The road over Blakey Ridge between Rosedale and Farndale must be one of the most exposed in England.
It runs north through the heather between Hutton-le-Hole and Castleton, rising over 1300 feet to The Lion Inn which stands midway at the highest point of the North York Moors.
The road takes the full blast of the weather which blows off the North Sea. Barry Crossland, landlord at The Lion for the last 35 years, knows more than most how fast the road can disappear into fog and sea-fret; how fast the temperature falls in winter; how fast the moor can freeze; how fast the snow can fall.
This year he feels easier about the approach of winter. During these past weeks of summer the potholes have been filled, the road resurfaced and the essential white lines repainted bright and fresh, a crucial guide to night-time traffic across the blackness of the moor.
The County Council is in the middle of a two-year improvement and resurfacing plan for the road, which is a lifeline to The Lion, the local community and visitors alike.
“The weather can change up here so often,” said Barry, “so we really need the road to be in a fit state. We’re very glad that the Council has been able to do this work.”
There’s no other obvious way to The Lion, except by this road, so Barry is also glad that the road has been kept open during the works. He said: “It’s been brilliant. The Council has kept the road open for us by using traffic lights and a convoy system. Our business hasn’t suffered at all”.
A milkman from Leeds, Barry Crossland fell in love with The Lion Inn on a day out with a friend and bought it on a whim. He had never pulled a pint in his life and the place was derelict. Over the years and with the help of his close-knit and dedicated staff and his two sons Paul and David, he has developed a thriving business. The Lion draws vistors from across the globe with its famous welcome, its open fires, local ales, homemade food and its ghosts.
It had thrived before in the 19th century with the establishment of the iron mines in Rosedale, A pair of original miner’s boots hanging over the hearth are testament to that rugged trade. Before that, back in the 16th century, it was a Friar Inn, founded by brethren to lighten their poverty.
Now The Lion throws open its doors to walkers, cyclists, bikers and travellers by car. The car park is often full; the road brings people in from the cold and the County Council’s snow ploughs frequently dig them out.
“It’s very exposed up here and the snow comes down so fast” said Barry. “Many a time people coming to the pub have been snowed in overnight. We’ve had some great parties here because of it. One night two coachloads – 90 people – were snowed in. That was quite a time. There were bodies sleeping all over the floor by the morning. We’ve had to use metal detectors to find cars in the car park! But the snow ploughs are always out the next day, digging out the road, getting folk back on track.”
Between October and April North Yorkshire County Council works with contractor Ringway to keep 9,000km of roads moving during periods of extreme weather.
It uses 89 gritters, 130 farming contractors and several snowblowers. While routine gritting of Blakey Ridge ensures the road is salted when necessary during the winter, the Council relies on some of the farming contractors to help to clear the snow once the road becomes blocked. The snowdrifts can easily top two metres during the worst winter spells.
Moreover, the Council has established customer communications officers to cover the county’s highways and Barry has established a hotline to Sharon Fox, the officer for the Moors. He said: “It’s great to have somebody to contact without going round the houses. A while ago the road was flooded where it dips down to Castleton because the ditches were blocked. I got on the phone to Sharon and it was sorted quickly.
“This road may be remote but it gets pretty busy with visitors and local businesses and also for people going to work – lots travelling down from Redcar to the bacon factory in Malton. So it’s wonderful that it’s being kept up to scratch. It’s important for us in so many ways. It was part of the route for the Tour de Yorkshire this year. We had people parking up here at The Lion, lining the road ten deep to watch the Tour come by. That was another party.”
An extra £39 million over a period of six years is being put into road maintenance by the county council and the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership, which successfully bid for money from the Department for Transport’s Local Growth Fund.
County Councillor Don Mackenzie, Executive Member for Highways, said: ‘‘The case was successfully made to the Government that there is an economic argument for investing in rural roads.
‘‘A sustained programme of additional highway maintenance investment on the lesser used, more rural network is linked to economic growth. There are many small businesses which use these roads and they will benefit from that.
‘‘Spending on the maintenance of our rural roads is one of the most important investments we can make for the economic wellbeing of North Yorkshire.’’