Lyke Wake Walk

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The Lyke Wake Walk is a 40-mile challenge walk across the North York Moors in north-east England.

The walk originated from an idea expressed in an article in the Dalesman magazine in August 1955. The author, local farmer Bill Cowley, pointed out that it was possible to walk 40 miles (64 km) over the North York Moors from east to west (or vice-versa) on heather all the way except for crossing one or two roads and that, given the remoteness of the area at that time, a lone walker might not encounter another soul on that journey during the one to two days it might take. In that same article Cowley issued a challenge to see if anyone could walk from Scarth Wood Moor at the western extremity of the moors to Ravenscar on the coast, keeping on or close to the main watershed of the moorland area, within a twenty-four hour period. The first crossing was completed shortly afterwards on 1 and 2 October 1955; Bill Cowley was one of the party that made that crossing in 23 hours and he subsequently wrote a book, Lyke Wake Walk, which he kept up to date by frequent revision. The book ran to twelve editions and sold many thousands of copies.[1]

The walk is usually done from west to east though it can be done in either direction but a successful crossing must be completed within 24 hours (a ski crossing in 24 hours daylight is also acceptable). There are no rules as to the exact route to take. However, the Lyke Wake Club and its successor, have set some broad rules regarding the route which must be complied with for a successful crossing. For record purposes the Walk starts at its original departure point, the Ordnance Survey Trig Point on Scarth Wood Moor, near Osmotherley,[2] (NGR: SE 459 997) and finishes at the bar in Raven Hall Hotel, Ravenscar Ravenscar (NGR: NZ 981 018).[3] For practical purposes the acceptable end points are: at the western end - the Lyke Wake Stone adjacent to Sheep Wash car park at Osmotherley Reservoir; at the eastern end - Beacon Howe. Successful crossings must stick to the moorland summits as far as is practicable (walkers straying into Eskdale are disqualified). Additionally, the route has to cross the following: the Stokesley-Helmsley road (B1257) between Point 842 (Clay Bank Top) and Point 945 (Orterley Lane end); the Whitby-Pickering road (A169) between Point 945 (Sil Howe) and Point 701 (near Saltersgate); and the Scarborough-Whitby road (A171) between Point 538 (Evan Howe) and Point 579 (Falcon Inn).[4] These Point numbers are the height in feet above sea level as given on 1" Ordnance Survey tourist map of the North York Moors (1970 edition); the metric equivalents are easily identified on the more up to date Landranger and Explorer Series maps.

Walking in an easterly direction is thought to be easier because the prevailing wind comes from the west, in principle making it easier to walk with the wind on one's back and with the heather lying away from the walker.

The walk took its name from the Lyke Wake Dirge, probably Yorkshire's oldest dialect verse, which takes its name from the watching wake over the corpse (lyke) The song tells of the soul's passage through the afterlife. The walk was not meant to be taken as following the route of a corpse road but the possibility of bad weather and difficult conditions make it an appropriate club song.

In the first few years the walk was a difficult route finding endeavour as well as a physical challenge as there was no worn track over most of its length but eventually the walk had to be re-thought because the numbers of people attempting it played havoc on the ground surface. Now various alternative routes are offered and the Walk club works with the National Park Authority to try to limit the environmental damage.

Bill Cowley died on 14 August 1994. The 'old' Lyke Wake Club, which he founded, closed down in October 2005, the Walk's fiftieth anniversary. However, a 'new' club has been established - not without controversy [5] - to preserve the traditions established by Cowley and to take over the old club's functions of recording crossings, holding wakes and liaising with public authorities. Both the original and new clubs have only one criterion for membership, completion of a crossing within 24 hours and there are no honorary members, you have to do the Walk.

Note: The Lyke Wake Dirge has been set to music with various tunes. One notable setting is part of the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings by Benjamin Britten.


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