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.