THIS set out to be a hike to the Rosedale iron mines – but I got tangled in a fox hunt and that’s far more entertaining. It was also a day of bewildering signposts, dazzling sunlight, heather fire haze and Yorkshire mud. Oh, and there was an immovable dog in a bedroom window. Can’t say fairer than that, really . . .
My journey starts at 10pm at Blakey Junction – a redundant railway junction on the crown of the North York Moors. There was a time when steam locos clanked through here from the Rosedale mines, hauling strings of ironstone wagons to Bloworth Crossing and the incline that swoops down the moor to Battersby Junction.
But the last train left about 1929 and the rails were removed, leaving a tangle of cinder trackbeds that crisscross the moors like ancient pathways. They are ideal for walking and mountain biking. They also lead to impressive ruins that once fuelled the industrial revolution and fed the furnaces of Teesside. Things are a bit quieter these days.
I’m lacing my boots at the side of the road when I notice signposts pointing in two different directions to the same place. This has me bewildered. Perhaps that’s how they do things in Yorkshire. “Tha can go this way or tha can go t’other. Supta thee.”
I leave the mysterious signs and plod north along the railway trackbed, which has fine views south and east into Rosedale. I can see the line looping around the valley head and cutting back across the opposite slopes to a double row of ruined kilns in the hazy distance. I can also see a rather bright and colourful sign advertising the Dale Head Farm Tea Garden – so close, in fact, that I almost tumble over it. (Click pictures for high-res images)
I wheeze to a halt, ready to blow off steam over unnecessary and obtrusive advertising in a national park. But it crosses my mind that in a recent blog post about farmers diverting footpaths away from their homes I actually argued that, instead, they should invite the public in by opening tearooms.
Enough said. Very enterprising of the farmer, if you ask me. I’ve got a few bright coins in my pocket, so if I’m passing Dale Head Farm later I’ll exchange them for some Yorkshire cakes and a pot of Russian Caravan.
I like foxhounds because they are friendly, industrious animals and they flop around expecting you to romp with them and trot after a scent. Perhaps, if I’d been wearing a furry red onesie with a tail stitched to its bottom they might not be quite so affable. But I like them anyway. What I don’t like is the humans who accompany them. If they want to kill something that is allegedly threatening their livelihoods, why don’t they be sporting and pick on an adversary that’s going to fight back? The Taliban, for instance?
I shall digress briefly to tell you a tale. I was cycling through Aldbrough St John – a village in North Yorkshire – a couple of years ago, and the Zetland Hunt followers and their travelling circus had parked their horseboxes and expensive Japanese 4x4s on the village green. The hunt was riding back into the village as I was cycling out. As I passed the final stragglers, who were mainly girls on fat ponies and women talking loudly, I spotted the fox sitting as bold as brass in the roadside verge behind them. I passed within six feet of it. If it could have talked it would have said: “Sorted out that pack of silly arses.”
Meanwhile, back in Rosedale . . .
Parp. A horn blares. Parp, parp. Above me in the heather is a huntsman wearing a red coat with shiny brass buttons. He’s blowing his horn and shouting aggressively at the dogs. I can’t understand a word he’s saying because his voice is so throaty and ill-tempered. It’s pretty apparent that the dogs can’t understand him either because they just carry on doing what they’ve been doing all along.
This makes him shout some more. And parp some more. Then he flicks his whip, so I expect this means he is really cross. In his other hand he’s holding a walkie-talkie or possibly a satellite phone. Things have moved on since John Peel’s day.
For the benefit of readers not familiar with the English legal system, I should explain here that while it is lawful to hunt foxes with dogs, it is not lawful to kill foxes with dogs. The dogs can be used only to flush the fox from its lair. What happens next is the huntsman types the coordinates into his satellite phone and a Ministry of Defence drone circles overhead and takes out the fox with a smart bomb. It’s called blue on red, apparently. Just kidding. Parp.
I bid the hounds farewell and continue along the trackbed, stumbling almost immediately upon another sign to the Dale Head Farm Tea Garden. I think this chap’s pushing things a bit. But I admire his or her entrepreneurial enthusiasm. Russian Caravan’s my favourite tea, by the way. After Co-op 99, that is.
And so, after this series of minor adventures, I arrive at the Rosedale kilns. I could go into detail about how these kilns calcined the ironstone to remove impurities before it was shunted away to the blast-furnaces at Middlesbrough. But to be quite honest, Rosedale and its idiosyncrasies have captured my imagination. So after exploring the ruined cottage blocks – philanthropically built for the workers in the middle of their workplace to save their legs walking – and the hugely impressive kilns (historical links and references below) I continue into new and exciting country.
Beneath the railway track terminus lies the charming hamlet of Hill Cottages. I make myself comfortable on a conveniently placed seat that provides splendid views of the houses and pour a cup of tea. It’s at this point I become aware of the motionless dog.
In an upstairs window of the second-nearest house is a border collie staring diligently down the road. By the time I’ve finished my tea, and glanced at the dog several times, it hasn’t moved a single muscle. I clap my hands to attract its attention. This doesn’t work. I drink two more cups of tea and empty my flask, then stamp my boots on the gravel, but the dog continues to stare in the opposite direction. Perhaps it’s pining for its master. Perhaps the collie is the Rosedale equivalent of Greyfriars Bobby. My heart goes out to the doggy in the window. The one with the motionless tale.
Tea supped, I shoulder my pack and prepare to move on, but not before creeping surreptitiously past the house to gaze in the upstairs window at . . . at . . . a lifesize fluffy toy. Good job no one saw me whistling with my fingers in my mouth.
Along the road is a signpost pointing to the River Seven. I cross the Seven bridge and ascend the western slopes of Rosedale through three of the muddiest fields in the known world. With boots caked in Yorkshire mud, I clamber slowly and painfully back onto the moors and the western branch of the old mineral line, heading back to my starting point.
Up on the trackbed there’s a 4×4 and a couple of terrier men puffing on fags as they watch the fox hunt ascending through the heather. For those not familiar with fox hunting terminology, this is a description of terrier men from the North-West Hunt Saboteurs website:
Terrier Men – This unsavoury character will ‘dig out’, shoot or ‘bolt’ the fox when it has gone to ground using terriers. Terrier men are recognisable by their flat caps, Landrovers and leers! Many of them double as pest controllers, and have connections with badger digging.
They watch me approach along the trackbed. They don’t take their eyes off me for a single second. As I pass I say: “Ow do.” One says “Ow do” back. The other says nothing. Behind the vehicle are two terriers tied to a stake. They are huddling together for warmth against the wind. I should take a picture of them but I don’t.
Down below, the huntsman in the red coat with shiny brass buttons is parping and shouting at his hounds. All are intent on exterminating the wildlife – grown men and a pack of dogs against one unseen fox. Meanwhile, for a bit of perspective, we’re sending boys and girls younger than my son halfway around the world to be shot at and blown up by religious fanatics. We’re sending the wrong people. We should be sending this lot.
It would have been so easy for the writer to have omitted that final word, that simple courtesy that transforms a command into a request and – because of its informality – obliges the reader to obey with grace and a good-natured smile. For a fleeting moment, I yearn to have a dog at my heal so I can clip a lead to its collar. It crosses my mind to plod back to Hill Cottages and get that stuffed bugger out of the window.
Back at the junction I brew up behind the car while staring balefully at the road sign that points in two directions to the same place. Eventually I work out what’s going on. Originally, they were both pointing in the same direction, but the one on the right – for the southbound traffic – has slid down the pole and spun around. Philip Marlowe would have said: “Am I right, or am I right?”
And so ends another day on the North York Moors – another day spent in beautiful countryside that has been shaped by history. Like most areas steeped in natural beauty, it has its uglier, more cruel, more bloodthirsty side. Must come back though. Never did get that pot of Russian Caravan.
- Danny at Teddy Tour Teas put me onto this geological survey of Rosedale and Eskale.
- Some interesting stuff from Subterranea Britannica on the mines and railways of Rosedale.
- A few notes on Wikipedia on the Rosedale iron mines.
- Historical notes on the Rosedale railway.
- A most interesting inspection of the Rosedale iron mines made in 1857 on the website of the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers.