The Lyke Wake Walk was “invented” in 1955 by Bill Cowley, a Yorkshire farmer. He had an article published in the Dalesman magazine in which he commented that it was possible to walk from one side of the North Yorkshire Moors to the other, at the widest point, walking on heather all the way. Apart from crossing a couple of roads on the way. He also set down a challenge as to whether anyone could achieve this feat within 24 hours. Cowley himself was a member of the first party of 13 to achieve the crossing only a couple of months after his article was published.
The rules of the challenge are loose. You can start at either the west or the east end of the course and as long as you walk to the other end in less than 24 hours elapsed time, you have succeeded. The spirit of the challenge is that you should keep on or close to the main watershed, i.e. the high ground. Also, straying into Esk Dale is frowned upon.
The walk became massively popular and in the 60’s and 70’s – when I first planned to attempt the challenge – as many as 15,000 people were thought to be completing the walk each year. This popularity obviously had a tremendous impact both environmentally and on the communities at either end of the route. At that time the route must have been an obvious well-trodden path in contrast to the original heather-all-the-way.
The start and finish points are now marked by stones outside the villages of Osmotherly and Ravenscar. The original end point was the bar of the Raven Hall Hotel. I guess the management got fed up of exhausted muddy people stumbling into their nice hotel. And the people of Osmotherly must have got fed up of the number of people turning up and slamming car doors in the middle of the night before starting the walk. However I’m sure that Osmotherly and Ravenscar have done well over the years by providing accommodation and sustenance to dirgers and witches.
The western section of the walk coincides with the Cleveland Way and the Coast-to-Coast and this section paths are clear and navigation is pretty straightforward as far as the Fryup turning. East of that point the route is less clear; there is scope for improvisation and there are opportunities to go wrong.