Stroll With Stu: A 90-minute country walk to escape bustle of Whitby

Board Inn, Lealholm
Board Inn, Lealholm

This is the shortest stroll I’ve ever shared with you, but I reckon it’s a corker for anybody new to country walks, and a real opportunity for summer visitors to escape the Whitby bustle for half a day.

Since the walk is book-ended by two excellent pubs, two railway stations and the route of the 99 bus from Whitby, you can even leave the car behind for the seagulls to play with.

A friendly 'local'!

A friendly 'local'!

It was also useful to placate my knees with a three-mile route as they were still smoking hot after a tortuous, not to say excessively bonkers, descent of Lurcher’s Crag in the Cairngorms a few days earlier.

We’ve done this stretch before actually (after six years of this column, I’m running out of paths!), but I figure that if you’re going to go back, go back to something special. I started at Glaisdale Station adjacent to the imposing station house which featured on TV’s Escape to the Country (or some similar tosh) a few months ago.

The For Sale sign suggests it is still available if you fancy the opportunity to peep through the net curtains to chuckle at the Arriva train drivers struggling with the prehistoric signalling equipment eight times a day.

Walk uphill along the road, quickly turning right at the Arncliffe Arms. This quiet lane eventually leads steeply up to the village centre, but shortly before the junction turn sharp right onto a signposted path back downhill to the river.

The River Esk at Lealholm.

The River Esk at Lealholm.

I’ve always liked the four seasons equally – we’re lucky that they can be so hugely different in this country.

Perhaps though, spring is beginning to edge it as these woods were strikingly alive with birdsong and carpeted with bluebells and other delicate flora.

Just a few hundred yards down the slope, is an old mill in an idyllic location by the tumbling river.

If I owned it, I would reserve a small portion of each day to sit in the garden and project the smuggest of smug grins at any passing walkers.

Turn right at the junction of paths behind the cottage, then along by the river to soon cross into an open pasture. Cross diagonally to the far side of the field adjacent to the railway, through a gate and eventually to a double stile taking you across the tracks, heading left again by a pond. The water has collected in a shallow cutting for the railway that never was.

Intended to link the ironworks and ironstone deposits between Skelton-in-Cleveland and Glaisdale, Paddy Waddell’s project soon ran out of funds and was finally abandoned in the late 19 th Century, leaving short stretches of embankment, cuttings and other sundry earthworks stretching across the moors. Walk past a stone plaque, confirming that I’m not making this stuff up, and turn left after a stile along a quiet lane. Two hundred yards or so later, as the lane bears left, turn sharp right to drop steeply down the twisting Rake Lane which crosses the Esk as a ford.

A footbridge allows you to plod on with dry feet along the wide track to your left, until you reach a steep slope up to a bridge.

Head left just before the bridge along a signposted path into the woods. The wild garlic here was so abundant it smelled like an Italian restaurant though you soon leave it behind to start following the riverbank in an open field – possibly my favourite little stretch of the entire Esk Valley Walk.

It’s a handsome spot and there must be Otter and Kingfisher to see if you are patient enough, but an encounter with several deranged geese here several years ago has never encouraged me to hang around long enough to find out.

Go through the metal gate into Underpark Farm, zig-zagging right and left to continue along the same level on the farm access track to Lealholm (ie don’t go up to a tunnel under the railway line).

This is another of those farms that reminds me of the “come-in- handy-sometime” junk that my Dad used to keep in his shed.

“Jimmy, I’ve got 380 old wooden pallets, most of them useless, and a truckload of breeze blocks. Any good?” “Aye, put them in top field”.

On this occasion it’s redundant metal. Old gates and two scrap cars, themselves choc full of bits of old refrigerators and anonymous ferrous jumble. Not an eyesore or anything, (don’t want to get in trouble with any more farmers), just a tad mysterious!

Another mile of succulent greenery takes you directly into the village of Lealholm where the cafes, gorgeous riverside pub (the Board Inn), a garden centre and a bakery await your custom.

As do the Esk Valley Trains or Arriva 99 bus to get you back home. A 90-minute stroll and a country pub. Lovely!