100, so it had been on my list of mountains to climb for some time, and we had not been up in this area of the country before, so the opportunity was too good to miss. If you have been reading my recent blogs then you will know I am carrying some injuries and in some pain, but I was not going to let that get in the way. We had taken a walk down to Robin Hood’s Bay on the Friday evening which had felt fine enough, so my mind was made up to go. As I will reveal later, even ignoring the injuries, I was not best prepared for doing this and I spent much of Friday evening checking online for a route, and then memorising it, once I had found one which looked ideal.
Those of you who read my blog should know by now that I have got into ‘tabbing’ in a big way. Just to remind you, ‘tabbing’ is a military term (‘tactical advance to battle’) which essentially means moving quickly while carrying weight. Of course, I do not travel as quickly or with as much weight as the military, but the events I am currently drawn to are worked on this basis. I have one coming up in a couple of weeks, The Fan Dance from Avalanche Endurance Events, and while I very much doubt I will be up to the level I achieved in the January event (which you can read about here), I do want to do the best that I possibly can, so at the moment everything becomes training for that. Which is why I would be doing this hike while carrying some weight on my back. I had my bergen loaded to 25lbs with all the essentials I might need if I got stranded in the wilds of the North Yorkshire Moors – a compass, 2 headtorches, spare laces, wooly hat, ruff, 2 pairs of gloves, mountain first aid kit, Fitzroy jacket, Rab Vapour-rise Lite Alpine jacket, bivi bag, sleeping bag, gaiters, towel, knee brace, a couple of packets of jelly babies, and in a separate waterproof bag in my bergen a short sleeved zipped base layer, long sleeved base layer, two fleeces, a pair of hiking trousers, long johns and socks – plus 3 litres of water in the internal bladder. The weather forecast was for sun, so I would be wearing a Rab short-sleeved base layer, my North Face trekking trousers, and my Aku Pilgrim boots.
It took me under an hour to drive to my start point, the high street of the lovely village of Great Ayton. I was able to park in front of the shops, but noticed there was also a free car park along the route I was walking, so it really is an ideal place to set off from. It was the boyhood home of Captain James Cook, and I had chosen a route which would take in Captain Cook’s Monument on Easby Moor, before heading across from there to Roseberry Topping by the Cleveland Way. I set off from the high street under the sun before 0800, and it was obviously going to be a lovely day. I was heading in the direction I had driven in from, and very soon turned right on to Station Road. Just as I was approaching a roundabout I met a local man coming the other way who spotted my bergen and remarked that he had worked out some years ago how to make a rucksack lighter, so I explained why mine was so full. We stood there talking for some time and he told me about a few alternative routes to get to Captain Cook’s Monument, which is when it started to become apparent to him that I had no map with me. As I said at the beginning of this blog, I was not best prepared for this hike, and that is why I had spent some time memorising the route once I had found it online. I assured him that my bergen contained absolutely everything else I might need in an emergency, and that I saw memorising the route as being a different type of challenge, and not necessarily one which was likely to see me getting lost given that the two points I wanted to get to were the highest points around. I did like the sound of his alternative routes, but stuck with the one I could picture in my mind and continued on my way, turning left at the roundabout to stay on Station Road.
The road gradually rose as it wound its way along, giving me a view of Captain Cook’s Monument off to my right, and not before long I had reached the station, crossed the road bridge over the track, and then took a right turn as Station Road became Dikes Lane. I went down a track, and could probably have taken the footpath just before it. Either way, I was off a main road now and into the countryside proper.
I could see the distinctive outline of Roseberry Topping over to my left as I climbed the track and headed towards the woods which gradually took the peak from my sight. The path here was obvious, and I knew I was heading in the right direction for the Monument, even though that had disappeared from my sight as soon as I had left Station Road, but when I reached the trees there were a number of tracks available to me. So I took the middle one. It was heading uphill at a diagonal, and that seemed like a good direction to take. If I had had a map with me, I would have seen that was the wrong choice and that I should have taken the track to the left, which then curled round to the top of the hill. As it was, I soon came to another junction, which gave me the choice of zigzagging up the slope back the way I had come or heading back down to the bottom track which continued around the base of this particular peak. The route I had memorised had seemed a lot more straight forward than this, and I could not see anything of the Monument from where I was standing. I really did not want to walk too far and have to come back on myself. A woman walking her dogs had been coming up the track to the woods behind me and now I saw her on the bottom track. I decided to adopt the Dirk Gently approach to navigation, also known as Zen Navigation, where rather than using a map you find someone who looks like they know where they are going and you follow them. It rarely gets you where you wanted to go but always gets you where you needed to be. I went down to the bottom track and followed the dog walker to a sort of a crossroads of tracks, where she had stopped. There was a track to the right leading down to Great Ayton, the track I was on, and something of a track going up the slope through the ferns to my left. I asked the woman if the track I was on led up to Captain Cook’s Monument, and she did not know, which was not the answer I was looking for. So as she went back the way we had come, rather than risk going too far on this track, I turned left up the slope and made my way through the ferns.
I had not gone far when I caught sight of the tip of the Monument, which certainly brightened my spirits as the sun continued to burn down on me while I ploughed ahead up the slope, and now I angled my approached so that I headed towards it. I had not gone much further when caught site of a model flying machine just above the ridge I was heading towards, so I knew I would not be alone when I got there. I pushed on until I came to the top of the slope, with the Monument to my left, which meant I had to skirt around the ridge, going down through a rocky depression and then up the other side before I was there. The person with the model flying machine was in conversation with another man, and once I got to the Monument itself I saw two runners and another couple coming up the track I should have taken.
Captain Cook’s Monument is a strange one. It is a 51 foot high obelisk from 1827 set alone at 324 metres on the moorland of Easby Moor, and while it looks impressive, it is plain. There is no fanfare about it, no great signs telling you how to get to it, and I do wonder if there should not be a lot more fuss about Britain’s greatest navigator.
Once I had taken in the stunning views all around me, there for me to enjoy in their finest splendour on such a gloriously clear and sunny day, I set off down the obvious track which I figured must be the Cleveland Way, eager to get to Roseberry Topping so that I could enjoy the views from there.
A stone pathway took me across the moor, past a memorial to airmen who crached nearthis location in 1940, and then downhill into woodland and at the bottom I saw a sign for Gribdale Gate, which I recognised from another route I had seen online, and a map which clearly showed me the route I had taken and the route I should now be taking. One of the men from the summit saw me as he came down from the Monument and we got chatting at this map. I explained what had happened with me so far this morning, and he said he had seen me arriving from around the back of the Monument and had wondered where exactly I had come from. He saw my bergen and asked if I was walking the whole of the Cleveland Way, so I explained my reasons for carrying it. He told me that there were four different ways to get to the top of the opposite slope, but whichever one I took, the top of the opposite slope was definitely where I needed to get to. Straight up seemed to be the obvious one to take, following some steps in the ground, and once there I just had to keep the stone wall on my left. It really was as simple as that, and it was a lovely walk in the sun over this stretch.
I was passed in both directions by a handful of mountain bikers and runners, but there was hardly anyone out, and no other walkers. Almost from the point I reached the top of that opposite slope I could see the very clear path which would take me by a zigzag to the summit of Roseberry Topping, and now as the track curled around to my left at Newton Moor, I could see the stone path which would take me to the base of that zigzag, and even better, as I was looking down right now I could only see a handful of people all around.
I went down the stone steps at a good pace before starting the harder climb to the top. It started off pretty flat and long before suddenly increasing the gradient, but I have ascended far worse slopes than this over the past year and it left me thinking that if I had the fitness level I had attained back in January, this would actually be a very pleasant ascent up a very well kept stone track. Over to my left I could see Captain Cook’s Monument, just sticking out above the ridgeline, and a bit further on ahead of me once I was really into the climb was a delightful marker for the Cleveland Way.
A couple of people passed me on their way down, and just as I was nearing the summit a runner passed me on his way up with his dog. I had reached the top, which at 320 metres is actually just shorter than the location for Captain Cook’s Monument. The summit is all slabs of rock, and the view at the top was stunning, unspoilt, so very clear on this lovely day, and went on for miles and miles. I could not have asked for it to have been any better.
I could not see an obvious path down so I started my descent from the summit by a drop to the left and then scrambled down until I reached something which was more of a path, joining the main track at the bottom, turning right and walking past an isolated folly as I headed towards the woods.
I took a path to the left through the woods rather than carrying straight ahead, and then tried to keep going on a diagonal direction to bring me back to the road I had driven in on as far down as possible, to avoid a long walk down the road to get to the town. I remembered that as I had driven in I had gone past a car park for Roseberry Topping which was still some way outside of town, so I did not want to come out there. I passed three walkers who were going to be doing my route backwards by the sounds of it, so I gave them some information about what was ahead of them and in return they told me where they had come from, which gave me a good route back to the town. I carried on, taking right turnings off the path where I could, and eventually came to a bridge over the railway, which I crossed and then turned left, coming out at a residential area. After a few right and left turns I came out at the main road, pretty much as far down it as I could have hoped for, and continued the walk into town, very soon reaching the high street and my car. Strava went completely wild over this one, somehow starting it at my session with Bear Grylls in Hungerford (which you can read about here) so I am not sure how accurate the reading of 7.9 miles and 2 hours and 16 minutes of moving time actually is, but I do know that my elapsed time was not 170 hours and 9 minutes. What I do also know is that I felt exhausted after that effort and was happy to get the bergen off my back and the boots off my feet. And to get an ice cream from the local store.
You can see more photographs from my morning here.