Lyke Wake Walk

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Lyke Wake Walk
Cleveland Way at Live Moor.jpg
Live Moor: looking west towards Near Moor and the start on Scarth Wood Moor
Length 40 mi (64 km)
Location North Yorkshire, England
Designation Challenge walks

Scarth Wood Moor, Osmotherley

Beacon Howes/Ravenscar
Use Hiking
Highest point Botton Head, Urra Moor, 1,489 ft (454 m)
Lowest point Scugdale Beck, 410 ft (120 m)
Hiking details
Trail difficulty Moderate to Strenuous
Season Year Round
Hazards Bad Weather

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,[1] which he kept up to date by frequent revision. The book ran to twelve editions in the author's lifetime and sold many thousands of copies.[2] The book was further revised in 2005.[3]

Bill Cowley's idea for the Walk seems to have developed over a number of years before he issued in challenge in 1955. Cowley wrote a poem in 1935, Storming Along, where he describes traversing the moors and mentions many of the Lyke Wake Walk landmarks.[4] Further Cowley's early contributions to the Dalesman, appear in retrospect, to hint at the idea of the Walk[5] drawing on his appreciation of the works of Frank Elgee (archaeologist),[6][7] Canon John Atkinson (antiquarian and folklore expert) [8] and Alfred Brown (author & rambler).[9][10]


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,[11] (NGR: SE 459 997) and finishes at the bar in Raven Hall Hotel, Ravenscar (NGR: NZ 981 018).[12] 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 Howes car park. 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 Saltergate); and the Scarborough-Whitby road (A171) between Point 538 (Evan Howe) and Point 579 (Falcon Inn).[13] 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.

The majority of crossings follow what is referred to as the Classic Route which is a variation of the Original Route followed on the initial crossing. In broad outline these are as follows:

Original Route: Scarth Wood Moor trig point; Alum/Jet Miners Track from Live Moor to Hasty Bank; Smuggler's Trod, Bloworth; Ironstone Railway; Esklets; White Cross (Fat Betty); Shunner Howe; Hamer; Blue Man-i'-th-Moss; Wheeldale Stepping Stones; Fen House; Tom Cross Rigg; Snod Hill; Lilla Howe; Jugger Howe ravine; Helwath; Pye Howe Rigg; Ravenscar.

Classic Route: Scarth Wood Moor trig point or Sheepwash car park; summit track from Live Moor over Carlton Moor, Cringle Moor, Cold Moor and Hasty Bank; Smuggler's Trod, Bloworth; Ironstone Railway; Esklets or South Flat Howe or Lion Inn; White Cross (Fat Betty); Shunner Howe; Hamer; Blue Man-i'-th-Moss; Wheeldale Stepping Stones; Fen Bogs; Eller Beck; Lilla Howe; Jugger Howe ravine; Stony Marl Moor; Beacon Howes or Ravenscar.

It is no longer possible to walk the Original Route as a section is now within the Ministry of Defence controlled area where the RAF Fylingdales Early Warning Radar Station is located.

Boundary Stone, Urra Moor - - 11308

A good summary description of the Classic Route (including photographs) has been given by Richard Gilbert.[14] and a detailed up to date guidebook is available.[15] A very detailed illustrated description of the western half of the Lyke Wake Walk is given by Alfred Wainwright.[16]

Most crossings are done west to east as 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. Additionally, on an west to east crossing the major ascents and descents occur in the first 10 miles when the walker is relatively fresh.

Scarth Wood Moor - - 5544

In the first few years the Walk was a difficult route finding endeavour as well as a physical endurance 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 have, in places, played havoc with the ground surface.[17] The problem is compounded by the fact that the Walk shares long stretches of its path with other named routes, in particular, the Cleveland Way and Wainwright's 'A Coast to Coast Walk'. Now various alternative routes are offered and the Walk club works with the National Park Authority to try to limit the environmental damage. Alternative challenge walks and trails in the same area include: Hambleton Hobble; Shepherd's Round; White Rose Walk, Lyke Wake Way, Monk's Trod, Rail Trail, Hambleton Drove Road and Crosses Walk in addition to the long distance trails mentioned above. An additional walk E-W across the North York Moors around ten miles south of the Lyke Wake Walk has been suggested; from Gormire Lake to Cloughton Wyke this has been termed, in a play on words, the Lake Wyke Walk.[18] A traverse of the Lyke Wake Walk route is referred to as a 'Crossing' and the act of participating in the Walk is known as 'dirging' (see Lyke Wake Club below).

Alfred Wainwright suggested that the Lyke Wake Walk could form an acceptable finish to his 'A Coast to Coast Walk' but he does not specify if he recommends doing the 40 miles in a single push; there is no record of Wainwright himself ever completing the Walk. There are no constraints on doing the walk in a more leisurely manner and a guide to doing the walk over 4 days has been published.[19]

Lyke Wake Club[edit]

The Lyke Wake Club was formed immediately on completion of the first crossing. Those completing the walk on the first crossing were the Foundation Members of the Club and are recorded as: William (Bill) Cowley; Stella Boaden; Bill Dell; John Grayson; Dennis Kirby; David Laughton; Tony Lea; Brian Ovenden; David Pearson; Ann Pendegrass; John Poulter; Malcolm Walker; Ian Watters.[20][21][22]

The Walk takes its name from the Lyke Wake Dirge, probably Yorkshire's oldest surviving dialect verse, which takes its name from the watching wake over the corpse (lyke).[23] The song tells of the soul's passage through the afterlife. The walk is not meant to be taken as following the route of a corpse road; although this has been suggested [24][25] there is no published historical or archaeological evidence for this. The physical challenge, the possibility of bad weather and difficult conditions make the Dirge an appropriate Club song.

On formation the Club established its own culture and rapidly developed a number of traditions based around the Dirge, aspects of Cleveland history, superstitions & folklore, and rituals associated with suffering, death, funerals & the after-life (broadly Yorkshire, northern English & Christian in character with an acknowledgement of local folklore and the pagan forbears who originally inhabited the moorlands). Meetings of the Club were immediately termed Wakes and the Club badge was coffin shaped and included the Ordnance Survey symbol for a tumulus (burial mound), many of which are found along the route of the Walk. The Club culture is one of solemnity regarding issues of ritual, folklore and mortality but with light-hearted aspects relating to the self-inflicted suffering of those undertaking this 40 mile walk. Membership of the Club was/is granted on submission of a written report of a successful crossing and entitles successful walkers to the Club membership card which is in the form of a black-edged condolence card. Many of the Crossing reports are humorous and in various forms including prose, poems, maps, post-mortem reports, last wills & testaments, plays, etc., some of which are quoted in the many editions of Bill Cowley's Lyke Wake Walk book and in a separate volume devoted entirely to literature & artwork contributed by Club members.[26] Female members of the club are termed 'Witches', males are 'Dirgers'.

The Lyke Wake Walk emerged at a time when outdoor challenges and sponsored fund-raising events were beginning to become a feature of national life in England.[27] The walk became hugely popular and was considered a 'rite of passage' for aspiring outdoor enthusiasts in Yorkshire (in particular) and across the north of England in general, and also a suitable challenge for those trying to raise sponsorship for a wide variety of good causes. Some estimates put the number of people having completed a crossing at over 250,000 with a significant number, possibly over 30,000 having done it more than once and of these a significant number have done the Walk more than ten times with a handful having done over a hundred crossings. The Club celebrates those who have undertaken multiple crossings with a series of awards (referred to as degrees) acknowledging increasing knowledge of the route, the moorland area and the Club's culture The popularity of the Walk owes much to Bill Cowley's book which, in describing the route, gives insights into the history, archaeology, geography, natural history, & folklore of the moorland region. The Book also gives a detailed description of the Club & its culture in an engaging and self-deprecating, humorous style.

Bill Cowley died on 14 August 1994.[28] 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 [29] - 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. A concession is on record that anyone can claim an extra 12 hours for every five years over the age of 65 [30] but, although there have been quite a few crossings by older walkers, there is no published record of any of them claiming that concession.

Lyke Wake Race[edit]

Once the route of the Walk became established as a clear track on the ground the Lyke Wake Club considered the possibility of holding a race over the route. The first race was held in 1964 and has continued to be held every year (excepting 2001 when the race was cancelled because of Foot & Mouth Disease) until 2014, the 50th anniversary, from which date those currently responsible for the Race will no longer continue to be involved. However, it is possible that the race will continue in future if an organisation can be found that will take on the responsibility.

When first held the Race followed the Classic Route, west to east between the original starting & finishing points. Later the Race direction was reversed so that the event became part of the Osmotherley Summer Games with the finishing line in the village itself.

Additional information[edit]

The archives, records and artefacts of the original Lyke Wake Club have been deposited in two institutions: North Yorkshire County Archives, Northallerton; and Ryedale Folk Museum, Hutton-le-Hole.

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.


  1. ^ Cowley, Bill (1959). Lyke Wake Walk (1st edition). Dalesman Books.
  2. ^ Cowley, Bill (1993). Lyke Wake Walk (12th edition). Dalesman Books. ISBN 1 85568 063 7.
  3. ^ Sherwood, P. (2005). Lyke Wake Walk. Dalesman Books.
  4. ^ Cowley, Bill (1945(?)) Tara Devi and Other Verses. Punjab Boy Scouts Association.
  5. ^ Obituary. Bill Cowley. Guardian. 17 August 1994. ISSN 0 2613077
  6. ^ Elgee, F. (1912) The Moorlands of North-East Yorkshire. Brown & Sons.
  7. ^ Elgee, F. (1930) Early man in North-East Yorkshire.
  8. ^ Atkinson, John (1891). Forty Years In a Moorland Parish: Reminiscences and Researches in Danby in Cleveland. Macmillan and Co.
  9. ^ Brown, Alfred J. (1952). Fair North Riding. Country Life.
  10. ^ Brown, Alfred J. Striding Through Yorkshire. Country Life.
  11. ^ 54°23′20″N 1°16′23″W / 54.389°N 1.273°W / 54.389; -1.273
  12. ^ 54°23′49″N 0°29′31″W / 54.397°N 0.492°W / 54.397; -0.492
  13. ^ Lyke Wake Club Newsletter, Summer 1971
  14. ^ K. Wilson & R. Gilbert (1980). The Big Walks. Diadem Books. ISBN 0 906371 60 0.
  15. ^ B. Smailes (2013). The Lyke Wake Walk Guide (4th edition). Challenge Publications ISBN 978-1-903568-70-5
  16. ^ A. Wainwright (1973). A Coast to Coast Walk. Westmorland Gazette.
  17. ^ Thackrah, I. (1985) Yorkshire: York, Yorkshire dales & North York Moors(A Golden Hart Guide). Sidgwick & Jackson, London. ISBN 0-283-99203-4.
  18. ^
  19. ^ Collins, M. & Dillon, P. (2011) The North York Moors: A Walking Guide. ISBN 978-1-85284-448-6.
  20. ^ Cowley, Bill (1971). Lyke Wake Walk (5th edition). Dalesman Books. ISBN 1 85568 063 7.
  21. ^ Yorkshire Facts and Records (2nd edition, 1972) Dalesman Books. ISBN 0 85206 173 0.
  22. ^ The Dalesman: A Celebration of 50 Years, Editor: D. Joy (1989. Pelham Books.
  23. ^ Hillaby, J. (1986). John Hillaby's Yorkshire Moors and Dales. Constable & Co, London. ISBN 0 09 466910 4.
  24. ^ Harding, Mike (1986). Walking the Dales. Michael Joseph Ltd., London. ISBN 0-7181-2701-3.
  25. ^ Bathurst, D. (2007). The Big Walks of Great Britain. Summersdale Publishers. Chichester. ISBN 1-84024-566-2
  26. ^ Cowley, Bill & Morgan, Phil (1979). Lyke Wake Lamentations Dalesman Books. ISBN 0 85206 487 X
  27. ^ Spencer, B. (1984). The Visitor's Guide to The North York Moors, York and the Yorkshire Coast. Moorland Publishing. Ashbourne. ISBN 0 86190 115 0
  28. ^ Obituary. Bill Cowley. The Times. 27 August 1994. ISSN 01409460
  29. ^
  30. ^ Cowley, Bill (1979). Lyke Wake Walk (8th edition). Dalesman Books. ISBN 0 85206 501 9.

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