Walking three days of the Cleveland Way


The Cleveland Way is a National Trail in the UK, running 109 miles around the edge of the North York Moors National Park. It starts in Helmsley, and ends on Filey Brigg, near Filey. It’s definitely a trail in two parts, with the first part mostly on moorland or through wooded valleys, and the second part along cliffs and built-up areas by the coast. I walked the in-land part, from Helmsley to Guisborough. I set off from Helmsley on Sunday in the early afternoon, and got to Guisborough in the afternoon on Tuesday.

There were lots of people walking the stretch of path closest to Helmsley. Most of them were coming back towards Helmsley in the mid-afternoon when I went through. Maybe there’s a round walk to Rievaulx Abbey, which is an impressive ruin of a Cistercian monastery. There were woodlands with Beech, Ash, and Hazel coppice along the path edge, and dry stone walls that have become ruined over time, since the field boundaries were abandoned in favour of a wire fence. There were some very nice wet dells with ferns and lichens growing on the tree branches. Reasonable signposting of the trail except before the Byland turn-off, where many paths meet at the bottom of a shallow valley.

I cut off a stretch of the official path where it dog legs to the south to meet the car park at Sutton Bank viewing point, to avoid people, cars and a road crossing. The shortcut was a bit dull, across fields and a horse training area, but I didn’t miss any views, as I rejoined Sutton Bank just a bit further along. I hit the bank as the sun was setting. Bright and clear and blustery, after the showers had gone the air was crisp. I probably saw my house from the top of Sutton Bank, but I didn’t know where to look.

I found a great spot to set up the tarp for camping on the first night, in some woods up the hill from “Hell Hole” and just to the south of High Paradise Farm. The woodland patch was owned by the Forestry commission, with Beech and Larch. I found a good ditch area where nobody could see me, on soft leaf litter under beech trees, just up the hill from the main path of the Cleveland Way. I had to move a few dead branches that were hung up to put my mind at ease, but really it was pretty sheltered up there on the leeward side of the wood. In total on the first day, I walked 10.8 miles (17.4 km).

The maps below show my route (purple), the route of the Cleveland Way (red), and the campsites I found (green triangles).

Campsite on night one, under tarp
Map of first day walk

The next morning the sun rose at about 07:00, and I was away by 08:00. I stole some water from the shower cubicles for campers at High Paradise Farm. It was very misty and nicely chilly across the moors. I didn’t meet anybody else until I got close to Osmotherley. I saw lots of grouse and pheasants, all in preparation for shooting later in the autumn. It seems quite un-sporting when the moors are stocked that densely. I came across a shooting party primed and ready to go as I walked into Osmotherley. I had to walk right through the middle of them to continue along my path. I was lucky they hadn’t started yet as they were shooting right up towards my path, which seemed pretty dangerous.

I got a cheese sandwich and more water from the village shop at Osmotherley and pressed on up the hill and back up onto the moors. It started to get sunnier throughout the day, and I saw Rosebury Topping for the first time about midday. Also I saw the infamous Bilsdale mast, which was damaged by fire a few months ago, disrupting TV signal across North Yorkshire. I think I also saw one of the temporary masts at the edge of the cliffs coming out of Osmotherley, surrounded by greedy diesel generators.

View across the North York Moors, with Rosebury Topping

The path started to get more up and down as the day wore on. There was a nice section going through some woodland with little streams and damp dells, with big oak trees and ferns. Then just before the end of the day near Clay Bank there were four rounds of climbing around 100 m then immediately back down and then back up to the next peak. Some of the rocky tors on top of the peaks were very impressive. I saw heavy showers dumping onto Middlesbrough and Redcar, but I missed all of them except one right at the end of the day.

After I came down to the car park at Clay Bank, I diverged from the Cleveland Way to try and find a camping spot in a forestry area just down at the bottom of what I think was a glacial corrie that the Cleveland Way ran on top of. I searched for a long time but most of the patches either had too much bracken, or the trees were too young and bunched together. By the time I found a spot I was exhausted. It wasn’t a great spot either, quite cramped and on damp grassy ground among some birch trees. I set up the tarp in a lean-to style, with one side pegged directly into the ground, the middle running through a ridge line, and the other side tied to some trees. I walked a total of about 19.8 miles (31.9 km) on the second day.

Map of second day walk

It rained a lot overnight, so I was quite glad I’d set up the tarp in a more rigid style and closer to the ground. I had to do some rearrangement in the middle of the night to stop myself getting splashed though. I used the tarp to collect some water, which I had run out of, so not all bad.

It stopped raining at about 06:45, just right for me to pack up the tarp and get back up onto the top of the corrie to rejoin the Cleveland Way. By coincidence my camping spot was near a steep footpath that zig-zagged up the corrie. The rain turned it into a small stream. At the top of the ridge all was in fog. Again that cool chilly quiet air that I enjoy in the mornings when walking. I taped up a blister on my left heel and put on a dry sock. I think I’m getting better at responding to uncomfortable feet before they develop into worse ailments, but my old boots aren’t helping, as the inside heel is wearing away. While taping up my feet I was passed by two Geordie men who had all the kit, far too much for a day hike. They said they were doing an aimless walk on the moorland access paths back to their car at Clay bank. The North York Moors has miles of these moorland hardcore paths that are open access for people on foot, at the deference of the land owners, who mostly appear to keep for grouse and sheep. I short-cutted a few silly dog legs on the Cleveland Way using these access paths. On one of them I found the ruins and information panel for an old engine that used to lower and raise materials for lead mining in the area, at a place called Ingleby Bank.

It was very sunny as I made my way towards Kildale, with rainbows and clear air casting all the way across to Redcar and the sea. I started having conversations with the sheep about their sheep tick problems. On the way down to Kildale it was a long and uncomfortable descent on tarmac, which hurt my feet, particularly my toes, which got a bit skinned on my right foot.

I sheltered from a rainstorm in the Kildale Memorial Shelter in the village square, and used the loo at the train station. From there the weather got markedly worse. It got very wet and cold going up towards Captain Cook monument, and Rosebury Topping was cloudy, so I didn’t climb it, though I was tired enough by then that I didn’t really want to, so the cloud was a good excuse. I passed some dog walkers around Captain Cook Monument, but very little else. Although this final section wasn’t actually very long, it took me a long time, partly because of the rain.

The final bit of track towards Guisborough followed the ridge of the valley, and through Guisborough woods, which turned out to be a very active forestry operation. The machines had really torn up the ground, I reckon about 5 foot deep ruts in some places. Then down the snakey paths into Guisborough, and into the Fox Inn, which had a decent deal on a room for the night. Though the room itself was very basic, and a bit rough around the edges. I loaded up on beer from Morrison’s and got a chicken burger from a take-away shop, and settled in for some TV. On this final day I walked 16.5 miles (26.6 km).

Map of third day walk

Predictably, after I’d rung up the pub for a room I found a perfect camping spot near the bottom of Guisborough woods, on flat ground under some beautiful big beech trees. I think beech trees are my favourite type of trees to sleep under. They suppress the undergrowth and form a soft well drained carpet of leaf litter, which often bears interesting mushrooms. Still, I’m not sure I could have easily kept warm in my wet gear this evening, as it is raining again.