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About the Author

From bicycle touring to backpacking, watercolour painting to clay modelling, the exploration journal captures my journey through many different interests and travel adventures.

I love to find those out of the way places that whisk you away from the concerns of everyday life. Whether this is by wading through an overgrown river or trying new paint techniques is up to you!

The Cleveland Way: Wild Camping from Helmsley to Carlton Bank

The Cleveland Way: Wild Camping from Helmsley to Carlton Bank

As we enter spring and the days lengthen I have started to think about where I want to go backpacking and wild camping in England over this year. I looked up a map of England’s National Parks and bought ten waterproof OS Explorer maps, ranging across the country from Dartmoor in the south to the Lake district in the north.

After some consideration I decided to drive up to Yorkshire and start a three day walk along the Cleveland Way. It is a National Trail that skirts the western edge of the North York Moors and then crosses to the coastline and follows the coastline south. I only had about three days and so decided to focus on the western edge and complete a loop by cutting across the top of the moor back to the car at Sutton Bank.

I walked the hashed line route

I ended up going on a 12 mile day walk and starting the proper hike late on Tuesday. I had plenty of water and so decided to do a short walk along the ridge and then camp right on the edge near High Barn, a ruined barn surrounded by trees. It was about 5 miles walking but completely flat and so an easy start. When looking for somewhere to wild camp I originally considered the aptly named Lake Gormire as an obvious place – a lake surrounded by trees sounded perfect! It even features in The Times top 20 places to go wild swimming.

Then I looked it up, and a Guardian article neatly summarises it as “they say that the lake is bottomless, a portal to hell, full of leeches – but swimmers love it”. It has no above ground input water source and no output, so is naturally warm and quite nice for a swim. I walked around the edge of the lake and did not find it that appealing, maybe because it is still early spring and it has not had a chance to brighten up. Gormire translates to ‘filthy swamp’ and the reports of it teeming with leeches was enough to put me off.

Lake Gormire

There was a strong wind blowing when I got to my intended campsite so I settled on a spot slightly off the top of the ridge but with a wonderful view of the lowlands. James Herriot describes the view from Sutton Bank as “the finest view in England”. He lived in Yorkshire so was slightly biased though.

The second day was continuing along the Cleveland Way and walking as far as I can in order to get back by early Friday morning. I saw plenty of birds, though the most notable were red grouse. I am more than used to the alarm and flight calls of pheasants and normally spot them well in advance of the squawking screech as they fly away. What I wasn’t prepared for were red grouse suddenly popping out of heather and crying ‘go-back, back, back’ in a flurry of feathers. I jumped out of my skin plenty of times.

There was also the haunting springtime shrieks of curlew as they call out to each other throughout the night and when soaring overhead during the day. The moors were alive with birds, and my favourite call was from lapwings, which elegantly spin through the sky making a ‘pee-wit’ whistling sound. Much like a child’s slide whistle.

It was a beautiful walk following the plateau ridge along the edge, with constant views of the low lands on one side and the heather moorland on the other. Many of the distant fields glowed yellow with the rapeseed in full bloom. One thing worth noting as a hiker is that there is barely any water due to being a moorland plateau. Even the valleys in the ridge that the path cuts through were dry. The map has plenty of springs marked but many of these either were not well established until way down the ridge or stayed boggy.

Due to the water issue I struggled to find somewhere to camp. There was potential near an area called Heathwaite but I decided to press on at 15.30 as didn’t want to camp in bottom of valley when I could hopefully find somewhere on top of the moors.

I ended up walking for another 3 hours, arriving at Carlton bank and looking down on Mere Beck, my last hopeful spring before I needed to start the journey back across the moorland. It appeared to be dry on top of the moor however it looked like there was a gulley with a stream further down. So I scrambled down the side of Carlton Bank to the lower footpath and found water but not much nice ground. After some indecision I flattened some bracken stalks and camped on sloping ground beside a memorial embedded in a stone up the hillside.

I did about 16 miles of the Cleveland Way on the second day, though the Garmin said 21 as it counted all the wasted effort looking for water!

The last few nights I had woken up at 5.30 with the sunrise. This morning was no different and I woke up to see my favourite view when camping somewhere high – cloud carpeting the valley below me and gradually encroaching over the landscape. The tent was somehow dry so I decided to postpone breakfast, pack up quick and climb back up to the top of Carlton Bank to enjoy the view whilst eating breakfast.

The route I took back I wouldn’t recommend to anyone, it was a long boring slog over the top of the moor with nothing much of interest. At least Dartmoor has tors and deep valleys with rushing rivers!

The most interesting thing was that the tracks are all made of a fine yellow sand, and I remembered that my camera has a funny option to filter out all but one, so I set it to yellow and took a photo of the yellow brick road.

View across to Chop Gate

I walked the 10 miles over the top of the moor by just after lunch and started looking for somewhere to camp. It needed to be as close to the car as possible in order to travel onwards to Bempton Cliffs and meet a friend in time. So I risked walking until the last place on the map with water – Sledhill Gill. As I walked towards where it should be I couldn’t spot where it was, but then it appeared when I was nearly on top of it. It was a lovely mini valley carved between two hills with lots of springs to feed into the main stream.

On the map it didn’t look particularly special but the reality is a stunning secretive feeling valley that feels tucked away from everything. I wanted to keep the sun as long as possible so I bathed and washed some clothes by the stream and then filled up my water bottles and climbed 10 minutes to nearer the top of the hill that would keep the sun longer. One consideration when camping anywhere is how to maximise the amount of direct sunlight – considering staying warm in the evening but also catching the early morning light to dry out the tent and shake of the morning chill.

I once again got going early and arrived back at the car around 11am, with plenty of time to spare to drive to Bempton Cliffs to go birdwatching!

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