Coast to Coast 2006 – Day 6

5th May 2006 – Kirkby Stephen to Keld – 12 miles

I was awake very early, 06:00, long before the alarm I had set, but there was no rush today, breakfast was ordered for 08:00 and I spent a lazy couple of hours performing ablutions and sorting kit for the day.

I shared a table at breakfast with a group of four guys (including two Phil’s I seem to remember) all doing the C2C, although not in one go. They were doing the middle section this year, having completed the western third the year before and planning on the eastern section next year. I didn’t say anything, but I personally don’t think you can have claimed to have done the C2C when it was done in three sections. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to spend two whole weeks walking and for this I thank my very understanding wife, who although she doesn’t walk, does encourage me to do so. Cynics among you will draw your own deductions from that I’m sure.

My own approach to the C2C is probably a bit extreme, but when I started out planning the route I was determined that I would not use any form of transport other than my own feet from the minute I arrived at St. Bees to the point at which I left RHB for home. This included lifts to nearby pubs or B&B’s if they were “off route”. In that respect I was quite lucky, the furthest off route I had to go was Clay Bank Top and that’s only 3/4 of a mile.

I enjoyed another excellent breakfast, starting with fruit again and followed by bacon, egg, sausage, fried bread and the first black pudding of the walk so far. If the quality of the breakfast is anything to go by, the evening meal at the Old Croft House is well worth booking.

I must admit that after three hard days through the Lakes and yesterday’s 19 miles I was really looking forward to a shorter day. The downside was that at the end of the day I would be half way to RHB and I was really enjoying this – I didn’t want to think about finishing, but that’s inevitably what the half way mark prompts. The upside was that I was entering the Yorkshire Dales, that splendid land of wide sweeping rivers and rolling green hills criss-crossed with dry stone walls and punctuated with barns.

I often wondered what made it necessary for Dales’ farmers to build all those hundreds of field barns, when the rest of the country seems to have got by without them. Answers on a postcard please!

With only 12 miles to do today a late start was not a problem. The night before at dinner G&D and I had all agreed to walk together for the day, not least because we were all sharing the same B&B that night in Keld. East View only holds three people, so it was good to know I wouldn’t be staying with complete strangers.

We met up at Frank’s Bridge and followed the River Eden east for a short while before crossing the fields into the little village of Hartley. This is an idyllic spot and the warm sunshine and bird song only added to the feel of the place. Already it was clear that today was going to be a hot one. Five minutes the other side of Hartley the landscape is distorted by a huge quarry, from where we could here blasting almost all the way to the top of Nine Standards.

The road up to, and the path across Hartley Fell afforded superb views in all directions, there was very little haze so visibility was not hampered as it had been during the sunny periods through the Lakes. The land was still not really green though, spring had only really arrived a week or two ago and was still trying to establish itself. We passed the carved wooden memorial chair offering us to “rest a while”, which G&D did to allow me to take their photo.

The path to the top meanders across the Fell, but it is well marked with cairns and there is little danger of losing the way. As it was now May, we were following the red route, which is marked with finger posts sporting letters picked out with red paint. The Coast to Coast signs are similarly marked in the appropriate colour depending on the time of year.

The path up to Nine Standards is not steep, like Kidsty it is more of a steady gradient to the highpoint of 2164 ft (at the trig point), the last few hundred yards are the steepest section, but the reward is already visible by that point and the incline pales into insignificance next to the cairns. We had been able to see the nine huge cairns almost from the point we left Hartley, they were very small and distant at that point and it’s difficult to comprehend them being mistaken for an encamped army, which is one theory for their creation.

Extensive “tidying up” has been carried out on five or six of the cairns, the outer stones have been re-laid to give them a much smoother finish. This process has yet to be completed on the others and I thought the unfinished ones looked a little more rustic and original than the sanitised ones. I can only presume (and hope) that this is done to extend the life of these magnificent creations, rather than some sort of public relations exercise. I have seen many photos of Nine Standards and it is clear that although fundamentally there have been nine large cairns on this hill for many generations, the actual shape and condition of the individuals has changed greatly in this time.

Some wag has also built a couple of chairs in the dry stone manner, one large and one small, allowing visitors to sit and look back on their path from Kirkby Stephen, I doubt, however, that they will still be there in 200 years time.

We were overflown by a pair of Eurofighter jets who circled and dived for several minutes, before making a slow, nose up, pass across the Rigg either side of a small propeller driven light aircraft. Whether they were having sport with the poor guy in the Cesna or whether he was part of their training exercise I could not tell. They were later joined by a Harrier who dived low across the Eden Valley.

I bagged the trig point at Nine Standards, this is looking a bit dishevelled now with the flush bracket missing and the stones from which it is made (unlike most trig pillars which are concrete) looking distinctly loose. I was expecting the path from this point on to be very boggy, although I had never been here before I had read many horror stories of the Nine Standards Haggs. We were all pleasantly surprised though, the path was mainly dry, with only a few waterlogged sections that we could easily skirt around. We left Nine Standards with dry feet and I had not needed the gaiters I had packed just in case.

The sun, by now, was very hot and I’d had to resort to my awful sunhat to protect my neck and face from getting too badly burned. Rather that though than applying suncream, which I will do anything to avoid, even get burnt.

There is a splendid cairn on the path down from Nine Standards, it stands in front of fine views out over Birkdale Common and Coldbergh Side. The Millstones pillar is 8 feet high and very well constructed, almost cylindrical all the way to its full height with tightly fitting stones. It is also pictured in Wainwright’s guide.

Shortly after the pillar the sometimes indistinct path meets a very distinct track which supports the numerous grouse butts that are scattered across the landscape. Walking here after the glorious 12th must be a noisy affair if the number of these butts is anything to go by. This track leads down to Whitsun Dale, which is a glorious river valley through which flows Whitsundale Beck. The most interesting feature of the valley is the bridge across the beck, I’m not sure if this qualifies as a packhorse bridge or not, but the nearby farm has had a concrete ford built right next to the bridge to provide access for modern day farm machinery.

We crossed the beck and walked up through the farm, past a decaying cat (we think) atop a gate post and out onto pasture land at the base of the fell. We stopped at an old barn and dipped into our respective lunch boxes, the sun beating down now and making me feel particularly lethargic. I didn’t sit down at this break, on the basis that I might embarrass myself and fall asleep.

The path slopes very gradually downhill now, with one or two exceptions, all the way into Keld. It sticks reasonably close to the beck, whose waters are clear and brown, the colouring provided by the peaty soil from further upstream. It also means that you get a good view of the waterfalls at Wain Wath Force as you cross onto the road that runs into Keld. The signpost at this road junction is a list of the places we had already been and those ahead of us on the path; Kirkby Stephen, Keld, Reeth and Richmond. It also suggests that Keld is only a quarter of a mile ahead, whereas in reality my GPS recorded this distance as 0.6 miles.

We arrived in Keld at 14:00 and found the B&B on the “main street” opposite the post box. It was way too early to be knocking on the door though so we walked the short distance down to the green and the little village store and tea room. This is basically someone’s converted front room which has been converted into a small shop that sells some of the basics. It is also an off-licence, albeit with a limited selection, so if you want a drink with your meal in your B&B, this is the place to look.

We sat on the tables provided outside and enjoyed a drink and an ice-cream. The sun was very hot now and I was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable. I have a low burn threshold and didn’t want to suffer the next day from sitting exposed in the sun for too long today. I put my fleece on and walked down to the waterfall at Kisdon Force. It was more shaded by the stream and I found a spot under a tree and skimmed stones for a while.

I returned to the tea room about 15:00 and we were just going to check in at the B&B when the Gretna couple arrived. Neil and Winifred had another two or three miles to go as they were staying in Thwaite that night, but they stopped at the tea room for tea and cake and we chatted for an hour or so before they headed off and we made for our B&B. East View looks small from the outside and is no TARDIS. There are beds for 3, one single and one twin room, plus the room occupied by the hosts Margaret and her husband, who was actually away.

Margaret provided tea and cake when we arrived and the evening meal which was ready soon after we had showered and changed was splendid. G&D provided a bottle of wine which they had had the foresight to buy in KS the night before. Overall I liked East View, but it is a very intimate place, which could be uncomfortable if the three guests were not acquainted. The wooden floors conduct every sound in the house and all the bedrooms are located close to the first floor bathroom / toilet. The small guest lounge is well equipped with a TV and extensive video collection for those who need the fix.

I spent some time writing up the journal and was asleep for 22:30.

Tonight’s Accommodation

East View

A very intimate little B&B located next to the small village shop and green. A recent renovation with a modern pine interior makes for a clean and tidy property, but also one in which you can hear every noise made by the other occupants (and I do mean every noise!). This is probably quite acceptable for a group of three friends, but not quite the same with people you have never met before.

Small single room with single bed, chest of drawers, side table, no TV, tea or coffee but enough plug sockets to charge all my gadgets.

A splendid, three course, home cooked, evening meal is included in the price, making this reasonable value for money, although this would probably not be my first choice in Keld again.