Monday, 9 July 2012

Lyke Wake Race - 7th July 2012


A very personal and private account of the 48th Annual Lyke Wake Race held on the 7th July 2012.


“This ae nighte, this ae nighte,
Every nighte and alle,
Fire and fleet and candle-lighte,
And Christe receive thy saule”.

Probably taken from Yorkshire's oldest dialect verse, the Lyke Wake Dirge takes its name from the watching wake over the corpse (lyke): The song tells of the soul's passage through the afterlife.

“When thou from hence away art past,
Every nighte and alle,
To Whinny-muir thou com'st at last;
And Christe receive thy saule.”

So it begins: A grim accompaniment to its Lyke Wake namesake: A long, straight, single, scrubby 40 odd mile foot race, west to east from Sheepwash Car Park above Osmotherley, across open moorland to the sea at Ravenscar above Robin Hoods Bay on the North Yorkshire Coast; half way up between Scarborough and Whitby.

That’s the bald description of the trip: However, the route, the race and the day itself remains so much more. I’ve often scratched my head to think of the most appropriate quote to encompass the event, an adjective to describe the history, the camaraderie but most importantly to convey the solitude of this day spent crossing these moors. Nothing I can find perfectly expresses the sentiments I’d wish to relate so, just for now, I’ll try and describe what it is for me to join this old, straight, narrow track.


It represents my perfect long distance event. A runner with a map, a compass, a watch and a few supplies and a lonely eastward path interspersed with small gatherings of support teams to get us safely to the cliffs in the late afternoon. There are far longer trail runs in the calendar, both more hilly and testing, and there are journeys along trails that encompass both night and day, in either winter or summer, when it’s either freezing cold or tropically hot: such extremes being part of the challenges both mentally and physically… but, the Lyke Wake challenge remains my favourite.

This annual opportunity to run the walkers route has rewarded me with my most crowning achievements, ever since I considered running away off of a road and onto a track. Being a handicap race, thus offering a staggered start, today represents a rare opportunity to test ones inner self motivation and drive against the elements.


Often running for hours alone, hopefully with the wind behind, passing through heathers and gorse both bent over east, pointing to the far distant finish way beyond the current horizon. (Incidentally, the self same gorse which ends up regularly and mercilessly ripping out boot laces for most of the last few hours before that finish!).


I’ve had mixed successes around these parts before: Over 9 and a half hours spent on a boiling hot day in 2010 and a sub 9 hour (by a full minute) in 2009 both following a 23 hour walking adventure as a schoolboy way back in 1978. It's always good to be back up here, perhaps I wont ever tire of this event? – only time will tell.

“If ever thou gavest hosen and shoon,
Every nighte and alle,
Sit thee down and put them on;
And Christe receive thy saule.”

It's a long time since the walk was started by a local farmer, Bill Cowley, in The Shire in 1955. He “put them on”, claiming that one could walk the 40 miles (64 km) over the Moors from east to west (or vice-versa) on heather all the way except for crossing one or two roads. He concentrated on the west to east route, helped along by the normal prevailing wind direction, and gave 24 hours as a time for completion – we runners now have a full 12 hours to get across to Ravenscar.

“If hosen and shoon thou ne'er gav'st nane
Every nighte and alle,
The whinnes sall prick thee to the bare bane;
And Christe receive thy saule.”

There certainly are sections where the “whinnes” do “prick thee to the bare bane” especially in July when the tops are resplendent with purpled, gnarled and scorched heather and black bracken twigs, cunningly concealed underneath the innocent fluffy white balls of the cotton blossom flowers blowing carelessly in the wind. As hard as nails to cross, this ground, even after being knee deep in soft peaty traps within the space of the previous few meters of track.

“From Whinny-muir whence thou may'st pass,
Every nighte and alle,
To Brig o' Dread thou com'st at last;
And Christe receive thy saule.”

And many sections of “thorny Moor” confound navigation, once we’ve left the Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge, but the Lion, and its surrounds contain much history and are well worthy of further note:


 Alastair Gilmour wrote of the Lion in The Journal in February 2007…
“They don't come much closer to heaven. Standing alone like its neighbouring waymarkers and cairns, the 16th century freehouse of the Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge in the North York Moors National Park is reckoned to be the fourth-highest pub in England. Its elevation at 1,325ft above sea level, overlooking vast tracts of heather-clad moorland that melt into green and fertile valley floors, is heavenly, as is its choice of cask-conditioned beers, its extensive menu and the cosy intimacy of its bar, two lounges and three restaurant areas. Celestial choirs may be in short supply on a day-to-day basis, but who knows after a couple of pints of Theakston Old Peculier sipped in front of the tinkling embers of a coal fire?


Who knows indeed! But on race day we’re restricted to a Celestial bowl of rice pudding and apricots, sitting under canvas in the car park, which do indeed hit the spot after the early morning grind. Some 15 odd miles since the start and we’ve climbed Carlton Bank, skirted around Cringle Moor beneath the Wain Stones, tumbled down Hasty Bank then up over Clay Bank finally reaching Bloworth Crossing via the northern end of Urra Moor and the right turn onto the interminable winding of the old mining railway track and a final flat, mind numbing 5 miles to the Pub.



“If ever thou gav'st silver and gold,
Every nighte and alle,
At t' Brig o' Dread thou'lt find foothold,
And Christe receive thy saule.”

Not carried any “silver and gold” along, but certainly have to thank the old Iron industry for providing us with a runnable section along one of the many old tramlines now adapted for use by all of us outdoor types. Built around 1860, this being one of the lines abundant around Rosedale and Farndale, now long since redundant, to transport ironstone ores to Teesside for smelting back in the late nineteenth century. It remains a very decent thoroughfare; providing that decent foothold so taking care of both the Cleveland Way and Lyke Wake Walkers, keeping us all going, relentlessly, forward.


Returning to the present…

Hitherto, the route has taken us through quiet lanes, up and down dappled woodland paths and across verdant green fields. Accompanied by the casual stare of cattle, the buzz of bees and all manner of farm and woodland scents, this is all comfortably and knowingly rural: Yellow and green chequerboard lowland countryside at its' most finest. These expanses of patchwork fields stretch away as far as the eye can see, if those same eyes could penetrate the surprisingly thick blanket of fog caused by the recent deluge to sweep the country. They would also gaze far across to the low, dark brooding Dales entrances way away westwards, where clouds often meet the tops and no space exists between them. However, early this morning, with the dawn sun rising through the early mists into our faces, it was our shadows that streamed away west, playing catch-up behind, seemingly unable to keep up with the adrenaline fuelled, over exuberance of a probable “too quick” start.


The true, dark and primeval nature of today, and the whole event for me, though, doesn’t even commence until we turn our backs on that soft Dales view, leaving these comfort zones and communities safely behind and heading away onwards and eastwards into the heavily foreboding wilds beyond Blakey.


The very names of the dark and distant moors and summits move me: Sturdy Bank, Great Fryup Head, Wheeldale Howe, Raven Stones, Howl Moor, Crag Stone Rigg, High Moor, Jugger Howe and Stony Marl. No time here for a faint heart, nor to linger amongst the hairbells, it's time to take them all on, one-by-one.


“For what we are about to receive” I muttered to myself once, and inevitably, as I took the track left, amongst the heathers, and off the Danby Road. From the Lion at Blakey a rare but too brief stretch of this road took us past the Fryup turning and, from there further eastwards, onto Wheeldale where the route remained undefined; broadly following the boundary stones to the Blue Man-i-th'-Moss standing stone then along the watershed to the Wheeldale Road 10½ miles further along.
  

Undefined here means: Bog / water / uncertain footing / getting wet / being knee deep in peaty pools / possibly losing a shoe / possibly both / getting lost / being reduced to helplessness / taking wide detours – and for a full 10½ miles. However, if dry, this can be the most beautiful wild country in all England.


“But if silver and gold thou never gav'st nane,
Every nighte and alle,
Down thou tumblest to Hell flame,
And Christe receive thy saule.”



In the middle distance, there remains the target of Fylingdales Moor and its' early warning system that will be passed soon enough. It has been squatting on the horizon seemingly forever and its nearness hints that the penultimate stage is approaching. No longer the giant golf balls of old but a short stubby compact affair, fenced off in MOD land being constantly patrolled as if to confirm its significance. It looks back, impassively, yet defiantly, at the moors and onwards to the sea. A modern day Sphinx; always the same grave, blank face of a structure, from whichever direction you see it and whatever the weather throws at it.


“The road goes ever on and on …” sang someone once long ago, and, completing the 3½ miles from Wheeldale to Ellerbeck, it begins to feel like it always will. By now, the trail is a narrow knife through the moors, almost arrow straight towards the finish at Ravenscar. No wider than a sheep trod in parts, rough sided, ankle deep and smooth bottomed. How many walkers and runners have trod this `ere path over the years and what was their story? And … did they trip over maddeningly as I do; now the tiredness is setting in?


“From Brig o' Dread whence thou may'st pass,
Every nighte and alle,
To Purgatory fire thou com'st at last;
And Christe receive thy saule.”


Again upwards, over Ellerbeck, across reed beds and through the last of the marshland sections, passing Fylingdales on the right; the 2 miles to Lilla Cross and down the 4 hard miles to Jugger Howe gives a glimpse, after all these hours of the Sea. The now boulder strewn, mostly submerged, scrubby path  leads on relentlessly, easily tripping up the runner whose concentration has started to drift and who dares to think of the finish. It’s mid afternoon with many a day-tripper and walker frequenting these last two sections. Some applaud with a kind word… “Where’ve you come from?”, “How Far!”, “You’ll make it”, “Isn’t he sweating a lot!” … I’ve had all these and more “Dig Deep Boys!! Was another particular favourite once climbing the cruel stone flagged stairs out of the Jugger Howe ravine itself and when putting one foot in front of the other was the cause of almost too much anguish to bear.


Heading towards the end of the day, with the same sun now waning behind, casting our shadows ever further ahead, never now to be caught up with, those same shadows drag us reluctantly and wearily forward is if imploring us to complete, with dignity, that one full and final effort.

The final checkpoint in the car park just prior to crossing the busy A171 coast road confirms we’ve arrived back into civilisation and the last section is upon us. A straight 1½ miles up to the radiomast cresting the summit of the moor above the curving sweep of Robin Hoods Bay and you know the end is nigh: The emotional trip for me is over; a steady jog then a walk up the gently sloping stony path to the ridge is accompanied by the ever diminishing distant rumble of motor cars on the road along with the final echoes of those last words of encouragement. The isolation, the desolation, the solitude, the entire canvas of the adventure is now spread away into the distance far, far behind.


Just as happened over 8 hours earlier, when the fog banks rose to give a glimpse of the moors and the start of a beautiful clear day, so the curtain of mist once more folded neatly behind, closing off the view both ways, slamming the door on the views and once more we’re fogbound. Destined to start and finish engulfed within an ashen grey shroud.

And the Finish at the hotel is right there in front, down and away through Ravenscar, atop the headland with the blue sea stretching away to infinity beyond. Look closely, through narrowed salt encrusted eyes and you may just make out the finishing tapes fluttering at the entrance to Raven Hall. Too late, todays` fog has swallowed the whole.

“If meat or drink thou ne'er gav'st nane,
Every nighte and alle,
The fire will burn thee to the bare bane;
And Christe receive thy saule.”

Both meat and drink will be very readily available in a wee while; just a run down through the long grass of the last couple of fields followed by a toddle along the lane and a final left turn and straight downhill towards the gates of the Raven Hall Hotel and the conclusion to the day. The fire that'll “burn thee” is now generally located in most of the muscle groups I possess below the waist.

Then suddenly, through the gates, a sharp right turn through the copse of trees and it’s over.


Race fact of the day: 8 hours 58 minutes since I skipped out of the car park and a personal best by a full minute (AND finishing 12th overall !!!!). At times today I thought I’d be faster than that, then at others I wasn’t sure if I’d get a personal worst time so on balance …. Well I’m delighted to be finished.


Within a minute, as in many long distance events, all appears to seize up: Feet, ankles, knees (or is it just mine?), Got the T shirt along with my memento of the day. The running shoes are off revealing candle white grimy toed feet attached to mud and peat stained weary legs – always surprising how shattered we’ve all managed to become. Many congratulations by all to the completers and by us all to the support teams and fellow competitors. Paul Sherwood and his team, a few whom are now familiar faces, have really encouraged me to see it through today and so once again a personal thank-you to all. Finally, a handshake or two to friends old and new accompanied by a promise to “See you next year”. I really hope I keep this promise out of all of the immediate post race statements I make: You’ve got to do it, live it, take part in it and ultimately become part of it. I’m just another traveller on this small insignificant trail across a spot of open country somewhere in the North of England … However, to me; it remains just so much more than that.


“This ae nighte, this ae nighte,
Every nighte and alle,
Fire and fleet and candle-lighte,
And Christe receive thy saule.”


Full results for this years race can be found here courtesy of Paul Sherwood - Race Director.

12 comments:

  1. Did my best to catch you back up (climbed out of clay bank with you), but alas my legs were not willing. I only managed my slowest time in 5 races. But as you said, next year.
    Joe Williams

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    1. Hey Joe, Great to spend a few miles catching up on stuff. I did feel quite strong early on, but that went out like a candle once I got "bogged down" ... and you were right about the stream!!!. Hope to see you again for the 49th

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  2. Mike, sounds like a good route...as long as you do it in a dry year! So is it always the day before Osmotherley?

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    1. Hi Dawn, This year they were both on the same day!, I thought there may be issues for the late (fast) starters on our event and the Phoenix mob going through the same early checkpoints yet in entirely different events. Usually, they are a week apart however I did speak with Gerry about the phoenix and the fact that they were fully booked over a month before; This long distance bug appears to be catching. See ya soon

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  3. I think this is the best race report you've done yet Mike. Stirring stuff and very well written.

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  4. Thanks Jan, can't disguise my enthusiasm for it .... bit wet on t`top today but all part of the mix you know!

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  5. Replies
    1. Thank you :) ... I get loads from these events: Pics, Experiences and hopefully this comes across. They are so much more than races when you're mid pack!

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  6. Hi Mike found this a very interesting write up as I'm entered for this years race, first timer. Have walked the route several times but never undertook anything like this before.
    Nigel

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    1. Hi Nigel, Good luck on the 13th! Having completed before then you'll be fine ... most of it is in the mind :). Enjoy your trip and if we bump into each other then please say hello! I'm off at 6.30am this year - let's hope for a good crossing.

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  7. Hi Mike I'm off a fair bit earlier than you at 4.40am so may see you later in the day.
    What sort of snacks etc are provided if any at the checkpoints? I'm just trying to organise what I need to carry with me.
    Nigel

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  8. Hi Nigel, Lots of water and biscuits / jaffa cakes that sort of thing. At the Lion, there are dishes of rice pudding and peaches! not to be missed and a kettle will be singing. Further on, more biscuits and jelly babies/jelly beans plus water and fruit juice. The support teams at the checkpoints are great for refills of stuff and encouragement. I take a few essentials such as water and salt fluids (pretending to be a proper runner) and a few gels along with me but generally the scoff on offer gets us throught the day! Hope you have a great trip along and please say hello if we meet!. Best Wishes

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