A Stroll With Stu - cosy log fire awaits at end of autumnal walk through Esk Valley
I did this walk in Springtime, but the magic of several Rights of Way Acts mean that the paths will still be there even if the leaves on the trees are not.
It’s about six miles with no serious climbs, and should be a very enjoyable stroll to enjoy the autumnal colours and log fire in the pub at the end.
About 100 yards downhill from the Fox & Hounds in Ainthorpe, follow a footpath sign through wooden gate.
The wide track curves left after five minutes, then it’s straight on until you turn sharp left at a field boundary.
Ignore the sign leading right towards Danby Castle and soon emerge on Easton Lane. Turn right until a swing gate on your left leads you across the railway and river to the grounds of the National Park Centre.
Here is your first chance to take in some caffeine at the very nice Woolly Sheep café, but if you want to press on, turn right after crossing the river to follow a path passing some elaborate sculptures, including a 5-metre long dragon created by Whitby-based chainsaw sculptor, Steve Iredale.
It’s very impressive and reminds me of my old Physics teacher.
The path bends round to the road where you should turn right. Twenty five yards after a large wooden gate, a smaller one with a finger post points you diagonally across a wide grass field.
In the top right corner, access a path that leads past a farm or two onto a tiny lane that runs for a mile to the village of Houlsyke.
Like many villages in the area, the village name has Norse origins – possibly something to do with a small stream and a cave – but since the place is without a pub or a café, I didn’t hang around to check for any lingering Vikings.
Stay on the quiet road for a mile before heading left into a field at a footpath sign (it is the second of two such signs, separated by about half a mile) that was being cut for silage on our visit.
It was (if I remember correctly) just the 31 st of May, giving any grass nesting birds, field mice or hungover ramblers absolutely no chance.
Continue heading east, cutting across the centre of a few fields to access appropriately marked stiles in the far hedge boundaries.
High Park Farm begins to loom ahead and to your right and you need to head there by dropping to the right corner of the field immediately ahead of it.
Keep the farm buildings well to your right though and drop down a steep grassy slope to cross a footbridge in bushes.
Your stupid friends will now find that their noses begin to twitch and tongues start to hang out, as they accelerate pathetically downhill in the general direction of the pub.
You would do well to hang back and stare at your map in the manner of Bear Grylls, wait till they reach the bushes at the bottom and begin to wail feebly at one another, then call them back up the slope to go in the opposite direction.
It worked for me.
So, climb left and negotiate a stile hanging on to existence by a single rusty nail and doing a passable impression of a see-saw, before continuing uphill to cross into a field where you can share several scary minutes of your life with some lively cows, then after a final stile into a more peaceful environment, turn very sharp right down a long and descending track leading ultimately to Lealholm Station.
Cross the tracks at the end of the platform and after a kissing gate, follow the slope down to the road in the village.
I really like Lealholm.
There are two excellent cafes, and a quintessential village shop selling everything from fresh veg, to boiled sweets; from Brillo pads to the Daily Express.
There are stepping stones and a fabulous little bakery and there is a garden centre across the river from an absolutely cracking village pub – the Board Inn.
Our grand plan was to spend a couple of hours absorbing calories in the form of pastry-wrapped snacks, bar meals and malty liquids, before catching the train back to our digs several miles to our west.
Unfortunately, word came through that the Northern Trains fleet of clapped out units had been impounded by the British Museum and there would be no services on the tracks until the following morning, if we were lucky.
So, some months after he came to our rescue, I dedicate this column to Merv and his Minibus.
Everyone in the area seems to know Merv, and after a quick call he arrived with his bus to save our tired limbs and charged us next to nothing for the privilege.