A Walk on the Moors

After spending much of the previous day driving, the next day’s plan was to leave the van on its pitch and go for a long walk from the site. Although there seemed to be a number of footpaths leading off from the site, as Annie pointed out they would probably all be extremely muddy following the recent weather conditions. Good point. Plan B was to head up the road a bit to Dalby Forest and walk among the pines, so we packed the van up and drove the 8 miles or so up the A169 to the Dalby Forest Visitor Centre carpark where we were literally stopped in our tracks by the parking fees notice: £9 per day. That’s it. No option for a reduced fee for a shorter stay, £9 – take or leave it.

We left it.

Dalby forest is managed by the Forestry Commission, as are most woody places throughout the country, including our favourite location – the New Forest where ALL carparks (and there are many) are completely FREE. So unless the £9 entrance fee at Dalby Forest included complementary tea & biscuits on arrival, a sherpa to carry our bags and a foot massage at the end of the walk I cannot see the value in spending so much simply to park up for a couple of hours or so.

Instead, we drove on up the road a little further to a place called the Hole of Horcum in the North York Moors National Park where a large off-road carpark offered to relieve us of only £2.50 to stay as long as we liked. Still a little irksome but way better than £9!

A hand-carved map(!) on a board by the pay machine displayed the variety of routes which could be undertaken from this point depending on whether you preferred to use two feet, two wheels or four hooves. The walking route followed along a ridge that stretched off into the far distance before looping back round by descending into the valley and returning to the start. The weather was good, spirits were high and Jack was positively quivering with excitement. Or maybe he was just cold. Anyway, off we set.

Annie studying the hand-carved map of the Hole of Horcum
Annie studying the hand-carved map of the Hole of Horcum

As we were following along the top of the ridge and because the soil was sandy I was surprised to find that in places the path was still extremely waterlogged, which was testament to the sheer amount of rain (and snow) this area had seen recently.

Route across the moors
Route across the moors

However, this was nothing compared to what awaited us in the valley: footpaths of boot-sucking mud like molten chocolate, streams now gushing rivers, routes completely crumbled away necessitating clinging onto walls, fences and nearby sheep simply to remain upright. Progress was slow, muddy and painful.

Stream becomes a river
Stream becomes a river
At last - a dry bit!!
At last – a dry bit!!

Eventually though, and after much hilarity doing battle with nature, the end was in sight. The problem with walking a circular route is that, inevitably, you have to end up back where you started and this means that if at some point along the way you have descended a couple of hundred feet, at some other point (i.e. now) you have go back up again. The descent had been fairly gradual but to return to the starting altitude required a rather steep climb to knock any notion of our collective fitness squarely into touch!

Once back on site I plotted the route on the map and was utterly dismayed to find it had only been a mere 5 miles! In our minds though we’d done enough to earn a trip to the local Black Bull pub where it was Fish & Chip night – two large portions for fifteen quid. Bargain, and they were superb!

All in all, a good day if ultimately expensive as we both now need new walking boots!

The Adventure Begins…

Finally, after months of preparation, planning, packing, unpacking and repacking (and our very wet maiden voyage) the time came to head off on the Great Adventure proper.

The plan was to set a course straight up to Scotland and spend a couple of nights in Moffat as a stopover before heading on up to Loch Lomond for a few more days, prior to continuing the journey ever northwards. It was not due to any form of navigational error that we that we actually ended up in Pickering, North Yorkshire instead. Such is the free-form nature of this trip that we are at liberty to follow the weather, which was good in Pickering and not so good at all pretty much anywhere north of the border.

Surprisingly, the target departure time of 12 noon was only missed by half an hour (which must be a record for us!) because the tyre pressure sensor monitor thingy in the cab showed a slight deflation in the left rear tyre. Unfortunately the specially bought, heavy-duty, industrial grade compressor which could inflate a party-size bouncy castle in seconds couldn’t be used as the battery, to which the compressor needed to be clamped, couldn’t be found in the engine bay! (It’s under the passenger seat, apparently)

With the industrial-grade but now potentially useless compressor duly packed away (accompanied by much tutting and eye-rolling from Annie) we finally set off on the Great Adventure and turned our mighty steed in the direction of the local Shell Garage where they have an air pump that actually works.

The rest of the journey was uneventful and very pleasant in the gorgeous sunshine, which definitely lifted the spirits after our last trip!

The route we were following into Pickering took us up the A170 and eventually to the notorious Sutton Bank; a 1-in-4 (or 25% if you prefer) gradient with a very tight hairpin bend halfway up. For several miles prior to this epic, alpine-esque feat of civil engineering there had been a number of very stern road signs warning that “absolutely no caravans, heavy goods vehicles or pensioners with questionable driving skills” should attempt this route under any circumstances! As we were none of the above we pressed on undaunted.

This thing was S-T-E-E-P with a capital S (and T,E,E and P come to that!) On the day prior to departure we had visited the local weighbridge just to make sure that Wilma was actually within the legal weight limits, in our case under 3,500Kg. In fact, with full fuel and gas tanks, 50 litres of fresh water and us two, Jack (the dog) and all the various essential bits and pieces for life on the road, she weighed in at a svelte 3,380Kg. All well and good chugging along normal roads but trying to haul that weight up Sutton Bank proved a savage wake-up call to the, still new, engine but in the end, although we struggled to get above 30mph with a following wind, we made it to the summit with sighs of relief all round. Or maybe that was the engine blowing a gasket. Thankfully, at the top there was a carpark for a quick stop to get our collective breaths back and for Jack to relieve himself after the rectum-clenching ascent. It occurred to me that, hairy though coming UP the bank was, going DOWN it in winter months would be strictly a brown-trouser affair.

Wilma at the top of Sutton Bank
Wilma at the top of Sutton Bank

Thirty minutes later Pickering arrived and shortly afterwards we found our home for the next three days: namely the Black Bull Caravan Park neatly nestled behind the pub of the same name (more of that later..) And what a lovely and friendly site it was.

The great thing about being in a motorhome is that once you arrive on site there’s no great amount of setting anything up to do, unlike with a caravan or tent. Thus, we simply pulled onto our pitch, plugged in the electric and put the kettle on before getting the chairs out and enjoying the last of the evening sunshine. Yes, sunshine!

Camped up and enjoying the evening sunshine
Camped up and enjoying the evening sunshine