Lyke Wake Walk

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Lyke Wake Walk
Cleveland Way at Live Moor.jpg
Live Moor: looking west across Scugdale towards Near Moor (left of centre, mid-distance) and the start on Scarth Wood Moor (at centre, on the horizon)
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 moorlands of north-east Yorkshire at their highest and widest part. The Walk is entirely within the North York Moors National Park in north-east England. The Walk is unique in that it has an associated Club dedicated to this Walk alone which has developed its own social structure, culture and rituals based on the Walk itself together with the local Christian and folklore traditions of the area of North Yorkshire in which it is located.


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 2001 by Paul Sherwood (a Past Master of the Lyke Wake Club).[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 1935/6, Storming Along, where he describes traversing the moors and mentions a number 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 Christopher Atkinson (antiquarian and folklore expert) [8] and Alfred Brown (author and rambler).[9][10]

Scarth Wood Moor - - 5544


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 (a second Lyke Wake Stone is located here). 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 Wainstones on Hasty Bank

The majority of Crossings follow what is referred to as the Classic Route[14] 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 (Raven Hall Hotel).

Classic Route: Scarth Wood Moor trig point or western Lyke Wake Stone (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; eastern Lyke Wake Stone (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.[15] and a detailed up to date guidebook is available.[16] A very detailed illustrated description of the western half of the Lyke Wake Walk is given by Alfred Wainwright.[17]

Most Crossings are done west to east. The original challenge was framed in terms of crossing towards the sea and walking in an easterly direction is thought to be easier because the prevailing wind comes from the west[18] 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. 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).

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. However, from the mid-1970s onwards the Walk had to be re-thought because: (a) the numbers of people attempting it had, in places, played havoc with the ground surface;[19][20][21] (b) there was significant and increasing disturbance of game birds, sheep and wildlife by walkers; and (c) walkers and their support parties were causing significant disturbance (although mostly unintentional) at all times of day and night, particularly in Osmotherley, Ravenscar and at remote farms. The footpath erosion 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'. Other users of parts of the route, some legal, some illegal, including mountain bikes, various types of motor cycles, quad bikes plus agricultural and moorland management vehicles, have exacerbated the erosion problem. Now various alternative routes are offered and the Walk Club works with the National Park Authority to try to limit the environmental damage.

The Face Stone, on Urra Moor

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.[22] The Lyke Wake Way has been proposed as a non-challenge alternative to the Walk with a route from Osmotherley to Ravenscar entirely on public rights of way and going through locations where accommodation and other facilities are available. The Lyke Wake Way would entail 50 to 60 miles of walking depending on the exact route taken and it is recommended that it is completed over 2 or 3 days. The Ordnance Survey no longer denotes the Lyke Wake Walk route on its maps, at the recommendation of the National Park Authority, as a measure to discourage large numbers undertaking a Crossing, indeed, for a number of years, the Lyke Wake Walk was not mentioned in any National Park Authority publication.[23]

Blue Man i' th' Moss, Wheeldale Moor

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.[24]

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.[25][26][27]

The radomes of RAF Fylingdales in 1986, formerly a prominent Lyke Wake Walk landmark
A prominent Lyke Wake Walk landmark - the Solid State Phased Array Radar, RAF Fylingdales (known colloquially as the Cheese Grater)

The Walk takes its name from the Lyke Wake Dirge, probably Yorkshire's oldest surviving dialect verse,[28] which takes its name from the act of watching over (wake) of the corpse (lyke).[29] Bill Cowley proposed a link between the Walk and the Dirge before the 1st Crossing had been completed.[30] The song tells of the soul's passage through the afterlife.[31] The Walk is not meant to be taken as following the route of a corpse road; although this has repeatedly been suggested [32][33][34][35] there is no published historical or archaeological evidence for this.[36][37] 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 and folklore, and rituals associated with suffering, death, funerals and the after-life (broadly Yorkshire, northern English and 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 bearing the Club crest, a black coffin. Many of the Crossing reports are humorous and in various forms including prose, poetry,[38] maps, post-mortem reports, last wills and 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 and artwork contributed by Club members.[39] Female members of the Club are termed 'Witches', males are 'Dirgers'.

Typical Lyke Wake Walk terrain, Fylingdales Moor

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.[40] 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. Reliable estimates, based on Club records, put the number of people having completed a Crossing at over 250,000 with a substantial 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. However, one estimate put the total number of Crossings, up to 1994, at one million though this would appear to be a clear exaggeration.[41] The Club celebrates those who have undertaken multiple crossings with a series of awards (referred to as degrees)[42] acknowledging increasing knowledge of; the route, the moorland area, and the Club's culture. The Club hierarchy included the designation of Bill Cowley himself as Chief Dirger with a wide panoply of Club officers including a Melancholy Mace Bearer, Harassed Archivists, a Cheerless Chaplain, a Horrible Horn-blower and an Anxious Almoner amongst others. The degrees conferred by the Club include Master/Mistress of Misery, Doctor of Dolefulness and Past Master/Mistress. In addition, those having done the Walk over one hundred times are referred to as Senile Centenarians (currently four people have achieved this landmark: Ben Hingston (212 Crossings); Ian Ashley-Cooper (157); Louis Kulcsar (186); Gerald Orchard (189)[43]). The basic requirements for the Club's degrees are as follows:

Degree Crossings Notes
Master/Mistress of Misery 3 (minimum) Must have done the walk in both directions. On achieving this status the recipient is entitled to wear a black neckband at Wakes & other Club meetings/functions.
Doctor of Dolefulness 7 (minimum) Must have done walk in both directions, must include an unsupported Crossing, must include a winter Crossing (i.e. in December, January or February). Must present (& be subject to inquisition on) a thesis, to be delivered at a Club Wake on a learned subject relating to the Walk/Club. On achieving this status the recipient is entitled to wear a purple neckband at Wakes & other Club meetings/functions.
Past Master/Mistress 15 (minimum) In addition to the requirements for Doctor status, must have performed 'great services to the Club' and be capable of 'finding the way across any moor by day or night, whether drunk or sober without map or compass'. On achieving this status the recipient is entitled to wear a purple & black boutonniere at Wakes & other Club meetings/functions. This degree is awarded on an honorary basis by the Club's Council of Elders & cannot be applied for.

In addition to the above the New Lyke Wake Club has instituted an additional degree of 'Purveyor of Purgatory' [44] awarded to leaders who have successfully, and without mishap, conducted three (or more) parties across the Walk. This degree can be awarded 'in absentia'; the other degrees are only awarded when the recipient is in attendance at a Club Wake.

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, and folklore of the moorland region.[45] The Book also gives a detailed description of the Club and its culture in a tongue-in-cheek, engaging and self-deprecating, humorous style. The first edition of the book contained a list of all successful Crossings up to October 1958 and the possibility of inclusion in future editions of the book together with the use of quotes from some Crossing reports formed an additional incentive to those taking on the Lyke Wake Walk challenge and inspired correspondents to be inventive and 'attain literary heights' (after 40 miles across rough country most felt they were entitled to 'have their say').

Bill Cowley died on 14 August 1994.[46] 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 [47][48] - 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. The New Lyke Wake Club's activities have also included donating funds to: the North York Moors National Park young explorers conservation group;[49] the Cleveland Search & Rescue Team;[50] and a Short Story Competition for schools within the National Park.[51] The New Club also: maintains up to date route information on its website;[52] funds footpath repairs along the route; removes litter from the route; and gives grants to young Club members for educational and outdoor pursuits purposes.

Lyke Wake Club Condolence Card

Both the original and new Clubs have only one criterion for membership, completion of a crossing within 24 hours and there are no honorary, associate or corporate 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 [53] but, although there have been quite a few Crossings by older walkers (some over eighty years old), there is no published record of any of them claiming that concession. In earlier years signing in/out books were kept at the Queen Catherine Hotel in Osmotherley and at Pollard Cafe in Ravenscar. However, the Lyke Wake Clubs have never monitored individual Crossings for compliance with the rules, as the Walk's founder Bill Cowley stated 'No one who is going to do this Walk is going to cheat, the satisfactions of crossing successfully are entirely for the individual'.[54]

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 Lyke Wake Race was held in 1964 and has continued to be held every year on the nearest Saturday to 10 July (excepting 2001 when the Race was cancelled because of the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease) until 2014, the 50th anniversary, from which date those responsible for the Race up to that point would no longer continue to be involved. However, from 2015 the Race continues with the organisation being undertaken by the Quakers Running Club.[55] The Race date for 2016 will be Saturday 9 July.[56]

The first Race was organised to coincide with the Osmotherley Summer Games, starting in the east at Beacon Howes with the finishing line in the village itself; the two events continued to be organised on the same date for a number of years. In the early years the Puckrin brothers, Arthur, Philip and Richard, were prominent amongst the leading runners with the first two brothers winning nine of the first ten races between them.[57] Other winners have included prominent athletes/fell runners such as Joss Naylor.[58] A summary history of the Race up until 1981 has been given by Bill Smith.[59]

It is a continuing tradition of the Lyke Wake Walk and the Lyke Wake Race that Crossing times are rounded to next whole minute; seconds are not recorded.[60]

Additional information[edit]

The walk has attracted significant media interest over the years with television coverage, radio programmes and numerous print articles.[61] In the Walk's 60th anniversary year, 2015, the BBC Radio 4 feature 'Ramblings', hosted by Clare Balding, has dedicated an episode to the Lyke Walk Walk with broadcast dates 4 June and 6 June 2015.[62]

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: Forty Miles Across the North Yorkshire Moors(1st edition). Dalesman Books.
  2. ^ Cowley, Bill (1993). Lyke Wake Walk and the Lyke Wake Way (12th edition). Dalesman Books. ISBN 1 85568 063 7.
  3. ^ Sherwood, P. (2001). Lyke Wake Walk. Dalesman Publishing. ISBN 1 85568 191 9.
  4. ^ Cowley, Bill (1945(?)) Tara Devi and Other Verses. Punjab Boy Scouts Association.
  5. ^ Obituary. Bill Cowley. Guardian. 17 August 1994. ISSN 0261-3077.
  6. ^ Elgee, F. W. (1912) The Moorlands of North-East Yorkshire. Brown & Sons. London
  7. ^ Elgee, F. W. (1930). Early Man in North-East Yorkshire. John Bellows. Gloucester.
  8. ^ Atkinson, John C. (1891). Forty years in a Moorland Parish: reminiscences and researches in Danby in Cleveland. London: Macmillan (later editions: 1907, 1967 and 1983).
  9. ^ Brown, Alfred J. (1952). Fair North Riding. Country Life.
  10. ^ Brown, Alfred J. (1945) 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. ^ Goodman, J. (1997) The Lyke Wake Walk in Quarter Mile Steps. Minerva Press. ISBN 1861063687.
  15. ^ Wilson, K. & Gilbert, R. (1980). The Big Walks. Diadem Books. ISBN 0 906371 60 0.
  16. ^ Smailes, B. (2013). The Lyke Wake Walk Guide (4th edition). Challenge Publications ISBN 978-1-903568-70-5.
  17. ^ A. Wainwright (1973). A Coast to Coast Walk. Westmorland Gazette.
  18. ^ Redfern, Roger A., (1976) Walking in England. Robert Hale & Company. London. ISBN 0 7091 5483 6.
  19. ^ Thackrah, I. (1985). Yorkshire: York, Yorkshire Dales & North York Moors (A Golden Hart Guide). Sidgwick & Jackson, London. ISBN 0-283-99203-4.
  20. ^ Cleare, J. (1989) Fifty Best Hill Walks of Britain. Guild Puiblishing. London.
  21. ^ Smailes, B. G. (1994). The Novices Guide to Completing the Lyke Wake Walk. Photographic Plates 3 & 4. Challenge Publications, Barnsley.
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  23. ^ Smith, R. (1993). Explore Britain's National Parks. Automobile Association. ISBN 0 7495 0683 0.
  24. ^ Collins, M. & Dillon, P. (2011). The North York Moors: A Walking Guide. ISBN 978-1-85284-448-6.
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  26. ^ Yorkshire Facts and Records (2nd edition, 1972). Dalesman Books. ISBN 0-85206-173-0.
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  29. ^ Hillaby, J. (1986). John Hillaby's Yorkshire Moors and Dales. Constable & Co, London. ISBN 0 09 466910 4.
  30. ^ Cowley, Bill (1955) November edition. Dalesman magazine,
  31. ^ Colbeck, M. (1983). Yorkshire Moorlands. Batsford Ltd. London. ISBN 0 7134 3803 7
  32. ^ Harding, Mike (1986). Walking the Dales. Michael Joseph Ltd., London. ISBN 0-7181-2701-3.
  33. ^ Bathurst, D. (2007). The Big Walks of Great Britain. Summersdale Publishers. Chichester. ISBN 1-84024-566-2.
  34. ^ Else, D. (1997). Walking in Britain. Lonely Planet Publications. ISBN 0 86442 478 7.
  35. ^ Dent, R. (1994). A Tribute to Bill Cowley. Transactions of the Yorkshire Dialect Society. Part XCIV, Volume XVIII.
  36. ^ Parker, M. (2011). The Wild Rover. HarperCollins Publishers. London. ISBN 978-0-00-737266-9.
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  38. ^ Chapman, Ian (1982) Lyke Wake Walk Crossing 1982. Amazon. ASIN: B00D1685RU
  39. ^ Cowley, Bill & Morgan, Phil (1979). Lyke Wake Lamentations. Dalesman Books. ISBN 0 85206 487 X.
  40. ^ 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.
  41. ^ Obituary. Bill Cowley. Daily Telegraph. 18 August 1994. ISSN 0307-1235.
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  46. ^ Obituary. Bill Cowley. The Times. 27 August 1994. ISSN 0140-9460.
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  57. ^ Puckrin, Arthur (2014). Racing Through Life. ISBN 1497429846.
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  59. ^ Bill Smith (1985). Stud Marks on the Summit: A History of Amateur Fell racing: 1861~1983. SKG Publications. Preston. Lancashire. 
  60. ^ Cowley, Bill (1988). Lyke Wake Walk and the Lyke Wake Way (11th edition). Dalesman Books. ISBN 0 85206 959 6.
  61. ^ Wills.D. (2012) Boots, Anorak, Coffin ....the Yorkshire Walk with a difference. The Guardian.
  62. ^

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