Thursday 1st July. 10 miles. Glaisdale to Sleights.
Today I followed the Esk Valley Way except for my extra loop to visit St. Hedda’s RC Church, Egton Bridge; the Mortuary Chapel, Egton and St. Hilda’s Church, Egton.
I walk down the road from my hotel past the rail station to arrive at the much photographed Beggar’s Bridge. There are several stories behind its construction.
It was built by a Thomas Ferris in 1619. Ferris was a poor man who hoped to wed the daughter of a wealthy local squire. In order to win her hand, he planned to set sail from Whitby to make his fortune. On the night that he left, the Esk was swollen with rainfall, and he was unable to make a last visit to his intended. He eventually returned from his travels a rich man and, after marrying the squire’s daughter, built Beggar’s Bridge so that no other lovers would be separated as they were. Wikipedia.
The Esk Valley Way goes across a ford and into the woods, the Coast-to-Coast comes this way too, but I have no recollection of it. The woods are a peaceful haven as one climbs above the river, Stone trods appear and are a feature for the rest of the day.
These stone paved ways are difficult to date but were thought to have originally connected the large monasteries, they being the only resources to fund such a scheme. Later in the 17th and 18th centuries, they would have extended as more commercial trade routes. I try to imagine this route being busy with packhorses travelling the county. The paving stones are worn from all that trade. Here in the woods is a particularly long section of preserved paving stones, how many more elsewhere have disappeared under tarmac or been destroyed by the plough? There are rocks in the woods which I wonder had been quarried for the paving I’m walking on.
One emerges onto a steep road, one in three, dropping to Egton Bridge. Here, hidden behind the Horseshoe Inn, are two series of stepping stones going across the Esk. A weir and mill race are obvious reminders of the industry on the river.
Going up the road is St. Hedda’s RC Church. Hedda was a contemporary of Hilda at Whitby. Egton was a hotbed of dissention during the reformation. Its most famous RC priest, Nicholas Postgate, became a martyr, executed at York in 1679. The Roman Catholic congregation however continued to worship in secrecy, and this new church was built in 1866. Today the church is Covid closed, inside apparently is a shrine to Postgate. On the school next door is a statue of St. Hedda.
Off the road at the top is Egton Memorial Chapel and Graveyard. The original C13th chapel of St. Hilda survived the dissolution period and continued as the Anglican Parish church, but it deteriorated and was demolished in 1876. A new St. Hilda’s was built in Egton, see below, but the graveyard has continued in use. The present mortuary chapel was built on the foundations of the old in 1897. A rather sombre place but with good views across the dales.
Egton village is spaced out around the wide street with lots of old attractive houses. I ask a man with his dogs the history of some buildings, but it turns out he has just moved here and is slowly finding out himself. He tells me of his restoration plans for his new property, not the retirement he had planned. He did however know about the surviving ‘hearse house’ down the hill, as well as the house where secret Catholic masses were held.
The village continues down a steep hill, which must be a nightmare in hard winters. The new St. Hilda’s Church was built,1879, using some stones from the original church. I wander around the outside to spot some old date stones, the church of course being locked.
This must have been a toll road through the estate at one time. The river is never far away, with the old stone paving alongside it. An old priory is mentioned, but now looks like a country residence. I meet up with the Egton newcomer again, he is out walking with his wife and one of the dogs, he knows nothing of the priory.
More surviving stone trods cross fields and woods, with Sleights in view on the hillside ahead. I enter the lane close to St. Oswald’s Retreat, where some sisters from St. Hilda’s Priory, Whitby, live.
The lane leads to Sleights Station and a bus stop back to Glaisdale. I’m the only one on the bus, but at the next stop a lady boards and sits right adjacent to me. She obviously doesn’t understand social distancing. I was expecting three days sweat would keep most people away from me. It’s been a long day, and I’m rather weary when I arrive back at the Arncliffe Arms for my second night.