THE mineral line from Ingleby Greenhow to Rosedale didn’t feature in George Bradshaw’s railway guides – so that’s one reason why Michael Portillo hasn’t ventured along it with a film crew. Another reason is the track was lifted long before most of us were born. That doesn’t mean to say it’s not a great journey. It is. On foot . . .
My wife once confronted Michael Portillo outside Barrow town hall. Sorry about veering off down a sideline at this early juncture, but it seems as good a time as any. He was, in those days, an extremely rightwing and unpopular member of the Thatcher government and my wife was a member of a group called Women Against the Poll Tax. Portillo was visiting the town hall and the women were outside shouting slogans and demanding an audience, assuming they wouldn’t get one. Quite unexpectedly, however, he emerged from the gloomy sandstone arches with a smiling face and said: “Good afternoon ladies – what can I do for you?”
My wife recounted later: “Oooh. We just stood there. ’Es really ’andsome when you see ’im in the flesh. Oooh. Oooh.” And so did the anti-poll tax movement sustain an early setback.
Personally, I think he’s an ugly bugger. And anyone who wears pink shirts and lavender jackets should not be trusted.
Moving on smartly, Ingleby Greenhow is a village firmly rooted in the farmland between Teesside and the North York Moors. This part of the moors is also referred to as the Cleveland Hills. There was a time, in recent history, when Teesside’s industrial tentacles stretched right over the moors and even beneath them, but those times are gone. All that remains are the scars left by quarrying, mining, and the mineral railways. (Click pictures for high-res versions)
From Ingleby Greenhow I march along lanes to Bank Foot Farm, where a winter wind moans eerily in overhead power lines and bare branches. From the farm, a railway trackbed runs south along the foot of an escarpment. Northwards, it crosses a couple of fields to arrive promptly at Battersby Junction, which is still connected to the national rail network. So this walk should really have been done by train, not car, to add some authenticity (this has just occurred to me while typing these words).
Two miles later along the southbound trackbed, clad in waterproofs and buffeted by gales and squalls of hail, I arrive at the foot on an inclined tramway that once lowered wagons of ironstone 730ft in vertical distance (222m) from the crown of the moor.
Great continental railway journeys, eh? Michael Portillo travelling in luxury through European history, eh? Pink shirts and lavender jackets, eh? Cast all that nonsense aside. What would it have been like to stand in an empty ironstone wagon as it glides up the incline, watching the distant blast furnaces of Middlesbrough appear above the trees? Picture this: heathery moors sweeping down into a basin of perfectly flat farmland; a smudge of smog on the horizon; grey chimney stacks trailing webs of smoke into the atmosphere and out across the North Sea as the wagon gains altitude – the Pennines to the west, industrial mayhem to the north. Then a sudden jolt and a clatter of wheels as the wagon arrives at Incline Top. And there before you, a railway line snaking south along the moor’s purple crest for miles and miles towards the sun.
At Bloworth Crossing the line intersects a drove road that has been incorporated into the Cleveland Way long-distance footpath. Bloworth must have been one of the highest level crossings in the country, but if anything existed in the way of signs or gates they have long since disappeared. A couple of barriers prevent off-road vehicles from damaging the delicate moorland plant-life, and an information board details the environmental features. Other than that, there is little to see except an abandoned railway, an intersecting path and lots of bog and heather.
I head south along the trackbed for several miles around sweeping curves that exploit the contours to a bridleway that dives into Farndale. Rosedale and its iron mines are too distant for one day, so it’s my intention to descend to Esk House Farm, double back, and follow tracks to the head of Farndale, then climb back onto the moors to Bloworth Crossing.
At the roadside just north of the farm, I’m sitting in the shelter of a dry-stone wall eating my lunch like an old tramp, when along the road trots a rather rotund lady in smart tweed trousers, red thermal top, and wielding trekking poles enthusiastically. Aha. She spies me in the undergrowth and stops to chat.
She tells me she’s from Hull, a delightful place apparently, but one I’ve seen very little of except for an unflattering ferry terminal. Today she’s inspecting footbridges in Farndale in her capacity as a voluntary ranger, making sure they’re all in good working order ready for the daffodil season. If Farndale is famous for anything, it’s daffodils. I expect everyone knows that.
Last week she was inspecting the coastal cliffs between Scarborough and Filey. They are collapsing into the sea at an incredible rate and the footpaths are becoming quite scary. Soon Scarborough will have been washed away completely. That’ll make the borough council’s recent demand for the return of Richard III’s bones look pretty silly.
The ebullient lady from Hull (which sounds like the opening line of an interesting limerick) heads south in search of a railway sleeper that’s been washed from one of her bridges. I finish my cheese and pickle sandwich and head north.
Farndale today, in the blustery wind and sudden showers, is a peaceful place. Pleasant tracks lead through farms and climb onto the open moor, where a slight navigational error places me further to the east of Bloworth Crossing than I had anticipated and marching in the wrong direction. Other than this hiccup, I have enjoyed my walk.
A hundred years ago, these moors were alive with activity. Now they are empty. The industry has gone and the landscape has subsided into a more natural state. But telltale signs of those former times remain: blocks of masonry; an iron bar sticking out of the heather; marks left by sleepers in cindery paths; overgrown spoil heaps; curved embankments.
The North York Moors. I’m beginning to feel quite attached to this place. Might get the train here next time. I’ve already ordered a pink shirt and lavender jacket off Amazon.