A microadventure on the English moors, at the worst time of the year? LET’S DO THIS.
“There’s…a lot more snow than I thought there would be.”
Al gets out the other side of his landrover, and we stand there, aghast. We set off from York under clear skies. Now we’re barely aware it’s daylight. Everything is snow. Not the light, fluffy, run-around-with-the-dog kind. The deep-frozen, crystalline kind that forms a jagged crust and rips through plastic. The kind that hurts.
And we’re going to sleep in it.
The village of Osmotherley, near Northallerton, is utterly abandoned – the outside of it, anyway. We drive through slowly. Nothing moves.
Everyone’s indoors, probably huddled in front of the fire, turning beloved possessions into kindling, or maybe just praying for a quick death.
The village has four shops, three pubs within 50 yards of each other, and a block of award-winningly beautiful public toilets. (I’m not making this up.)
Alas, we can’t linger, we’re trying to make the most of the fading daylight – so we dive into the newsagents, emerge clutching homemade sandwiches, and then we’re off once more, up the road, up North End until it becomes Quarry Lane, and up and up.
The snow is heaped by the side of the road, perhaps to make way for more snow. Al’s landrover is making light work of it, but that’s not the point. We won’t be in the landrover much longer. Whose idea was this, anyway? Who can I blame? It can’t all be my fault.
Al turns the landrover into a carpark (an amazing party trick!). I assume we’ve stopped to take photos of this incredible landscape – but no, it’s time to start walking. This is where the warmth stops.
From here, it’s nothing but bivvy bags and cold feet for the next 18 hours.
Vehicle doors slammed and locked. Gloves on. Hats on. Rucksacks on.
Sense of dread: check.
We’re clearly insane.
Or at least I am. Al, a professional archaeologist, is a seasoned outdoorsman. He has all the right gear, the right skills, the right kind of unflappable tenacity, and a beard you could lose an entire sett of badgers in. Al is designed for this. Me? I’m a guy who feels proud of himself because he slept on the beach.
As we crunch-squeak our way up the hillside, the cold already attacking my toes like ferrets, I tell myself to relax. Al’s got this. He’ll keep us safe. If he’s not worried, neither am I!
Al says, “I’m…really not sure about this, Mike. Hahaha. Oh well, we’re here now!”
The slope levels off, and we’re out onto Whorlton Moor. The cloud is descending (or is the day fading?) and the horizon creeps nearer. A line of trees emerge from the gloom, gunmetal-grey, looking even less hospitable than the open land. Nothing moves, nothing makes a sound, except us. Crunch, crunch. Breathe in, splutter, breathe out.
We pass a sign with nothing on it.
I admire its honesty.
There’s less than an hour of daylight left – if you could call this daylight.
Although I’m sure we’ll remember it fondly when actual night falls.
“Well, we’re here!” says Al.
Ah. Home sweet home. It all looks so cheery.
Al’s off, bounding away into the trees to see if they offer more protection. He’s quickly gone, leaving nothing to hear except my waterproof jacket crackling as I breathe.
The hair rising on the back of my neck, I follow him.
Once I get among the trees, the stillness presses in. What I took to be silence out on the open moorland was clearly a rich, noisy silence with lots of body to it. This? This is intimate and stifling and deadly. You emit a sound, and a few feet away it drops into the snow and dies. Musicians pay good money to kill sound like this.
I’d give anything to hear a bird sing.
I see Al long before I hear him.
He points behind me. I flinch. For a split second, we’re in the Game Of Thrones opening episode, and I’m about to be pulled backwards and lynched by a White Walker. But no – he wants me to go that way. Well, ok. I’m too cold for ideas of my own. That way it is.
Not much to see by, now. To our left, wan light spills down from a ragged opening in the treeline, revealing a steep drop. This is not territory to go stumbling around in at night. Luckily, we’ve found a path, and we’re not straying from it. Not once. We will live and die on this path. We will be known as Mike And Al Of This Path.
We walk along the Path Of Mike And Al for a while, and the darkess deepens, the cold presses harder, starting to slice through clothing. Then, suddenly, a clearing. Pale light shines down on a metal bench, surrounded by enough branch-free snow to lay out a couple of bivvy bags. This feels as good a place as…
“Hey Al – what the hell are those?”
NEXT TIME: “Your glove is on fire, Mike.“
Images: Mike Sowden; Bing Maps.