Chopgate Bilsdale Loop

This is a shorter walk after last week’s extended foray around White Horse and Byland and Sutton. It’s a ramble around Bilsdale and is planned to be around 12km or 7.5 miles and looks well marked out on established tracks. Well, that’s the theory, in practice, well that may be a little different and we did meet quite a pretty bull!

Alex had told us that the weather had been quite intense through the night but was on the mend and was likely to be clear but there was a chance of a shower. This seems about right.

We’re meeting in the car park at Chop Gate Hall. It’s a very reasonable £1 to park all day and there are facilities. Today the team is Peter Hymer, George Renwick, Grant McDonnell, Louise Graydon, Bri Roberts and me so conversations should be varied and amusing.

We turn left out of the car park and head towards the Buck Inn. I’d met Wolfgang, the landlord of the pub, who’d told me that he was having some improvements made in the bar and if the place looked closed to knock on the door and he would ensure we had refreshments. As it turns out we won’t get the opportunity but I shall certainly be making an effort to go out and have a meal and beer when I can, he seems a very personable character.

Past the pub and on for about half a kilometre we turn right towards Seave Green. It has been raining heavily both yesterday and through the night so the ground is still damp and occasionally muddy.

Bear right and over the bridge adjacent to the ford then begin the tramp up the lane towards Stonehouse Cote.

The morning is cool and there is quite a haze across the valley so after so many stunningly beautiful walks, this is slightly, and I emphasise the word ‘slightly’, disappointing. It’s still wonderful to be out and about with close friends and the forecast is set to improve.

Passing through the farm there’s a friendly dog tethered but with plenty of room to move about and run across the track to greet us. On the exit there is a signpost pointing four ways one of which is not an option and we have no idea where it would expect us to walk. I jog ahead to reccie what may be an option deduced by a mixture of my GPS app on the phone, George’s photograph of the pages of the book from which we’d decided on this walk and a short discussion. I’m through a gate and into a meadow and there is a track that complies with the direction indicated on the GPS coupled with another track on the other side of a dry stone wall that hugs the side of the fields and fern belts up the moor. I call to the gang and we make our way across the meadow. The weather continues to improve and the scenery is becoming discernible, this is such a bonus.

We reach the wall and it looks like the style has been bricked up so we have to climb over, this is not really a good thing for either the wall or the bunch of sexagenarians with brains that are still twenty-five. The wall is scaled and we’re all assembled ready (or rather not ready) for what we have yet to discover!

I run my thoughts regarding the route past George, without his nod we don’t have a consensus and the value of at least two people agreeing the route doubles the safety net. By working as a team we have always managed to ensure the proposed next move is done with confidence. Today though we have an added safety feature in the form of Lou with a full size OS map to verify our actions. Lou also has much experience and a map reading course behind her so that’s even better.

This field is rough and ready. It would be used for sheep grazing but that’s about its limit. There is grass but there are thistles, clumps of occasional reeds and plenty of nettles although, thankfully, they’re dispersed and not in continuous beds.

We follow the edge of the field and reach the start of the fern belt. This is a good 300 metres and fairly heavy going. The fern fronds have been doing their job well and have captured the rain overnight and held on to it specifically for the purpose of redistributing it on us as we brush past. I emerge at a point that the GPS is telling me to fork right on a track that will take us another two or three hundred feet up through a gully to meet the path that will lead us to the main track over the moor. There is however, a minor issue, there is no track! There are tufts of grass, reeds, more ferns and the occasional bramble ready to tear your skin but no track. I make my way to the bottom of the gully alone so that the whole team don’t have to backtrack should I be wrong. It’s a good call and I shout to tell the others that it’s rough going but I’m confident it’s where we need to be. Mac has followed me and and sees I’m out of breath so volunteers to lead us up through the gully to the track aforementioned. This he does with the ease of a highly trained professional, I’ve mentioned his full training credits in a previous blog and if I were the enemy I’d be worried. We follow the foot and grab areas that he’s used to good effect and we make our way up with relative ease if not dignity.

As we all emerge from the gully and stand at the gate we’re rewarded with a beautiful view across the valley and take a few minutes to catch our breath and take in the scene. The cloud base is still low but there are gaps with tantalising glimpses of blue. If anything it gives the valley an even more dramatic feel, it enhances the greens and softens the harshness of the walls.

Through the gate and another 200 metres and we’re on the main track that will take us over the moor but not before we eat.

We sit and talk about what we’re up to post retirement and Mac volunteers that he does some part time work driving for a local undertaker and whilst it sounds a depressing profession, the fact that you’re helping people at a time when they’re in the most need and is so rewarding. As we nod in agreement Bri lifts the atmosphere with a razor sharp quip, “Don’t accept a lift if Mac offers to run you home!” We’re giggling again and ready for the next 6 miles.

We’re on the main track which, in contrast to what we’ve just done, is well maintained and I can pocket the GPS, for now.

The dynamics of a group of walkers is fascinating and without planning or conscious intent we swap and change partners and cover a multitude of fascinating subjects. I’m walking with Lou currently and I think she’s bemused at what looks like a cavalier attitude towards the planning and execution of our trips. I explained that if I was leading a group of disparate people I would do as she does and take a friend or small group to reccie the walk but because we’re a small group of friends all with the same shared objective it would be silly for us to do the reccie and then the same group to do it again as a walk.

Before we know it we’re at Bridestone Cairn where we stop to record the event for posterity with a flurry of shutter clicks and the swapping of individual team members to ensure that all have been recorded, if not all in one scene. Bri and Pete are huge assets with their cameras and the early rushes to Facebook by Bri are a great tempter for the rest of our contributions.

It’s down hill now and we’re heading toward Nab End. As we pass through the gate that delimits the moor and enter the field of ferns the track is discernible but only just and we’re back to a heavy reliance on the GPS. We take the wrong route but end up with a little bit of to-ing and fro-ing in the gully that will take us through the wood. If you attempt this route then you need to bear right in the middle of the ferns, it doesn’t look or feel right but it makes for an easier walk.

It’s raining now so the wood is a bonus as it protects us from the rain and just before we exit we take a break for lunch.

We leave the wood and the rain has stopped. We enter another gully that will take us to Hill End Farm and for 100 metres all is well. Then we meet a wall of ferns, these are bigger than us and believe me, there are lots of them. I walk up the side of the gulley and there is no obvious route. The map and the GPS are telling us to continue along the gully and through the ferns so after a swift double check that there isn’t an alternative, off we go.

Now we did get a bit wet through the first fern field but that had not had rain for several hours. These plants had been soaked with rain for a day and half and had a top up for the last half hour. As I realised what was happening I wrapped my phone in a bag that had previously contained my sandwiches and moved it from my front pocket to my back pocket and made a mental note that if I slipped I would try to turn rather than falling on my arse. We seemed to be in the ferns for a long time but it was 10 minutes max and as lead I was receiving the full benefit of the natural reservoir that had been recently topped up and was now releasing itself like a broken dam. On exit Louise remarked, “You look wet!”. Ooooh, the impact of a profound statement of fact from a Yorkshire Lass! Then she added, “I’m wet through to my pants”, I responded that I affected a lot of women like that! My eye stopped watering within the hour and I think my left ear will stop ringing in the next couple of days.

No time to whinge, we’re off again, this time through a farm where disinfectant has been carefully left out for walkers to dip their feet before proceeding. This we do.

We arrive at style in the form of two sets of steps back to back and this leads down a steep, I mean really steep bank towards a stream. It’s planted with trees and we use these to keep our balance by lurching from overhanging branches and sliding between them. This goes on for about 200 metres and we reach the bottom unscathed and relieved. There’s a bridge over the stream so we stop  for the inevitable photos on the bridge.

Onward an upward the saying goes and that’s what we do. The route is more defined now and the weather has improved considerably.

We turn right and borrow a couple of hundred metres of the B1257 then turn left through The Grange and towards Stable Holme. We’re on the Bilsdale Mast side of the valley now and it does look surprisingly close. This side of the valley is significantly more accessible than the other and we make good progress. Beacon Guest was a little ambiguous in terms of which side to go but we take a risk and walk into what appears to be their grounds and proves correct.

Crookleath Farms is next in sight and the views either way are excellent although the sky is darkening and the atmosphere feels close.

We leave the farm and are about to walk into a field that has a sign, “There are cows, calves and a bull in this field”, or words to that effect. They’re largely Jerseys which I think are beautiful animals. We have one or two on the team who are somewhat reticent so I try to exude confidence as I enter the field. The young calves are twitchy and some run, but not far, the mothers are keeping a watchful eye for trouble and the trick is not to upset the young ones and certainly not get between mum and youngster and all should be ‘fine’; it’s still tense, but ‘fine’.

Now bulls can look mean but Jersey bulls, well they have a bit of a problem. When you’re endowed with large soft eyes, carefully manicured eyebrows, Maybeline’s best voluminous mascara enhanced eyelashes and lips naturally shaped into a heart without lipstick set against a large pink nose you have a bit of a problem looking hard; however, if you’re carrying a couple of rugby balls in a scrotum the size of a suitcase and you’re swinging them like a Scotsman swings his kilt then that puts a different perspective on things so the team, including me, keep a respectful and, in the case of the gentlemen amongst us, a slightly envious eye on his every move.

The next couple of kilometres are nondescript and we fall into a quiet thoughtful trudge then we have an opportunity to turn left to get back onto the higher route or walk down and take the lower route which looks easier. We take the lower route but soon end up trapped between a steep embankment and a stream and it is seriously boggy.

Mac goes into explorer mode and tries a higher route above the bog but it peters out. We make the decision to go back and try again. As we turn I notice that there may be a way through some of the branches to the top of the embankment by using the low hanging branches of the trees growing in the embankment to pull ourselves up. By using these natural tools and a little bit of ingenuity we’re able to clamber over the fence although there was some close shaves between the low hanging bits of the men and a vicious looking barbed wire fence. Fortunately, there are no casualties and nothing is left behind although we do have an expert on the team.

The walk across the field is pleasant and we rejoin the track that we left at the corner by virtue of a small bridge.

The final field has a trailer parked in the middle so we take the last of our photographs and make our way back to the car which is now in sight at the car park in Chop Gate.

This walk is 12km or 7.5 miles and is challenging if only because some of the tracks designated on the OS map are overgrown to such an extent that they are not visible. If your trig skills are good with OS maps and/or you have GPS then it’s fine but the areas that are not trodden track are difficult and draining. We enjoyed the day but not to the extent that we would do it again. Special thanks to George Renwick for his monitoring and care and for keeping us right when I turned left.  Enjoy…George x

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1 thought on “Chopgate Bilsdale Loop”

  1. This one was one of our more challenging walks but made super fun by the people in the group, quick wit and off the wall thinking, great stuff.
    Again George you have captured the day in your writing, the photos are good too. T’other George.


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