Return to 'Scouting Milestones' links
Member's Pin The Lyke Wake Walk Member's Pin
A brief history and personal view by Dirger Mike Ryalls and Past Master Colin Walker
Map of the walk

What, Where

THE Lyke Wake Walk is a forty-mile challenge walk, to be completed in under 24 hours and is situated on England's high North York Moors.

And Who?

There is a saying, or perhaps I just made it up, that "You can take the man out of Yorkshire, but you can't take Yorkshire out of the man." I am an expatriate, born and drug up in Yorkshire, so I suppose I am prejudiced - it was God's own country before Australia was discovered and they appropriated the term "Godzone" and before Texas was invented.

I inherited my love of the county, of camping, of climbing, of being alone in the wild country and of looking after myself from my father, who lived in Yorkshire all his life, and when he died I also inherited a book - Striding Through Yorkshire by Alfred J Brown. First published in 1931, it will come as no surprise to those who have read it that this book was also a favourite of Bill Cowley and an inspiration to him to develop one of Alfred Brown's "tramps" into the Lyke Wake Walk.

Overlooking Rosedale
On the moors overlooking Rosedale

My favourite part of my favourite county is the North York Moors, better even than the magnificent Yorkshire Dales and preferable to the over-crowded Lake District, which isn't even in Yorkshire, and I first did the Lyke Wake Walk over 25 years ago, led by Johnny (I have never known him as "Colin") Walker and with an inevitable party of Venture Scouts and Ranger Guides. I have never forgotten it.

In the beginning . . .

The Walk was first suggested by Bill Cowley, who farmed at Potto Hill, near its start and within sight of the Cleveland Hills, which it traverses. Bill Cowley wrote a piece in The Dalesman in August 1955 on the prospect of walking 40 miles across the untracked heather with only sheep and grouse for company. He issued a challenge to anyone who could cross from Scarth Wood Moor, the most westerly point of the Cleveland range near the village of Osmotherley, to Wyke Point at Ravenscar, the most easterly point where the Cleveland Hills fall to the sea.

Just four months after the article appeared, the first crossing to answer this challenge took place. The party included Bill Cowley himself and they took 13 hours in actual walking time. This led to the formation of the Lyke Wake Club and the adoption of the Lyke Wake Dirge as its anthem.

The Walk named

WHEN the walk was first suggested, it had no name - it was simply a challenge to anyone who cared to take it up, but the high Cleveland Moors are dotted with tumuli (known locally as 'howes'), peopled by the ghosts of the past and it was the Cleveland Lyke Wake Dirge that came to Bill Cowley's mind and gave its name to the Walk. 'Lyke', an ancient British word for corpse;, is related to the German leich and is the root from which came 'lych', as in the Lych Gate of a church, which often had seats and a bench so both the coffin and the coffin bearers could rest before going into the burial ground or the church itself. 'Wake' is the watching over of a corpse - done to this day and the term still used, though in some countries it has come to mean the party to celebrate the life of the deceased when the funeral is over. The Lyke Wake Dirge describes the journey made by the dead across the great unknown to their final resting place of peace or retribution, and here another facet of life and death may have occurred to Bill Cowley.

In mediaeval times churches, and the consecrated ground in which the dead could be buried, were few and far between and often the dead had to be borne many miles, their coffins on the shoulders of the mourners, to the nearest church. Indeed, in some parts of the country - Derbyshire in particular - "Coffin Stones" can still be seen, often half-way up steep hillsides en-route to the church at the top. In later times monasteries often built "Chapels of Ease" where the dead could be buried without the need to transport the corpse to a distant church. Although there are prehistoric trackways, there is no evidence for a "Coffin Road" across the North York Moors, but it might be this type of journey that the Lyke Wake Dirge describes and it was during that first crossing that the appropriateness of the song occurred.

The Lyke Wake Club

LWW Badge
The Old Lyke Wake Club badge

FROM that first crossing to today, anyone completing the challenge is entitled to become a member of Lyke Wake Club. Funereal in its intent, membership and spirit, on completing the Walk club members are sent a Card Of Condolence by the Chief Dirger and are eligible to call themselves Dirgers. The club has no formal organisation or subscriptions and all the Offices are honorary and rejoice in titles such as The Melancholy Mace Bearer, The Cheerless Chaplain, Doctors of Dolefulness (in order of Dole) and many, many more. The crest of the Club is a silver coffin and three silver tumuli on a black ground, the badge a silver candle and two tumuli on a black coffin and the emblem of the Club is the rowan - the mountain ash or witchen tree. The club is based on its own macabre traditions with contributions from the Lyke Wake Dirge and other bits of Cleveland folk-lore. Meetings of the Club are (of course) called Wakes and Mourners at the Wake are requested not to forget that it is a solemn occasion, any display of mirth being found most unseemly and sympathy being indicated by deep, heart-felt groans.

The above paragraph was written in 2000, as was most of this article, and was of course correct at the time. Bill Cowley, of blessed memory, had died on 14th August 1994. 'His' walk had become a legend and hundreds of thousands of people had completed it. The club which he started used to meet for 'Wakes', as its meetings were called, in the barn at Potto, Bill's family home only a few miles away from the route. The club was steeped in the 'traditions' outlined above - half truths half nonsense - very much belonging to the Scouting Tradition for which Bill Cowley had done so much, especially whilst he was in India. On his passing his closest friends and members of the club recognised at once that Bill was central to these traditions and it was hard to see how they could be maintained without his guiding presence. They eventually took a decision that the club should die with Bill and cease to exist in October 2005.

LWW Badge
The New Lyke Wake Club Rucksack badge

This was not universally accepted. If "no man has the right to own mountains", many thought nobody could own the LWW Club - and take away part of their lives, their traditions and their fun, but amazingly the name of the club was tied up with legal wrapping such that nobody could use it, and even more strangely the 'dead' club was tied to a trading company that still exists and trades on the internet.

To ensure continuity a new club, appropriately called the New Lyke Wake Club, was set up on May 8th 2004 "to preserve the traditions... take over the club's old functions of recording crossings, holding wakes and liaising with public authorities" that is of course looking after the physical (and 'spiritual') well-being of the past and future witches and dirgers (as those who complete a crossing are called), whilst maintaining a watching brief on the viability and safety of the route itself. Just as Bill would have wanted, a touch of nonsense mixed up with very serious social responsibility.

Sad to report, the earlier years in the life of the new club were beset with problems, some time-served walkers felt it necessary to 'take sides' and divisions deepened. Things came to head shortly before a Radio 4 documentary " Lives in Landscape" on Bill Cowley and the two clubs but, thankfully, since that time the peace of the ages has again descended upon the ancient howes. The New Lyke Wake Club has gone from strength to strength and regularly holds its Wakes at the Queen Catherine,Osmotherley and the Lord Stones Cafe - on the Lyke Wake Route itself not far from Chop Yat.

In May 2007 a 'past master' of both the old and the new clubs finally laid to rest some of the papers and artefacts belonging to the old club at the Rydale Folk Museum. At last, the traditions of Bill Cowley's creation have been both preserved and, in the form of the new club, their continuity assured,"every neet an'all."

Walking the Lyke Wake


THOUGH that first crossing was done in 13 hours walking time, tramping through what was then the trackless heather was a tiring business and the party camped at 7:00pm on the first day, resuming their trek at 3:30am the next, arriving in Ravenscar at 11:00am, a total of 23 hours after the walk had started.

Conditions now are much easier, though there can still be a certain feeling of dread when starting the Walk, often before dawn, in darkness and not fully-awake. Indeed Bill Cowley himself wrote that "A solemn silence should always prevail on the Lyke Wake Walk." This often is the case as hopeful Lyke Wakers stumble off into the dark. With dawn, parties are found climbing up onto Cringle Moor to start the crossing of what is still one of the wildest stretches of moor in Yorkshire.

Johnny, whose Lyke Wake Club title should really be Unholy Unit Undertaker (large parties a speciality), told me about the first time he attempted a Lyke Wake crossing:

"I was still a student at the Northumberland College of Education. This was not any old college, indeed it was not old at all. We were its first intake. I tell you that because we were treading in nobody's footsteps. We formed the Rambling Club, pulled on our boots and set off on the nearest big challenge. The Lyke Wake was it.

"We had borrowed a decrepit minibus from a nearby college; as usual I was the driver, having the only driving licence between the lot of us, and we were off to Osmotherley to start the Walk at 3:00a.m. This was always my preferred start time because to walk into the dawn meant that you stood a reasonable chance of finishing by sunset. If you don't finish by sunset the chances are you won't finish at all. On this occasion, for the first and only time, I was not the leader, that honour belonging to one Mike Alport, a Scout and a local lad , so to speak, as he came from Redcar.

Cringle Moor
The first summit - Cringle Moor just after dawn

"Starting at three a.m. meant that in preparation we arrived at Osmotherley just before closing time and we visited the fish & chip shop and the three pubs in the village square. After that it would be far too late to think about putting up tents, which was just as well, because right-of-way does not mean Right-to-Camp, and who wants to spend time walking away from the start to find a campsite? No, we laid down on a mattress of heather and looked up at the black velvet of the night sky, trying to kid each other that we really were asleep. Came three a.m. and we were trying to kick-start the sleeping dead into some semblance of life for what was meant to be a fast climb up the scarp edge of the Cleveland Hills to find breakfast with our support team some three hours later at Hasty Bank.

"We shambled off, warming to our task, gaining altitude and seeing the lights of the villages spread out towards the artificial sodium glow over Greater Teesside. Walking quickly northward, the flush of the real dawn came flooding down from the east, spreading and exaggerating the black holes in the dry stone walls as they tumbled down over the edge of the moor, and increasing the contrast between the silhouetted pine trees and the ever-lightening pink-tinged sky. This was exhilarating stuff and my most powerful abiding memory from all my memories of nearly two dozen crossings."

Ralph Cross
"Young Ralph" Cross at Rosedale

THE names of the places or features ahead on the Walk add to its magical, mysterious nature: Scugdale, Chop Yat, Botton Head and Bloworth; Flat Howe, Loose Howe, Shunner Howe, Simon Howe; Glaisdale, Wheeldale, Howe Moor, Urra Moor, Tom Cross Rigg and Snod Hill; Old Ralph Cross, Young Ralph Cross, Fat Betty, The Blue Man-i'-th'-Moss.

Support Parties

THE Lyke Wake Walk is often undertaken by parties and those parties are usually helped by support teams who provide food, somewhere to sit and rest and a possible refuge for those who find the going too hard. The support teams with their vehicles have a much greater logistical problem than the walkers themselves, who just plod from west to east (or vice-versa). There are only three roads crossing the route of the Walk after the first few miles have been covered and it is not unusual for the support teams to have to drive long distances to be at the same place as their walkers, at the same time and with their food ready to eat.

Supporter's Pin
The Lyke Wake Walk Supporter's pin

"To tell you of the Walk in detail would take nearly as long as to do it," Johnny told me, and he went on to say that the support teams are often as anxious that 'their' walkers appear on schedule as the walkers are to finish the Walk. "Several years after that first crossing, much, much later in the day and about 37 miles on into the Walk, we had three miles to go. This time I was the leader and so had complete responsibility for all the souls in the group, Venture Scouts to a man - well, gangling youth anyway. The group were high on bravado but woefully short of long distance walking experience and, to say the least of it, they were feeling the worse for wear.

"It is well known that people under conditions of extreme tiredness and stress can make stupid decisions and I had had to use all my leadership skills to stop individuals walking off into the increasing gloom because they could see the distant lights of farm house that they believed were lights of our support vehicles waiting to meet us. But we still had Jugger Beck to cross and it would not have been possible to see the support vehicles from where we were. The crossing was early in the year and the bogs were full of melt water. We were covered in black, oozing slime and I finally got the party moving as group and up the steep ascent out Jugger Beck, the final hurdle before the finish.

Wades Causeway
Wade's Causeway - a Roman road near Jugger Beck

"The support party had walked down the track to meet us. Even the more far-gone members of the group believed that they really were going to make it now, as the lights of the support vehicles blazed out in front of us. One member of the support party, Jamie, had driven straight up from Peterborough for the finish and not seen our progressive decline into our present unspirited, black, ghoulish state as we had grown ever more weary of progressively declining into the bogs. Jamie was besides himself, he could not get over our state - pointing at us and shaking with laughter. But he too looked an incongruous figure, still dressed in his office suit with his sharp Italian-style shoes, leaping about in the gloom, jumping over the heather tussocks mocking us.

"It seemed a good idea to get shot of him, so I sent him packing to switch off the headlights of the lead vehicle which was now dazzling us as we shuffled our way up the final hundred yards. Jamie ran off down the track and must have been dazzled too, because he fell headlong into the foulest cesspit imaginable.

"Even the un-dead managed a wry smile."

Fylingdales Landmarks

Moorland Track
An old paved track on the high moors

THE high moors may be wild and desolate, but an addition to the scene since that first crossing now seems to be visible for most of it - what used to be called the Fylingdales Early Warning Station. Built at a time when there was a perceived threat of missile attack from Russia, and partly funded by the USA, three huge radar scanners were housed in gigantic white, spherical geodesic domes. It was inevitable that these became known as 'The Golf Balls'. Visible from at least 30 miles away, it is testimony to the theory that the term 'Military Intelligence' is an oxymoron, that this huge feature on the North York Moors skyline was never marked on any maps.

Now that landmark has gone too - along with the perceived threat. The Golf Balls have been demolished and in their place a truncated pyramid erected. Complete in all but the top pointy bit, this structure too is huge, but being a dirty brown colour, blends into the landscape a little better than the three gleaming white Golf Balls. There is a theory that if the 'Pyramid' had its top, it would be permanently surrounded by Druids, Seekers-After-Truth and associated loonies, so perhaps this is evidence of Military Foresight, if not intelligence.

With Fylingdales passed, the trek is nearly finished, yet it can still seem to take many hours before Lyke Wake Walkers can hear the sea (by the time they reach it, it is probably too dark to see it.) Time for a pint (or several), a rest and a reflection on the day's achievement.

Lilla Howe
The Cross on Lilla Howe - Where it always was?

Johhny told me about the strange case of Fylingdales' landmarks: "We were walking in the mid-afternoon from Ravenscar, doing the crossing widershins as far as I am concerned. I have only ever crossed from west to east three times and I don't like it, it is against the natural order of things. In those days there was no ever-deepening rut to follow. It really was a matter of navigating by compass on what seemed like virgin heather from howe to howe across the moor. Our next objective was Lilla Howe, it was foggy and things don't get much spookier. I took the bearing from the map, spaced out the party in a straight line, with at least three people checking the bearing to keep us on a true heading. We came hard up against a barbed wire fence that I knew could only be the perimeter fence of Fylingdales Early Warning Station. I knew I must have made a mistake, but I couldn't think how. I knew the howe did not lie beyond the fence, so there was nothing to do but walk round to right, following rising ground. At last the craggy outline of the cross on its low rise loomed out of the mist. Whilst the others were recovering I was poking about and found a plaque I had never seen before. It said that the howe and the cross surmounting it had been removed from the Fylingdales site by the Army. They had re-sited it here when the Early Warning Station had been built. My navigation had been spot on, but my "target" on the map had been moved - but no one had altered its location on the map, because the 'idiotic structures of modern man' which could at that time be seen from thirty miles away were deemed to be secret to be shown on the map and, I suppose, to change the siting of an ancient howe might just be a bit of a clue that something was going on.

"The Ordnance Survey Map still shows Lilla Howe as being in its original location. Now the cold war has ended, the Early Warning Station is drastically altered and the 'Golf Balls' are no more, is their any more need for secrecy? Apparently so. Perhaps if it wasn't so secret it might not prompt so many questions? The 'golf balls' have intruded on the skyline for over a quarter of a century and though the present structures dominate the landscape to a lesser extent the other souls that watch over the moor now, the National Park Authority for example must work to the return of the the howes to their former isolation. Should satellite technology allow the compete removal of the present aerial in its pyramid, will the status of the National Park will protect it from future violation? - well that's the ideal the Natinal Parks were created to ensure.

I wonder if they will ever put Lilla Howe and its cross back in its rightful home? How many other poor lost souls have been lured away in the fog? I can just hear the long dead incumbents of the howe laughing in the wind as it buffets against the pile of stones that now marks their passing."

Wheeldale Moor
"Blue Man i'-th'-Moss", Wheeldale Moor
- Stonehearted?. . .


I came like some Gulliver,
Expecting to stride through the night, through seas of heather,
Across the whale backs of the Cleveland Hills.

To break the dawn on the railway, above Farndale
Bending like all else against the wind,
Questioning the skyline for the outline of Ralph's Cross

I know I will loose my temper with the "Blue Man i'-th'-Moss"
His blue stone heart has laughed at me before,
As I thrashed and wallowed in his mire, feeling him
Seeking and sucking me down.
My footsteps closing behind me.

Across Wheeldale to see in the distance
The idiotic structures so beloved of modern man,
Space-age like, their improbable shapes made to give us warning
Of war games played thousands of miles and centuries away.
And they never seem to get any nearer....

At last, past Lilla Cross, old friend of time travellers.
Only now we think we have won. The beacon is in sight,
But hidden in the evening Jugger Beck awaits
And relishes the penalty it will wreck on body and soul.

But who is the victor? True I have mastered the day.
Yet the moor remains silent.
The bottles, the litter, the ever-deepening rut
May mislead us into thinking it is acquiescent
To the army that passes, but does not conquer.

It bides its time, 'til Arctic gales scream across its wastes,
And then when all traces of man have been obliterated,
I know again, that the last time and the times before,
Were only rehearsals for the time when....
The moor will win.

.... An' Christ tak up thy saul....

Johnny Walker, June 1977

The Lyke Wake Walk today

The disused railway line at Bloworth Crossing

Many of the good things in life, with the possible exception of sex, can be spoilt by frequent use, and that is something that happened to the Lyke Wake Walk. There seemed to be a time when everyone and their granny (over 65's are allowed another 12 hours) were attempting the Walk, huge school parties blundered through the heather line-abreast, the peaty sections of the high moors became quagmires, difficult to cross in summer, impossible in winter.

The situation became so bad that parties were asked not to attempt the Walk because of the increasing threat of erosion. However, I always feel ambivalent towards such supposed "overuse" of the countryside and to similar challenge walks in England - the Yorkshire Three Peaks and the Pennine Way, for example:

The good news is that walk has weathered the threat. Massive sponsored walks across wild countryside have gone out of fashion - things have changed - sometimes for the good. Now that there is no such thing as an accident with compensation, organisors cannot get insurance for such midsummer madness, and it would indeed be madness to for party organisers now not to have insurance. The National Park Authority with the help of helicopters have organised miles of stone paved paths especially across the 'whale backs' whilst at first sight these appear 'foreign' to the landscape - they are remarkable similar to monks 'trods' on other part of the moor - and they stop the erosion and the scar. Yes, the moors will survived the hikers' boot but the four wheel drive might be another story.

The Cleveland Lyke Wake Dirge

THIS is one of the oldest dialect verses known, and certainly the oldest from Yorkshire. Richard Blakeborough, whose version is quoted below, records it as being last sung at a funeral in Kildale in 1800 and John Aubrey, the diarist and commentator writing in 1686, quoted the song and recorded that it was being sung in Yorkshire in 1616, but it is much older than that.

Urra Moor
The well-beaten track on Urra Moor. With a name older than history, could this be "Whinny Moor"?

There are many layers to this Dirge which, in its Yorkshire dialect, may seem obscure enough to many - the reference to "fleet" may be a variant on the Cleveland flet, live coals, and is based in the custom of never letting the fire in the house go out whilst the corpse was in it and to keep a candle burning continuously in the same room.

Who knows, perhaps the ideas, maybe the words, even the tune might go back beyond the Norse, from which some of the dialect words come, to general Aryan folk-lore and perhaps to the Bronze Age when the new travellers to these shores burned and buried their dead on the high points of our moors, to leave landmarks which count down the distance travelled across the bare moorland still. No one knows where "Whinny Moor" is, but anyone who has been on Wheeldale Moor at 3:00am will feel sympathy with any other souls that have passed that way and a real affection for the poetry of the Dirge - its stark simplicity, droning repetitions, dramatic power and its harsh reassurance.

Perhaps only those who have done this high moorland crossing, many starting or finishing in darkness, maybe in pain or hungry and wanting to finish can fully appreciate the beauty of the Lyke Wake Dirge . . .

This yar neet, this yar neet,
Ivvery neet an' all,
Fire an' fleet an' cannle leet,
An' Christ tak up thy saul.
When thoo frae hence away art passed
Ivvery neet an' all,
Ti Whinny Moor thoo cums at last,
An' Christ tak up thy saul.
If ivver thoo gav owther hosen or shoon,
Ivvery neet an' all,
Clap thee doon an' put 'em on,
An' Christ tak up thy saul.
Bud if hosen an' shoon thoo nivver gav neean,
Ivvery neet an' all,
T'whinnies'll prick thee sair ti t'beean,
An' Christ tak up thy saul.
Frae Whinney Moor when thoo art passed,
Ivvery neet an' all,
Ti t'Brig o' Dreead thoo cums at last,
An' Christ tak up thy saul.
If ivver thoo gav o' thy siller an' gowd,
Ivvery neet an' all,
On t'Brig o' Dreead thoo'll finnd footho'd,
An' Christ tak up thy saul.
Bud if siller an' gowd thoo nivver gaven eean,
Ivvery neet an' all,
Thoo'll doon, doon tum'le t'ards Hell fleeames,
An' Christ tak up thy saul.
Frae t'Brig o' Dreead when thoo art passed
Ivvery neet an' all,
Ti t'fleeames o' Hell thoo'll cum at last,
An' Christ tak up thy saul.
If ivver thoo gav owther bite or sup,
Ivvery neet an' all,
T'fleeames'll nivver catch thee up,
An' Christ tak up thy saul.
Bud if bite an' sup thoo nivver gav neean,
Ivvery neet an' all,
T'fleeames'll bon thee sair ti t'beean,
An' Christ tak up thy saul.
NYMs Cross

NYMs Cross

If the Yorkshire dialect is too obscure,
I have written a Yorkshire/English translation.
Back to where you were

Bill Cowley - An apppreciation

Bill Cowley
Bill Cowley on Cringle Moor, taken from his book Lyke Wake Walk

Firstly let me say that I never met Bill Cowley, though I lived only three miles away from Potto during the time I lived and worked in Stokeley. I was a Venture Scout Leader there, regularly taking parties across the LWW. I had read everything I could find on the walk and knew of course that many of the early members of the club were Rover Scouts. (long since superceded as a section of the Scout Movement), indeed some of these Scouts were early 'record breakers' such as Arthur Puckrin. My tally of crossings grew - although I moved to other parts of Yorkshire and my duties in Scouting took me away from more active involvement to become an 'administrator'. On retiring from my gainful occupation I also resigned from 'administrating' but set about writing these pages which, from their earliest days ,included this LWW Page, as the walk had become such a feature of my Scouting Life and those of countless Scouts across the land.

Please forgive me if this sounds more like a diatribe on my life than Bill's- I am rapidly coming to the point! At the time I first compiled this Page - all I knew about Bill Cowley was what could gleaned from the hints that he dropped in his book The Lyke Wake Walk first published in 1959. From this I discovered the 'Chief Dirger' had attended Cambridge University, had am led Himalayan Climbing Expedition (which I subsequently found to be the Yorkshire Himalayan Expedition of 1957), and that he had once skied over most of the LWW route. The text of the book shouts that its author was deeply interested, if not learned, in all aspects of the North Yorks Moors including a deep understanding of its archeology.

When I started to research Bill Cowley's life I found, suprisingly, very little. Bill was born in Middleweight in 1913. On attending Cambridge University he started its 'Yorkshire Club' and had then gone to work for seven years as a civil servant in India where he was a magistrate. He taken part there in climbing expeditions before coming back to North Yorkshire to farm. Then, thanks to the ongoing researches I conduct in order to write these pages, I had a real 'breakthrough'. My work on Rover Scout Units in Japanese Prisoner of War Camps during the Second World War (see Bamboo Thumbsticks) led me to acquire the very rare book published in 1947, also called Bamboo Thumbstickswhich was written mainly for the families of those involved. Some of the history contained in the book was not relevant to the study I was undertaking at that time, because although it was about Rovering in Wartime - the Rover Crews concerned were in India, away from the areas of conflict. My interest however very quickly deepened when I read reports of the work done by W Cowley and the All India Service Crew in setting up 'Tara Devi' the Indian equivalent of Gilwell Park, then came an account of this work by 'Mr Cowley' himself with references to Mountain Climbing Expeditions that he had been on. Though my suspicions were well and truly aroused, there was no proof that this W Cowley was our Bill Cowley - though I knew of course that he had served in India and that he was was a mountaineer.

Then I had a piece unbelievable good fortune. I constantly monitor eBay auctions in order to purchase Scouting artefacts with which to illustrate my articles. Staring at me from the screen was an auction for 'Tara Devi, and other Verses' by Bill Cowley published by Punjab Boy Scouts Association in English.(Just how many of these were published and have survived to this day? Not many I am sure!) No date was given for its publication but from the evidence of the auction photograph I felt sure that it was shortly after World War II. Of course there was still no proof that this was our Bill Cowley so I waited with some interest to see what the book would reveal. Within seconds of opening it I knew who it was written by, not that there were any written statements about Bill, but the book was full of poetry written in India by a North Yorkshire man longing to back home on the Moors, mentioning many of the places that are now on the Lyke Wake route. The ultimate proof came from the inclusion of 'Storm Longing', a short poem that appears in both The Tara Devi and other Verses and in Bill's book The Lyke Wake Walk.

This was a finding of major significance. The Lyke Wake Walk which first appeared on these pages merely because the 40 mile challenge was often undertaken by Rover/Venture Scout groups, now turns out have been devised by a Rover Scout and one of some prominence.

Despite being now a Past Master of the New Lyke Wake Club and therefore in contact with other members who knew Bill Cowley, I have discovered relatively little more about him. He wrote several other books including A Cleveland Anthology and an East Yorkshire Anthology'. He broadcast on radio in the BBC Northern Farmer programme, and he was intensely interested in North Yorkshire Dialect compiling a gramophone record of examples, including is own voice. Bill died aged 78 on August 14th 1994

Unless you know differently I think I can claim that there is more information here about Bill Cowley than has ever been gathered before on a single sheet of paper (as it were), yet I am the first to recognise that this 'appreciation' of Bill's life is woefully inadequate and raises so many questions and leaves untouched so many areas of his life. As always, Milestones would welcome contact with a family member or any of Bill Cowley's friends who might be able to help us fill any of the gaps.

Colin Walker.

CW and artefacts
The author dressed for a wake!

The author was awarded his Past Master degree at a Wake of the New Lyke Wake club at the Queen Catherine, Osmotherly in 2006. He dutifully and mournfully intoned to the assembled sad souls some of Bill Cowley's poems from the Tara Devi and other Verses. As is customary on these occasions, howls of anguish emminated from certain quarters of the room. At the May 2007 Wake held at the Lord Stones Cafe, the Past Master again read one of Bill Cowley's poems (he has sworn an oath to bring the Chief Dirger's work to great prominence - watch this page!) yet tragically he attempted he to insinuate one of his own writing (to be found on this page) to even greater howls of derision or was it commiseration? The Wake commenced with a duet played by club General Secretary Gerry Orchard on the bugle and the author's nine year old grandson on Kudu horn. The kudu horn of course was in honour of Bill Cowley's Scouting associations in this our Centennial Year. The virtuoso yet mournful performance put up by the two players had the assembled mourner's eyes brimming with tears.

Fat Betty
"Fat Betty", a watcher over the countless thousands who have passed her by. Any likeness between the monument and the author is purely co-incidental!

Return to the "Milestones" introduction.
Colin Walker (Johnny) hopes that you will sign the Visitors' Book, look at the Forum Page and welcomes your comments about this Site,
which is v 4.8 and was last updated in June, 2007.

This article, the text, the images (unless separately acknowledged) and the underlying coding are Copyright C R Walker©, 1998 - 2007