Castle Eden Dene and beyond…..

There are many walks around my home but like most things, you have to go out and look. Amongst these are the Castle Eden Dene walk, this Dene is quite a depth and cuts right into the Limestone which surrounds the area. The map I have shows the Dene and a mish mash of routes which are hard to see on the map, never mind follow.  I’ve been in the Dene before but just a short route, I decided to start at the top and make my way down to the coast.

The start, luckily, is a stones throw from my doorstep.  If you have to drive to the start, the best think is to come off the A19 at the A181 turning and take a right down the old A19 road and park somewhere on this track, then walk down passed the metal barrier and at the bottom turn right through a tunnel under the A19.

However, I put my boots on sat on the stairs and warmth, I knew I’d only need basic kit so my day sack was emptied and just bare minimum went it.  I decided to leave the map as I knew the route (ish) and I know I love maps, I thought I’d leave it at home.  Like most of my walks from home I walked through my estate to join a little lane called Moore Lane and headed east passed a misty pond and as usual in this part of the country, more horses you can shake a stick at.  The sun was beating down on my neck and I was glad I hadn’t put too many layers on.  Then, I had a flash back, my mind went back to the bag of crisps I’d eyed up in the cupboard which I was going to pack……..which were still in the cupboard! ‘Damn blast’ I quietly bollocked myself.  This would never have happened if Kel had been with me, she was at work today teaching the local kids about the dangers of weapons, it was too far to go back so I cracked on.

I dropped on the the Haswell to Hart walkway and headed north west for a short while and then crossed the A181 to sneak past the VOSA guys at the weigh-bridge who were ripping some poor truckers wagon apart to drop down past the metal barrier (mentioned above) to the start of the walk.  As I skated down the short track the snow had not met the sun yet and I was doing a cracking impression of Michael Flately until I reached the bottom and the tunnel under the A19.

Right, this tunnel!  It’s big, dark and long and echoey. Don’t let it put you off, once through its like entering Narnia. At the other side I was met by a winter wonderland and the sound of a chorus of bird song. I went through the  gate with all the info about the Dene on a post and down a fairly steep path. I carried on with my enactment of ‘Riverdance’ and even my trusty walking pole wasn’t enough to steady me.  Time for the boot spikes! Not used them yet and they were quite a struggle to stretch when over my size eleven boots, but once on I was away with a spring in my step.  Not long down the path I sensed I had a follower rustling around in the partially snow covered under growth, at first I thought a little Robin or Wren wanted to join me on my stroll. Then, on closer examination into the leaves I saw my stalker, a small mouse was peaking up at me.  I carried on wondering if the minute rodent would accompany me to the coast, but after a few more metres it had stopped following and I was just left with the chirping Blue and Great Tits for company.

The path is well maintained and easy to follow, even with a good covering of snow, making the route easy and interesting as my face wasn’t stuck in a map,even though I love them dearly. As I got deeper and deeper into the carved out Limestone, the bird chatter silenced and I was left with just the ever so subtle trickle of the partially frozen stream which was broken every now and then by a small rapid. The sun was still peaking through the trees and the temperature was comfortable enough to leave my gloves in my pocket.  There are a few off shoots from the route but the idea is to stay with the stream, the path takes you over a few bridges which give you a pleasant rest to gaze up the stream, which today was carrying a mist to add to its magical appearance. 

The path climbs slightly which takes you away from the stream, this is frustrating as the noise of the trickle is quite relaxing.  But then after a couple of hundred metres you realise the reason for the paths untimely deviation from stream, a right turn back towards the stream brought me to Gunners Pool Bridge. Wow!  A shockingly painted red metal structure reaching over the stream.  At this point you may be forgiven for thinking, what’s this heavy duty feat of engineering doing crossing over a small stream that was previously negotiated by quaint little wooden bridges, until you cross and look down.  The stream has become a gushing mini river which has cut its way through the Limestone, which has dropped the best part of hundred foot.  I peaked over the side and had the courage snap a quick piccy than ran across to Terra Firma. I then looked at the route and realised the path I wanted was back over the other side, I steadily walked back across but could not resist another peak over the side…then I ran off again!

Back on track and heading back to the bottom, the path becomes covered by trees which canopy the route quite a bit.  Now I’m 6′ 3″ tall and I was just about on my hands and knees negotiating about 25 metres as the path dropped back to another bridge and a surprisingly once again babbling brook rather than the fast running pace I nervously looked down on on Gunners Pool Bridge.  The temperature had dropped and the silence was eerie, the Limestone was up close and personal and I couldn’t help looking for Bouldering problems on the numerous lumps of rock in front of me.  It was strange, there were Ferns growing out of the stone, but icicles right next to the vivid green of the foliage.

Maybe just me, anyway, I knew I was approaching the A1086 which connects Horden and Blackhall as the noise of the traffic was becoming louder and I know this area of the Dene, professional reasons.  The path climbs up left to the road, but there’s a cheeky right turn that takes me under the busy road through a culvert.  But by taking this turn you leave yourself open to a view which may, or may not spoil the whole walk.  The culvert is graffiti ridden and as you enter, the path is thin and visibility is poor, very poor.  A torch is needed or you may end up in the, now concrete lined, stream for about 25 metres.

But, once the obstacle is gone (and forgotten) I re enter the Dene and a short climb to a Tarmac road laid by the water authority to the treatment works at the bottom.  Further on you can smell the sea air and the North Sea is in your sights. The route opens itself out into a beautiful nature reserve which, in the summer, is the sight for the elusive Durham Argus Butterfly.

That is the end of the Castle Eden Dene walk for all tense and purposes. At this point you can turn back and take in the sights with a slightly uphill climb and if wanted a slightly different route.  The walk furnished me with a variety of wildlife, Jays, Coal Tits, two squirrels fighting very high up and the usual bird life that is usual in a wooded undergrowth. It’s a cracking walk and it’s a walk that is essential if you live in the North East.  I loved it and will do it again!

For those who care to read on, I finished the walk by joining the English Heritage Coastal route that blazes down the east coast.  I had a good few mile left in me so I carried on towards Blackhall.  The Kestrel that patrols this part of the beach banks was as ever, hovering and swooping awaiting the return of the Little Tern and it’s annual battle with the adult Terns for the chick reward.

I turned right and passed a decent gathering of Oystercatchers competing with the Starlings for God knows what in one of the coastal meadows.  I crossed the coastal road and made my way up Fillpoke Lane towards High Heselden and Heselden hoping to catch site of my Hen Harrier.  But he, or she, must have been elsewhere, however the sky’s were littered with more Oystercatchers and a Lapwings as I sped up towards Castle Eden.  As I normally do, I was keeping a firm eye on my phone, I had set of ‘Map my walk’ at the start and realised, my battery was on its last legs and had to turn the App off at 9.81 miles.  I got Kel to pick me up at Castle Eden when she finished work taking me to a total of just short of 13 miles.  And a cheerful, but cold ridden snotty face greeted me. 

It was a cracking walk and I got into the depths of Castle Eden Dene, which is a very well publicised walk,  and if anyone in the N East is at a loose end one day, it’s a good leg stretcher.

In and around Aysgarth, North Yorkshire

With the cold weather here we thought we’d have look for some snow for a nice walk to stretch our legs.  Our good friends Dicko and Sue were staying in the village of Aysgarth in North Yorkshire for Dicko’s 50th birthday, so we thought we’d have a drive down and have a stroll on the Yorkshire moors.

We met them in the George and Dragon pub car park where they were staying, Kel was extra excited as it was the first outing for her new walking boots.  We donned our kit and set off through the village.  Aysgarth is one of those villages where you want to live in all the houses.  The path brings you up close and personal with the windows of the houses and you just can’t help staring in to admire the real fires and the Inglenook stoves which give off the sweet smelling  smoke pouring out of the chimneys.   A couple of the gardens were already sporting daffodil shoots and the Snowdrops where well and truly in bloom.

As we headed west the road forks and so we took the left turn onto the road heading for Thornton Rust.  Here a few more barn conversions and original buildings have the pleasure of looking out over Wensleydale.  After a couple of hundred metres we took a left and joined a track which took us up past the reservoir and then right onto Flout Moor Lane heading west.  We were all in good spirits and Kel was happy with her choice of boots.  A few jokes were flying about how she could’ve been sponsored by ‘RAB’ for the walk, but she wasn’t bothered as she was ‘toastie’.  The lane had a slight climb hidden within and the nip in the air which had accompanied us at the start now gave way to red faces and a thick layer of condensation across Dicko’s black ‘Dut’!  Now, people have their own view on farmers, I think they do graft but don’t particularly have a great deal of love for hikers.  Whilst walking up the track we encountered probably the grumpiest farmer.  He buzzed past us in his tractor with a face like thunder, I gave my usual wave but the look he gave back was like I had just rogered his prize Saddleback!  Even his trusty Border Collie following up behind the tractor didn’t have a nice word to say.

We plodded on to the next gate, and this is where it happened, my mouth got me into bother with Sue.  We encountered a big wooden gate with a chain and hook to secure it, a bog standard obstacle that every hiker negotiates on every walk.  I walked up to it and casually tried to lift the hook out of the ring on the fence post.  I tried, and tried, and tried and could I hell get the hook out of the ring.  Dicko caught up and he tried to lift the gate up, push the gate down to give me more purchase, but the freezing hook would not come out of the ring.  Minutes before we had seen the farmer open and close the gate with ease, so we both thought he had done some underhand trick to hinder our access.  So we both stood there cursing Victor Meldrew in his tractor and telling the girls they had to scale the gate due to the farmer’s actions.  Sue however, calmly walked up to the gate and inspected the conundrum.  I stood and informed her that if two decent size blokes couldn’t shift it, a mere female with short legs would never manage.  Needless to say she lifted the gate and removed the hook with ease!  From now on, I will carry a bottle of ketchup so that when I have to eat my words, it will be more pleasurable.

I cracked on while Sue basically made me my 6’ 3’’ frame look about 3’’ tall with well-deserved abuse in relation to my comments.  Anyway, we cracked on and my frame was rebuilt as I easily strode over the ford at the next bend and Sue, doing an aeroplane impression, struggled to cross, but this time I kept my mouth shut.

We walked up to Haw Head and entered the snow line.  A good 3 inches of snow covered the ground and the Red Grouse escorted our route with their familiar shrill and their bunny hopping the white moorland before us.  We dropped down into Gayle Ing Beck and met a couple who I had been watching with my bino’s for some time on the horizon.  When I say watching I don’t mean in a pervy way.  I’m a sado when it comes to footpaths, I saw the couple walking on what was quite obviously a non-marked footpath in the distance.  When we met at the style in the Beck they said they had lost the path due to the snow.  We had a bit of a giggle with them and assured them if they followed our tracks they’ll stay on track.  Toilet stop for me but the rest cracked on and I climbed up to Brown-A-Haw while they had a break at the top.

I could feel the temperature had dropped quite a bit but the climb had warmed everyone up.  We crossed a stile and headed for Stake Road, still escorted by the red Grouse and their silence breaking call.  Stake Road was a much defined path and the join with our path was clearly marked with a small cairn, marking the junction.  Again, being a sado o saw the boot prints of the couple we had met in the snow and they appear to have missed the cairn completely causing them to take a right turn across the Side Well moor and an undefined route.

So, this is where the fun started, the track was littered with potholes and dips in the surface making perfect place for big puddles….big puddles frozen over and covered with snow.  Now, due to a dodgy right knee I use a stick for descents so I had a prodder to test the ground before I tread.  Dicko and I blazed the trail while Kel and Sue chattered away about 15m behind.  So while we hop skipped and jumped the hidden death traps, Kel and Sue played Russian Roulette with the snow covered terrain.  Needless to say they both finished the track with about a foot of mud and ice up their legs which made the gate incident feel better.

The track into Thoralby was slippy and muddy which was littered with spotted horses and elusive Kestrels.  We trudged into the village and decided to have a break at the Village Inn….which was shut!  We sat on the well-kept benches outside and I had my home made Butternut Squash soup.  There was a notice outside the pub which said, “Leave your boots outside”, seemed strange considering the area.  We carried on into West Burton and another drama.  I cannot for the life of me remember the pubs name, but we walked into the foyer and Dicko peeked his head into the empty pub.  He asked the usual question, “we alright with our boots on?”, the answer will astonish me forever, considering the area, “well, the obvious answer would be,would you wear them in your own living room?”  Needless to say we left and duly informed the next hiker of the pubs restrictions.

We walked down Eshington Lane slightly then climbed up to Flatlands and negotiated a series of stiles made for anorexics to head back Into Aysgarth and a pint of Blacksheep and a final slagging from Sue about the gate incident.

I love Yorkshire and its views but I’m torn between ‘The Lakes’ and the Dales.  Obviously, I’m a Yorkshire lad so the Dales should weigh heavily in favour.