Monday, 31 August 2015

Photo Essay: Day Eight of the Coast to Coast Walk

"I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements."  

- Henry David Thoreau

Coast to Coast sign by Frank's Bridge, coming out of Kirkby Stephen

Day Eight: from Kirkby Stephen to Keld (14.5 miles/23 km)

Summary of Route: This is a notable day: by the end of today's hike you will have passed the half-way mark of the Coast to Coast Walk; you will have begun to cross the Pennines; you will have traversed the west-east watershed (from the top of Nine Standards Rigg, rivers will flow either west to the Irish Sea or east to the North Sea); and you will have entered the Yorkshire Dales National Park — the second of three National Parks encountered in this hike across northern England. Finally, you will have left Cumbria behind, and crossed into the county of Yorkshire (North Riding) — ending the day in Swaledale, the most northerly of the Yorkshire dales.

"Keld is that way."

This stage is a couple of miles (3 km) longer than the previous one. It is quite an easy hike: the climb early in the day is a fairly gentle ascent; and the rest of the walk is either level or downhill. But the boggy and muddy conditions through most of the day can make the hiking tougher than it ought to be.

We cross a cattle grid about once a day

Sheep on the road just outside Kirkby Stephen

The first-third of today's hike is a steady climb up to Nine Standards Rigg. You start the day by crossing the Eden River on Frank's Bridge, on the eastern edge of Kirkby Stephen. From there you walk up to Hartley village, and then on past a large quarry and up Birkett Hill to Hartley Fell. On this fell, about five miles out from town, you face a decision — there are three alternate routes to Keld to choose from. 

Crossing a stream going up Birkett Hill

The so-called Red and Blue routes take you east to Nine Standards Rigg. From there the Blue Route continues east and then — just past the Craygill Sike — you head south, following the Whitsundale Beck, until you meet up with the Green and Red routes just west of Ravenseat Farm.

The Red route diverges from the Blue route just a little way past Nine Standards Rigg: instead of going east, the Red route heads south. It takes you over White Mossy Hill and down to meet the Green route.

The Green route is the simplest of the three choices. It avoids Nine Standards Rigg; and in bad weather is probably the wisest choice. It takes you down to the head of Rigg Beck, which you follow for a while and then cross. Now you walk across limestone pavement on your way down to the road (B 6270). You enter the Yorkshire Dales National Park and follow the streams of Black Scar and Ney Gill to Ravenseat Farm.

A rest-stop on Birkett Hill

From Ravenseat Farm, you hike south over hilly meadows, following the Whitsundale Beck. The trail takes you past the Cotterby Scar, a limestone cliff next to the river. You cross the beck to the road, and walk a short distance into the hamlet of Keld.

Climbing up to Nine Standards Rigg at top of Hartley Fell

The northern end of the Nine Standards Rigg monument

Today's hike was not very strenuous — of average length and not too much steep climbing. But things were more difficult than they ought to have been, because of the conditions. But, thankfully, no rain today! The high ascent came at the beginning of the walk: the first three miles, or so, featured a steady climb out of Kirkby Stephen, up Birkett Hill to the summit of Hartley Fell (at a height of about 650 metres). Half way up there is a rest spot — a large bench built of rocks and stones. A bit further on there is a point of trail-diversion: you can go south on the Green Route (the shortest and easiest path); or you can go east on the blue and red routes to the Hartley Fell summit.

Nine Standards Rigg

Southern end of Nine Standards Rigg -- waiting to be "photo-bombed"

The place at the summit is also known as Nine Standards Rigg, because a curious monument, known as the Nine Standards, sits there. It is a collection of nine standing stones, or cairns. Both the original purpose and the actual age of the cairns is unknown: they might be designed to mark the border between Cumbria and Swaledale (they are placed just 700 metres west of the boundary of the Yorkshire Dales National Park); and they could be at least 2,000 years old. 

An example of the boggy conditions up on Red and Blue Routes

The Red and Blue Route diversion -- looking like The Somme

It's difficult getting a single photograph that shows effectively the entire line of nine groups of stones. While we were there we watched two hikers who had arrive ahead of us, climbing up onto several of the cairns, despite the fact that they under constant threat of weather erosion and damage due to human interaction. They had a selfie-stick, which they put to good use. And when I got Tony to get a photo of me next to a couple of the cairns, one of them shouted, "Do you mind if I photo-bomb you". Well ...

Hiking across the moorland of the Blue Route -- trying to avoid bog and wet areas

Soon after the Nine Standards the trail again divides: you can go south on the Red Route; or make your way further east towards the Craygill Sike and the Whitsundale Beck. We decided to follow the Blue Route. The place where the Blue and Red Routes diverge has suffered incredible erosion because of the large number of boot-wearing hikers that come through this place. The black peat has been badly worn away. 



The walk east across the moor is also difficult because of the large number of boggy crossings across streams and wet areas. At many places, you have to take a wide diversion around the mess, looking for a spot where your boots will not sink deeply into the mire. All through here it is wet grass, heather, and sedge.

Approaching Ravenseat Farm in Whitsundale

 Eventually we got to the Whitsundale Beck and began to hike south along the western edge of the meandering stream. The trail all the way down here was also muddy and buggy. And the conditions were made even more difficult by the presence of loads of midges. These are tiny biting insects who leave itchy spots on the skin, like mosquitoes. When we stopped for lunch, we crossed on to a small island in the centre of the shallow beck — hoping that the bugs wouldn't be so bad there. No such luck; the midges disrupted our peace, and the lunch-stop was cut a bit short. They continued to harass us all the way down the valley. The next day I found little bumps from the bug-bites across my forehead, up my forearms, and around my ears and upper jaw. Very annoying.

Quote of the Day:
"... drag and plant ..."
- woman at Ravenseat Farm
(explaining to Tony the proper technique for using walking poles)

Cute dog at Ravenseat Farm

Another cute dog at Ravenseat Farm

A short while later we arrived at the place where the three alternate trails met. And from there we walked on to the nearby Ravenseat Farm. Here you can buy mugs of tea, or "cream teas". They also offer B&B and camping. We sat at a picnic table with our mugs of tea and struck up a conversation with a woman who had a lovely terrier with her. She was with a large group of farm-folk who were participating in a special tractor ride for charity. Just before we resumed our hike, the entire entourage went over to the tractors and prepared to resume their convoy. I waited for a few minutes, and then got some good shots of the wide variety of tractors (some of a vintage type) as they moved on.

The tractors leave on their charity convoy

A tractor's special passenger

From the farm, the trail became mostly hilly fields and meadows. We continued to follow the Whitsundale Beck. Eventually we climbed down to a road, which also paralleled the river. On the north side of the water we passed some limestone cliffs, and a couple of camping sites (including one which contained several yurts). And then we arrived at the Keld Lodge, which is located on the "main road" just south of the Keld village.

The Keld Lodge featured a hot "drying room" — designed primarily to dry out all the muddy and wet hiking boots arriving each day. I took advantage and washed two shirts, two pairs of socks, and my mud-covered rain pants (trousers). They were nice and dry by the morning.

Crossing stone bridge to B6270 near Keld

Oh, and we enjoyed a complimentary meal at this hotel, courtesy of our accommodation-arranging company — because of the mix-up in Kirkby Stephen the previous night.

The Cotterby Scar (limestone cliff) on the Whitsundale Beck

"The true charm of pedestrianism does not lie in the walking, or in the scenery, but in the talking. The walking is good to time the movement of the tongue by, and to keep the blood and the brain stirred up and active; the scenery and the woodsy smells are good to bear in upon a man an unconscious and unobtrusive charm and solace to eye and soul and sense; but the supreme pleasure comes from the talk."
- Mark Twain

On the road just before Keld Lodge

This hike is dedicated to Bill and Barb Cannon.
(see the end of my blog post for Day One for details)

Coast to Coast Path (Sixth Edition - 2014) by Henry Stedman;
Coast to Coast: West - Harvey Map XT40

Photo Essay: Day Seven of the Coast to Coast Walk

"Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it."
- Søren Kierkegaard

Tony goes back for the forgotten Stedman guide!

Day Seven: from Orton to Kirkby Stephen (12.5 miles/20 km)

Summary of Route: This is another of the easier stages of the Coast to Coast Walk. The trail continues pretty much due east towards the Pennines, as you keep the Howgill Fells to the south. Today's walk is four miles longer than the previous stage; but it continues to be fairly level — there's a bit of a dip into the village of Smardale Bridge, and then a climb up-and-over Smardale Fell, before descending into Kirkby Stephen. And at the end of this first week, you are just short of covering half of the total distance. 

Ponies in a field below the Orton Scar

From the village of Ort, you begin the day's hike by walking east on the Raisbeck Road for about a mile. Then you turn north up Knott Lane, in order to go past an ancient Stone Circle — more impressive than the one encountered on Day Six.
Turn east, now, and follow the trail through Sunbiggin (where there is a great view south of the Howgill Fells) and onto Tarn Moor. Just as you turn to do a short jog south, you pass the Sunbiggin Tarn, famous for its birdlife. 

Lots of cows encountered during these hikes!

 Then it's east across the Ravenstonedale Moor. Just before you turn south towards Smardale Bridge, you skirt to the left of another ancient archaeological site: this one is called the Severals Village settlement. There is really not much to see, though, because there are no standing stones and the site is unexcavated; there are a few dips and depressions in the ground — that's about it. 

Across the Tarn Moor we met a lot of riders participating in an Endurance Trial

On Tarn Moor
At Smardale Bridge you cross Scandal Beck, and then it's a gradual north-east climb to the top of Smardale Fell, where you get your first view of Kirkby Stephen, and another vista of the ever-nearer Pennine hills. From there it is a gentle descent of about two miles into the town of Kirkby Stephen. And now your first week of hiking is complete, about five miles short of the half-way point of the Coast to Coast Walk.

On Ravenstonedale Moor

One of the dangers of travelling is losing stuff. Often it's not the crucial stuff  — like passport, wallet or camera — but various odds and sods. No problems up until now for us, but we had to go back twice this morning to our B&B. We were almost to the end of the long driveway out of the B&B, when we heard a voice calling. It was the landlady calling from the front door; Michael had forgotten his Henry Stedman guidebook. Tony volunteered to walk back to get it. And then five minutes later, we were 100 metres down the road, when Michael stopped: "Clive, we've forgotten something!" I looked at him questioningly. "Our walking poles”, he said. Strange that it took so long to notice that: we have been so used to using them over the past week. Michael and I walked back to get them.

Soon after we got back into the rhythm of our walk, it began to rain. We scrambled to don our rain gear and to put the rainproof covers over our backpacks. This was the fourth day in a row that the day began with rain. It lasted for quite a while this morning, and for a downpour of half-an-hour in the afternoon, whilst we were walking down a road. We did keep dry with our rain gear on, but the clothing makes you uncomfortable — it makes you sweat so much.

Looking down on a boarded-up railway cottage, just below "Severals Village"

Smardale Bridge crossing Scandal Beck

Packed lunch at Smardale Bridge

We saw a lot of livestock today, as we crossed fields and meadows: mostly sheep, cows and horses — but we also came across a field of about a dozen ponies. And then we met a dozen, or so, riders on horseback on the Ravenstonedale Moor throughout the morning. They were wearing numbers on their back: it wasn't a race, they told us; they were involved in an Endurance Trial event.

Smardale Gill Viaduct, seen from just above Smardale Bridge

When we finally got across the Moor, it was back to fields and meadowland. The route took us down beside the Scandal Beck — past a very old derelict farmhouse and to a picturesque spot called Smardale Bridge. We stopped here for lunch — packed as usual by the hotel or B&B stayed at the previous night. As we climbed up to the Smardale Fell after lunch, we could see off to the left the very impressive Smardale Gill Viaduct to the north.

 Quote of the Day:
"The bags are inside the guest house; the landlady is in Spain; and it's a Bank Holiday weekend."
- neighbour of the Jolly Farmers B&B explaining our plight

Are we there yet? One of the common elements of a long day's hiking is the fatigue that sets in towards the end — as you get into your sixth or seventh hour of walking. This happens every day. The Stedman guide promised a long-range view down towards Kirkby Stephen, at least an hour before we were supposed to get there. We missed such a view. For the last phase of the hike, we kept anticipating a view of the town — but it never happened. We were right on the outskirts on Kirkby Stephen before we got our first sight of the place. Are we there yet?

Another view of Smardale Gill viaduct

We got into town fairly early — about 2:30. We found our B&B, The Jolly Farmers, and rang the bell and then banged the door knocker. No answer. Well, some B&Bs are not open for business until 4:00 p.m. — as was the case on Day Six of our hike. We went into the town centre to kill some time. Michael and Tony did some shopping at an outdoor equipment shop. Then we spent some leisurely time at a tea shop.

Yet another gate! On Smardale Fell

We got back to the B&B at 4 o'clock: more bell ringing and door knocking. So then we tried their phone number. Still no response. Finally, we knocked at the place next door — another B&B. The proprietors there were very helpful to us. They explained that the couple who run The Jolly Farmers were all in Spain for a family wedding. What?!! A series of phone calls ensued with the company in charge of booking our accommodation. Somebody messed up, but who? 

Some lovely purple heather on Smardale Fell

The greatest worry was that our bags were locked inside The Jolly Farmers. Fortunately, the neighbours were able to call an employee of the place who happened to have a key. She came by in about 15 minutes. And after about an hour, I was booked into a B&B just a couple of minutes down the street. And Tony and Michael were put up by the next door B&B, who had been so helpful to us. Panic over and the rest of the night went smoothly. Our accommodation-organisers were most apologetic, and they arranged to pay for our meals the following evening.

We see loads of sheep and rams on these hikes

For dinner we went into the centre of town to the Mango Tree, an Indian restaurant. It was a nice change from the usual "pub grub". A bottle of veneto Pinot Grigio washed it down nicely. An evening that was threatening to be a complete disaster turned out well.

Heading underneath a railway bridge near Kirkby Stephen

"I haven't got any special religion this morning. My God is the God of Walkers.
If you walk hard enough, you probably don't need any other god."  
- Bruce Chatwin

Going under another railway bridge -- just as a train goes by!


This hike is dedicated to Bill and Barb Cannon. 

(see the end of my blog post for Day One for details)

Coast to Coast Path (Sixth Edition - 2014) by Henry Stedman;
Coast to Coast: West - Harvey Map XT40