Saturday, 28 March 2009

When the flesh was weak........!

The Lyke Wake Walk traverses the North York Moors, the largest expanse of upland heather moor in England. It runs approximately 40 miles between Osmotherley and Ravenscar on the North Sea coast. It can be walked in either direction but the preferred route is from west to east, with the prevailing wind at your back, which also helps flatten the heather!

To qualify as a member of the Lyke Wake Club the challenge must be completed in less than 24 hours and speaking personally, I found it a test of endurance, rather than a walk! The North York Moors may always be associated with doomed trysts between unlucky lovers and ghosts who wander vengefully across the rugged plateaus but at the time, the romance of it all was lost on me….!

The walk was established back in 1955 by Bill Cowley who, with others, gave us what is now the traditionally accepted route of the walk. The Lyke Wake dirge is the traditional English song from which the walk takes it name.

It was believed at one time that the route originated from that taken by monks carrying a coffin to Whitby Abbey. Although that may have indeed happened it wouldn’t have followed this route.
The song tells the Christian tale of the souls travel and the hazards it may meet on the journey from Earth to Heaven. The safety and comfort of the soul in faring over the hazards it faces in the afterlife, are made dependent on the dead person's willingness to participate in charitable acts during life.

Believe me; the walk is rightly associated with this song…!

It was traditionally sung by a woman during the watch over the corpse between the death and funeral, known as a wake. Lyke is an obsolete word meaning a dead body, and is related to the German word leiche and the Dutch word lijk, which have the same meaning. It survives in modern English only in lych gate, describing the gate at the entrance to a church, where, in former times, bodies were placed before burial.

The song is sung here by Pentangle in the old Yorkshire dialect and clearly illustrates the Viking influence on what became the English language.

THIS ae nighte, this ae nighte,

—Refrain: Every nighte and alle,

Fire and fleet and candle-lighte,

—Refrain: And Christe receive thy saule.

When thou from hence away art past

To Whinny-muir thou com'st at last

If ever thou gavest hosen and shoon,

Sit thee down and put them on;

If hosen and shoon thou ne'er gav'st nane

The whinnes shall prick thee to the bare bane.

From Whinny-muir whence thou may'st pass,

To Brig o' Dread thou com'st at last;

From Brig o' Dread whence thou may'st pass,

To Purgatory fire thou com'st at last;

If ever thou gavest meat or drink,

The fire shall never make thee shrink;

If meat or drink thou ne'er gav'st nane,

The fire will burn thee to the bare bane;

This ae nighte, this ae nighte,

—Every nighte and alle,

Fire and sleet and candle-lighte,

—And Christe receive thy saule.

Note: ae: one; hosen: stockings; shoon: shoes; whinnes: thorns; bane: bone; brig: bridge; nane: none.


  1. I really enjoyed reading about the Lyke Wake Walk. As a language teacher, I especially liked getting the history of the words, but it broke my heart that Cathy & Heathcliff did not make an appearance on the moors. How delightful that Pentangle's singing is accompanied by images of Mobile's well known graveyard. Thanks for all the great photos!

  2. Oh, Sir Michael, you are a prince among bloggers. I dearly loved this post. Beautiful, educational, and it set such a mood for the morning.


    Glad you are here on Blogger.

  3. PS: of all the photos you have had at the top of your blog I think I like this one the best.

  4. Thank you for your kind words Lady J. I took the photo from my bedroom window, early on a Sunday morning back in February when I went to Stratford to see The Tempest. Not surprisingly it was a grey, misty

  5. (thought I recognised those Stratford roofs)

    Lyke Wake Walk... now I've never done that one.. just bits of it. I went to school near the NY Moors.. and it was used as a DoE challenge... but I left before I was old enough. I must admit I never really fancied it once I got older.. despite living 30mins drive from the start. But I do own a small black coffin badge given to me by a friend who was successful....

  6. Hello Michael,

    I really enjoyed listening to this piece, thank you. I don't think I would enjoy the walk! My idea of enjoying North Yorkshire is in the way illustrated by my recent photographs and from the comfort of a motor vehicle!

    Thanks for your kind comments. I shall let pass your last one about Cheshire!!!

    I should add how much I like your new look for the blog too and this new header.

  7. I've always like the romantic harmonies of Pentangle, dropping into minor keys for dramatic effect and playing with the interesting language of my Viking ancestors - aye! Thanks, Mick, for a listen and walk on the Moors. Cheers