Circling the Wagons Beneath High Noon Hill

bilsdale 1IT’S one of those days when nothing goes right, when the most straightforward of plans unravels and you stand in mist and rain with water trickling down your neck, and wonder what possessed you to swing your legs out of bed at 7am on a dark winter’s morning . . .

The plan is simple enough. Drive to a quiet valley just east of Osmotherley on the North York Moors; take a track up Arnsgill Ridge to Noon Hill; then follow the crown of the moor south to the Bilsdale transmitter to photograph this 314m high (1,030ft) marvel of engineering that beams digital radio and television across the north-east of England. (Click pictures for high-res versions)

bilsdale 2 bilsdale 3 bilsdale 5bilsdale 6

It’s a fine, crisp frosty morning with an orange sky when I pull on my boots and clump up the hill to Low Cote Farm, but passing through a turnip field (or swede field if you’re that way inclined), clouds roll over the moor from the direction of Whitby and mizzle drizzles gently like fine spray from a garden sprinkler.

The distant Bilsdale transmitter is immediately engulfed, along with the surrounding landscape, as cloud settles in a depressing wet blanket. My own personal vision is also restricted because, for the first time in many years, I’ve failed to pop in my contact lenses and my specs are subjected to a constant stream of spray. But what the hell. Would Shackleton have complained?

bilsdale 4

Stone marker on the top of Noon Hill

Stone marker on the top of Noon Hill

bilsdale 8 bilsdale 9I pass over Noon Hill well before noon and head south. Several miles of blind walking later, I spy one of the transmitter’s double anchor cables stretching up into the impenetrable greyness like the leg of a Tripod from HG Wells’ War of the Worlds. It crosses my mind that I might not be anywhere near the transmitter and this is indeed the leg of a Tripod, so I walk a little faster.

bilsdale 10A mile or so further I emerge beneath the mist at Low Thwaites, a remote upland farm that must be one of the most isolated places in England – and one which is undergoing extensive renovation. And at this point I intend to open up a debate.

bilsdale 14bilsdale 11My map shows a public footpath running from the farm gate through a paddock to the corner of the farmhouse, then round the house and down the hill. But the path has been diverted, quite recently I assume, with signs pointing to a field beyond the paddock, channelling the public through open pastures and away from the occupants. Effectively, we, the ordinary men and women who keep the wheels of industry turning and wave our children off to Afghanistan to protect democracy and decency, are being nudged out of the way to increase someone’s privacy.

As it happens, it is not my intention to use this path because my route takes me south, not east through the farm. But this sort of thing really gets my back up.

Millions of householders in this country, myself included, live on public roads or streets where strangers can, quite legally, come right up to your front window and glance inside if the fancy takes them. These householders would not contemplate increasing their privacy by challenging the status quo. Privacy should not be increased by encroaching on what lies in the public domain.

So how much privacy do these country dwellers require? Is it not enough to live on a remote farm on the top of an empty moor, where one solitary walker passes along a path perhaps once a day – or the occasional family on a weekend? Is their absolute privacy so essential that they need to insulate themselves from all social contact in this antisocial manner, and at the expense of the local authorities that we the public fund?

bilsdale 12bilsdale 13I descend Hawnby Moor with a swarm of bees in a sodden bonnet because some antisocial landowner has effectively told me to sod off and keep my boots off his private paddock and a route that was in the public domain long before his grandfather was born. But worse is to come.

Towards the end of my walk, my blood pressure is racked up to dangerous levels when the scenario is, believe it or not, repeated. Groundhog Day has come to the North York Moors.

bilsdale 15 bilsdale 16A path takes me unhindered through Streetgate Farm and Hagg House Farm, but at Birk Wood Farm – where my map shows the path running through the farmyard and up a track to the road – I am diverted through a swamp and a muddy hen run (white leghorns and gingernut rangers, by the look of them) to the road, ensuring the farm occupants have complete privacy at the public’s expense.

Not only that, but there’s a woman in the farmhouse garden watching me, just to make sure I adhere to the route. I give her a cheery wave, kick a hen out of the way, and slither up a muddy bank towards the road. It’s at this point I develop a completely new theory about footpath diversions.

A couple of weeks ago the Country Land and Business Association issued a press release on rural crime which appeared in The Northern Echo and, no doubt, many other papers. There was one line that leapt from the page and hit me between the eyes. I’ve highlighted the relevant section.

“Crime in rural areas takes many forms and is made easier for the perpetrator by the relative isolation of homes and businesses, a maze of county lanes unmonitored by CCTV, lack of street lighting, miles of legal public access close to properties and low visible police presence.”

We walkers are a threat. The Country Land and Business Association, which used to be called the Country Landowners Association before PR people updated its image, has linked our network of public footpaths and bridleways to a perceived increase in rural crime. Our very presence – we the public – is sufficient to raise concern among country dwellers. Paths are being diverted, not necessarily to increase privacy, but to lessen the chances of you and me stealing a quad bike or an expensive Japanese 4×4. And it must be you and me who are the threat, because real criminals do not distinguish between public and private access. They respect neither and they tread where they like.

Up on the road I pass the gate to Plane Tree Farm, where a big yellow sign proclaims: These Premises Are Monitored By CCTV.

It’s high noon in the countryside and the settlers have pulled their wagons into a circle. The threat of crime – real or perceived – has got them jumpy and the womenfolk are on lookout duty. Trouble is, me and you walking through in our muddy boots – we’re the Indians. Like it or not, Kemo-sabe.

bilsdale 18TRANSMITTER FEST
THE last time I passed the Bilsdale transmitter it was a perfect summer’s day but I didn’t have a camera with me. If you’re interested in this sort of stuff, take a look at Sharkey’s Dream on Winter Hill and Getting About a Bit on the Cleveland Way.

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About McEff

Alen McFadzean. Journalist (under notice of redundancy) on The Northern Echo, former shipyard electrician, former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still.
This entry was posted in Country Land and Business Association, Environment, Footpaths, Hiking, Mountains, Northern Echo, Ranting, Walking and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Circling the Wagons Beneath High Noon Hill

  1. roxyboots says:

    I have been diverted too on countless occasions, usually through a muddy horrible alternative and have also sensed that I have been watched whilst I do so! Maybe they are just really anti-social. Or here’s another theory, maybe they are the criminals and if we grab a peek in their window we might see some evidence?! It is completely bizarre to me, British walkers are some of the friendliest bunch of people you could care to meet, and certainly not your usual offender …
    …although a quad bike half way through a walk? Now there is an idea.

    • McEff says:

      Roxyboots, I love your theory that they’ve got something to hide. That didn’t occur to me. I’ll keep my eyes skinned next time I come across a situation like this. And you’re right about walkers being friendly. I would say we are among the most social, helpful and responsible groups of people anyone’s ever likely to meet. We should be welcomed into farmsteads and offered tea and biscuits, not cast out like common criminals.
      Cheers, Alen

  2. Jo Woolf says:

    I think you’re right to be upset, although I don’t know what you can do about it. In North Wales, where we used to live, a lot of footpaths led through farmyards and past remote cottages but we were more likely to be stopped by people wanting to have a chat! That’s what it should be like. Perhaps you should turn up at one of these farmhouses one dark night, dressed as a druid (ideally with some pagan-looking friends) and demand to sacrifice a chicken on an ancient ceremonial stone within the farmyard. (Please don’t kill the chicken, though).

    • McEff says:

      I really like the druid idea, Jo. That’s right up my street. And funnily enough I know someone who’s interested in druidism and its principles so I might just rope him in. I’ve got half a set of stag’s antlers in the kitchen that would look good fixed on a helmet.
      If I had a farm with a path running through I’d stick a table and chairs in front of the house and offer tea and soft drinks. There’s a place at Watendlath does that, and it’ just the perfect place to spend half an hour at the end of a walk. Must pay it a visit sometime because I haven’t been there for a few years.
      Cheers, Alen
      PS I wouldn’t kill the chicken. But I might pinch one to put with my own.

  3. Chris G says:

    This thing seems to be happening all the time. I have read a few blogs, Backpacking Bongos was one of them) and an article in TGO about a particular farmer I think in the Black Mountains who goes out of his way to confront walkers on his land even if they are not trespassing. Some people suggested some group direction in the form of a mass trespass by a group. I must admit the idea is appealing.

    I am also reminded of an old book by John Seymour (the self sufficiency advocate) I once read in which he was stopped by a landowner whilst out walking after he had got back to the UK. He had been away for 2 decades away including 5 years fighting in Africa and Burma in the second world war.. The conversation went some thing like this.

    Landowner “You are trespassing, get off my land”

    John Seymour “How did you come to be your land? All I want to do is walk across it”

    Landowner ‘My family have owned it since the Norman conquest they fought for it”

    John Seymour (taking off his Jacket) “Well in that case I’ll fight you for it now “

    • McEff says:

      Hi Chris. There’s a footpath near my house that runs right across a field, and I use the path when I’m out running a couple of times a week. Two years ago one of the farmhands was ploughing the field, so to keep out of the way I deviated and ran round the edge. The farmer spotted me and chased me in his Range Rover to ask me what I was doing. When I explained I was keeping out of the way of his tractor, which was ploughing up a public right of way, he backed down a bit. But that’s the sort of attitude I often find I’m up against.
      I like the John Seymour story. He sounds like the sort of bloke you wish you’d had with you when you get into situations like this.
      Cheers, Alen

      • A slightly longer version of the “Well, I’ll fight your for it” story about land ownership is in Betsy Whyte’s (a gypsy woman) book “The Yellow on the Broom” – an excellent book by the way if you’re interested in the Gypsies’ old way of life.

        • McEff says:

          Do you think it could be one of those folk tales that goes round and round and is attributed to several people or claimed by several people? I’ve being thinking about this “I’ll fight you for it” line all day and I’ve got a suspicion that Mike Harding used something very similar on one of his records.

  4. Chris G says:

    Alen,

    He was an incredible bloke and had a fantastic life. He went to farm in southern Africa when he was 19 years old and worked on cattle stations for a while, Then it was deep sea fishing off the coast of what is now Namibia, He studied for a blasters cerificate so he could work in the copper mines of what is now Zambia and was working as a travelling wildlife control officer, inoculating livestock, when the war broke out.
    He served 6 years as an officer in the Kings Afican Rifles fighting the Italians in Abbysinnia, and the Japanese in Burma. When the war finished he came back to the UK and lived in a old trolley bus and worked organising labour (mostly enemy pows) on farms and wrote BBC radio documentaries on the countryside and how it was changing. He wrote travel books, once travelling to India overland 20 years before the hippies, spent 6 months revisiting Africa, sailed a coble to the Frisian Islands and Sweden.
    For a while he lived on a Dutch barge, travelling widely in England here on the canals and waterways, He settled in the late 1950s in Sufflok on 5 acres with the aim of being self sufficient with his wife and family. Further farming was done in Pembrokeshire and Ireland where he continiued writing on travel, self sufficiency and the environment. Most of his books of his experiences and advice are sadly out of print apart from the well known guides to self sufficiency.

    When I think of the time I accidentally cut through the cable of our hedge trimmers (twice) rereading this makes me feel inadequate!

    • McEff says:

      Chris, I share your feelings of inadequacy. Here’s me moaning about paths being diverted when someone like John Seymour has led a life of adventure and danger, and probably with hardly a moan.
      You’ve got me thinking now, because I borrowed a book off a colleague about self sufficiency a few years ago and I’ve a feeling the author was based in south Wales. I wonder if it was one of Seymour’s books. There was a rather descriptive chapter on how to kill and butcher a pig, and a delightful one on how to brew a barrel of beer, then use the waste products for brewing what they used to call small beer. I shall ask him when next I see him. Either way, he sounds like the sort of chap I should look into.
      Thanks for that, Alen

  5. Laura says:

    I recall a silent battle with a householder when I was walking from Fort Augustus. I think it was at West or East Croachy. I found a large rock to sit on just off the road but admittedly kind of opposite a small house with a high hedge. Eating an energy bar and checking my map I became aware of a head peeping over the hedge. Then the garage doors of the house were opened and someone started up a chain saw or something similar. It was revved aggressively for a while until I decided to pack up and walk on. The motor stopped and the head appeared over the hedge again. I suppose he thought he had made sure I was moving on and not getting too close to his property – even though it was on the main road….. Obviously a female pensioner carrying a large backpacking rucksack and sitting on a rock is a threat to any home-owner……… it did make me laugh though!

    • McEff says:

      Hi Laura. There are some strange types about, that’s for sure. Obviously someone with an insecurity complex. Perhaps it’s just as well you did move on otherwise we might have been reading about the Croachy Chainsaw Killing in the papers.
      Actually, you’ve jogged something in my memory there. On the way to the North York Moors, while driving through Brompton near Northallerton, I saw a sign in a driveway to a house that said “No Turning”. That’s another thing that gets my back up. People only turn their cars if they need to, and to deny them is so uncharitable and selfish it beggars belief. But there you go. There are some peculiar people out there.
      Cheers, Alen

      • The ‘no Turning’ signs get my back up too – in fact, they make me want to turn in their driveway even though I don’t want to turn round! So petty! There’s no way I’d take any notice if I wanted to turn round…

  6. Paul says:

    Hi Alen,

    I’m racking my brains here trying to think If I’ve ever been diverted around private/farmhouse property & I’m really struggling to be honest, yes maybe a a diversion whilst repair work on pathways are under way but nothing else springs to mind, you know what’s going to happen to me now don’t you? I’m going to get the mother of diversions the next time I step out onto a Lakeland path.

    I can totally relate to your mood when it feels as of nothing is going right though, I’m blame the gremlins in my head, now there’s a battle…

    Thank you for the Link by the way.

    • McEff says:

      Hi Paul. Good to hear from you. Yes, that scenario or something similar is going to happen sooner or later, and I shall be following your adventures on the edge of my seat waiting for it to happen. And if I remember correctly, when you get into ranting mode you are extremely entertaining and good for a laugh – so that’s an added bonus.
      I battle with the gremlins a lot. I’ve found lately, when I’m walking alone, that sometimes I even argue with myself. Like bloody Gollum. Perhaps we’re all mad, just at different levels.
      Cheers now, Alen

  7. Hanna says:

    Uhh! It evokes bad memories, Alen. We also have idiots in Denmark!
    It’s hard to imagine what is going on in their heads.
    Wishing you many excellent mornings, although it is dark.
    Hanna
    PS It is very lovely pictures, beautiful colors!

    • McEff says:

      Hej Hanna. Denmark has a reputation for being such a civilised and enlightened country – at least it does over here. But perhaps we all have our fair share of mad, bad and antisocial people. It all makes the world go round, I suppose.
      Thank you very much for your comment about the pictures. They never come out quite like I expect them to. Ha!
      Cheers, Alen

  8. Hi, If you’re not sure when those diversions were put in place, they could well be from Foot & Mouth year. Very many paths used to go through farmyards and that year were all moved out of the farmyards so that, when walkers started being allowed on the land again (after nearly the whole year), they wouldn’t pass through farmyards. If those houses are still working farms, I think it will be more to do with disease-spread prevention than privacy. After all, most farmers (and their wives) are usually ‘hard at-it’ most of the day and so not around the yard. Or it could also have to do with crime like you said. Or that their dogs drive them completely bonkers barking every time someone approaches the house.

    • McEff says:

      Hi Carol. I don’t know about the second farm, so that might well be the case. But I Googled them both to see if I could come up with any information, and the Low Thwaites diversion went through last year, according to the minutes of the national park authority. In fact it is so recent that it hasn’t been updated yet on the Ordnance Survey website.
      I’ll have another look sometime to see if I can date the second one. Incidentally, foot and mouth prevented me climbing Beinn Dorain. That was a long drive for nothing.
      Cheers, Alen

      • Hmmm – not sure then but most farmers I know aren’t too bothered about privacy as such – they are bothered about security though. Welsh farmers can be awkward b****s sometimes though…

  9. Oh yeah, and I love the trees photos at the start and end of the post :-)

    • McEff says:

      Thank you very much. I like taking pictures of trees. They stand still, and that helps.

      • LOL – it certainly does! I always miss wildlife shots ‘cos I’m not quick enough with my camera

        • Bee says:

          WOOOOW, as my kids would say to something that surprises or facsinates them, as does this ‘beautiful’ – if that would be the right description – rambling story about walking and looking and contemplating stuff in all that word’s meanings . Well that’s how I have been viewing it anyway. I came accross this blog looking for Belfast Sinks. I did not even know that is what they are called – I think I started with something like: ‘building a kitchen sink’ (Note, I didn’t type DIY sinks, re Barry…) and eventually came to your entry about the Belfast sink in the moors.

          My son and his partner went rambling over many of the places described in your blog (have to ask him if he saw the sink!) a few years ago and they talked about a Welsh farmer they could not understand who was asking or telling them about walking over a stye (is that the spelling?) and tresspassing though it was public access. Another farmer, I think somewhere up in the North of England, they woke up on one of their walks to tell him a lamb was caught in a tree root and they could not tell if he was grumpy, grateful or maybe both – or neither! It was funny to us back home when they told us about it anyway. I think he would live there if he could. We call him the honourary Englishman.

          Meanwhile, I am no closer to finding a reasonably priced belfast (or similar) sink way down in the depths of another world called Tasmania, but i am glad to have found this great site all about walking and talking. When I am walking or reading about it, I sometimes think how much people miss here by not being allowed to walk over land that is apparently private – the rivers, trees, wildlife that is missed because it is ‘owned’ by one person. I like to imagine a places like you describe where the land is still viewed as essentially everyones and at the same time no ones, kind of like many Australian Indigenous people might view land. But it seems like a self-centred or insular way of thinking is catching up everywhere as is described in your blog’s entries.

          We are lucky our farmer is friendly though he never says much, and in his own farmer-like way is community minded enough not to mind us walking over his land and telling the neighbours to take potatoes from the plot he put in alongside the public access to his place for everyone to use…Time for me to stop talking and take myself and our dog for our walk through the farmer’s land, up and on to the road and over gumtree and wattle filled hills…

          I’ll peak in to this blog now and then as I have found it so enjoyable and I promise not to ramble quite so much if i do add anything else!

          • McEff says:

            Hi Bee. Thanks very much for your wonderful comment. And don’t worry about rambling on because it’s good to hear from people in different places – that’s the great thing about blogging and the internet.
            I wish you luck in your search for a Belfast sink, and I would like to help you if I could – but with me being in England and you being in Tasmania (which might as well be in a different solar system) there isn’t much I can do about that.
            I had a smile at the search term you used when you landed here “building a kitchen sink”, because I get some really strange examples turning up on the site’s statistics page, as I’m sure other people do. The most bizarre one was “why is my Dundee cake flat”. I couldn’t help with that one either.
            I think the general consensus is that farmers are a race apart no matter what country they’re in. Perhaps they’re even a different species. Having said that, I’ve known some very friendly and generous ones – like your neighbour – and I was once lodged on a farm for the best part of a year while working near Appleby, in Cumbria, and that gave me an insight into a different way of life.
            Cheers, Alen

  10. David says:

    Not the best of days for long reaching views, but the transmitter piercing the cloud looks pretty impressive.

    There does seem to be a lot of conflict between landowners in rural areas wanting to reroute footpaths and those who use them. It often seems to be people who buy land knowing the locals walk there and then ignoring the past history, simply begin fencing them out. Sometimes it is because there is nothing officially recorded on the maps. Jeremy Clarkson tried it when he bought a holiday cottage on the Isle of Man but he lost his case. He claimed it was against his human rights for the locals to walk on his land. Fortunately for walkers the ruling also said that all of the paths on this land should now be officially recorded.

    It would be interesting to know why those you came across have been diverted as they look to be established rights of way.

    • McEff says:

      Jeremy Clarkson strikes me as the type of bloke who would be the first to criticise people who have a genuine grievance under human rights legislation – so it warms my heart to learn that he lost his case. Unfortunately, Madonna won a similar fight over public access on her Wiltshire estate “because of the risk of being shot”. So it goes both ways.
      You’re probably correct in saying that people come in, buy these places then start rerouting footpaths. In the case of Low Thwaites I believe it stood derelict for many years, but money is being poured into restoring it. Dunno about the other one though.
      Cheers, Alen

  11. In well over fifty years of wandering around on open moorland and agricultural land, I have noted there is currently more diversions around property. Public Rights of Way may have run through a farm yard in the past, but I suspect there is nothing more sinister that the dreaded ‘Health & Safety at Work Act 1974′ a working farm is a working environment. I can not just wander along a track through a steel works, power station or construction site, so why should I be allowed to walk through a work environment putting myself and others at risk?
    I share your views on the antagonism caused, but I suspect it is generally a safeguard against the ‘litigation culture’ that is rife in modern life. I am more concerned by the lack of waymarking around farm buildings!
    As for the spurious comment about turning around in peoples driveways, I have just had to pay over a thousand quid to relay a driveway entrance broken up by constant turning of vehicles, think of that next time you do it !!

    • McEff says:

      It’s nothing to do with health and safety. It’s to do with owners rerouting footpaths to increase their privacy at the public’s expense. And as for “the dreaded Health and Safety at Work Act 1974″ – there were 650 fatal accidents in Britain in 1974 when the act was introduced, and that figure has fallen year on year to 150 for the past 12 months. Speaking as someone who lost a grandfather in an industrial accident, I think that’s a good thing.

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