C2C 2011: Day Six

17th June 2011 – Reeth to Keld – 11.4 miles

Note: Apologies, but there are no photos for the two days between Reeth and Kirkby Stephen – for some unknown reason the bloody camera hasn’t been writing them to the memory card. The card is readable and the camera has been making all the right noises etc., but I’ve just checked and there’s nothing since arriving in Reeth – I’m absolutely bloody furious with the camera and myself of course – but there you have it – no photos. Which also means I’ll forget a load of things I saw and did, people I spoke to etc., because the photos I take are all little reminders of them. The pictures on the next two pages are from previous C2C walks.

The noisy toilet had me up at silly o’clock and I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I flicked on the TV and listened out for the weather forecast from the BBC. It sounded bleak – showers expected all day with winds increasing in the afternoon – great.

I was down at breakfast at 08:00 and settled on tea and toast, the place seemed quite empty – in fact I’d noticed Vacancy signs on most of the places in the village – it has lots of beds, but even so I would have expected it to be a little busier at this time of the year. I had to wait a while before I could pay my bill – no-one to man reception while breakfast was being prepared.

I was out and walking by 09:00. There was absolutely no rush today – I only had 12 miles or so to do. The weather forecast had put me off doing my alternative high level route. I’d planned to divert up and over Great Pinseat, a fairly grim and featureless hill, but one I personally really like. However, that would add distance and height I didn’t really need to do in potentially bad weather. I did still want to go high though. The lower route along the Swale has a lot to offer, but I love the desolation and barren vistas offered over Melbecks and Gunnerside Moors, so I was determined to do the usual high route; past Surrender and Old Gang.

Surrender Bridge

Surrender Bridge

Remains of the smelt mill at Surrender Bridge

Remains of the smelt mill at Surrender Bridge

Old Gang Mill

Old Gang Mill

I settled on a compromise ensemble of baselayer and Paramo jacket – no waterproof trousers – so at least I would be dry on top and the trousers are pretty quick drying, so no huge problems. As it was it didn’t rain at all – and the wind was fairly light all day – and at my back – which is the first time yet. I’m becoming a little dismayed at how bad the weather forecasts have been recently.

I used a footpath through the fields west of Reeth to gain some altitude this morning – they looked familiar and I reckon I must have used the same path on a previous circular walk a while ago – the idea had been to gain height gently, rather than the usual path that hugs the Swale all the way to Healaugh and then heads steeply up the hill to reach the 4WD drive track beside Nova Scotia.

My route was great, lots of field boundaries and their tiny stiles and gates, but lovely and quiet and I didn’t see a soul once I left Reeth behind. I found a couple wandering around at Surrender Mill, but they weren’t walking, just having a stroll from their car. I met the first wester of the day at Old Gang Smelt Mill, he’d set out early from the campsite at Keld and had made pretty good time, he was heading for Richmond, so I recommended the Reeth Bakery as a lunch stop and wished him well.

The beauty of today was that I needed no map – even more so than yesterday afternoon I knew this route like an old friend and could have walked it blindfolded. I gained height along the track until I reached the old Stone Crusher on Melbecks Moor. I was tempted to take a break here, but I was still a little worried about the forecasted showers, so I thought I’d make hay while I could, before the rain came and see what happened. I met no-one at Blakethwaite ruins and it wasn’t until I started to climb out of the valley up to Lownathwaite that I encountered my next westers.

Stone crusher sits in the vast moonscape of spoil heaps

Stone crusher sits in the vast moonscape of spoil heaps

More lead mine remains at Blakethwaite Mill

More lead mine remains at Blakethwaite Mill

I met a trio of older walkers – sticking to the guide book no matter what happened. I’d recommended a slightly easier exit from the valley for them, but they weren’t having it – Martin Wainwright knew best and that was an end of the matter. I passed a pair of female walkers a couple of minutes later – they didn’t even acknowledge my presence – I just don’t understand that attitude!

At the huge ugly sheepfold at Lownathwaite I decided to rest for a while. I found shelter from the increasingly strong wind in a grouse butt beside the path and enjoyed a sausage roll and a Diet Coke – and watched two more trios of walkers pass by. And that was it for westers – 12 in total – all day. That means there must be a huge number who took the Swaledale path instead of the high route. Keld has about 30 beds and another possibly 20 campers – so out of a possible maybe 50 people – only 12 came the high way. Maybe that was to do with the weather forecast and maybe it’s just that the guide books emphasise how lovely the Swale route is – I’ve no idea.

I took my time after my lunch break and sauntered along the track, down East Grain, past Swinner Gill ruins and down to Crackpot Hall. Here I met a group of three easters – that now makes six of us that I know about. They’d gone the lower route along the Swale and said they’d seen only a few people too. We walked together into Keld – a father and his late-twenties daughter and another older male companion, with a straw cowboy hat on! They’d all prepared for the wet forecast too and had been hot and sweaty all day as a result. Bloody weather guessers.

The old packhorse bridge in Swinner Gill

The old packhorse bridge in Swinner Gill

They were off to Tan Hill and stopped at the phone box to call the landlord to arrange for a lift. I headed to Keld Lodge for a shower and a drink. I was fairly sure that even at 2:15pm I’d be able to get into my room.

I walked in with a couple of westers who were just arriving from Kirkby Stephen and we all got the usual warm welcome from mein-host Tony. He showed us to the drying room – which the other two guys were glad of – and then our rooms.

Keld Lodge

Keld Lodge

By 2:30 I was back down in the bar. There was a guy in full army combat gear, with the biggest pack I’ve seen in ages, sitting at the bar nursing a pint. Tony said he was off to Reeth in a minute and he needed some route advice. I offered help, but the guy said he was going to hoof it along the road as he’d had enough of navigation today – having made something of a whopper from Kirkby Stephen and missed the Nine Standards completely and ending up on the road instead.

The younger of the two guys who’d arrived with me came down and we all stood at the bar chatting. We were joined 10 minutes later by another chap, a Ukrainian. The three guys all knew each other – part of the same bubble – but I wasn’t excluded from the conversation. We spent the next 6 hours getting to know each other very well. Nick the Army Medic, after 7 or 8 pints, decided not to hump it to Reeth and when we told him there was a lovely campsite at the bottom of the village he seemed quite content to sit, drink and chat.

He had started out from St. Bees with the idea of bettering his friends crossing time of 10 days. His friend had set the time several years earlier when he was 18 and Nick had decided to try and get across in 8 days, carrying all his gear and camping. He’d done a couple of pretty big days, but he certainly wasn’t 18 anymore and I got the impression he was quite glad to admit defeat and take a more relaxed pace to the end.

John – a botanist with aspirations to be an entomologist – was walking with his Dad, who was still upstairs having a little kip. Alan the Ukrainian was a 30 year old retired financial advisor who was immediately christened Boris the Banker. He was spending a year walking the great paths of the world – although he was getting a little bored and was considering going back to work!! Jammy sod.

I’m not a big drinker – the occasional drink on a weekend with the wife – so the first 4 or 5 pints of Black Sheep were something of a shock to my system – a nice shock, but after that I decided to switch to whiskies, just to slow the pace down. I’m not sure if this actually helped or made things worse. It’s a lot easier to nurse a pint than it is to nurse a single malt.

Alan, AKA Boris the Banker

Alan, AKA Boris the Banker

The beer flowed easily and everyone was eager to buy the rounds – and Tony was literally rubbing his hands behind the bar as we all fought to throw our money at him. Then, in a moment of entrepreneurial brilliance, he produced a large box of cigars from under the counter. He spun a story (I’m guessing it’s a story, but that could be unfair) that his brother-in-law had come back from Cuba and had brought Tony this box of hand-rolled Havana cigars as a present. Unfortunately Tony had just given up smoking and although he accepted the gift he wasn’t about to fall off the wagon to smoke them. So he asked us if we’d like to buy one. “These are hand-rolled Cuban cigars” he said “You’d pay a small fortune for one of these in a tobacconist in London”. “I’ll let you have them for £40 each”. I nearly gagged on my Highland Park – which would have been an expensive splutter.

Boris haggled with him quietly, in hushed tones, rolling one of the 8-inch monsters between his fingers, listening to the result and smelling it carefully. He seemed to know what he was doing. They agreed a price and Tony went off to find a cutter. It was getting late-ish and Boris took the cigar outside to smoke it. He spent over an hour out there – in the cold evening – waving through the window occasionally with his empty glass; at which Tony would wander out with another large Highland Park.

Boris returned, much later, looking very pleased with himself, although a bit blue and dithering slightly.

All in all we had a great evening – Keld still living up to my view of it as the social hub of the C2C. Last year the C2Cers in Butt House had welcomed me, an outside walking the Pennine Way, with open arms, now these three chaps were doing exactly the same thing. Nick had dinner with us even though he wasn’t a guest and once again the kitchen at Keld Lodge did a grand job. The food is well cooked and they use very good ingredients – the only thing I would say is that you don’t get loads of it.

By 23:00 I was bladdered, the daily blog was long forgotten, considerations for tomorrow’s excursions over Nine Standards completely ignored, but never let it be said that I don’t know when to stop drinking. I went to bed happy and merry. Thankfully, Keld Lodge is a peaceful oasis and I slept soundly until the alarm at 07:15.

Apparently Keld Lodge is up for sale – if you have £850,000 to spare and fancy a thriving business in the best village in the Dales then give Tony a call. He did say he would only sell it as a business, so there’s no danger of the village losing the hotel, which will be a huge relief to all C2Cers, Pennine Wayers, Herriot Wayers and all the other walkers who visit the place.

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