Ian Battersby finds cheer in the snowy days of winter


WHEN SNOW FALLS in England, it’s gone far too quickly, and it’s the speed with which the cycle is over that makes me grumpy in winter, not SADness or declining vitamin D levels. I plead with the white winter coat to cling on until my day off. This walk took place after several days of silent petitioning as well as nights of sacrificial snowball fights. The temperature remained low and the air calm, so when I arrived at the northern limits of the North York Moors I was delighted to see snow in pristine condition, dusting even the most minute twigs in an enchanted valley, just like a fresh fall.

Skeletal trees gleamed in dazzling sunshine too feeble to dissolve this fragile scene, and everyone was out, revelling in triumph. I climbed past a smallholding where I found Chris Wadsworth returning with his cob, Blue, working his traditional means of woodcutting. Breathless pastures followed, sparkling beneath shady inclines lost in enduring winter blue, before the next silent wood. I sensed no wind, yet invisible currents carried ghostly clouds of fine ice crystals between dark crowded boughs, disturbed perhaps by birds scouring the treetops for nourishing scraps.A steep climb led me to Highcliff Nab, standing proud on the skyline where the trees finally thin, giving way to lonely moorland heather. In clear winter air the landscape canvas became a masterpiece in detail. A snowboarder had hauled his load up from the vale. Now he could swap boots for polished board, free to enjoy the most exhilarating descent of the day.

The Cleveland Way wriggled through buried heather, where grouse heads popped up, watching from mounds of snow. Suddenly a large owl cruised low and silent over the land. I fumbled for camera, but too slow, I missed out on this moment of magic. In the distance it swerved downwards for a moment, perhaps aiming to strike at a vulnerable grouse, too dark to hide on the pallid moor.

I reached Roseberry Topping as cloud quenched the sun, ushering in untimely dusk. The temperature fell, but the air was still, and the steep pull to the top warming. The Cleveland Hill skyline slid into a snowy vale where the lights of Great Ayton flickered into action. I ran down in slow motion strides cushioned by deep snow, unzipping my down jacket, too warm for action, as I crossed the ghostly ridge with no need for head torch in the luminous glow, until the shadows of Bousdale Woods closed in once more. Now the daytime dog walkers were gone, leaving me alone in celestial silence and night time gloom. Through holes in the treetop mesh winter’s sky filled with countless shimmering stars.

ROUTE DESCRIPTION

  • Follow track E into woods, then ESE to a gate. Climb S through trees to the cottage, and continue SE along track for 500m. Turn E at the junction of tracks zigzagging SE to the lane.
  • Head S along lane for 100m, then take path E past the house, crossing a horse pasture to woods. Climb S to a track. Follow track E then NE for 1km.
  • Take track S climbing steeply through woods to summit Highcliff Nab. Pick up the Cleveland Way dropping S then SE out of the woods and slowly turning SW passing Highcliffe Farm, then a stream, to reach the forest edge.
  • Continue W on Cleveland Way to Roseberry Topping. Descend ENE along path to Hutton Lowcross Woods.
  • Turn L on bridleway which heads N through fields passing Bousdale Farm to Bousdale Woods.
  • Follow track NE along woodland edge to gate where a track drops SE for 300m.
  • Retrace track N to house then down to the woodland edge and WNW to parking area.

Highcliff Nab, North York Moors

Details

  • Distance: 13km/8 miles
  • Ascent: 550m/1800ft
  • Time: 4-5 hours (longer in snow)
  • Start/ Finish: Picnic area on A173 near Lowcross Farm, Guisborough (GR: NZ584152)
  • Maps: OS 1:25,000 Explorer sheet OL26 (North York Moors Western area)
  • Information: Sutton Bank National Park Centre, 01845 597426
  • Public Transport: Regular buses to Guisborough. Information from Traveline, 0871 2002233, traveline.info
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