Day Seven: Kirkby Stephen to Keld (13 miles)
This is a significant day. Keld, our destination, marks the halfway point in the Coast to Coast and, today, we also cross into Yorkshire. The interesting geographic fact is that we also cross the watershed of the Pennines, which means all the rivers now flow west to east.
The weather has generally been brilliant, but rain was forecast today and I realised that I didn't have any waterproof pants. Margaret had re-proofed my walking trousers and hung them in the wardrobe in the spare room so I would know where they were. That is Margaret's logic. My logic is that they'd be in the bag in the hall where they always are. Anyway, despite being told they were in the wardrobe in the spare room, I had forgotten to pack them, so first port of call was a walking shop to buy a pair.
Barbara seems to know everyone in Kirkby Stephen and said we should visit this chap who had a little outdoor shop opposite the Black Bull. He was a nice man but had been struggling because Mountain Warehouse, or another of the big chains, had opened a large shop further down and now everyone went there.
Barbara's PR campaign seemed to be working because his little shop was packed, but he sorted me out very quickly. David was being troubled by blisters, not on his feet, but on his hand (from holding that heavy great stick) so he bought a pair of gloves. I persuaded him to spend £30 on a pair of Sealskins. They are the gloves I have and they are fantastic, but I don't think David got on that well with them. My suggestion that the stick be recycled as firewood and David treat himself to some lightweight, balanced poles, was met with scorn.
I was sorry to leave Kirkby Stephen. I'd been pleased to see it yesterday and it had treated me very well.
The coast walk is signposted in the town and there's a somewhat depressing sign to remind you that, in spite of six days hard walking, you've still not reached halfway! From KS, the path follows a minor road steeply uphill towards the day's big climb - Nine Standards Rigg. This is a pretty standard ridge and, at 662 metres, not unduly high. What makes it interesting, almost mystical, are the nine high cairns carefully built on the crest and visible for miles. They have been there for hundreds (possibly thousands) of years and not a lot is known about them. It was thought that they were markers built by a dark ages chieftain to define his territory, but now there's evidence (see link: http://www.ninestandards.eu/final%20report.html) that they date back to the Bronze Age and may be burial cairns thousands of years old. There have been as many as 13 cairns, there's evidence of a ditch enclosure and the cairns have been rebuilt many times over the years, most recently in 2005. In the 18th century local shepherds pulled two of them down and used the stones to build themselves a hut. They were ordered to restore the cairns, but I don't think they did a great job since they managed to keep their hut intact.
|Nine Standards Rigg.|
Whatever their origin, it's an amazing place, really atmospheric and with fantastic views across the Eden Valley, over the Westmoreland Plateau towards the fells of Cumbria. East, you can pick out the main Yorkshire peaks, including Ingleborough and the other great whalebacks of the Pennines.
|Path erosion on the way up to Nine|
On the path up to Nine Standards, heavy rain and heavy footfall have seriously eroded the path and there are a number of projects to raise funds to pave the path up to the ridge and then onwards across the peat bog. Putting paving across moorland is always controversial, but I feel there's no alternative and I'm sure it will be thoughtfully undertaken. The first target has been reached and now, hopefully, a further sum will be raised for the second phase. You can find out more on: http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/raisingthestandard
The walk up to the ridge becomes steeper and as we neared the top the rain came in, so there was a quick stop for putting on my new waterproof pants and my jacket. Annoyingly, I managed to put my bag down in a pile of sheep shit! As we were dressing, a man and a woman came striding past at a good pace. She was stripped to T-shirt and was working hard with her poles. "A good work-out," she said as she strode past, making me feel as if I wasn't trying hard enough.
On the top, we took some pictures, admired the view and spotted Tim and his nephew. They were striding off across the moors, stopped and then changed direction to follow the ridge-line - another wrong turn! The couple who has passed us were also off along the ridge and we spotted some new walkers - two men, one of whom was rather chubby and was holding a plastic supermarket bag. We learned later that they'd set off carrying all their gear, but had found it hard going and so had hired Sherpa Van to take it on for them. One chap had a day-sack on his front and rucksack on his back, so he just swapped the day-sack over. Chubby man had no day-sack to carry his gear, so he popped into the supermarket and begged a 5p carrier. It wasn't the image I'd have wanted to project on this epic walk.
From the Nine Standards, the path divides to try to reduce erosion. There's a May-July path and an Aug-Nov path. Earlier, there's a Dec-April path, which doesn't climb the ridge and uses part of the B6270 to stay at a lower level. This being May, we took the May-to-July path. The rain had blown over, leaving it sunny but windy. David led the way across the peat bog. It had been a relatively dry spring, but even so, we had to pick our way carefully in places. The depth of peat is amazing, it must be four metres in places and there are tales of walkers sinking up to their waists.
There are few guides to your route as a lot of the marker poles have fallen (it's amazing this important tourist route and money-earner isn't better maintained). Thanks to David's instinct and my OS app, we managed to stay on the right route, but Tim and his nephew had gone wrong again and were now heading for the road.
The path drops down into Whitsundale where more streams combine to form the larger stream that becomes the River Swale. There are grouse butts alongside the path and, in places, the path is made more difficult by the wheeltracks of the gamekeepers' 4x4s. This is true of many of the bridleways in this part of the world. No-one walks if they can ride. I saw several shepherds whizzing by on quads, a collie sitting in the back with its ears streaming in the wind.
Grouse shooting is big business and in August this would be a noisy place, full of rich merchant bankers who pay a fortune to shoot the red grouse out of the sky. The grouse are ridiculously tame and are not truly wild birds at all. Gamekeepers come to feed them, they will whistle and the grouse come flying in from all around for their dinner. David says there have been several articles in Farmers Weekly about grouse numbers falling and laying the blame on global warming. David thought lead poisoning might be a bigger killer.
Even the bleak moors are not without their celebrities and the home of one - Amanda Owen, known as the Yorkshire Shepherdess - lies alongside the path. Amanda's story is either a modern romance or a string of poor life decisions. As a young woman, she came to Ravenseat farm to pick up a sheep and found a husband more than 20 years her senior. Twenty years later she has eight children (and another on the way as I write). She's now a standard bearer for the traditional (hard) Dales way of life, author of books, a regular on TV and runs a cafe for walkers (when she's about).
Ravenseat is in a lovely location, set in a cleft where there's an ancient bridge across Whitsundale Beck. On this sunny but windy day, it looked idyllic (less so, I suspect, on a bleak December afternoon). We had tea on one of the picnic benches at the front of the farm, served, I am guessing, by Amanda's oldest daughter. If you're interested in reading more, see: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/mother-tongue/11043837/Reader-I-married-him-confessions-of-a-Yorkshire-shepherdess.html. She also has a book and a calendar.
|Amanda Owen - the Yorkshire Shepherdess|
We had been hoping for a good wombat fact after yesterday's triumph, but when we prompted Sue over lunch, she simply said she didn't have any more, she'd run out! Has she never heard of Google?
From Ravenseat, the path follows the growing stream. There are a number of small waterfalls, known here by the Viking word "force". Soon you reach the road (the B6270) and enter Keld. This is the halfway point on the Coast to Coast, but it's a tiny place. We stayed at Butt House, a guesthouse now run by a nice couple from Wellingborough, who sell beer (Black Sheep) and wine to guests and will also cook an evening meal. Sue was at the pub (the Keld Lodge) just up the road and we wandered up there for a drink (Black Sheep). The place was full of Australians. A coast-to-coast party of five Aussies had arrived from Kirkby Stephen. We hadn't seen them on the walk because they'd taken the low route along the road. Sue said they were from the convict part and weren't very friendly. They were all of retirement age and were spending a couple of months in Europe. One of the party - a retired engineer originally from New Zealand - looked as if he'd suffered a minor stroke, but was getting along at a fair lick. His wife told me that when they'd finished the walk, they were going to spend some time in London with their daughter.
Before dinner I walked down into the few houses which comprise the village to find a post box. I'd written a postcard for Margaret. The times on the front suggested I'd just missed the collection, but I put it in anyway and I was staggered to hear it was delivered the next day. From one of the most remote villages in England at 6pm to Thorney by 10am the next day is pretty good going. Some bits of this country still work quite well!
For dinner at Butt House we all sat around a large table. After the familiarity of our party during the first week, it was odd to have so many strangers and I regarded them with suspicion, a little like the seasoned soldier views new recruits. I sat next to a woman who had just retired and was walking the Pennine Way (which crosses the Coast to Coast at Keld), there was a couple with a house in Hampshire and a house in London (let's call them Two Homes and a Porsche) and the couple who had gone striding past us on the climb to Nine Standards Rigg. They were Canadian and were a brother-in-law/sister-in-law combination, a really nice couple called Paul and Susan. It was Susan's first long-distance walk.
Two Homes were accomplished walkers, but there was nowhere they hadn't been: Himalayas, tick; African safari, tick; combined with Kilimanjaro, tick ... They explained they bought their flat in London because Mr Two Homes had got so many points on his licence driving in every day. "Of course, when you drive a Porsche, speeding fines are inevitable," he said.
They were like a red rag to a bull for David.