Lyke Wake Walk

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The Lyke Wake Walk was started by a local farmer, Bill Cowley, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, England, in 1955. He claimed that one could walk 40 miles (64 km) over the North York Moors from east to west (or vice-versa) on heather all the way except for crossing one or two roads and he issued a challenge that walkers took up with great enthusiasm. He challenged them to walk it in less than 24 hours from Scarth Wood Moor, near Osmotherley,[1] to Ravenscar.[2] He concentrated on the west to east route because the prevailing wind came from the west, in principle making it easier to walk with the wind on one's back and with the heather lying away from the walker.

The walk took its name from the Lyke Wake Dirge, probably Yorkshire's oldest dialect verse, which takes its name from the watching wake over the corpse (lyke) The song tells of the soul's passage through the afterlife. The walk was not meant to be taken as the route of a funeral party but the possibility of bad weather and difficult conditions make it an appropriate club song.

The end result of completing the walk was a terrific sense of achievement and a black-edged card from the Chief Dirger (Bill Cowley).

The first years of the walk were difficult as there was no worn track but eventually the walk had to be re-thought because the numbers of people attempting it played havoc on the ground surface. Now various alternative routes are offered and the Walk club works with the National Park Authority to try to limit the environmental damage.

Bill Cowley died on 14 August 1994. The 'old' Lyke Wake Club, which he founded, closed down in October 2005, the Walk's fiftieth anniversary. However, a 'new' club has been established - not without controversy[1] - to preserve the traditions established by Cowley and to take over the old club's functions of recording crossings, holding wakes and liaising with public authorities.

Note: The Lyke Wake Dirge has been set to music with various tunes. One notable setting is part of the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings by Benjamin Britten.


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