The Leaping Salmon Walk

Following the Leaping Salmon

The leaping salmon is the waymark for the Esk Valley Way. In the late summer and early autumn of 2014 the Long Walks group hiked along this beautiful 35-mile trail, which follows the course of the River Esk through the North York Moors National Park.
We set out on a misty day in late August from the village of Castleton in search of the Esklets, the name given to the trickling becks and small springs which are the source of the River Esk. As the day advanced the sun came out and we found ourselves walking among a sea of purple heather whose perfume was almost overpowering. Eventually we found the Esklets high up on the moors above Westerdale from where they ran down into the valley to create a small babbling stream, the young River Esk.
The second leg of our journey took us from Castleton to Egton and, as we followed the leaping salmon waymarks, we observed the narrow stream grow in size until it became a noisy, fast flowing river. At one point our route took us high up onto the moors to Beacon Hill from where we could see the sea and Middlesbrough far away to the north-east. At Glaisdale we crossed the picturesque Beggar’s Bridge, built in 1619 by Thomas Ferries. As an impecunious young man Thomas had had to wade across the River Esk to meet his sweetheart, Agnes, and he swore that one day he would build a bridge at that spot. From here it was just a short walk into Egton, where we had to cross the river via stepping stones…very carefully!
On a bright autumn day, when the leaves were turning copper and gold, we embarked on the final section of the walk from Egton to Whitby. The leaping salmon pointed first along the old toll road between Egton and Grosmont, where tolls were still being charged as late as the 1940s. By the time we reached Sleights we found the river had swollen dramatically in size and was now flowing much more sedately under wide bridges. From Ruswarp we followed one of the monks’ trods for the last few miles into Whitby. These narrow paths made of slabs of stone are part of an ancient pannierway used in the past by monks, packhorses and travellers as they journeyed throughout North Yorkshire. As we entered the bustling port of Whitby, we paused at the site of the Fishburn Docks on the banks of the Esk, where, in the 18th century, Captain Cook’s ships, the Endeavour and the Resolution, were built. Then we followed the river as it flowed under Whitby’s famous swing bridge until finally it ended its journey as it entered the North Sea.
An afterthought: for those of you not familiar with this part of North Yorkshire, the pronunciation of some of the place names can be a minefield, so here are how three are pronounced: Grosmont is Growmont, Sleights is Slights and Ruswarp is Rusup!.
Westerdale Stepping Stones
Photograph left by “Pebo”; photograph right by Derek Stones.