The Coast to Coast

Walked in August 2008

Day 7 – Friday 22nd August

Keld - Reeth
10.5 miles

I woke just before seven, realising I must have missed my alarm. It was cold in the tent and I was naturally reluctant to leave the sleeping bag to start packing. It had been cold all through the night too and I had woken a few times to turn over. I decided to just get on with it and get packed as quickly as possible so we could start walking and warm ourselves up a bit. Darryl was of a like mind and in no time we had magically reduced our tents and all our equipment to just two rucksacks which were attached to our backs as we set off out of the campsite and onto the road leading into Keld.

We had skipped breakfast, deciding instead to snack on chocolate Hobnobs as we walked along, turning left before Keld Lodge (which was once the youth hostel) and wandering through the small settlement toward the River Swale where we followed the lane signposted to Muker, crossed the bridge near Kisdon Force and walked up the bank to a spot not far from where we’d taken a break on day seven of the Pennine Way the year before.

This is where the Coast to Coast walk crosses the Pennine Way and we felt pangs of nostalgia as we saw the signpost for the other walk and looked up the path that headed ever onward and upward toward Tan Hill, and beyond it Bowes. It felt odd to be in that place again and a little bit said that we would be moving on and leaving the Pennine Way behind since it held so many amazing memories for us.

We continued on and followed the path above the River Swale toward the ruins of Crackpot Hall which was a little spooky as well as decrepit, but offered outstanding views across Swaledale before and below us. I took the opportunity to disappear into the nearby trees to use the non-existent toilet, while Darryl waited and (Sod’s law) had a quick chat with two walkers who happened to be the father and son walkers we had encountered before. This is where the path divides offering the choice of taking either the low route along the River Swale, or the higher route across the moors. We had already decided to take the higher route as it had seemed more diverse and challenging so we walked on, finding the path a little unsure and uneven around Swinner Gill. When we got to the top of the path by the long-disused Swinner Gill Lead Mines we stopped and chatted to the father and son walkers again. The man told us they were met at the end of each day by his wife in their camper van. They would sleep in the van then carry on the next morning. That woman was clearly a trooper. She may have avoided a lot of walking by opting out of the hike but it must have been a task picking them up every day. The son, although quite young had already tackled a hundred of Alfred Wainwright’s walks. Not bad going at all.

We hauled ourselves up the rocks and streams of East Grain to find a vast stretch of grouse butts at the top. We headed down the jeep track that led to Gunnerside Gill keeping an eye out for two cairns on the left where we needed to leave the track and follow a fairly indistinct path down towards Blakethwaite Smelt Mill. We found two cairns and although there wasn’t much of a path at all, we weaved through the rough brush and tried to follow what we thought was the right direction. We then spent half an hour wandering over rough heather moorland, crossing streams and deep cracks in the earth, wondering what on earth we thought we were doing. We had obviously lost the path (if we’d ever found it in the first place) and were now slowly making our way towards our target, wasting time and messing about when we should have been more sure of where we were going. The occasional burst of feathers and squawking from the undergrowth around us didn’t exactly lift our spirits. Never a shotgun (or napalm) around when you need it. Eventually we came to the edge of the hill and found a rough, thin footpath. Darryl was unsure but I was pretty hopeful that it would take us in the right direction. A few minutes later we found ourselves above Gunnerside Gill, and after a little sliding down the bank we reached the footpath and headed down to the Blakethwaite mill and peat store for a break. We could see the father and son walking up the opposite bank, well ahead of us. They may well have stopped for a break at the mill before we got there. In fact I was surprised they weren’t further ahead.

We rested by the small bridge over Gunnerside Beck. My right foot was pretty sore, and taking off my boot I found that I now had two small blisters, probably from all that trudging across uneven ground on the heather moors. Darryl cooked up some noodles while I snacked on a small block of cheese and some salt and vinegar kettle chips I’d bought during our shopping spree at the co-op in Shap. Once we’d finished we had a quick nose around the ruins of the nearby peat store then started climbing the zig-zagging path up toward a scree of rocks that then led on to the high moor and more grouse land. We soon found ourselves on a barren, lunar landscape (a result of hush mining and quarrying) where we found the remains of a piece of mining equipment. We followed the dusty road for a few miles until we reached Old Gang mines where we found the father and son again taking another break. The father said he had twisted his knee recently so he had to rest it regularly as it grew quite painful during the walk. They had initially planned to go past Reeth today, but had changed their minds, possibly due to the father’s sore knee. We took a couple of photos of the mine then continued on, eventually coming to Surrender Bridge which is famous for appearing in the opening titles of All Creatures Great and Small. We walked on past the bridge and up the side of the hill towards some trees above the river, inadvertently joining a lower footpath than the one we were aiming for. We crossed the ravine of Cringley Bottom, climbing steeply up the other side and decided to take a quick break. The father and son caught us up as we were finishing and said they’d made the same mistake as we had and chosen the lower path. We followed them for a while then as they headed further and further uphill we asked a local for directions since we were unsure of where the guidebook was really telling us to go. The man told us we could divert to the small village of Healaugh then follow the River Swale into Reeth. This sounded good to us.

We soon reached Healaugh and navigated to the river easily enough, following a pleasant path which was part of the lower route from Keld to Reeth that we could have followed all day if we’d wanted to. Next time I do the walk I’ll definitely choose this route, since I’ve now done the higher one (well most of it) and it looks like a much quicker, obvious and more comfortable route to take.

After a nice stroll along the river we found ourselves approaching Reeth, and once through a couple of gates we were walking through the backstreets and down toward where the campsite was marked in the guidebook. We knocked on the door of the house but no one answered so we walked into the site itself and found Lee the Brummie already waiting (surprise, surprise) for the camp warden. Not long afterwards the warden turned up and told us all to camp on the left by some trees and a path. The usual camping spot at the far rear of the site was waterlogged and in the process of being drained. There were other people camping and several groups in caravans, all taking advantage of the good weather for the weekend.

We pitched our tents, had a shower then went into town to buy some supplies since we’d almost run out and would need some for the next day. After dropping them off at the campsite we had a rest before going back out for our evening meal. I listened to the radio in my tent for a while and learned the sad news that Betty Wainwright (Alfred Wainwright’s widow) had died the night before. It seemed poignant that this had happened while we were walking Wainwright’s own route. We then went for a couple of pints at the Black Bull (Speckled Hen, Theakstons and Black Sheep on tap – very impressive) and watched the Olympics and news before moving to the restaurant part of the pub where we both shared a garlic baguette to start then a lasagne for Darryl and beef and Yorkshire pudding for me. The huge Yorkshire pudding came filled with beef and gravy and was delicious. I was quite surprised that Darryl managed to eat his dinner considering that he’d already eaten in his tent after we’d got back from the shop. I record his evening’s intake in case there is any chance that his stomach might make it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

He ate (including dinner at the Black Bull):
3 average sized Eccles cakes
2 small teacakes
1 large teacake
1 sausage roll
Half a garlic baguette
Lasagne and chips

Some people might think this is disgusting, but I think it’s tactical. Considering how many calories we were burning off on a daily basis, Darryl was probably trying to just claw some ground back.
We returned to the campsite to crash out. We were unsure about where to camp the next day. There was no campsite in Richmond itself, nor a hostel that we could see, so we decided we’d spend a couple of hours there then move on to the campsite beyond it at Brompton-on-Swale.

 

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