C2C 2006: Day Nine

8th May 2006 – Richmond to Ingleby Cross – 24 miles

The plumbing at Willance House leaves a lot to be desired, hardly surprising I suppose from what is reported to be the oldest house in the town. However, the en-suite bathrooms pass all their waste water through electric shredders that make a hell of a noise when they kick in. Despite this I got a reasonable nights sleep and woke at about the usual time of 06:00, I had arranged breakfast for 07:30 so I had plenty of time to back my Sherpa bag and restock my pack with what I needed for the day.

I was the only person in the dining room at breakfast. I went for a slimmer option than usual, settling for just bacon and eggs with tea and toast on the side. The lighter load early in the morning makes for easier walking and doesn’t seem to impact my energy levels. The bacon was the best of any on the trip, just the right amount of crisp to it.

My feet were feeling generally OK, the Compeed really did feel like a second skin, which was going to be important today with the amount of road walking involved. I had considered using my trail shoes today, but my boots had served me well so far and it seemed like tempting fate to switch footwear at this stage.

I left the B&B at 08:01, the weather was looking much improved on the previous day, clear and dry but the sun was not too hot and there was no wind to speak of. Perfect walking weather. Looking at the map the previous night I could see I faced a choice this morning. I could cut about a mile off the day’s route by leaving Richmond on the A6136, which was right next to the B&B. Alternatively I could take the usual route and follow the river westward to Richmond Bridge and then take to the wooded path along the south bank and pick up the A6136. It had been a fairly easy decision, even though the thought of 23 miles was a little daunting, as I had never walked that distance in one go before, I decided that taking shortcuts sort of defeated the object of the walk.

I headed down to the river and past the falls, passing under the high walls of the castle perched on the hillside above the path, the air above me was still laden with a light mist and I got an atmospheric picture of the castle from Richmond Bridge as I crossed over to the southern bank. The path hugs the Swale for a short time before heading across fields to meet the main road for a short while. After leaving the road you pass one of the many sewage works on the C2C path – I haven’t counted them but there must be nearly a dozen scattered across the length of the path.

The paths and tracks were flat and easy and navigation wasn’t a problem at all today and I made good time to the first notable landmark of the day, arriving at Catterick Bridge at 09:40, which is 5.6 miles from the start according to my GPS. Just before you get to Catterick Bridge you have to negotiate what is in my opinion the worst section of the whole walk – the tunnel under the A1(M). This is dirty, noisy and smelly as you would expect from a motorway underpass, but is completely out of context from any other part of this walk, even the bridge over the M6 and the crossing of the A19 (see later).

Catterick Bridge is a busy little junction with plenty of vehicles buzzing around, but this was soon behind me as I left the road immediately after crossing the bridge and once again hugged the banks of the glorious Swale. This is followed for another mile before I angled away from the Swale towards Bolton-on-Swale (which is actually not on the Swale at all – perhaps it once was?). This little hamlet is notable only for its impressive church and the monument contained within its graveyard, that of Henry Jenkins. I’m not sure I really believe that he could have lived to the age of 169, certainly not in those days, when the life expectancy of a man was significantly less than it is now. It is however, one of the “must see” landmarks of the walk and I duly ticked the box and headed on towards Danby Wiske.

The path now follows the much smaller water course of Bolton beck for about a mile, which is crossed after about 1/2 a mile on a fantastic old crumbling bridge (picture above) just before Laylands Farm. Half a mile further on the path meets the road for the first time proper and I angled away from the Swale for the last time, a sad farewell to a river which I had been following for almost three days. Approximately 6 miles of road walking, mostly uneventful, with almost no other people or cars about, took me to Danby Wiske. The weather by now was glorious, the sun was shining and the temperature was rising steadily.

The road walking was not a problem, they were quiet country lanes, often bordered by grass verges so there was no need to walk on the tarmac, and surrounded by beautiful green fields and many bright yellow fields of Oilseed Rape. I even walked across a couple of fields which were completely carpeted in dandelions, almost as if that were a crop being grown by the farmer. I have never seen such a profusion of these weeds in a field before. Goodness knows what the surrounding areas are like when they all turn to seed – it must be like the winter snows have come early.

I arrived in Danby Wiske at 12:00 exactly, 14.5 miles from Richmond, expecting to find the White Swan just opening its doors. Since Wainwright’s original scathing comments about DW and the White Swan in particular it was reputed to have responded well and started to provide much better refreshments for travellers. I was disappointed to find the pub door shut, but the jiggle I gave the handle must have alerted the landlady as she opened the door and allowed me in. She did however shut and bolt the door behind me. Apparently she can’t afford to open the pub at lunch time as the passing trade will not pay for the bar and kitchen staff, and she is busy cleaning and preparing the rooms for the B&B side of the business. She served me a pint of Diet Coke and we chatted while she sorted the laundry from the previous night. She told me she is looking to sell the pub and perhaps move back into her previous career in IT. I finished my drink, said my farewells and resumed my path through the village. About 100 yards further on from the pub is a little B&B on the corner which has turned its front garden into a tea room. Jean Norris has filled the hole left by the White Swan and now serves tea and cakes to the slow but steady stream of weary travellers who do pass through Danby Wiske.

Who should I find there, drinking tea and eating sandwiches but Gareth and Deirdre. They had arrived about 10 minutes earlier and seen the pub closed and wandered round to Jean’s tea room instead. I forced myself into a second refreshment stop in less than 200 yards and joined them for a while. Jean was very friendly and most pleased to show us her name in print. Country Walking’s Coast to Coast diary included a mention of Jean’s establishment and the great work she is doing to keep Danby Wiske’s reputation hovering just above the original one it gained from Wainwright in the early 1970’s.

As we left Jean’s a large group of walkers straggled into the village, bypassing the pub and going straight to Jean’s. G&D told me they had pipped this huge group to a style in Brompton earlier in the day and were glad that they hadn’t had to queue up behind them to cross it. I didn’t know it yet but this was my first encounter with the Thundering Herd.

By 12:30 we were walking again, fully refreshed with only about 9 miles to the Blue Bell in Ingleby Cross where I was staying and about 10 miles (or so they thought) to the B&B in Ellerbeck where G&D were lodging for the night. The route was now mainly paths and fields with a few roads in between, rather than the all-out roadwalking we had seen so far that day. After an hour or so we crossed a railway track – literally crossed it – no bridge, no level crossing, just look left and right and cross the tracks. I haven’t done that since I was a boy, Health and Safety laws seem to have prohibited most of these crossings. I was tempted to do the Cowboys and Indians trick of listening to the rails for a train, but I mercilessly crushed the child inside of me and pushed on.

I remember that by the time we got to Sydal Lodge, which is 21.5 miles into the day I was beginning to flag a bit, the day was very warm, my feet were sweaty and I would gladly have sold my Mother into slavery for a litre of ice cold water. I almost counted the paces in that mile to the petrol station on the A19, which we reached at 15:00. I bought some Lucozade and water for tomorrow but didn’t spend much time in the shop as it was oppressively hot inside.

We crossed the A19 after a couple of minutes wait in the central reservation and wandered down through Ingleby Arncliffe, past the old water tower and into Ingleby Cross and the Blue Bell. G&D sat down outside in the sun while I went in to check in and get some drinks. I returned with two pints of blackcurrant and lemonade and a bottle of sparkling mineral water, all of which cost me £2, a pound less than the single pint of B&L I’d bought in Grasmere!

G&D finished their drinks and headed off to their B&B (when we next met up they told me they walked for another hour before they got to it, they reckoned they’d done over 26 miles by the time they got there – poor sods!). My room was in a block adjacent to the pub, but it was an en-suite room, small but clean and functional. I showered and rested for a while before going back into the pub to get a drink. I was told there would be no food until 19:00, that was three hours away and I was famished, so I walked back up to the garage on the A19 as Stedman’s book says there is a cafe there. It used to be a Little Chef, but that has long since closed and the little truck stop cafe out the back had closed at 15:00, so I wandered the 1/2 mile back to the Blue Bell to wait for dinner.

I was sitting outside the pub with my lovely smooth pint of Theakston’s XB when a couple of guys came over to chat. It turns out they were part of the group of 12 who I had seen earlier in DW. They were a group of Rotary Club members and associated friends from Cockermouth doing the C2C in 11 days. They had originally been 11 guys, but they had “adopted” an aussie girl (Ada) at Haweswater who was struggling with her pack and had injured her knee. They had split the girl’s kit between them – she was camping so had everything on her back – and she now camped outside whatever accommodation they guys had booked along the way. They were all trying to be complete gentlemen towards this very attractive young girl who was “paying her way” by giving occasional leg massages as she was training to be a physiotherapist.

The guys introduced themselves individually, but I only picked up a couple of names, Peter, Mel, John, Dave (sorry guys I’m terrible with names), but collectively they had been named the Thundering Herd by an American guy who had been startled by them as they overtook him at some point. They seemed unnaturally proud of this epithet but it was very apt.

I can’t remember how we got onto the topic of cheek chafe, or who initiated it, but for ages I had thought I was a lone sufferer. It’s not until you walk in a large group that you find that so many other people also suffer from that uncomfortable walkers’ affliction. I put it down to having large arse cheeks that sweat and then rub together, producing a nasty chafe by the end of the day. But some of the sufferers within the Thundering Herd (TH) were skinny blokes so they didn’t have that problem. Needless to say we all had our own remedies, I personally apply a light coating of antiseptic cream at the start of the day as a preventative and then again after a shower at night as a soothative. One of the TH recommended talcum powder and another was using Vaseline. They even had a candid photograph of the best application technique.

The food in the Blue Bell, was well worth the wait, I had probably one of the best steaks I have had in the UK that night, washed down with Theakston’s XB. The place was packed as well, there must be a number of B&B’s within walking distance as we had the Ferrymen and driver, the TH members who hadn’t been able to get into the Blue Bell as well as a number of other couple doing the C2C. Top that off with the locals and the pub was packed.

The noise from the pub doesn’t permeate to the rooms, so I was in bed early and slept undisturbed all night.

Tonight’s Accommodation

The Blue Bell Inn

The Blue Bell is a story of two halves; very basic (but functional) accommodation on one side with superb food and beer on the other.

Smallish single room (No. 3) with measly dribble from the shower head and only a little room to sort kit and unpack stuff. But certainly not the smallest on the C2C by any means. Double bed, drawers, bed side table, small table 2 chairs and plenty of plug sockets.

Fortunately I arrived before it shut for the afternoon and was surprised at the soft drink prices (2 pints of blackcurrant and lemonade and a sparkling mineral water for £2!! Compare that with 1 pint of blackcurrant and lemonade at the Travellers Rest outside Grasmere for £2.95!!!)

The best steak I have had in a long time and some excellent Theakstons XB on tap to wash it down with. It was packed with walkers as it’s the only pub around and lively atmosphere was the result.

Breakfast was the liveliest and one of the best on the C2C especially as there were so many of us around the large communal-style table.