Struggling down and up Sutton Bank

Looking down from Sutton Bank.
Looking down from Sutton Bank.

My goodness.  I haven’t been on a walk like that since we left the Ariège.  Over there, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, you knew you’d very likely have to struggle up and down through at least 600m in the course of a day’s march.  Over here in Yorkshire, the hills and dales are generally much more forgiving, and I’ve got unused to climbing…. and descending.

All that changed yesterday.  We went to Sutton Bank.  You know what you’re going to be up against even before you arrive.  The main road leading to the top has a gradient of 1 in 4, caravans are banned, and HGVs regularly get caught out on the way up.  Yet the summit is a mere 298m. above sea level.

But it really is all about the gradient, this walk .  And the wind.  Not for nothing does the Yorkshire Gliding Club site itself at the top of the escarpment, all the better to enjoy the wind, the thermals and the views over North York Moors National Park.  It made for an entertaining beginning to the walk, watching gliders being towed to a height of 600m. before being detatched to begin their slow and graceful descent to earth.

A glider is towed upwards on a windy day.
A glider is towed upwards on a windy day.

P1210070But this walk was all arse about face to someone accustomed to those Ariègeois walks.  There, you started at the bottom, panted doggedly till you got to the top, where you had lunch, and then you skittered down again.  Yesterday, we started at the top, and having waved the gliders goodbye, set off down the escarpment, through English woodland, with tantalising views across to the plain beneath.  It wasn’t as mad as it seemed though.  The path was steep enough to be slippery and uncertain, and it felt good to do this while we were still fresh.  Climbing, later in the day, though tough, was the lesser challenge.

A level walk across the fields.
A level walk across the fields.

Soon after our lunch break, we were striding across fields set about with recently harvested bales of straw and hay, enjoying the views .  This was to break us in gently for a thoroughly vertical-seeming climb, with steps among the tree roots to help us upwards.  About half way up, we had a reprieve, because  extraordinarily, there is a lake.  Lake Gormire was formed in the last ice age, when  a gigantic ice sheet scoured out a deep hollow in the crags.  The southern end got trapped by landslips, and water from springs at the base of the escarpment allowed water to collect.  It’s a lovely, secret place, and a haven for wildlife.

Lake Gormire.
Lake Gormire.

A final effort, and we were there, at the top of the escarpment once more.  A short walk along the top brought us to journey’s end, but not before we had stopped to admire the view which locals modestly call the finest view in England.  Well, it’s certainly very fine.

Almost at the top of Sutton Bank and journey's end.
Almost at the top of Sutton Bank and journey’s end.

We were glad to have had this challenging walk.  Our muscles and air-waves reported they’d had a fine work out.  We should do this more often.

17 thoughts on “Struggling down and up Sutton Bank”

  1. That looks like a dandy, challenging walk! I’ve always thought going down a steep hill or mountain was harder than going up–those front-of-leg muscles don’t get used so much in daily life!

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  2. Dear Margaret, We are a family from York (who know the Sutton Bank walk very well!), currently on a long road trip in France. We’ve just decided to spend a week camping just outside Leran, and I stumbled across your blog while I was searching for things to do and see while we are there. Might I cheekily pick your brains?

    We are not desperate to do the touristy sights, but like a good walk (bearing in mind that our youngest is only 3) and like to see things off the beaten track. Is there anything you particularly recommend? We are armed with bikes, and enthusiasm for the outdoors and would love to see some of the less popular castles or walks in some interesting landscapes. Or indeed just a good park for the kids!

    Thanks in advance,
    Isabel

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    1. How interesting. I wonder if you’re camping at Aigues-Vives, a wonderful site near Leran? I’d love to help, but hard to do the subject justice. Walking? Try this one: https://margaret21.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/our-favourite-walks-a-nomination/. How about the birds of prey at Lordat near Luzenac? And you’ll probably go to Montsegur. We actually preferred Roquefixade – less touristy, more accessible, particularly if the children are doing the walking, and there are several walks round there you’ll be able to pick out if you have a local map. If cycling, particularly with small people, the voies vertes – ex-railway tracks are good: level, peaceful, and with interesting countryside as a backdrop. You’ll have tried the bar at Leran I guess, Run by an English couple, Marek and Shirley, they’ll give you lots of friendly advice, as well as a good meal. Have a wonderful time: I hope the heat wave isn’t still in full force. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have anything specific we might help with.

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      1. Thank you! Yes, we’re off to Aigues-Vives on Saturday. Roquefixade sounds exactly what we’re after, and also the walk that you mentioned. We’ll add them to our list, as well as Marek and Shirley’s bar.

        What scale map would you suggest for exploring on foot/bike? I haven’t quite got my head around the different IGN maps and what they all show (so far we’ve done rather well with marked trails and tourist office maps). We’re in the back of beyond at the minute, far from a book shop, so I might need to order a map to be sent to us here. Or is that something we might be able to pick up in the vicinity?

        Many thanks for all your help!
        Isabel

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      2. The blue IGN maps are fine, though (whisper) not as accurate as Ordnance Survey. And you’ll pick up local ones in nearly all supermarkets, librairies etc. If you’re near Lavelanet, the librairie Bruel on the main drag has a very comprehensive collection, but even village tabacs may have the ones that cover where you are. Good luck!

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