FOR many years I lived under the misguided impression that Ewan MacColl’s iconic mountain song The Manchester Rambler included a mention of the Wain Stones in the Cleveland Hills. Only recently did I discover there is another set of Wain Stones – on Bleaklow, in the Pennines above Manchester. And these are the ones he was singing about. Which just goes to show that you should never make assumptions . . .
I’ve walked past the Wain Stones several times during the past few years – the North-East version, that is. The Cleveland Way long-distance footpath passes directly over the sandstone outcrop. There aren’t many rocky protuberances on the Cleveland Hills and North York Moors, so the Wain Stones are pretty unique in this part of the world.
I’ve a few hours to spare today so I’m taking one of my guerilla walks along the escarpment from the B1257 on Clay Bank, heading west towards Carlton Bank and the rolling moors above the Tees valley.
Up here the clouds are dark and the wind strong and bitterly cold. To the north, the escarpment falls steeply to flat farmland and the outskirts of Middlesbrough. The lowlands are bathed in warm sunlight. Middlesbrough looks quite pleasant from a distance. (Click pictures for high-res versions)
I’ve never quite worked out where the Cleveland Hills finish and the North York Moors begin. I’ve arrived at the conclusion, unsatisfactory as it might be, that the Cleveland Hills is just another name for the northern section of the North York Moors. That’s the theory I’m working on.
But I’m the bloke who had Ewan MacColl striding out over Hasty Bank and Cringle Moor, so what do I know? Anyway, while we’re on the subject, take it away Ewan:
I’ve been over Snowdon, I’ve slept upon Crowdon
I’ve camped by the Wain Stones as well
I’ve sunbathed on Kinder, been burned to a cinder
And many more things I can tell.
My rucksack has oft been me pillow
The heather has oft been me bed
And sooner than part from the mountains
I think I would rather be dead.
Thank you. Legend has it that a Viking chieftain was defeated by the Angles up here on this ridge in the Cleveland Hills, and the Wain Stones take their name from the Anglo-Saxon word wanian, which means to lament or grieve.
The Vikings certainly rampaged through the vicinity on numerous occasions. Norwegian king Harald Hardrada and his ally, Tostig Godwinson, pillaged Cleveland in September 1066 before ransacking Scarborough and sailing up the River Ouse to meet a bloody death at Stamford Bridge.
I can’t get my head around this, the mentality that prompts people to chisel their initials into a natural object that has weathered countless thousands of winters. Bronze Age inscriptions are one thing; Victorian lovers leaving their mark in an age when the environment was systematically exploited is another; but supposedly educated people defacing prominent landmarks in a national park is something I have difficulty coming to terms with. Still, I suppose it’s not as bad as pillaging Cleveland.
The Wain Stones are also a popular destination for climbers. This cluster of sandstone buttresses and boulders might be small and seemingly insignificant in the grand scheme of mountaineering things, but according to the Climb Online website there are 89 routes to the top. When the surrounding boulders and craglets are included, the total reaches 145.
Climb Online also outlines the history of the Wain Stones and recounts the antics of the early climbers who pioneered the routes. I am particularly fond of the following excerpt because it portrays the stereotypical Englishmen we have come to know and love:
The brothers CE and D Burrow along with Canon Newton recorded visits in 1912, they were joined about this time by E and G Creighton, the latter being sufficiently keen to cycle the 80-mile round trip from York to enjoy the climbing. In fact, the visits of E Creighton continued into the period of the First World War when, armed with a revolver, he patrolled the Wainstones in hours of darkness, “Looking for Zeppelins”.
There are no Zeppelins today. There might well have been one or two about yesterday, but in this wind they will have been blown up to North Utsire by now. So with no threat from the air I take loads of pictures of rock faces and boulders, clump over the next hill – Cringle Moor – then decide I don’t want to continue any further so turn around and head back along the escarpment.
Descending Hasty Bank I meet an elderly gentleman – mid-70s or possibly older – who’s making the ascent to the Wain Stones with the aid of trekking poles. We spend a pleasant ten minutes chatting about the moors, the paths, and the fine views across Teesside from the escarpment.
He tells me he’s up here to give his cardiovascular system a workout – which is a relief because my wandering mind has already raised the possibility of him being Mr E Creighton with a revolver stuffed precariously inside his trousers. The last thing I need is a bullet accidentally launching through my foot.
We wish each other well and off he goes, up into the blistering wind with nothing to protect his slight frame except a light anorak, a scarf, and a couple of trekking poles to fend off the Zeppelins. I hope I’m as active as he is when I’ve reached his age.
Now I’m off home to cook dinner for my wife and raise a glass to Ewan MacColl. Incidentally, MacColl wrote The Manchester Rambler in celebration of the mass trespass on Kinder Scout during the 1930s. He was involved with planning a series of trespasses and was responsible for publicity.
If it wasn’t for people like him our uplands would still be the exclusive playgrounds of the privileged – and walkers would be routinely beaten by red-necked, forelock-tugging gamekeepers wielding big sticks. So I might raise several glasses. Just don’t ask me to sing The Manchester Rambler.