The Cleveland Hills of our intended walk were impossible to miss on the drive in. The flat farm land and villages through which we travelled were all shadowed by the series of gigantic rolling mounts that paralleled the road, providing an intimidating foreshadowing of the day ahead, and showcasing the sequence of climbs and descents that awaited us.
We had attempted this walk a week prior, only to abandon when the weather turned horrendously wet at the summit of our first climb. There are no bad walking conditions (so the saying goes), only bad equipment. We were badly equipped. The glimpses of the views this route offered were however enough to convince us to drive back and have another crack at it, and with nothing but white cloud all day, we had definitely made the right decision.
A plaque on the gate that welcomes you to climb White Hill along the Cleveland Way is dedicated to Lewis and Mary Hailliman, born five months apart in 1924, and passing five months apart in the autumn/winter of 2003/4, who walked the paths of these hills together for over 50 years. I never met the couple, but this brief inscription was heart warming and inspirational, and I hope that Sammy and I can follow in their footsteps and continue to walk the lands of this country together for the next 50 years. I’ll be well into my eighties by then, but I’m hopeful by the 2060s I’ll have integrated hydraulic legs, or at least some form of hover-zimmer.
Once at the top, the path levelled out along Hasty Bank before beginning to descend towards Wainstones, a magnificent rock outcrop through which the path has multiple drops, and stones over which there is a need to clamber. From this position the views stretched for miles, with coastal Hartlepool and its sea sprinkled with tanker ships, Billingham, and (just about) Middlesbrough all visible from the lofty 400m above sea level position. We’ve climbed much bigger hills, but the relative height here (giving that sea level is within your field of vision), gives a view over the surrounding landscape usually reserved for aeroplane windows.
After the stones came the first steep descent to be followed by an immediate climb, over 100m down and then back up again, followed shortly (depending on how quickly you’re moving, of course), by the second; Kirby Bank. Your reward for the ascent is a stone chair, before which stands another plaque, with lines of sight marked in all directions informing you of the towns visible. It’s here that I realised what I had been taking for Middlesbrough was in fact Hartlepool, a crime surely punishable in the latter town by hanging. If I was a monkey, that is.*
*For those of you unaware, the townsfolk of Hartlepool once hanged a monkey that had been washed ashore, having taken it’s lack of response to their interrogation as proof that it was a French spy. This was in 1993. That last part isn’t true. They did however elect the town football team’s mascot ‘H’angus The Monkey’ as its mayor, who stayed in office (minus the outfit, I assume), and must have done a half decent job because he later got re-elected.
From Kirby Bank the next descent brought us to Lordstones, which appeared to be a busy campsite so we hastened past into a small, magical woodland. The path was incredibly overgrown, I suspect most walkers cut out this section by taking the road for a few hundred metres instead, but they really are missing out. A thick canopy of trees enclosed a copse floor with shrubs and bushes, as the path wriggled and twisted through a scene akin to an elaborate Christmas grotto, so eccentrically assembled as appear unnaturally formed. I wished that this section was longer, and would happily have sat for hours amongst the undergrowth, greeting passing fauns whilst reading The Hobbit, or something else equally fantastical.
On leaving the wooded area and returning to open air, there was a sign warning walkers entering it to remain on the path as the area is the site of a disused mine, which helps to explain the unusual arrangement of vegetation, but not why there was no such warning at the side from which we entered.
We’d had our fair share of run-ins with sheep this summer, and with each encounter Herbie (who you may recall is our loveable little 6kg pooch) has grown in confidence towards the skittish animals. More often than not the sight of Herbie and his two people approaching will send them leaping away to safety in a shriek of baas, and with Herbs well under control we can happily move past them. The sheep of Staindale Farm however, are bred a little differently, because Herbie’s bravado soon turned into cowardliness and a tail between the legs when three of the Staindale sheep approached. Not only were we unable pass, but they actively began to pursue us in our retreat, not yielding until we had climbed a grass bank at speed and waited them out before making a frantic dash for the fence at the other side of the field.
We cut through Raisdale Mill Plantation and lost the path, so had to climb over a gate to get back out again, before hauling ourselves up a steep road and hill to be able to enter the wild Cold Moor. Like many moors, the paths along here were non-existent, so with the dog in my arms, we struggled over sharp and uneven vegetation in the vague direction of the three howes on the plateau. Also like many moors, this one is unfortunately a grouse shooting area, and we were in peak season. Positioned ominously along the hill were a series of shooting butts, which when approached from below gave the feeling of facing a firing squad. We couldn’t hear gun shots, but the sense of foreboding that this grim sport’s shooting gallery gives you on the deserted moor is quite unsettling, and we couldn’t entirely relax until we were out of the danger zone. We, along with a few innocent ground nesting birds, survived the day.
At length we joined a recognisable pathway, and followed it all the way back to Wainstones to complete a pleasing circuit, choosing this time to skirt around the outside of them and take an unmarked path along the ridge of Broughton Plantation. After passing two crashed 4x4s covered in police tape (one of which you can see as my cover photo for another piece here), we were back at the foot of Hasty Bank, and a short hop back to the car.
This walk is a must-do, and I hope one day to return. I know I always bang on about the views on these walks, but it is not without good reason. Just go. Climb the first hill and look around you. You’ll be awestruck, I promise.