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
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.