After 28 onerous miles, after cuckoos and curlews and mud and ache and sweat, Gerry Orchard crosses Wheeldale Beck over the stepping stones and sinks to at least one knee. That is no exhausted collapse; it’s the prelude to a music.
“This yah neet, this yah neet,” he sings in a powerful Yorkshire voice, “Ivvery neet an’ all. Hearth an’ fleet an’ cannle leet, an’ Christ tak up thy saul …”
The Lyke Wake Dirge, which dates again to the 16th century or earlier, was sung over the lifeless as a part of native funeral customized. Since 1955 it has had a curious (after)lifetime of its personal, giving a reputation and a sure gravity to the Lyke Wake Stroll, a problem requiring walkers to cowl 40 miles over the North York Moors, between the villages of Osmotherley and Ravenscar, inside 24 hours. Singing is non-compulsory, although traditionalists with breath to spare might discover the dirge soothing, a balm to sore ft and calloused souls.
Lyke Wake Stroll map
This, if I handle it, will likely be my first Lyke Wake Stroll; it is going to be Gerry Orchard’s 220th. He has made extra profitable crossings than anybody. When Invoice Cowley, the North Yorkshire farmer who invented the Lyke Wake Stroll, insisted {that a} “solemn silence ought to at all times prevail” upon it, he didn’t reckon with this man – 62 and whippet-thin – who’s as keen on speaking as he’s of strolling, and eager, each time doable, to mix the 2.

Walkers on the Lyke Wake Stroll at Lilla Cross on Fylingdales Moor. The cross is believed thus far from the 10th century. {Photograph}: Alamy
“There’s plenty of tales that coffins had been carried throughout the moors in days of outdated,” he says, “however sadly they’re not true. The true reference to the dirge is that towards the top of the Lyke Wake you’re feeling like loss of life. You take a look at these tumuli, the traditional burial mounds on the moors, and also you suppose, ‘The man in there may be fortunate. He has discovered peace, whereas I’m nonetheless struggling.’”
He chuckles. “At some point, hopefully, when my time has come, they may bury me below there, and my ghost can heckle walkers as they go by.”
We set off from Osmotherley at a bit of after 5am, selecting to stroll west to east, in direction of the ocean. Excessive spirits, low cloud. It’s chilly and a bit of damp.

Invoice Cowley (flat cap) being given a commemorative tankard in Ravenscar with the remainder of the group who accomplished the primary Lyke Wake Stroll in October 1955. Malcolm Walker is sporting the white jumper second from the appropriate

“That’ll preserve the snakes off,” says Gerry: adders are widespread on the moors. Six geese move shut sufficient for us to listen to the shush of their wings. Bracken pushes, crosier-like, by means of the hillside. For its first 9 miles, the stroll passes by means of a panorama that’s semi-agricultural and never not like components of the Highlands. One of many challenges and dangers of the Lyke Wake is that it isn’t effectively waymarked however, right here and there, on signposts for the Cleveland Approach, some guerrilla hiker has screwed small picket coffin shapes, painted black.
In getting ready for the stroll, I had spoken with two males who had been among the many group of 13 who pioneered the primary profitable crossing, which happened on 1-2 October 1955. Invoice Dell, now 78, was a boy scout from Middlesbrough. Malcolm Walker, 81, was a member of York Mountaineering Membership (YMC). Each realized in regards to the stroll from the Dalesman journal, the place Invoice Cowley issued a problem to anybody who believed they might cowl the gap in at some point. It was a lot tougher again then, Dell recalled: “There weren’t many paths. You had been pushing by means of heather. We had a break at midnight in a few tents up on Blakey Ridge.”

A view over Rosedale. {Photograph}: Julie Bushell
With the hotheadedness of youth, Walker and two others from the YMC determined to set off from this camp earlier than the remainder of the occasion had been awake and crossed the end line, as he recalled with some remorse, three hours earlier than everybody else.
“I used to be in an terrible state after I completed however the exhilaration was great. It stretches the physique of the common particular person to its absolute restrict. For these of us who couldn’t aspire to climbing Everest, it was the best bodily problem we might hope to do.”
The Lyke Wake is an odd mixture of the attritional and the extreme. You grind out the gap, at all times aware you might be strolling in opposition to the clock.

Historic picture of the stroll. {Photograph}: Mew Lyke Wake Membership
“It’s a struggle, not a battle,” says Orchard.
It’s additionally psychological. If the concept of strolling 40 miles is overwhelming, attempt to think about it as a number of shorter walks. Our plan is to cease, briefly, each time the route crosses a street. Gerry’s accomplice Julie meets us to replenish water bottles and hand out snacks from the boot of her automobile.
This protects us carrying an excessive amount of weight however even a supported stroll might be robust. Three-quarters of the best way throughout, I develop massive blisters on the edges of every foot and must endure the final 10 miles in ache. The well-known query posed in Corinthians, “O loss of life, the place is thy sting?”, finds a prepared reply on the Lyke Wake Stroll.
However blisters are nothing. Gerry has seen walkers pressured to surrender with damaged toes, damaged wrists and, mostly, utter exhaustion.

Walkers typically end the route late into the night. {Photograph}: Alamy
“It could actually get extremely emotional,” he says. “Grown males have been in tears.”
The Lyke Wake might be bleak, the hours sluggish; time snags and drags within the heather. There’s a robust sense of the centuries collapsing into each other. A bronze age barrow, a medieval cross, the sinister pyramid of the RAF Fylingdales early-warning system … All are monuments raised by man, centuries aside – pagan, Christian, secular – but every with the identical twin function: hearkening to the universe whereas leaving some mark upon the Earth.
Gerry will go away his mark, too – if solely within the document books. Of the 4 “centenarians” – those that have accomplished 100 or extra crossings – solely two are nonetheless alive: Louis Kulcsar, now 80, who arrived in Britain from Hungary in 1956 as a refugee, is the opposite. Kulcsar, a retired baker, has accomplished the Lyke Wake 186 instances, and has the excellence of getting walked it with out footwear and socks, an unimaginable feat on unimaginable ft; he has additionally run it backwards. Gerry has walked the Lyke Wake so many instances he might have walked from right here to Papua New Guinea as an alternative.

Swirling mists over Urra Moor. {Photograph}: Gerry Orchard
At 8.36pm, in drifting fog, on limping legs, we attain the top: a stone marker simply exterior Ravenscar. “Cease the clock,” says Gerry, “we’re right here.” It has taken 15 hours and 36 minutes. He palms me a patch within the form of a coffin, and an official New Lyke Wake Membership card. “Condolences,” it says, “in your crossing.” Now, if I want, I can name myself a Dirger.
Private triumph, nonetheless, doesn’t really feel like an applicable emotion on the finish of the Lyke Wake. This isn’t a panorama to beat. It’s a memento mori on which one might, briefly, really feel by no means extra alive. I’m happy and relieved to have completed the route however know, even on this second of pleasure, that my footprints have already disappeared into the moors with all the remainder.
• Extra data at lykewake.org
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