Cleveland Way National Trail – celebrating 50 years
By Malcolm Hodgson, National Trails Officer
2019 marks a very special year for the Cleveland Way and allows us to look back on a great 50 years for our National Trail. It is worth
reflecting on the origins of our National Trails. Much can be made of the influence of the renowned Rambler Tom Stephenson and his call for “A long Green Trail” published in the Daily Herald in 1935. Roll on 14 years and we see the incredible National Parks & Access to the Countryside Act of 1949 come into fruition. This Act allowed the establishment of National Parks and AONBs as well as our own Long Distance Trails (now National Trails). First off the blocks was the 268 mile Pennine Way in 1965, with our own Cleveland Way following just 4 years later in 1969.
Alan Falconer’s early edition official Cleveland Way Guide suggests that the push for a Cleveland Way came through the YHA and the
Middlesbrough Rambling Club. The YHA saw an opportunity to link many of their hostels on this new trail that would encompass the
wonderful landscapes of the North York Moors and in particular its fine contrast of heather moorland and coastal landscape, which today makes it such a favourite amongst walkers and runners alike.
And so on 24th May 1969 our 109 mile trail (at the time they talked of 100 miles but that is another story!) was launched by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Housing and Local Government, Mr Arthur Skeffington, with a ceremony at Helmsley Castle followed by refreshments at Helmsley YHA.
The path was an immediate success, capturing the public’s imagination, and that in itself led to a big problem of sustainability. The trail quickly became damaged, especially on the Cleveland Hills sections where it was joined by the Lyke Wake Walk and Coast to Coast routes. These fragile shallow peat lengths were simply not up to taking the number of boots that crossed them and so major erosion scars developed, causing a significant detrimental impact on the landscape.
To tackle this, in 1989 the Cleveland Way Project was formed from local authorities including the National Park and Countryside Commission (now Natural England). Significant funds were found by the Countryside Commission and a major restoration programme on the Cleveland Hills was undertaken. Over the next 10 years over 8 miles of the Cleveland Way was restored, using traditional techniques of stones slabs and pitching, that would sit comfortably within the landscape and allow the wider scars to recover. In the main materials were moved by helicopter, to avoid further damage to the moorland. The slabs came from the redundant mills of Lancashire. They were simply turned smooth side down, with the rough side upright to give better grip and look more natural.
Our continuous challenge for the Cleveland Way is coastal erosion. Many will still remember the collapse of the fine Holbeck Hall in Scarborough in 1993. Lesser known is the fact that the Cleveland Way ran on the seaward side of the hotel! In places the cliff erodes at 3 metres every 10 years, so we are kept busy setting back the path, especially during a wet season. The more recent England Coast Path legislation has made that easier, now that the path automatically rolls back as erosion occurs.
The way we have managed the path has changed over the years and we really managed to drive up the quality of the trail when we brought in Andrew Carter as Cleveland Way Maintenance Ranger in the 2000’s. Andrew is on the trail most days, upgrading the path and identifying further work required. This path quality could not be achieved without the additional support of hundreds of helpers on the trail, as well as our National Park Apprentices, who work with Andrew to ensure that people have a great experience. In particular we have our Cleveland Way Volunteers team, who work on the trail most weeks, and our award winning Cleveland Way Adoption Scheme volunteers. This is a mixture of our Explorer Club families, scout and cub groups and organisations like Hardmoors and the Scarborough & Ryedale Mountain Rescue. Each group checks their own section 3 times a year, carries out minor maintenance and reports bigger issues.
In recent years finances have become more of a challenge for the Cleveland Way as well as all the National Trails. We have had to find enterprising ways of making up the differences on reducing budgets. Who knew that old finger blades could be held in such high regard! Certainly we didn’t until we started putting them up for sale. Any stock we offer tends to sell out within a couple of days.
We also now see real support from other businesses. One of the big changes of recent years on the Cleveland Way has been the growth of Trail Running as an active sport. This has been driven by Jon & Shirley Steele of Hardmoors, who run many events and Ultraruns across the year – including the classic full route of the Hardmoors 110. They were very keen to support the work of the Cleveland Way and they give us £1 per entry for trail funds. This approach has been so successful that we have been able to purchase Andrew’s new works vehicle through their donations. Helmsley Brewing Company have also been a great supporter. They were the first brewer to support a National Trail, which they have done through a donation for every pint of “Striding the Riding” sold – the official beer of the Cleveland Way.
And so to our 50th year. We have been finding lots of ways to celebrate and are encouraging anyone to make their own celebration as well. Amongst our highlights for the year has been the production of the “Cleveland Way Collection” booklet, describing 50 great experiences to enjoy along the trail. We are also looking forward to the actual anniversary date of 24th May, when invited guests will walk from Helmsley YHA to Rievaulx Abbey. Our guests will include David Rubinstein and Colin Speakman, both of whom attended the original event 50 years ago. Another highlight will be the exhibition of our Artist in Residence Debbie Loane at the Moors Centre in Danby entitled “109 miles” This runs from the 11th May to the 9th June and will be a great showcase for Debbie’s stunning works.
It has been a great 50 years for the Cleveland Way. We look forward to the next 50!
Find out more about the Cleveland Way www.nationaltrail.co.uk/clevelandway