North Yorkshire Moors
Fortunately everyone seems to be going to Scarborough and Filey and I am eventually freed to fly across the North York Moors to Lyth near Whitby. It is a lovely little village with a half-empty car park and, walking the alum-scarred cliffs between Sandsend and Kettlewell, I get the world back in perspective. All I can think when I’m up this way is ‘Isn’t Yorkshire great?’ – you can travel from our dark gritstone moors and towns to the twee villages, sweeping wheat fields and soaring cliffs of North Yorkshire and never leave the county. Off the coast path, I barely see a soul, sauntering long soothing wheat-fields that hide the remnants of bygone conquerors; a slight brow defended aggressively by cattle is the site of a Roman Signal Station; the subtle lumps of Celtic burial chambers; and a tall weathered stoop known as Wade’s Stone skilfully avoided by the farmers’ plough.
The following day I finally gain access to the private enclave of Mulgrave Woods, a private estate that is open three days a week but never when I have been passing. I imagine it to be a warren of lost treasure, but the only people I see there are around the focal point of the half-ruined, half-restored sandstone castle in its midst. It is a fine bastion lost in the woods, but I quickly escape to a nearby ridge to eat my lunch to the cricket (actually I have given up on the cricket and am more interested in listening to Joe Simpson’s epic tale, gripping no matter how many different times you’ve heard it). Elsewhere the woods are dense and impassable – I find two rickety old wooden bridges leading into nothingness and scurry through the undergrowth to find old paths long lost to the elements. To emerge from this forgotten estate to the scene on Sandsend Beach is startling. People everywhere, chaos on the sand. I walk the wave edge until there is a gap, then plunge in for a second swim of the day – the cacophony of those on the sand disappears amid the sound of the waves, the water is clear and refreshing, the perfect way to end a walk.
If only the same could be said of Filey Beach. I have walked here across the Carrs, a lowland area of flood meadows and drains between the North Yorkshire Moors and the Yorkshire Wolds. It is a peaceful landscape on a Bank Holiday weekend – just me and the sheep, and the bright sun. I am ready for a swim by the time I reach Filey, but the beach is a glimpse into hell. Hardly any dry sand, people scrunched up against the wall, inches between them, then a sea full of canoes, inflatables and paddlers. I am rarely deterred though, so I drop my pack and boots and pile in. Yet, whereas the sea was bright and clear at Sandsend, here it is murky and full of floaters – seaweed, scum and more. I swim out but it gets no better; this feels like a dip in the Thames and it begs the question why there are so many here.
The Ben Stokes Cliffs
I have left England in the mire, but I walk on barefoot to let my feet dry and listen in again. All the hope of earlier has gone and soon we are down to our last wicket. I put my boots on in a series of plastic sculptures that proves inexplicably interesting to children, then explore myriad paths around the mammoth Filey Brigg car park – it feels like a festival site on a day like this – but then Ben Stokes kicks in. I have to admit that my usual mapping integrity can take a hit at times like this. My last notes are taken with just under 50 runs to go and I soon join the coast path along the precipitous Newbiggin and Gristhorpe cliffs. It is a beautiful walk, with Filey and the Carrs down to the left and the hazy promontory of Scarborough Castle looming across the water to the south. I try to take it in, but my phone is clasped to my ear and I start to let myself believe. I can’t stop walking or else… Ben Stokes hits six after six, the last taking it to two runs to win and I scream as if it is already over. A woman on the cliff edge jerks round nervously, then smiles – does she know the significance of this? Then we nearly blow it; instead Australia and the umpire do. England win. I punch the air and yell. The Ashes are alive. I collapse in relief on the clifftop, gulping a sandwich I should have eaten an hour ago. Gristhorpe Cliffs, I shall forever associate you with this moment, as I do the lonely lay-by in mid-Wales where I listened out those final overs at Edgbaston in 2005 and the flinty East Sussex car park above Wilmington where England came back from the brink just a few months ago to win the World Cup. You may not be as well mapped as elsewhere, but you have this.