Dalby Forest and Whitby, 21st May 2001

What a day! Glorious sunshine, clear blue skies as far as the eye could see, temperatures soaring to 29° (according to Dan’s watch, anyway. The same watch that reckoned we were 45m below sea level when we were, in fact, standing on the pier. We don’t believe it!) … this is what walking is all about!

Much to our disappointment most of the county was still stricken with Foot & Mouth problems, and the only area of any size that was open was Dalby Forest, a Forestry Commission site nestling in the foot of the North Yorkshire Moors, and that was our destination. Seven hardly and fearless souls climbed aboard the mini bus and strapped themselves tightly in before letting me into the driving seat; these brave people were Ben G, Ben H, Dan, Oliver, Phil, Roger and Stephe. Little did they know what they were letting themselves in for!

We arrived at Dalby Forest at 10.30, and in less than three-quarters of an hour the walk was underway … with the intervening time being taken up by applying the sun-tan lotion hastily bought, deciding where we wanted to walk, finding out that that path was closed, asking in the Tourist Office what was open, setting out, realising we were on the wrong road, walking back, finding the right road … and then we were off!

The walking was easy; being Forestry Commission land, all the “paths” are either tarmacced roads or wide gravel tracks, and we wound our way slowly up the gentle hillside, sheltered from the blazing sun by the high pine woods on either side of the path. Highlights of the early part of the walk were, well … not much really. The sight of Dan hobbling along, trying to keep up while simultaneously checking our height, direction and barometric pressure on his watch might count as one of them, another would be the long wait at the top of the hill for the “slow” group to catch up.

This being a Ben Lairig walk, it would not have been complete without finding something to climb on top of, and as we rounded the next bend, fate presented us with a logpile to clamber all over, complete with a sign reading “Do not climb on this log stack” for us to hold as numerous cameras clicked. Sadly, we walked on feeling unfulfilled; a stack only two logs high had not provided much of a challenge to our rugged and daring mountaineers.

Luck was still with us, as shortly afterwards we were rewarded with another chance to play … this time taking the form of three large metal drums with the words “HOT KILN” scrawled on them in large letters. What better place for a climbing frame?! Our trusty captain observed that the rusting plates bent when you stood in the wrong place, and Roger found that sitting down on one made his bare legs rather warm. And where was our Safety Officer when all these antics were going on? Heaven knows … probably still at home, tucked up in bed.

And so we continued on, until we espied our next photo stop … atop what had been a tall tree but was now rather horizontal. After setting his camera and hobbling back to join us, Dan nearly demonstrated that falling off a log is as east as … well, falling off a log. Roger’s suggestion that we straddle the two logs with one foot on each was rejected on the grounds that this would involve major surgery for most of us as the logs were over five feet apart.

And that was about it for the rest of the walk. Two hours and 7 miles after we set off, we were back at the car park, with the only other point of note being unanimous disapproval for Oliver’s proposal that Committee Initiation should involve jumping in every lake that we passed. As it was still only lunchtime, and the weather had, if anything, improved since we arrived, an executive decision was made that the afternoon should be spent as lazily as possible on Whitby beach. So that was where we headed.

If only it was that simple! When we were still several miles shy of Whitby, turning right at a busy junction, the gear stick chose that moment to fall over onto Ben’s feet. There’s nothing like a well-maintained mini bus! (Not that you’re likely to see a well-maintained mini bus around the University of York). Fortunately we were going downhill at the time, and managed to hobble down into Whitby where we parked up and waited for the RAC to come and put us right. At least, some of us waited. Others, notably including the newly-elected Captain, were not slow to desert to the beach, and Mr Heggs, noted on this walk as ever for the unusual contents of his lunch box, disappeared briefly in the direction of the Co-op, to return soon after carrying a large sack of spuds.

After nearly an hour, the friendly face of a bright orange van hove into view, and within a few minutes the very very nice man (or is that the other lot?) had found the problem and fixed it well enough to last for a few days at least before it next broke. (We have booked the other mini bus for our next trip!) Our next mission impossible (have you ever been to Whitby on a sunny Saturday? If not, you have no idea), which we chose to accept, was to find somewhere to park the ‘bus (and the less said about that particular manoeuvre the better!) before heading back down to the beach to join in the fun and games with the frisbee. Phil made an admirable longstop, running several miles back and forth along the beach, having mistakenly chosen the spot that was downwind of the rest of us … let it suffice to say that there were several of us who would never be described as “having a good aim”

Eventually the game of frisbee palled and we headed for a stroll along the pier, briefly losing Roger on the way – of all of us who had taken our shoes off while on the beach, Roger was the only one sensible enough to retire to a place of safety to put his back on, while the rest of us did flamingo impressions trying to dust the wet sand off our feet as the rest of the club looked on, laughed, and attempted to use us for a dominoes match. We got to the end of the pier and went down to the lower deck, the hiding place for fishermen and idiots like us. Some bright spark who shall remain nameless (because I’ve forgotten who it was and I don’t want to get sued for slander) decided that it would be fun to walk back along the lower deck and climb the “emergency-only” ladder at the other end. Others of us had more sense, and were thoroughly vindicated when the lower-deckers got back and saw the ladder … and decided that if Ben Lairig could send people up some of the highest mountains in Britain we were damned if we were going to allow our first fatality to be from falling off of Whitby pier.

And that was the end of it. As we ambled back to the mini bus, losing Phil this time when the lure of the amusement arcades became too great to bear, we all agreed that it had been a day very well spent, and if we hadn’t done as much walking as would normally happen on a Ben Lairig trip … well, everyone deserves a day off now and again, don’t they!

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