Ravens in the Mist - Tackling the Lyke Wake Walk

Updated: Oct 13

Looking for yet more inspiration in the great outdoors, and the time and space to talk about all things beer, Raven Hill set off at 3am, bleary-eyed yet brimming with excitement for the long day ahead, to take on the tortuous trail of the Lyke Wake Walk. And by about 4pm, as we made our penultimate ascent up to the ancient Christian monument on Lilla Howe (more on this later), realising that we still had about five miles to go, the finish line marked by the mast at Beacon Howes, bathed in the fog that had followed us all day, we really did feel tortured by the adventure! Luckily we had the incentive of a few delicious beers waiting for us at the end, you could almost smell the hops in the air beckoning us to the finish line - although that might have been more of an olfactory hallucination brought on by sleep deprivation and fatigue! We just hoped that our support team had not drunk all Raven Hill’s newest addition, Trail before we reached the end.

The Lyke Wake Walk is a bit of a Yorkshire institution for all those walkers who want to embrace a challenge. In 1955 Bill Cowley laid down the gauntlet, challenging walkers to cross the North York Moors in under 24 hours. The modern route starts just outside Osmotherley and stops short of Ravenscar but it is still a punishing 40 mile hike (maybe more, depending on who you ask) across unforgiving terrain including a section of mercurial peat bog coupled with 5000ft (just over 1500m) of climbing. It is of course a test of endurance for the body with weary legs a given by the end of a very long day. Equally, however, you need a healthy dose of mental strength to complete the walk and not only to keep plodding on for those last few miles. There is a desolate beauty and otherworldly quality to the moorland but after 40 miles of it you start to long for something different. The uniformity of the landscape can make you feel as if you are not getting anywhere as if you are stuck in purgatory and your journey to Ravenscar will never end. You ask yourself, ‘Haven’t I seen that tumulus already?’ or ‘I swear that the tepee-like structure listening out at RAF Fylingdales is getting further away not closer?’ Our crossing was only exacerbated by our constant companions for the day – mist and fog. In many ways the ethereal quality that the fog lent to the day, especially the way in which it embraced the early morning light as we trekked up onto Carlton Bank, was apt for a challenge named the Lyke Wake Walk.

At the start point - Left: Callum

We were joined on this expedition by Callum Braidwood, Raven Hill ambassador, aspirational adventurer, and History Teacher, who had been itching to do the Lyke Wake Walk for some time. He may not have been the real-life action man from our previous challenge (see last post) but we were lucky to have a massively enthusiastic historical guide with us who brought the landscape and walk alive in a different way. And of course, with all the time we had, we had plenty of time to discuss the history of beer and, looking to the future, lots of new ideas for Raven Hill. Head torches on, eyes strained looking for the Cleveland Way in the foggy Yorkshire night, we started chatting about the rather ghoulish name for the walk. Callum explained how the name had been taken from an medieval funeral dirge or hymn written in a now ancient Yorkshire dialect, with ‘lyke’ being an obsolete word for corpse, and ‘wake’ referring to the act of watching over the dead between the death and funeral. What has this got to do with walking across the North York Moors? Well, the Lyke-Wake Dirge is all about the supposed journey that everyone has to make after death over a difficult moor and the obstacles the deceased’s soul will face. The walk across the North York Moors is a terrestrial rehearsal of this, testing what your mind and body are made of before you have to make the very final journey. As we started to tick off the miles in the early morning darkness it felt as if we were journeying into the underworld, especially after what Callum had told us about the walk. And as we approached a gate, climbing out of a wood, the trees standing sentinel like ancient headstones, the walk took on an even more sepulchral feel. The light from our headtorches caught the unmistakable shape of a coffin emblem screwed onto the gate post, the spidery letters ‘LWW’ scrawled onto it. Considering the inspiration for the walk it is not surprising that the emblem of the New Lyke Wake Club (yes, such a thing exists!) is a coffin and that on completion of the walk you can apply to be a member and can get yourself a coffin badge.

Yes, it added to the underworldly feel but at least we knew we were going the right way. Consulting his trusty guide-book Callum also passed on that some groups who complete the walk do so with an empty coffin. Even if it does fit with the overall feel of this walk it seems a little morbid, although maybe it is useful for a much-needed nap at the end whilst being protected from the elements!

After stopping in the Lion Inn car park for some bacon sandwiches and coffee, lovingly provided by our excellent support team, we continued our trek coming to the infamous peat bog section. Depending on the time of year and weather conditions this can be a real slog, with walkers literally finding themselves up to their waists in pungent, clinging black mud b