Sometimes you need to walk in a group. Sometimes you just need to escape and spend time with your thoughts. That's where I was recently. I had four days off and wanted somewhere I could walk safely but entirely alone, that wouldn't be crowded, would have a few hills, somewhere for me to stay and was easy for me to get to from York. I considered to stretches of the Cleveland Way, but it can be tricky finding accommodation on the route and public transport options aren't great depending on where you start and finish.
Then I remembered the Esk Valley Walk, something I'd been wanting to do for a while. As described by the North Yorkshire Moors website: The 37-mile (60km) walk follows the River Esk from its source high on the North York Moors to the coast at Whitby. It’s marked by a special waymark with a leaping salmon – yellow arrows mean a footpath and blue denotes a bridleway.
The best thing about the walk is that it is served by the Esk Valley Railway line, which means you can leave your car at one end and be able to get back to it at the end.
Unlike the suggested itinerary, I did it in reverse and actually decided to abandon the last part of the walk in favour of some self-navigation. Here's what I did:
Day 1: Whitby to Grosmont - 8 miles
This is an easy, short day which is good for day 1 as it gives you time to get to the start. I parked at the Long Stay carpark in Whitby down by the marina. It's not cheap at £9.40 a day, but it meant I could top up my daily parking from the Ringo app every day and it felt safe. What's more, the carpark is literally the start of the walk.
I plotted my route in advance using the OS Map app, which I would highly recommend you get. Worth every penny. While the walk is signposted with little leaping salmon symbols, they are not posted at every point where you might need a sign. I found myself referring to my map quite often.
The walk follows the River Esk reasonably closely and on day 1 you will find yourself zig zagging across the river and the railway line repeatedly. There are plenty of bridges to appreciate pretty river views and a number of places you have to cross the railway tracks directly, keeping an eye and ear out for trains. But they're not all that frequent! If you're lucky, you will get to see and hear the steam trains chugging along the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. There are enough little hills to make you work up a sweat, particularly if you're carrying a backpack. But in general it is an easy, pretty walk to ease you into the rhythm of walking. Expect fields, sheep, rivers, bridges and railway lines.
I got to Grosmont faster than expected and had a room booked at the gorgeous Grosmont House B&B. it was bliss to be able to lie on my comfy bed, with the rain coming down outside, reading a book and just enjoying putting my feet up. Dinner at the Station Tavern next door was good and filling. I had wanted to go to the Steam Cafe for one of their pizzas which are apparently very good, but they only serve those on the weekends.
Day 2: Grosmont to Danby - 13 miles
After a lovely breakfast at the B&B, I headed off into the rain. The first part of the walk is flat and easy, along a broad track which still criss crosses the river and railway, but it's gentle and serene start to the day. Egton Bridge is ridiculously pretty and you can wave hello to the Alpacas (or Llamas - I can never tell the difference) at Egton Manor.
Once you've gone through Egton Manor there is a short sharp climb up to East Arncliffe Wood, but the woods are magical. Take your time here and simply enjoy the mossy rocks, tree canopy and the mulchy smell of old wood giving life to new plants.
You pop out at Glaisdale. Be sure to take a quick peek at Beggar's Bridge near the railway line before continuing on through more woods and fields. You could stop for a snack or lunch at the Arncliffe Arms in Glaisdale, but I opted for a picnic next to the river closer to Leaholm. There are public toilets right on the path at Leaholm (top tips for all of you like me who like to know where to go!)
You then climb steeply up and out of Leaholm, up and across Leaholm Moor to Danby Beacon, where you get fabulous views out towards the sea in one direction and across moorland and valleys in the other. Once you've had your fill, you can wind your way down, eventually passing the Moors National Park centre and into Danby.
I stayed at the Duke of Wellington Pub. It's a great pub but be warned, the rooms are not very sound proof so if you have a room at the front like I did, you will be able to hear everyone enjoying their drinks until closing time. No problem if you're joining them, more of a problem if you want to sleep.
Day 3 - Danby to Blakey - 12 miles
After two days of rivers, railways and valleys, the wildness of the moors was calling. A brief woodland walk through Danby Park, a final railway crossing at Castleton and then the start of the climb up the moors. I somehow managed to lose my way three times early on - possibly because there weren't many leaping salmon fish signs and possibly because I wasn't concentrating. However I soon got on track.
It felt like the moors were teasing me a bit. There'd be a climb, some heather, the sense that the moors were just there, and then the moorland path would turn into a farm track and down we'd go again. At one point I managed to walk right through someone's garden before I realised the error of my ways. Luckily a lovely young chap whose garden it was pointed me in the right direction.
My path was still tracking along the river although it gradually fell away as I gained height. But the path became seriously boggy, overgrown and hard to navigate. So much so that I eventually decided it was time for a rest. Lying down in the sunshine listening to the noise of the birds, water trickling from somewhere and insects buzzing was lovely. Just me and nature and not another soul.
I eventually roused myself and carried on the climb. The path cleared and finally, a track took me to the top of Farndale Moor. The wind was blowing and the expanse of open moorland with no-one else there was jaw-dropping. I let all the emotional stuff I'd been carrying in side me out, free to blow on the wind. It was the best therapy ever.
After taking my time to enjoy the view over Farndale, I followed the broad track to the famous Lion Inn at Blakey. Anyone who has done the Coast to Coast will be familiar with this spot - an oasis after miles of desolation. It's where I spent my night. Food portions are huge and tasty. The rooms are always too hot. But I still slept like a log.
Day 4 - Blakey to Glaisdale
Now if you want to complete the Esk Valley Walk, you follow the route in the image below (click it to get the route).
I, however, decided I wanted more moorland and wanted to test my ability to plot a route and navigate it. I plotted a route the went from Blakey to Glaisdale via Rosedale - the plan was to go down into Rosedale Valley and up the other side. But in the morning I didn't feel like adding in a big fat hill for the sake of it, so I didn't quite follow my own route. Instead I followed the old mining railway line around the top of Rosedale and then at the junction where you could turn downhill and go to Rosedale Head Farm, I followed a path up to the top of Rosedale Moor.
Here I discovered that the path that was shown on the map obviously wasn't very well used and there was no path. I had to make my way across boggy bits and heather for quite a while, constantly checking the OS Map app to ensure I was going in the right direction. At last I came to a road, crossed that and could then follow the George Gap Causeway across the top of Rosedale Moor. It was beautiful, wild and remote and a bit of the moors I'd never been to.
As the path curves, you lose sight of where you've been and the sea opens up ahead in the distance. You follow a broad, rough path with lovely views over Great Fryup Dale for a while. Then a bit of road walking, before I picked up the Glaisdale Rigg path which gradually headed downhill to Glaisdale. I was easily done by early afternoon despite having stopped for another rest to just enjoy the scenery. The Esk Valley Railway train service wasn't due for some time, so I called a taxi from Whitby and got a much faster ride back to my car.
It was a briliiant four days of solo walking, a tiny micro-adventure. You could easily compress it into 3 days if time is short. Definitely one to add to your list.