Research And Reconstruction

North Yorkshire Moors Walk

April 8th 2006

In a way this walk dovetails nicely with the one a couple of weeks ago. That walk took us on a patrol around the Flamborough Headland, near the Roman signal station. This walk recreates part of the march inland on the road that led from the coast to Derventio - the Roman fort at modern-day Malton. While the coast walk was done in full armour - ready for imminent battle, this walk was purely an exploration of how easy or hard it was to travel long distances along Roman roads and camp after the march. I don't know, were we skirmishes, scouts, messengers? We carried a tent and food and gear to cook on for at least three days - so armour and heavy weapons were out. We all travelled light, skirmish shields, a spear, spiculum, some veruta (light javelins), a Saxon fighting knife or two.

We set off from the Mallham Spout Hotel in Goathland, North Yorkshire. We descended the gorge and moved swiftly along the rocks and boulders to the fantastic waterfall there. Going was tricky, especially with all the kit we were humping with us. Then it came time to meet the road, we went UP, straight up the side of the gorge following a stream bed (my idea - not popular with the others!!).

Now the heavy loads of blankets, cloaks, food, wine, pots and pans, tent canvas, javelins, shields, deerskins etc. began to drag on on us. We met the Roman road and after a rest, began the comfortable tramp along it. It was now a modern minor road, but gave us a good impression of a Roman military route march - 3 men abreast, keeping up good conversation, trying to forget the pain of the straps digging deeper and deeper, getting almost to the bone. At some point, someone would call a halt and they would shift over the packs and shields to the other shoulder. The torture could begin again on the left side now ...

Jamie handed out several leaflets to walkers who were interested enough (or brave enough) to stop us and talk. I think John is quite pleased that 6 ageing walrers in their 60s will soon be flocking to the group! They took nice photos of us though!

We crossed a river via stepping stones and climbed up again, to eventually meet the Roman road on Wheeldale Moor. The surface remains, and it was great to tramp along it. I'd done so the year before with snow on the ground (alone) but the urgency of our march (always chasing daylight) and keeping up with the others made this walk along the actual remains stretch much more 'realistic'. The sun went in, hail the size of footballs came crashing down and almost beat us to the ground. My shield was strapped way too far down (thanks for that advice Jamie - shields need to be ready for action, against Picts - and hailstones!), my hat was doing duty as a padding for the knife-like straps of my baggage. I took the pain and carried on splashing through the marsh that surrounded the wreckage of the Late Roman road. How many soldiers had marched at speed across the road, in hail and rain like us? The hobnails crunched satisfyingly on the paved surface.

(can you see the hail coming down???)

With hail gone, we forded a fast flowing river and ate a wonderful lunch with wine, hardtack, smoked cheese and fish, fresh bread and other treats in the sunshine on comfortable piles of dry pine needles under cover of tree branches.

A brook bubbled past us. The best lunch of any walk we have ever done. The white wine helped alot.From now on the weather turned, we heard tremendous thunderclaps to the west and watched the black clouds build up. We followed more minor roads that tracked the Roman road that was leading us up to the Cawthorne camps (the Roman practice camps that were used as training bases by local Roman legions - maybe thousands of young, inexperienced and half-baked legionaries camped up here for the weekend over the centuries ...).

We walked up a very steep minor road to get to the top of the plateau. It was back-breaking and thoroughly exhausting work, with stops every other tree! At the top the view back was magnificent, we jumped a fence and considered camping in some abandoned woodland previously earmarked by John as a good camp site. But it began to snow and we hiked through the woods on top of the hill toward the carpark for the camps. Catherine and the boys were waiting for us there - offering a lift to the pub and civilization. We had brought everything we needed for at least a three day camp out on the hill (but only one was planned!), from needle and thread to firestarting kit, food, wine, pans, bedrolls, tents and poles, deerskins, axe, cups, and more ... but we decided, with the offer of a pub versus a camping experience which we thought we had already tried on the Hadrian's Wall Walk, to go for PUB! A great end to a fast-paced hard-driven scenic march along Roman roads and foot paths, through forest, across moorland, down ravines and up a very steep hill.

What did I learn? Where do you wear your cloak? Under you straps and equipment? Or ontop - never satisfactorily resolved that, but when you have to take kit off to reload it or for a rest, it helps if the cloak is under it all. And straps hurt. Crippling pain builds up after an hour or so and you have to switch shoulders. My feet were fine, my hand-made boots stayed together despite getting thoroughly sodden on the Roman road on Wheeldale Moor. That was a major improvement.The thing that gets you is - stuff falls apart so easily, no wonder we find so many strap ends, brooches, buckles etc. These things fall off! The camaraderie was great and kept me going, but I missed Andy and Sarah on this walk, and John Brayshaw (he could have carried the tent canvas!). Sadly Stephen Kenwright was ill and missed the walk, He would have loved it, marching the legionaries footsteps (and carrying the authentic tent canvas if John B refused!!). v A great walk, 10-11 miles in all, through moorland, forest, gorges and snow and hail.

After walking up Scafell Pike in January, doing 10 miles of Hadrian's Wall's hilliest section and the Flamborough Headland, this was perhaps the longest walk and the fastest. Only the 'flattish' Flamborough Walk was easier (for me).