Stroll With Stu: Venture out for a summery walk - if the weather ever improves

Commondale
Commondale

I did this walk last summer (hence the balmy nature of the photos), and it comes in handy now as, in common with several million other people, I have been laid up with flu when I should have been tramping across the moors scaring the Curlews.

On the plus side, I broke the British all-comers coughing and spluttering record, though my wife is currently making a concerted effort to steal it.

Memorial on the moors

Memorial on the moors

My Northern trains service from Redcar was late (train failure), and I asked the girl in the booking office to ring the fat controller to see if they could hold the Northern Trains Whitby service at Middlesbrough for a few minutes. The answer came back “probably, not”.

Now, leaving aside the fact that “probably not” is considerably more useless than “no”, I invite you to consider this bizarre fact.

Northern Trains will regularly hold the Whitby train at Middlesbrough for a late running service from York, operated by a different company – Trans-Pennine.

(Any fine for a late departure will be levied on Trans-Pennine, because they caused the delay).

Looking back to Teesside

Looking back to Teesside

So, in this bonkers world where the railway is run by an army of accountants in shiny suits, the only company for which Northern won’t hold their trains to make connections is …….themselves! Probably not became definitely no, and I ended up on the bus, alighting at Birk Brow, where a coffee from the Chuck Wagon was a snip at £1.10.

A path on the other side of the road leads into the heather. After half a mile, pause at a signpost and take in the agreeable view down Woodhill Gill all the way to the extinct steelworks at Redcar.

Fracking site? Nature reserve? Perennial pile of rust?

Place your bets.

Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly

Bear left at the signpost, on a clear path (sometimes a stone trod) for 20 minutes or so, before turning sharp right at a marker post. You’re almost doubling back on yourself for a mile, passing under power lines to eventually reach a stone wall.

As the wall ends, go left to a prominent stone on a mound. (Hob Cross, a boundary stone dated 1798).

From here, the rising path heading directly inland, is thin (sometimes invisible), so keep the lowest, boggy, ground on your left for a little while, before traversing slightly left to the higher ground away in the distance.

Eventually you should come across another stone – Hob on the Hill – marking the site of an ancient and excavated burial ground.

Food wagon at the top of Birk Brow

Food wagon at the top of Birk Brow

A clearer path soon joins a wider track heading left. Down to your right, in the middle of nowhere really, is an immaculate memorial to Robbie Leggott and Alf Cockerill, two local Guardsmen killed in the First World War.

And what a beautiful spot to pick – the remoteness and tranquillity being a complete contrast to what they must have experienced 100 years ago. On my visit, the bilberries were a vivid red and the heather a succulent purple as nature provided a fitting tribute to two unforgotten champions.

Follow the wide path, soon over a little bridge on your left onto a thinner path hugging the hillside, admiring the colourfully named Thunderbush Moor away to your right.

A wonderful name, probably worth personally adopting by Deed Poll – I guarantee that nobody called Thunderbush Moor will end up stacking shelves in Tesco.

Edge left as you descend, then through a gate to skip jauntily across the brook before climbing up through the bracken to another gate.

Bear left again alongside a fence, and soon you come to a road leading down to the village of Commondale.

Quite how common this dale is, only the locals know (actually it is thought to be named after a 7th Century monk called Colman).

It’s pretty enough though, and some of the buildings are conspicuously made from brick rather than the usual stone, manufactured in a local works that produced red bricks from the mid-19th Century until final closure soon after World War 2.

I doubt the Redcar Steel site will look this nice 60 years from now.

After admiring the work of the local Solar Panels salesman (I’ve never seen so many), carry on downhill at a junction past the timewarp pub, until you see a sign pointing left along a track.

If your timing is good, the train station is located along here then down through a field on your right. Alternatively, carry on along that track and after two attractive and meandering miles, you rise up to meet the road leading down into Castleton, with the Eskdale Inn the first building beyond the rail bridge. The Eskdale is open all day every day, and serves food all day too. Gets a strong recommendation from me.