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ShortSeek

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Callout

The Lyke Wake Walk

The exercise scenario

The exercise progresses

The exercise ends

Callout

This was an exercise organised by North Yorkshire Police.  We knew it would be big.  We knew it would be at an unknown time on an unknown weekend in a known month.  We knew that the exercise name "ShortSeek" was overly optimistic.

The police woke the Cleveland RAYNET Group Controller on a Sunday at 04:47 hrs.  200 people had gone missing in bad weather.  The police wanted RAYNET's assistance to provide extra communications for the search.  We knew that it would be big, but losing 200 people was an impressively huge achievement.

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The Lyke Wake Walk

The Lyke Wake Walk was invented in the mid 1950s by Bill Cowley of Potto Farm and others.  Letters published in a country news magazine (The Dalesman) bemoaned the fact that in this modern post war world, there were too many buildings and sprawling conurbations.  You simply couldn't have a long walk in the country without having to pass through towns, villages or hamlets.  There were too many buildings, bricks, stones, mortar and people everywhere in the country.

"Not so", said Bill.  "In my part of the country you can probably walk for thirty or forty miles in a straight line without encountering much civilisation."

The correspondence to the magazine continued and Bill was challenged to design a route.  Other letter writers said that they would be happy to spend a day walking such a route.  Accordingly, Bill designed a 42 mile route across the North York Moors in a (vaguely) straight line.  Others came from different parts of the country to help Bill attempt this new walking route and to report back in letters to the magazine.

The first walk was done.  People enjoyed reading about it.  The walk was given a name.  It was even given a mythical history involving mediaeval monks, skeletons and burials.

The walk's emblem is a coffin.  People who completed the walk and sent a report to Bill were promoted to the rank of "dirger" or "witch".  Instead of being sent congratulations, they were sent a message of condolence on their crossing.  By the time you finish the walk, you feel dead.  So started the Lyke Wake Club and the Lyke Wake Walk.  People typically take 16 hours to complete the walk.  Some set running records of only several hours.

The classic LWW route starts at the Queen Cath in Osmotherley.  It goes via Sheepwash,  then follows the ridges to Carlton Bank, Hasty Bank, Bloworth Crossing, The Lion Inn, skirts RAF Fylingdales Early Warning Station and ends at Ravenscar on the coast at the Raven Hall Hotel.

The LWW became a victim of its own popularity.  Erosion of some footpaths occurred.  Some organised LWW crossings had 400 people on them.  Nowadays, crossings by massive groups aren't approved.

Bill Cowley died in 1994.  Nicholas Rhea from Glaisdale, a retired policeman and author of the Constable books, helped to form the new Lyke Wake Club in 2004.

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The exercise scenario

200 people had attempted the Lyke Wake Walk and had gone missing in bad weather.  This is colloquially known as a wipe-out.  When visibility is poor, you find shelter and stay put.  Search & Rescue on the North York Moors is done by Cleveland SRT and Scarborough & District SRT.  The scale of the exercise was way beyond the capabilities of two rescue teams.

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The exercise progresses

RAYNET and Rescue Teams were asked to rendezvous at the Lion Inn on Blakey Rigg.  The RAYNET callout system was implemented and everybody sounded suitably grumpy at that time on a Sunday morning.  Sixteen RAYNET operators were available to RV at The Lion.

Search Teams were called in from Teesdale, Tynedale, Northumberland, Weardale, Swaledale, Wharfedale and further.  

The Army established a temporary hospital at the RV point using tents, doctors and other medical personnel.  Each team was given an area to search and a team base location from which to operate.

RAYNET established a control station from a car at the RV point.  Other RAYNET operators manned team bases, team Land Rovers or went on foot with teams.  Rescue Teams have their own radios.  RAYNET was there to supplement communications.

Helicopters were brought in.  These were small and couldn't carry passengers or casualties.  They were used to locate groups of people and pass map references back to the RVP.  RAYNET and Rescue Band radios were used to inform nearby team bases of the people spotted by helicopters.

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The exercise ends

Needless to say, all 200 missing people were found, given first aid as required and transported back to the RVP by stretchers and Land Rovers.

The missing people refused to drop out of acting mode.  One was strapped to a stretcher which was strapped inside the back of a Land Rover heading towards the RVP.  His pulse, blood pressure and temperature were being monitored, so it was obvious that he wasn't ill or very cold.  "So what was it like out there overnight?".  No reply.  "You can stop acting now, while we are in the vehicle."  No reply.  "Would you like a bottle of whisky?"  No reply.  Can't have been acting.

So where did North Yorkshire Police manage to find 200 people daft enough to be sent out at midnight to hide on the moors in bad weather?  They went to Catterick Garrison.  Young troopers on basic training were ordered to take part.  So they did.

They had been placed on the moors by NCOs and the location and name of each one was recorded in case not all were found by search teams.

The Army doctors thanked the young troopers for playing their part and congratulated them on their acting skills and on memorising their signs and symptoms.  A small number of troopers were out in the bad weather for too long and really had hypothermia by the time they were found.

One Cleveland RAYNET operator turned out in strange clothing.  He wore a dark pin striped three piece suit and tie, Wellington boots and carried an umbrella.  He just didn't look the part.  He is a doctor and apparently, suits are what middle aged doctors of the old school wear on all occasions.  It was suggested that he buy some ragged clothing for the next exercise, so that he looked the part.

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LWW Route

Bill Cowley by the author of TV's Heartbeat

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Page updated on 09 January 2017

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