Half a century ago the 109-mile Cleveland Way National Trail was launched. The trail, which runs in a horseshoe loop across the North York Moors National Park from Helmsley to Saltburn before following the coastline down to Filey Brigg, has since been enjoyed by millions of people from hikers and runners through to artists, stargazers and bird watchers.
To mark the 50th anniversary on May 24 more than 150 walkers retraced the steps of the early walkers by striding out along a three-mile stretch of the trail, aptly known as the Pilgrim’s Walk, from YHA Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey. Leading the group were apprentices from the North York Moors National Park kitted out in 1960s walking gear, including plus fours, thick socks and carrying bulky canvas rucksacks – a world away from today’s lightweight hiking equipment.
The day also saw the first showing of a new video about the Cleveland Way produced by students from Teesside University updating the original public information film that was created back in the 1970s.
The event celebrated those early years back in the 1930s when the YHA (England and Wales) first mooted the idea of a long distance path linking the Hambleton Drove Road, the Cleveland escarpment and the coastal footpaths.
From 1953 when the National Parks Commission and local authorities first proposed the creation of a route to the North Riding County Council it took a further 16 years before the Cleveland Way came into existence.
Since then the National Trail, which is managed through the Cleveland Way Partnership by the North York Moors National Park Authority and Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, has become one of the UK’s rural treasures, carving out its own history while also providing the backdrop for many other events including:
1990s – a massive restoration programme on the Cleveland Way which had suffered from major erosion due to the popularity of the trail.
2015 – Helmsley Brewing Company creating the trail’s official beer, Striding the Riding
2015 – Cleveland Way Adoption Scheme being launched resulting in an army of volunteers helping to maintain the trail.
July 2016 – Natural England opening the latest stretch of the England Coast Path along a 50-mile stretch of the Cleveland Way from Saltburn to Filey
December 2016 – the Cleveland Way going live on Google Streetview following months of mapping the route with cameras to provide a 360º views.
The rolling back of the route in places by around 20 metres during the 50 years due to coastal erosion.
April 2018 – Cleveland Way voted the nation’s favourite National Trail in a Facebook poll.
April 2019 – a new vehicle helping rangers maintain the trail, purchased with a donation by the Hardmoors Race Series from money raised through race entries.
Malcolm Hodgson, Cleveland Way trail manager commented: “The success of the trail over the years has been due to the hard work of our volunteers and bodies such as Natural England, the National Park, YHA, English Heritage and National Trust in helping to preserve the route and the qualities that make it so special for thousands of people each year.”
James Blake, YHA (England and Wales) Chief Executive, added: “YHA has long been an advocate of access to the countryside. This was the case when we first mooted the idea of the Cleveland Way and remains so today. The five youth hostels we have along the Cleveland Way are hugely popular and over the years have enabled thousands of school children to discover the transformative power of having adventures in this fantastic landscape. As a leading youth charity we remain as committed now as we were in 1969 to ensure the Cleveland Way is accessible to the people who need it the most - young people and their families.”
Defra Minister Lord Gardiner said: “For half a century, this famous walking route has given thousands of visitors the chance to access fabulous views and landscapes – from stunning moorland to precious ancient woodland and breathtaking coastlines.
“As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Cleveland Way, I am delighted to celebrate the important role National Trails play in allowing us all to experience the benefits of the natural environment and connect with the beauty of the English countryside.”
Natural England interim Chief Executive Marian Spain said: “Cleveland Way takes walkers on a journey through some of the most stunning and diverse landscapes in Britain, from picture-postcard villages to big-sky moorland and dramatic coastline.
“Three years ago Natural England opened an additional 50-mile stretch of the England Coast Path from Saltburn to Filey, much of it following the existing Cleveland Way and so we’re proud to be back today celebrating the trail’s 50th anniversary. National Trails are the jewels in the rights of way crown and Cleveland Way is a perfect example of how these routes can help people of all ages and places enjoy the great outdoors.”
Events marking the anniversary continue into the summer. For more information www.northyorkmoors.org.uk/clevelandway