A Stroll with Stuart - Take a figure of eight walk

A Stroll with Stuart
A Stroll with Stuart

Christmas is a fading memory, but is recorded in your shirt buttons which are threatening to ping across the room every time you breathe in.

With half a stone of increasingly dodgy cheese still lurking in the fridge, it’s time to swallow a couple of Rennies, and head out for a New Year walk.

Northern Trains’ spectacular Esk Valley route will get you to a series of paths between Commondale and Castleton in Upper Eskdale, offering a variety of walks on gently rolling paths, with stunning views across the dale and the moors beyond.

The full figure of eight route is only about five miles, but if your joints start to creak as you put your boots on, you can carve it up into easily digestible slices.

There’s a two-mile wheelchair-friendly linear route between Commondale and Castleton; a less frequented two-and-a-half-mile route on the west side of the valley between the two villages (lots of stiles and muddy in wet weather); a short two-mile circular route from Castleton or a short two-and-a half-mile circular route from Commondale.

Starting the full figure of eight route at Castleton Station, head out onto the main road and turn left up the hill.

This is part of the supposedly wheelchair-friendly route to Commondale, but frankly I wouldn’t want to shove anybody up this hill in a chair without the aid of a two-litre engine. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t want to push anyone down it in a wheelchair either – lose your grip and they’ll break the land speed record and end up in Scarborough.

Follow the road past two private drives on the left and tennis courts on the right, until the road bears sharp right across the moors.

You should head straight on down a wide signposted track and if you’re going straight to Commondale, you need no further directions – just follow the track.

For the figure of eight route, head left after less than a mile (200 yards before Box Hall farm), down a path that takes you through a gate to a clearly marked railway crossing.

You’d be particularly unlucky to get run over on the Whitby-Middlesbrough line, and if you’ve just got off the train at Castleton it will be another two-and-a-half-hours before anything else disturbs the ballast. Standby for letters from Network Rail’s Safety Manager warning of occasional weed-killing specials.

Okay, don’t pause to read War and Peace, just take care as you cross the track then head on over a footbridge, through a gate, and uphill (bypassing the next gate on it’s left) until you reach a cross track left and right. Heading right for Commondale – pausing to glance to your right at the prototype of Thunderbird 2’s take-off ramp – you are soon directed by a waymark on a solitary gatepost down to a wall next to a stand of trees. Follow the wall (some distance below Scale Cross Farm) until a clear left-right section on a track takes you towards Thorn Hill Farm.

This whole stretch can be very muddy and you’ll soon find out if those new boots you got for Christmas really are waterproof, or were bought on the market by some cheapskate for a fiver.

The path goes straight through the farmyard, with a happily yapping dog and several other four-legged friends. This is a working farm, so expect bonus mud as you pass through two metal gates and out into a field on the other side.

A few hundred yards later, a ladder stile takes you over the wall near the spookily derelict Westgate Farm (a shoe-in of a location if Hammer Horror films start up again), then diagonally down through two gates. Hug the wall on the right, round a small dogleg, then climb another ladder stile in the wall ahead (be gentle, it’s lost a limb). Initially keep right through the gorse but then soon diagonally left down to a footbridge over Commondale Beck, then it’s over the railway line and left for 100 yards to the gate leading on to Commondale Station platform.

Commondale village is up the path, through the gates and left for half a mile along the road.

One of the quietest villages in the valley, it’s a pretty and private little place, with a pub that wouldn’t look out of place in Beamish Museum.

To head back to Castleton, turn right at the top of the footpath leading up from the station and don’t deviate from it until you reach that steep hill above Castleton Station.

The route snakes left and right through woods, heather and bracken and offers lovely views down the valley.

After a mile-and-a-half, to complete the figure of eight route, repeat the walk over the railway and river just beyond Box Hall.

This time turn left at the top of the slope and after 50 yards climb the stile to the right.

Keep left on the gravel in the impressive Scale Foot Farm and through a kissing gate beyond a small cottage on your left.

Dispel the mild panic at the “Warning – bull in field” notice (though I didn’t see one), by feasting on the views of Westerdale on your right.

Head nervously downhill through two fields before turning left through a gate, then victoriously right over a stile and a footbridge over the Esk.

With bully snorting viciously behind you as he tries to negotiate the footbridge, clamber with as much grace as you can muster over two final stiles. Then it’s uphill away from the river to a road which leads downhill to the Station and the ever impressive Eskdale Inn for a calorie boost.