Sunday nights in the 90s involved surviving the horror of Songs of Praise and the Antiques Roadshow (the theme tunes to which still send shivers down my spine), taking the weekly bath, then settling down to Last of the Summer Wine and whatever BBC One or ITV drama was currently snaring the millions of viewers with only four channels to choose between. A mainstay through this period was of course Heartbeat, which followed the lives of the policemen and locals of the fictional Yorkshire towns of Ashfordly and Aidensfield, through eighteen ambiguous years of the 1960s. Much of the exterior filming for Aidensfield took place in Goathland, and initial impressions of village show that the memory of the now retired programme is very much alive, with 60s police cars parked in the street, a beautifully maintained train station (which also features as Hogsmeade in the Harry Potter films), and even shops sporting the Aidensfield moniker selling Heartbeat memorabilia.
Our entry to the village was hindered by the need to navigate the car through a sheep safari, with hundreds in the fearless flock overwhelming the roads as if in a protest march against declining wool prices, bringing us to a complete standstill in the process. After reverse parking between two ewes, we set off along the Rail Trail towards Beck Hole, which was marked on the OS map with the star denoting an attraction, but the exact nature of the attraction is something we couldn’t work out aside from the fact that it was a pleasant little hamlet overlooking a deep valley.
Rather than take the dead-end path to Thomason Foss waterfall and have to turn back on ourselves, I had hoped that our route down the road, under the railway bridge across the beck, and along the opposite side of the valley would take us to it, but unfortunately aside from catching a glimpse of its crest, Thomason was going to be the first of two waterfalls we’d fail to bag that day. I guess we exceeded our monthly waterfall quota on our trip to Settle. To compensate our loss we did get a brief wave from some passing wizards as a steam train chuffed its way over the bridge in front of us, but with Sammy’s desire to flex her photographic muscles on the waterfall, I think it was compensation for me more so than her.
Leaving the valley we emerged onto moorland near Hill Farm, and instead of continuing along the public footpath, veered away across the moor and up to the top of Cass Hill, passing disused quarries and beautiful purple flowers on the way, gaining near 360 degree views over the surrounding hills and valleys as a result. The wind had picked up, as is its wont when blowing across British moorland, but it was an invigorating, rejuvenating breeze that breathed life into us and pushed us onwards over the rough moor towards Hawthorn Hill Farm, with our attention diverted only to stroke the clusters of Hare’s Tail grass spread across the expanse.
After a slight wrong turn resulting in the annoyance of some rowdy farm dogs, we swiftly retreated to the safety of sheep, dropping down the steep path towards Eller Beck, before climbing back up almost the same height again as we walked along the top of Mill Scar, on a path that runs parallel with the railway line but affords no views of it due to the woodland separating the two. This path led us to the station, which was heaving with waiting passengers crowding the platform, and sightseers wanting to snap the inbound loco. We waited a few moments for its arrival, but with a fair distance still to cover we conceded defeat and moved on, only to hear it puffing into the station behind us shortly afterwards.
Joining a by-way that skirts the edge of Mill Moor, we descended the hillside towards Abbot’s House through a campsite, and as we joined a bridleway that felt like a disused railway line our conversation turned to camper vans, and we fantasised about driving away each weekend and parking up overnight to extend our walks, allowing us to visit places normally out of reach without an overnight stay. This, as usual, then led onto more elaborate but genuinely debated fantasy of buying said camper van and simply never returning home, instead travelling around from place to place, doing odd jobs to pay for fuel and food, perhaps returning occasionally to visit families, drop off dirty washing, and run a power cable through their window, but certainly never returning to work on Monday mornings.
Whilst discussing the pros and cons of our new hippy lifestyle, we reached the moorland of Two Howes Rigg, and took what is laughably described as a bridleway towards Simon Howe (where an intriguing pile of stones awaited us). This must be one of the looser definitions of a bridleway, because the space between the sharp and painful moorland vegetation in which we walked was barely big enough to fit Herbie’s tiny paws, and there was no evidence to be seen of horse hoof prints nearby. Before long the narrow strip of dirt became almost impossible to find, leading us up a hill we weren’t supposed to climb, and across what seemed like scorched and impregnable wasteland, before we gave up and turned around, fighting our way through the undergrowth again until we reached a strip of mud with small heaps of rocks dotted alongside it, which I took to be a precursor for the large stone pile towards which we were supposed to be heading.
Again the wind increased, but now rather than spur us onwards, it served mainly to blow our already shaking legs from our slender sliver of treadable earth into the unwelcoming scrub surrounding us, until eventually a glimmer of hope that we were on course manifested itself in the form of the stone pile emerging from the horizon.
On arriving at Simon Howe it was apparent that there were two other paths, each wide enough to carry a few London buses, also leading there, and as such large groups of walkers were gleefully skipping their way to our destination, unaware of the tribulations to be had taking our chosen route. We chalked them down as amateurs, took a few snaps, and left the moor via one these expressways with the wind behind us.
The final stage of the route was to take us along West Beck on a path that follows along its bank to Mallyan Spout, the second waterfall we didn’t get to see. On joining the beck-side track on our expected mile long, twenty minute-ish stroll back to the village I spotted a sign with the word ‘erosion’ as it’s title, but didn’t stop to read it, assuming it to be advice on taking care on the worn bank and to try ones best not to fall into the water, all things we were more than capable of. The path soon became a scramble over fallen boulders and splashes into the beck, with the odd detour onto some mud, then back over the boulders again. Rather than the easy saunter we were anticipating, we began to climb into heavily overgrown forest, passing through grass taller than me, clambering over enormous exposed tree roots, leaping metres down into ankle-deep mud, and using walking poles as machetes to hack through the brush. I have to say I was in my element, living out a boy’s dream of dangerous jungle exploration. Exhilarating. For the others in our party, I began to suspect the going wasn’t quite as much fun, and when I realised I’d left Sammy behind and could no longer see or hear her, I realised I should perhaps hold fire, return to the real world, and consult her on the level of enjoyment she was experiencing. When she arrived she reminded me that her boots were not waterproof, and while I’d been jubilantly bounding through swampland and flowing water in my indestructible Regatta Borderlines, she had been contracting trench foot.
With with the light beginning to fade and with an escape route alongside New Wath Scar presenting itself to us, we bailed out on the beck and Mallyan Spout, opting to retreat to the downhill, smooth asphalt road back to the village. As we turned off, there was another ‘erosion’ warning sign, which I paused to read. It detailed how the route we had just taken had become unsuitable, and how a new permissive path away from the beck was to be used in its place, on the instruction of the North York Moors Authority. My bad. Sorry, North York Moors Authority, and Sammy, and let this be a warning to anyone planning on visiting Mallyan Spout that those signs are there to be read.
I bet most people go to Goathland to look at trains and have a cream tea.