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Travel North - 24: Catch Santa on the Chevin Run (Anybody Seen My Christmas Tree? It's Run Off!)
Welcome to the Chevin. Let's get going then. we've got a lot of running (or walking) to do... under review***
On Boxing Day for thirty-eight years now enthusiasts have made the seven-mile Chevin Chase run to atone for over-indulging the day before.
he scene of the run is the Chevin, an impressive gritstone ridge high above Otley (north-west of Leeds) in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The chase draws runners from various running groups - known as 'harriers' - dressed in their Christmas finery, as elves, fairies, puddings, decked-out Christmas trees and Santas.
A bit more leisurely than that, only a half-mile shorter, the walking route described here takes in a steep climb out of Otley. You don't have to do this walk around the Yuletide (Christmas), it's only a suggestion to work off the results of social feasting. Take the dog, the kids or auntie and uncle. Anyway, assuming you are doing this on a crisp, Boxing day afternoon, here goes:
The chill winter charm of Chevin Forest Park yields to pasture and quiet lanes before heading to the summit of the hill. Take in the wintry aspect at the suitably-named Surprise View whilst you are here - this is where you begin your own exertions.
Turn your back on Otley Library and Tourist Centre, and veer left on Nelson Street, pounding the pavement before turning left again at Kirkgate. This street leads to the A660, where you cross by a footbridge to arrive at the base of the Chevin. Follow the cobbled path upward to reach a set of steps. Turn left onto a diagonal route from here along a stony track. Take in the vista of Wharfedale to the north as you climb through boulder-strewn woodland. You soon come out on open moorland close to the Chevin's peak. You are now at the one mile point.
The ground levels out and you turn left on a flagged pathway. Passing through a gate signals a left-leading track that drops between dry-stone-walled fields. Take a right turn on reaching East Chevin road and climb for a short way before carefully crossing to the Chevin Forest Park to the left. Here is one of several wood sculptures around the park. This one is in the form of one of the castellated entrance pillars of Bramhope Tunnel, a feat of Victorian railway engineering that claimed the lives of twenty-four navvies. The cemetery of Otley Parish Church has another - carved stone - memorial to the same railway workers almost hidden by a hundred years or so of rampant vegetation.
Find and follow the path marked 'Ebor Way' through mixed woodland, which thins and affords longer views. Take a right turn at this, the two-mile point, for a short climb. Bear right again and follow the Dales Way Link path to East Chevin Road. Downhill now, following your earlier path a short way before coming to a stile on the left that points to a path to Carlton. Take it across two fields and over a lane into more woodland, again over more fields following a leftward arc to a gate by a road junction. A right fork leads along Carlton Lane. On a fresh winter's day it's plain to see how the skies in this upland spot led J M W Turner to paint Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps (the link with the Alps is a bit strained, but artistic imagination is a curious thing).
At this 4 3/4 mile point of the walk leave Carlton Lane along the second waymarked footpath to the right, turning soon left then right over a dry stone step stile - taking care, because the farmer will be after your blood if you knock stones off it! - into the field beyond. Carry on ahead to the Surprise View car park. An information board here points out landmarks near and far in the panorama. On a good day you can see Simon's Seat, Almscliff Crag and the Kilburn White Horse to the north-east near Thirsk. The craggy Chevin's top 'cuts into' the skyline to your left.
Having taken in the summit, take the path downhill over the steps from Surprise View that you passed over earlier to drop down back into Otley, six and a half miles (10.5km) of moderate exercise. There is no target time, but the walk should take on average three hours. The walk takes in reasonable gravel and flagged walkways with roadways and pasture.
Getting there: by car, take the A660 north-west from Leeds and the B6451 into the town centre. There is parking near the library on Walkergate;
by public transport, the route 757 from Leeds Central Station to Otley by way of Leeds-Bradford airport. Service X84 links Leeds with Otley, Ilkley and Skipton.
Refreshments can be found at The Royalty, Yorkgate, Otley, LS21 3DG, phone 01943 461156; Map: Ordnance survey Explorer Map 297, Grid reference SE 203 454
There are additional attractions such as Otley Museum, Civic Centre, Cross Green, Otley, 01943 461052, www.otleymuseum.org - open 10am-12:30pm, throughout the year Mon-Tue, Fri and the first Sat of the month. Free entry. Not open Bank Holidays;
Otley Library and Tourist Information Centre, Nelson Street, Otley, LS21 1EZ, 01943 462485;
* That title: Just in case you didn't know, when you see pink fairies you've had too much booze. Maybe you'd best not run if you're laid over, or you might be laid up (running conditions are often wintry, you need all your concentration to run on snow - if you're at the back of the pack, it'll be slush by the time you get to where the front runners got off to a start!)
** There was a borderland battle in 1388 - more of a running skirmish - with the Scots at Otterburn in Northumberland that inspired a number of ballads. One such ballad titled 'Chevy Chase' described the encounter as 'one of the sorest and best fought, without cowards or faint hearts. Amongst the participants was Henry Percy ('Harry Hotspur'), his brother Ralph and the Scots leader James, Earl of Douglas. The Percys were captured, Douglas killed. Google it, there could be a good story in it for HP.
Although the fight took place around a hundred miles to the north of Otley near Wakefield, one of the organisers plainly thought the 'Chevin Chase' would be a draw, which it turned out to be.
Walk off the excess through sparkling scenery
For Satnav drivers, enter LS21 3DD to locate
Get yourself into shape and enjoy what you see along the way. Rolling countryside leads gradually west to steeper slopes, the Dales and the Pennines. Miles of enjoyment out in the open, (acres of images to admire from the comfort of your sofa)
Oh by the way, before we part company, did you see Santa? No? Better luck next year then. Leave a carrot for Rudolph and he'd be bound to stop.