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Wednesday Wanderings, Urra and Billy's Dyke 21/03/2024

Thank you to everyone who came for a wander last night. By the time we met up at 6:45 the rain that had been falling for most of the day had stopped. The skies overhead were beginning to clear and the first stars were starting to appear between the clouds.

Our trot out began in the main car park in the village of Chop Gate, which straddles the B1257 road between Stokesley and Helmsley in North Yorkshire.

From the car park we ran up the road passing the Buck Inn, which has been serving ale and refreshments under various guises since at least the 18th century. Inn signage was first legally introduced by Richard II in 1393, all public houses and inns were ordered to display a sign with a white hart depicted on it, this was Richards personal emblem.

The signs were used to identify establishments that sold ale, they could then be inspected by officials appointed by the local court-leet called ale-conners who would report on the quality, price, and wholesomeness of the ale being sold.


Leaving the B1257 we took an old green lane called Cold Moor Lane, this was once a major route into Bilsdale from Stokesley, traversing Cold Moor and joining up with the trod leading to Kirkby and then onto Stokesley.

The track was fairly muddy and rutted in places, dry feet were quickly a distant memory.

Before reaching open moorland we headed down through an empty field, following the line of a small beck until it joined a farm track which took us back onto the B1257 at Seave Green. Although this was a marked right of way it did not appear to be well used and it was difficult to make out the course of the path, so we followed a fence line down to the beck, and then the beck to a farm track down to the road. Linear features such as fence lines and becks make excellent aids to navigation, especially if you are using OS 1:25000 scale maps, as in rural and open areas all fence/ wall lines, and water features are shown.

After crossing the road we ran up the hill towards an area known as Town Green, where Bilsdale Hall and the church of St Hilda's are situated, records show that there has been an ecclesiastical building on the site since the early part of the 12th century. We continued along the road for about half a mile until we came to the hamlet of Urra, which sits at the foot of Urra Moor, Urra from "horh" the old English word for filth, Urra Moor is colloquially known as the dirty hill, rising up to Round Hill which is the highest point on the North York Moors at just over 1489 ft.

Our route took us from Urra up the hillside towards Cow Kill Well, the name of a large water hole in one of the many small becks that run off the moor, ifirstly into Bilsdale Beck and then further on into the River Seph near the southern end of Chop Gate. Presumably the well was named after the demise of some unwary bovine wanderers...

It was a good scramble up the hillside as we followed one of the water courses as it snaked its way downwards. In places the ground was steep enough to need three points of contact, bending the back and pushing hard with the legs was the nearest to running that we could get, though I have. no doubt there will be fell runners who would spring up there without undue difficulty. A good workout for quads, hearts, and lungs nonetheless. Once at the top of the ridge we followed the well marked footpath that leads to the top of Carr Ridge to the North and Medd Crag to the South. This footpath is one of the many on the North Yorkshire Moors that has ancient origins, for about two and a half miles along its length an earth and stone dyke runs beside it. The dyke is believed to have been constructed during the middle of the Bronze Age, circa 1500-1250 BCE. There are many such dykes scattered throughout The North York Moors, it is suspected that they formed tribal boundaries, a visible deterrent to those wanting to encroach on the land of another tribe. The dyke on Urra Moor is large and well constructed which may infer that the people who lived within its boundaries were powerful and had the ability to muster significant resources. A local name for the dyke is Billy's Dyke, the story goes that during the harrying of the north by William the bastard Duke of Normandy, better know as William the Conqueror, and his troops became lost up on Urra Moor as they returned from scouring the countryside for the rebels believed to have been responsible for the massacre of the Norman garrison in Durham. The epicentre of this last spark of Northumbrian resistance to Norman rule was within Coatham Marshes near Redcar. Some sources say that a battle took place there around 1069-1070 where the rebels were slaughtered, other sources state that the rebels dispersed before the normans had chance to engage them. In any event William and his men reputedly became lost on Urra moor, during a snowstorm, as they marched back to York. Seeing that Urra may have derived from old English for filth, did the filth in Urra stem from William's colourful cursing as he and his men blundered blindly up and down Urra Moor, certainly, there were once those in Bilsdale that said it did.

We kept to the same path following the Dyke until we reached the path leading down to William Beck Farm, it is the fast downhill finish of the Hardmoors trail marathon.

The track is a good one, particularly so once you pass through the farm, and is conducive to good running, stretching the legs, quickening the pace, and pushing yourself all the way down the moor side to the road and the finish line...

Another enjoyable wander with fellow wanderers, covering a midges nose shy of 6 miles with circa 900 ft of ascent and some off piste trails thrown in. And, above all running over land with more 3500 years of human history in its DNA. It appears to me that trotting on has the capacity to transform us all into time travellers...


Until next week trot on 💪🦍

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