Walking the Cleveland Way - in 4 days!!

Helmsley, ready for the off!

"Let's go on a nice walk for our anniversary" was Donna's opening statement back in January (2019).  Well that's how the idea started, and then it turned in to something resembling a real challenge!

"The Cleveland Way National Trail is a 109 mile (175 Km ) walking route through beautiful and ever changing landscapes and scenery.  It was the second National Trail in England and Wales and was officially opened on 24th May 1969. The Trail offers the best of both worlds, heather moorland and stunning coastal scenery.(www.nationaltrail.co.uk)

Generally this route is walked either piecemeal or in around 7-10 days which gives you a chance to explore a bit and enjoy the scenery - due to time constraints imposed by childcare and the Easter Holiday's we were aiming to walk it in 4!

Yes, 4 days.  That's just under 30 miles per day - ouch!

So we set about training - or rather we didn't!  We managed to get in 2 back-to-back 25 mile walks in mid-March but that was it really.  Should we have prepared more, yes...

Route planning and what to take
After buying the Harvey's Map of the Cleveland Way (have a look on Dash4it.co.uk) Donna spent a bit of time planning the 3 nights so that we could make 4 days of walking between 25-30 miles each day.

Day 1 was the toughest to plan as until we stumbled across Beak Hills Farm we either had a day's walking that was too short or far too long.  Booking a room, dinner, breakfast and a packed lunch was a great result.  
Then it was good old Air BnB for night 2 in Saltburn and one of the many small hotels in Robin Hood's Bay for the 3rd and final night.

With the accommodation all booked it was time to plan the kit - I love a kit list and spent far too long adding things and removing things until I had what I thought was the ideal list for the 2 days - not too much so that our bags would be overly heavy and enough to see us through bad weather.

I'd opted for 25L rucksacks for both of us as anything bigger meant that we'd try to fill it and would end up with far to much weight.

Here's a summary of the main items we each took with us

  • Rucksack (25L)
  • Dry bags (to line rucksack)
  • Compass, map
  • Water (1 x 1ltr and 1 x 750ml each)
  • Spare shorts/trousers and base layer
  • Clothes for evening (these were pretty much our backup walking clothes!)
  • Flip-flops
  • Hat/gloves
  • First Aid Kit
  • Knife/Multi-tool (came in useful when I had to cut a walking stick on day 4!)
  • Camera
  • Headtorch (just in case)
  • Paramo Windproof
  • Waterproof coat & trousers
  • Gaiters
  • Spare walking & liner socks
  • Basic wash kit 
**note that I omitted walking poles - should have taken those!

So after the uneventful drive up to Donna's parents in North Yorkshire we packed our bags with food for Day 1 and some big bags of trail mix (mixed and salted nuts, raisins and 90% chocolate) and were ready for the off.

Day 1 - 8th April 2019

We were dropped off in Helmsley at around 7:30am on Monday morning (8th April 2019) and, as I had opted to wear shorts, were keen to get going - which after the obligatory pictures, we did.

The first 10 miles or so we knew fairly well having trail run around Sutton Bank a few times over the recent years.  The weather was "ok" but the breeze was picking up and shortly after our 10mile stop for a bite to each the wind picked up and the mist blew in from the moor which stayed with us for the next 19 miles of the walk!

The going was pretty good all day, despite the mist & fog, and the paths were easy to navigate, well marked and solid underfoot.  We were very lucky that a few weeks of good weather had left the moor dry and not the swamp that it could easily have been which would have made our progress much more difficult.

The last few miles were the toughest for both of us - we started to feel apprehensive about the accommodation (having booked in Jan and not checked up since) and were getting more than a little fed up with the fog and the crappy little path down to the farmhouse that we were trying to follow but just over 10 hours since we started from Helmsley we arrived at Beak Hills Farm.

As it turned out the path we'd followed off the Cleveland Way wasn't the right one - there was a much better track about 100m on from where we turned off and the accommodation at the farm was nothing short of amazing.

Julie had food on and we were greeted with a roaring fire, roast pork and more veg (and pudding) than I could eat and a welcoming atmosphere from the family despite it being the middle of lambing time on a busy working farm.
Needless to say we fell asleep very quickly that night and slept all the way through to my alarm at 6:30am 

Day 2 - 9th April 2019

After a full cooked breakfast we were sent off with huge packed lunches (for £4 the Tesco meal deal has nothing on Julie's packed lunch!) and at 7:45am we headed back up the track to meet the Cleveland Way for Day 2.

It was our 6 year anniversary - and we both hoped that we'd still be on speaking terms by the end of the day!!

The weather, while chilly, was far better than the previous day with no sign of the fog and as we joined the track we looked back to the hills of Cringle Moor and realised that we'd walked up, across and down the hills the day before and, in the fog, hadn't even realised!

Happy anniversary to my wonderful wife!
Once we were down off Cold Moor and had crossed on to Urra More the track resembled more like a New Forest fire road than a track across the moors but we weren't complaining as it made for good going and despite the wind the weather was still fair.

We stopped briefly in Kildale for a welcome cup of tea at the Glebe Cottage tearooms and sat in the middle of the tiny village to eat lunch. 

On leaving Kildale we headed back up onto Great Ayton Moor before dropping back into Guisborough Woods which was our first sign of housing and people (although we still didn't see anyone on the trails!) and the last few miles before the coast and Saltburn which was our stop for the second night.

Viaduct in Skelton Beck/Crow Wood
We arrived at our "Air BnB" around 5pm to be greeted by Sara and Dave, two of the loveliest people you could meet with an amazing Victorian terrace house - one of the highlights of the walk for us was meeting and talking to different people, it's just a shame that fatigue and sore knees (I've always had weak knees!) probably stunted our conversation somewhat as following a great dinner of fish & chips we were in bed and asleep by 8:30pm!

Day 3 - 10th April 2019

Dave was already up and had breakfast ready for us and we departed slightly later than planned (just after 8am) as we were chatting away over toast and cups of tea (and a few ibuprofen).

Leaving Saltburn
After a quick stop at Sainsbury's for the day's food we headed down (ouch, my kees!) to the seafront and then along the costal path to Skinningrove and to the start of the up's and down's that make up any costal path - the voice in my head was praying that it wouldn't turn out to be anything like Dorset's jurassic coast as that would have broken me and both my knees!  

Lunch stop in Staithes
We stopped in Staithes for our planned lunch stop which was lovely in the sun but we didn't stay put too long as the wind still had a bite to it which encouraged us to keep moving.

Looking back to Runswick Bay

Ok, so both the spelling and distances are incorrect, but you get the idea!
From Staithes the going is reasonable, on good paths, until you reach Runswick Bay where you head on the beach for around half a mile - luckily for us (though luck not planning) the tide was out so the walk along the hard sand was easy enough - it would have been a very different story if we'd had to pick our way along the rocks at the high water line.

From here its only a short walk to Sandsend and we stopped here briefly for a welcome cup of tea, and a few more nurofen!

Whale Bones, Whitby
We followed the A-road on leaving Sandsend and after a few miles we were in and had passed through Whitby - it felt really strange to see so many people as, aside from a few walkers and the people we'd stayed with, we'd hardly seen anyone up to this point.  From Whitby it was only a few, painful, miles to Robin Hood's Bay and at this point I was seriously starting to wonder how I was even going to start walking on day 4, let alone walk 25 miles..

Luckily the hotel we'd picked for the night was directly on the path and had a decent bar serving food - unluckily our room was at the top of 2 flights of stairs and the hot water pressure was so bad that it took half an hour to run the bath, but it was worth it!!

Day 4 - 11th April 2019


Breakfast was served between 8:30-9:30 which was too late for us and as we were both awake we made a quick cup of tea, took some serious painkillers, and headed off back onto the trail at around 6:30am as we figured that today may take some time with me struggling to walk down hill thanks to pressure on my knees and Donna's right foot looking like it was missing from Frodo's right leg!

Between Robin Hood's Bay and Ravenscar we passed through a small bit of woodland (Boggle Hole) and I managed to cut a decent hazel stick to use as a walking pole which pretty much saved the walk for me - I'm not sure how I would have got through the last 25 miles without it.  That and (begrudgingly) admitting that Donna was right and stepping sideways down the rough-cut steps was easier that taking them head on and cursing!

Day 4 passed in somewhat of a blur for me, the pain in my knees was, at points, very bad and I was mentally ticking off milestones - thinking about 25 miles was just too much!

Looking back to Robin Hood's Bay

Seeing this was a mental boost for me as at 5am that morning I couldn't contemplate walking down the stairs let alone getting to the 10 mile point.  We'd walked over 90 miles, no stopping now!

Our first sight of Scarborough
Scarborough was a blessing and a curse, we could stop and get food (although I was in a bit of a grump and it took a lot of Donna's patience to make me stop and eat) and we had 3-4 miles of flat pavement - fast but painful!

Cayton Bay
Leaving Scarborough we had less than 10 miles to go and after walking around the lovely Cayton Bay and the holiday camp near Cunstone Nab we only had a few (long) miles to go along the headland to Filey Brigg and the finish.

Et Fin!
We arrived at the finish marker (very pleased not to have to walk all the way to the end of the Brigg!) at 4:30pm on the 11th April 2019 after 109 miles and so many "steps" that my Garmin was going to be setting unrealistic daily targets for weeks to come!

Some points of note

Day 3 and 4 saw us both get the most out of our Spotify and Audible subscriptions - not because we'd run out of things to say to each other or had fallen out but because sometimes it's good to "escape" and retreat inside your head without allowing yourself to ponder and dwell too much!

My Zamberlan boots were amazing!  Donna has two pairs of Zamberlan's (mountaineering and walking) and they've been great for 8+ years and many, many miles but I only bought mine after the 3rd pair of Mindl's failed on me and, prior to the Cleveland Way, I'd only walked 50 miles (2 walks) in them - brilliant!
Liner socks definitely helped!

Paramo Windproofs - things of genius.  I generally "run hot" but I walked the whole route in a pair of shorts, merino base layer and a Paramo windproof.  So effective and lightweight, a really versatile and useful bit of kit for any layering system

It's on walks like these that you realise that discomfort/pain is not (generally) a limiting factor and you can, with the right mindset, press on.  It's amazing what the body can do and what you can do if you really put your mind to it.  We'd accomplished this with pretty much no prep or training, what were we capable of if we really tried???

Route GPX - there are many places that you can download the GPX of the route, but the version that I used, via ViewRanger, can be downloaded here


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