The Big Routes: Lyke Wake Walk

© Chris Scaife

Traditionally done as a 24-hour challenge, the Lyke Wake is one of the grittiest walks of Northern England, but one that may have fallen out of fashion. Chris Scaife takes on this infamous 64km traverse of the North York Moors, and revels in the wide open spaces of a neglected classic.

As a child, I would often stay at Pybus Campsite, just north of Cringle Moor in the Cleveland Hills. Every night, we would see a long procession moving along the hills that – to my young eyes – towered above us; tiny dots of torchlight flickering through the darkness. The idea that these people were approaching the end of a forty-mile-walk, traversing the widest part of the North York Moors over its highest points, seemed impossible to me then; but a few years later I walked it myself, from east to west. I can't remember much about the intervening years, but a quarter of a century later I thought it must be time to walk back.

On Hasty Bank looking towards Round Hill, the high point of the North York Moors  © Chris Scaife
On Hasty Bank looking towards Round Hill, the high point of the North York Moors
© Chris Scaife

For some time the walk was discouraged as it had become too popular, and its route is no longer marked on Ordnance Survey maps. There are so many other challenge walks about now that the Lyke Wake isn't half as well-walked as it once was. And that makes it much more inviting.


My brother Andy had never walked the Lyke Wake before, so didn't take much persuasion to join me. Unfortunately, he is in the habit of waking up at 4am and running marathons, so what was needed was for me to try to negotiate as late a start as possible. A real family event, my dad drove us through Osmotherley and dropped us off in Sheep Wash car park, at the northern end of Cod Beck Reservoir, at 6:45am. I think I need to work on my powers of persuasion.

Sunset at Scugdale's Scott Crag on the edge of the North York Moors.  © Tony Roberts
Sunset at Scugdale's Scott Crag on the edge of the North York Moors.
© Tony Roberts, Jun 2021

We had a gentle ascent up Scarth Wood Moor, to join the Cleveland Way before 7am. It was sunny, but with a breeze just strong enough to keep us cool – perfect walking conditions. Before long we had passed our first tumuli of the day: small, raised burial mounds to the right of the path.

Heading east, the sun is in your face all morning and at your back all afternoon, with your shadow lengthening ahead

Death and burial are inextricably intertwined with this walk. The name "Lyke Wake" is derived from an old folk song known as the Lyke-Wake Dirge, about the journey of a soul from Earth to Purgatory - something with which you might identify if you attempt the crossing on a drizzly day. The walk has been described as an old coffin route, and its symbol is a coffin; those who complete the crossing are traditionally offered condolences, and on the walk itself there are numerous prehistoric burial sites.

At Scarth Nick, we crossed the road and entered Clain Wood, the only real bit of tree cover of the whole day. It was still early – far earlier than I tend to be up and about – but we passed a couple of dog walkers and runners.

After crossing Scugdale Beck, we began the long, gentle ascent on to Carlton Moor, and by 8:30am we could see the North Sea ahead of us – must be nearly finished, then. The long, undulating traverse of the northwestern edge of the North York Moors that makes up the first 12 miles or so of this walk follows the Cleveland Way National Trail, thoroughly waymarked and well-maintained. To our left, we had extensive views across the lowlands, towns, villages and industry of Cleveland; to our right, endless heather moorland.


Looking back to Cringle Moor, Cold Moor and Hasty Bank from the ascent towards Round Hill  © Chris Scaife
Looking back to Cringle Moor, Cold Moor and Hasty Bank from the ascent towards Round Hill
© Chris Scaife

Perhaps the best viewpoint, if looking north is your thing, is the Alec Falconer memorial seat on Cringle Moor, the next hill after Carlton Moor. This is followed by a steep rocky descent, to give the knees an early test, and two more hills in quick succession – the 402m Cold Moor")] and the 398m White Hill, reached by passing the dramatic sandstone crag at the Wainstones. Not big hills, of course, but these ups and downs add up, and this ridge is often used by locals as training for going up mountains.

My dad, with a car full of food and drink, met us at Clay Bank. I know it's cheating, really, but he offered to service our crossing and we could hardly refuse. Refuelled, we then headed up Carr Ridge to Urra Moor - Round Hill, where a Bronze Age round barrow marks the highest point in the North York Moors. The Hand Stone – an 18th century guidepost with a carved hand pointing towards Stokesley – is beside the path here. And that's the hardest part of the walk done.

The Lyke Wake isn't half as well-walked as it once was. And that makes it much more inviting

We descended gradually towards Bloworth Crossing and left the Cleveland Way behind, as that trail heads up north from here towards Captain Cook's Monument and Roseberry Topping. The hardest part of the Lyke Wake Walk is followed by the easiest part, as we were now on the old ironstone railway line, winding our way along the contour for miles and miles, as far as the Lion Inn at Blakey. One of the features of walking east all day is that you spend all morning facing the sun and all afternoon facing away from it, and it was in this entirely flat section that the sun flipped across overhead so that for the rest of the day we would have our shadows ahead of us.

A narrow path around the head of Rosedale  © Chris Scaife
A narrow path around the head of Rosedale
© Chris Scaife

We stopped at the Lion Inn for quite some time. Too long, no doubt, for anyone treating the crossing as a time trial. Not us, we were just out to enjoy ourselves, and resting and eating properly made everything so much more comfortable. We also had a close-up view of a merlin, Europe's smallest falcon, right outside the inn. Wouldn't have had that if we were rushing through.

The next bit was probably the most disjointed part of the walk. First, we headed north along the road, then cut the corner by following a bridleway shared with the Esk Valley Walk. We returned to the road opposite a medieval stone cross, marked on the Ordnance Survey map as "White Cross", but generally known as Fat Betty. Seeing crosses like this on the Moors reminds me of the Crosses Walk – a 54-mile circuit from Goathland that visits 14 of the North York Moors' ancient crosses – now there's a challenge. Apparently some walk that in 24 hours. I must say I bivvied it myself, and it was still one of the toughest walks I've ever done.


It was apparent in this part near Danby Head, more than anywhere else, that the Lyke Wake is not as popular as it used to be. There is the outline of an old path here, but it's all overgrown and little-used now. Maybe most people just walk along the road now for this bit, but it does help to underline that this challenge is somewhat retro.

Big skies and cotton grass near Danby Head  © Chris Scaife
Big skies and cotton grass near Danby Head
© Chris Scaife

Just as it was starting to feel as though we would spend the rest of the day traipsing through heather, we crossed the road and there was a rare Lyke Wake marker stone, followed by a perfectly clear path. The Early Warning System at RAF Fylingdales soon came into view in the distance. This pyramid, which replaced the famous golf balls, is visible for miles around and looked just as far away for the next few hours, even though we were walking pretty much straight towards it.

Death and burial are linked with this walk. The name "Lyke Wake" derives from an old folk dirge about the journey of a soul from Earth to Purgatory

We crossed the old slabs of the George Gap Causeway and plodded across Rosedale Moor. This is perhaps the boggiest area of the whole crossing, but thankfully was fine for us after the recent dry spell. There seemed to be a tumulus everywhere we looked as we followed the white boundary stones. The path goes right over the top of the biggest of these tumuli, Shunner Howe, and at this point we had our fifteen minutes of rain. We met my dad by the road at Hamer House, then set off across White Moor on a wide peaty track with enough of a jumble of rocks strewn across to make walking with tired legs uncomfortable.

It was all quite flat and heathery around here, not exactly atypical for the North York Moors. However, an ancient standing stone known as Blue Man-i'-th'-Moss and a large prehistoric burial mound, Wheeldale Howe, certainly did their bit to keep the surroundings interesting, and as we strolled eastwards I picked my first bilberries of the year and then we saw a golden-ringed dragonfly beside a small stream.

The ancient standing stone known as Blue Man-i'-th'-Moss  © Chris Scaife
The ancient standing stone known as Blue Man-i'-th'-Moss
© Chris Scaife

The way into Wheeldale was a knee-wrecking downhill much like those Cleveland Way descents from so many hours earlier. My feet remained dry as I elegantly crossed the stepping stones over Wheeldale Beck. Lamentably, this was followed by an unavoidable boggy patch into which both feet soon plunged. We were then walking past Wheeldale Lodge, a YHA hostel for the latter half of the 20th century. I stayed there on a big cycling tour of the Moors in the days when youth hostel guests had to carry out chores, and remember beating a rug outside, just a stone's throw from the route we were now walking.

The ascent from Wheeldale soon levelled off and we reached Simon Howe, with its big round cairn, standing stone and round barrows. We descended gently to cross the North Yorkshire Moors railway line – a steam railway, run by volunteers, which connects Pickering and Whitby – then were into Fen Bog. We had another serviced stop by this pleonastically-named nature reserve, home to rare invertebrates and plants, where we contemplated the final push.

The pyramid at Fylingdales at last looked close as we followed the bridleway through some boggy sections beside Eller Beck and Little Eller Beck to Lilla Cross. This tall stone cross is said to be the oldest Christian monument in the North York Moors and makes a useful landmark. From Lilla Cross, the rest of the walk was now visible; we could see the clear path heading off east to the beacon at Ravenscar with only one descent and ascent between us and the finish.

Approaching Wheeldale, the legs are beginning to feel it  © Chris Scaife
Approaching Wheeldale, the legs are beginning to feel it
© Chris Scaife

A rainbow is usually a pleasant thing to see, but as we walked east from Lilla Cross, we had the odd experience of being dismayed to see one. It wasn't raining, you see, and although there were some dark clouds in the distance there was no other sign that it was raining nearby. Then suddenly Richard of York gave battle in vain and we thought we would be finishing the day with a downpour. It didn't happen though; somehow the rain clouds blew around us.

The final descent of the day was into the wonderful valley of Jugger Howe Beck. I don't know this picturesque part of the Moors well, and despite the many miles of weariness weighing down on me I was almost tempted to go for a wander. But we were near the end now.

We had one last brief service stop at Stony Marl under the last rays of the old setting sun, then marched to the end. In the gloaming, the sun just below the horizon, torches still tucked away in our bags, we made it to the Lyke Wake Stone at Beacon Howes. We had crossed the widest and highest part of the North York Moors from west to east, all within daylight hours. Condolences all round.

An early start  © Rob Scaife
An early start
© Rob Scaife

A late finish  © Rob Scaife
A late finish
© Rob Scaife

The Route

Distance: 64 km (40 miles)

Total ascent: 1,568m

Time: Traditionally walked as a sub-24-hour challenge.

Start/finish: When it was first created, the start and end points were the trig point on Scarth Wood Moor, near Osmotherley, and the Raven Hall Hotel in Ravenscar. However, these days the most practical start is the western Lyke Wake Stone opposite Sheep Wash car park, just outside Osmotherley, NZ 467992, finishing at the eastern Lyke Wake Stone by Beacon Howes car park, Ravenscar, NZ 971012. Of course, it can be walked either way, but the biggest ups and downs are in the 12 westernmost miles, so it might be deemed best to do it eastwards.

Maps: OS Explorer OL26 - North York Moors - Western area (1:25,000); OL27 - North York Moors - Eastern area (1:25,000). It's important to note that the route is not marked on the map, and waymarkers are few and far between, so you need to work it out before you set off.

Terrain: The undulating 12 miles from Scarth Wood to Bloworth Crossing is all on the Cleveland Way, which is well-maintained and waymarked. From there to the Lion Inn is completely flat, along the old ironstone railway line. A short section along the side of the road is followed by a narrow and, in places, boggy path as far as the next road crossing at Hamer. Typical moorland paths are then followed for most of the way, with the last section on a wide track.

Seasonal notes: Much of the middle section of the walk, particularly the four miles between Rosedale Head and Hamer, will be boggy after much rain. And whichever direction you're walking it in, if you get wet feet here you'll have wet feet for a long, long time. In wild winter weather it's going to feel very exposed throughout - and of course much of the 'day' will be done in the dark.

Overnight options: Several options, including a YHA hostel, in Osmotherley. The Raven Hall Hotel in Ravenscar is the classic choice at the eastern end. The Lion Inn at Blakey is pretty much the halfway house, so an ideal place to stay if you eschew the time challenge and opt to do the walk over two days.

Refreshments: If walking west to east, Lord Stones Café is 6 miles from the start and the Lion Inn at Blakey is 18 miles from the start.

Public transport: Buses to Osmotherley and Ravenscar.

Route variants: The route crosses roads in several places – including Clay Bank, the Lion Inn, Wheeldale and Eller Beck Bridge – so walking a shorter version of the Lyke Wake is an option.

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