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 The Moors Run
Yorkshire Area MVT Annual Crank Down by Chris Smyth

Question: What have Smugglers, Captain Cook, Frankenstein and one of the first German planes to be shot down over British soil in WWII got in common?

Answer: another stupendous Yorkshire Area Crank Down running through more stunning scenery.

As members fell into their sleeping bags, on the second evening, camped on the cliff tops over looking the North Sea you immediately have a clue that this year the club had turned back to the North Yorkshire Moors in place of the Dales in the previous year. As we sank into our pillows we could all look back at a blissful first days run…….

In fact, most of the crew had also spent the previous night at Nev Johnson’s farm just south of Pocklington, in the Vale of York. Apart from enjoying, once again, Nev’s superb hospitality it was also fascinating to hear his boyhood stories of RAF Melbourne, a Bomber Command airfield immediately adjacent to his farm. 

The Saturday morning dawned fine and clear, although with a very heavy dew, and it took some time for both tents and members to dry out from the night before. Simon Roberts who had organised the weekend had found the perfect jumping off point for the rally. Soon the 13 Jeeps, one Dodge and several Land Rovers were summoned to life by Simon’s shrill whistle and with engines straining to be underway the signal was given and the convoy raced away from the start line.

The first stretch, rattling though the local lanes, made it easy to see why so many WWII Bomber Airfields were sited on the wide flat Vale to the east of York. Although this low lying, but beautiful, landscape, was to have little in common to the hillier routes ahead, what these roads already shared with the weekend to come was the virtual absence of traffic. 

It may be hard for those from elsewhere to appreciate that Yorkshire’s varied landscape is so broad that with carefully planning modern cars can be hard to find. In these early stages of the drive it therefore made it even easier to visualise these same byways being awash with military vehicles as the Bomber campaign was at its peak.

My good fortune, and Val’s, having organised the two previous outings in The Yorkshire Dales in alternate years, was to simply tuck our jeep into the middle of the line and let Simon do all the work.

I say all the work however; YMVT’s now slick convoy operation belied the attention to detail under the guise of an easy going and friendly exterior. The clubs powerful radios and other willing volunteers made commanding the operation a smooth task; on point in Simon’s command Jeep were Mike and Sharon. Sharon, a professional photographer soon became a familiar sight on the weekend look back down the line of bouncing vehicles with her powerful camera and hair blowing with abandon in the slipstream.

Brian Slingsby, our popular Chairman, held the centre from his Dodge Command Car, a vehicle entirely fitting his status whilst Dave Reape acted as an experienced tail end Charlie ready to mop up any stragglers. There was never any need to fret, with the tight radio net. There were other sets in the group too, and all were kept in great order.

I said that there were some 13 or so Jeeps and Land Rovers however, there was at least one oddity, not counting Brian’s Command car. Something that looked like a sand buggy was ahead of our Jeep for the first part of the tour. This was Colin Scott’s LSV (light strike vehicle), a first class replica that he had entirely built from scratch. It looked great. However, with its completely open tubular structure, I was glad of the relative comfort of our Ford GPW.
Soon, the group crossed the York/Hull road and at last the lanes began to climb into the Yorkshire Wolds. Like the Downs in the South of England the soft lines of the Yorkshire Wolds are formed from chalk and limestone. High planes are cut by deep dry fissures that were formed in the Ice Age as melt water from a great lake north of the area dug the valleys through the permafrost as it cascaded into the Humber beyond. If you haven’t visited these Wolds it is hard to imagine their expanse. This beautiful rolling countryside must be one of the ‘Breadbaskets’ of England with rich fields of cereal crops extending for miles in all directions.
Gaining the high ground north of Wartner the convoy first traversed the rolling Wolds hill tops with splendid views in all directions, aided by a lovely autumn day. Then, north of Fridaythorpe our small band plunged off the high plains into one of the dry valleys below to continue the drive forward. Finally, with a breakout across the Malton road, Scarborough was soon on our right flank with our first sight of the North Yorks Moors rearing ahead of us. Soon we paused for lunch; a fair ale house surprised by our sudden descent had no food to offer though was happy for our group to buy fish and chips from a nearby chippy, the fresh fish landed just that morning, and enjoy them in the landlord’s friendly bar.
We soon rallied, and climbing again entered the dark North Riding Forrest on the edge of the moors. On through Harwood Dale, tantalising glimpses of the sea winked at us through the trees and vales as we now tracked the coast north.

The end of the first day was not far away now and as we approached the coast we paused just short of Boggle Hole. Here, an impromptu briefing for all was held over the bonnet of a Jeep. Simon, in gathering intelligence for our push to the north was able to tell us how RAF pilot Peter Townsend, flying a Hawker Hurricane of 43 Squadron, downed Heinkel He 111, Werke Nummer 3232, of KG 26, piloted by Hermann Wilms, which crash-landed near Bannial Flat farm, Whitby. This was the first German aircraft downed on English soil since a Gotha bomber at Harrietsham, Kent, in 1918.

Some more fine deep and twisting lanes behind the cliffs and bays soon brought us to our leaguer for the night. High on the cliff top overlooking the spectacular Robin Hoods Bay we rolled into a simple campsite and pitched our bivvies on whatever piece of flat land could be found. Hand brakes were checked that night; it appeared that had a Jeep rolled away down the slope it would soon have been dashed on the rocks below.

Once dug in, parties we arranged for a recce into Robin Hoods Bay itself. The ‘infantry’ took a direct line dropping off the cliffs and entering the town from a deserted rail track in the north. The smaller ‘motorised’ group covered the west flank and soon both groups had rejoined to make head quarters in the Bay Horse hotel at the top of the main street and discuss tactics over a hearty dinner.

Tactics demanded a march down the narrow winding street, to another pub directly overlooking the beach. Robin Hoods Bay is one of the gems of the Yorkshire Coast Line; a stunningly attractive remote fishing village it tumbles down the hillside to the very shore, imitated only by the like of Polperro and Lynmouth. Its remoteness made it an ideal place for smugglers and forsaking a pint or two Simon, Mike and Sharon couldn’t avoid exploring the dank smugglers tunnel that ran from the shoreline under the town.

Finally, the retreat out of the town was made up the steep hills back to the camp sight and a final glass of wine or two around Denis’s roaring brazier fuelled by bleached dry driftwood.

I am told, by those who were lucky enough to see it, that the next morning’s sunrise was spectacular. Rising from a flat calm North Sea it lit up a brilliant blue sky and Robin Hoods Bay and despite our exposed position the grass was hardly wet from the night before and our tents soon dried.

Although, many vehicle events around the UK this year have been ruined by bad weather, the luck of the Yorkshire MVT held out again. From a fine Crank Up to a ‘flag cracking’ weekend at out main ‘Wheels and Wings Jubilee Show’ at the Yorkshire Air Museum it was clear that our Crank Down weekend was now set fair despite storms again already raging in the south.

Breakfast was served around Denis’s brazier and the rear of Brian’s Command car. The tailboard of the Dodge made an excellent camp kitchen with lashings of club bacon to hand. Unfortunately the front end of Brian’s Dodge was not in such good shape. The afternoon before a leak, at the head of the radiator, had led to water being blown back over the engine by the fan. In turn this had soaked the electrics and the old girl was soon running rough, and at times not running at all.

Reaching the camp site the night before had presented a wonderful opportunity to sort out the Dodge problems. However, as one wag observed, why do something today that you can put off until tomorrow? Consequently, at the allotted start time the Dodge refused to budge and only after an hour’s delay with plugs, leads, caps and points flying in all directions did she finally cough into life.

The delayed start meant a brisk beginning to the Sunday with the convoy charging away from the cliffs and towards nearby Whitby. Whitby is another fine Yorkshire seaside town. It was here in this natural harbour that spawned Captain Cook and his ship, the Endeavour a flat bottomed collier, that led to the discovery of the New World. Looking down at the port, the eyes are drawn at the same time to the looming ruins of Whitby Abbey high on the cliffs above. 

The Benedictine Abbey, a birthplace of Christianity in England, was the site for the Synod of Whitby, in 664 AD, at which the church adopted the Roman calculation of Easter. In 1914, Whitby Abbey was shelled by German battlecruisers Von der Tann and Derfflinger, aiming for the signal post on the end of the headland. And even from our Jeeps it was easy to see how the harrowing dark ruins of the Abbey were the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Turning inland from Whitby we raced inland to Grosmont, once an iron ore town, this is now the northern end of the North Yorks Moors Railway, one of the foremost preserved steam railways in the land.

A brief rest here enabled us to stroll along the platforms in the sun and watch well dressed passengers board the Pullman dinning cars for their Sunday lunch touring down through the North Yorks Moors.

On leaving Grosmont our ascent to the high ground began by charging through a spectacular ford across the river Esk. Clint Lord who had joined us with his Jeep all the way from Devon, was quickly rewarded for his enthusiasm in speeding through the torrent by then firing on three cylinders.

A steady climb led us back onto the high North Yorks Moors with the heather just beginning to turn to a deep purple. Perhaps the best road of the weekend led us across the desolate Wheeldale Moor; a fine single track road traversing to the south for many miles. The two other becks, easily forded on this road, would probably have been impassable to all traffic as soon as the next day as torrential rain tracked north.

Dropping into Newton Dale, and then to Pickering, we were all too soon off the moors and thinking of the road home. Here we said some goodbyes, including to Colin and Elizabeth Parr who had driven all the way from Southampton in their Land Rover 110 to take part in our weekend once again.

The remains of the party continued south through the green lush foothills to the west of the Yorkshire Wolds and finally to the last farewells back at Nev’s.

If this account sounds lyrical, well yes it should be. Once again the Yorkshire MVT and guests had done what should be done with our vehicles and driven them on the sort of roads that would have been familiar 70 years ago. Not only that; blessed with lovely weather we had once again sought out some of the finest and most remote lanes in some of the most picturesque places in the County. We are already looking forward to next year’s autumn run; our fifth of the series and it will be back to the Yorkshire Dales……….

All photos © Sharon Annot and Mike Hemingway