Wetheral to Armathwaite – 9.5 miles
I patched the biggest and most painful blister with one of my two Compeeds and left the others to their own devices – it would have to do. I limped my way down to breakfast at 7.30 only to be told that they didn’t start serving until 8am. I did try and make the point that that was almost an early lunch for a long distance walker, but I was met with a dull gawp, I think she must have had an irony deficiency.
I tried again at 8am, only to find myself at the back of a queue of people all waiting to be served at the little sign that says ‘wait here to be served’. I was eventually shown to a table by a wizened old waitress who I felt I should have been helping rather than the other way round. In the end breakfast was OK. All the right stuff was on the menu and you could ‘build your own’ if you were so inclined. I almost choked on my tea when I noticed on the menu card that a cooked breakfast cost £12.95! I’ve been in 4 star London hotels with cheaper breakfasts than that. I made sure I had my money’s worth and waddled back to my room feeling a bit like Mr Creosote from the Meaning of Life, before the wafer thin mint.
I only had 10 miles to do today and the weather forecast suggested it should be a pretty good day, cold but clear with only a small chance of rain. It was certainly cold as I set out, down to the river, which I’d hardly seen anything of yesterday, and which I knew I’d be next to nearly all of today. I immediately found the third Eden Benchmark, a winged bench right beside the river, a perfect spot for a break, if I hadn’t started out two minutes earlier. The path hugs the river here, and is very popular with dog walkers, it ducks in and out of the woods and is quite lovely, I imagine even more so in the summer.
At a fork in the path I found a small sign that pointed me down to Constantines Cells, a point of interest I’d been looking out for, so followed the narrow path with its steep drop off to the left, down to a flight of stone steps. The Cells are a series of three chambers that have been carved out of the sandstone cliffs. There are windows looking out over the river so it’s not quite as dark and dingy as you’d imagine. I wouldn’t want to spend any more time in there than I needed to mind you, it’s okay for a visit, but not to stop.
The path was almost exclusively through woodland today, varied woods too, some deciduous and some conifers, some paths dry and needle strewn, some soggy and muddy from little becks running down from the high ground to the right. The river has become slightly narrower as I’ve proceeded too and there’s much more white water now, its making itself heard like it hasn’t so far – it seems to be developing a personality.
In one wooded section I came across a huge tree which had fallen across the path, completely blocking it. It was so big it was blocking the slope to the right too and it’s top was in the river, so there was no easy way round it. There looked to be about a two foot gap beneath the trunk, which was ridiculous, so I tried to climb the bank to cut up and around it. The bank was muddy and slippy and I eventually gave up trying to make any progress in that direction. I looked at the gap again, it didn’t look quite so ridiculous now. I took my pack off and pushed it through ahead of me and commando crawled under the tree, after it. I now have muddy knees and elbows so it looks like I’ve been up to no good in the woods, but it was still better than walking beside the A69 yesterday!
A little further along and the woods gave out to a long narrow field with a tractor quite literally ploughing a lonely furrow, the field must have been nearly a mile long and 200 yards wide, it must take him weeks to plough it! That was one of the only motor vehicles I encountered today (I met a farmer and a very pretty girl on a quad bike later), such a difference from yesterday’s section.
I found a seriously impressive river bank renovation / recovery project in Edenbrows Wood, on the approach to Armathwaite. A huge area of land had been covered in thick netting, securing stones and earth beneath it. Huge piles of rocks had been placed right beside the river and new trees planted, all presumably to protect the bank from erosion. All along the river so far there have been obvious signs of flooding and some sections have tons of plastic rubbish high up the bank and even hanging in trees. Erosion has been obvious in many places but nothing on the scale of what must have happened here. All rivers suffer from flooding at times and it was apparent on both my walks beside the Swale and the Ure, but I think the Eden has shown the most signs of what excess water levels can produce.
I chatted for a while with another angler, about to wade out and hunt for salmon. Amongst other things he told me he used to live in Wetheral and as a child, during WW2, he remembered them cutting down the railings outside the post office, to help make Spitfires. I told him I was walking the Eden and he genuinely sounded jealous, ‘what a great undertaking’ he said. He told me someone had caught a 28lb salmon the day before on that stretch of river. He said he wasn’t sure it should count ‘as the boy had been spinning’ – I said I had no idea what that meant but it sounded nefarious. He pointed to his rod and said the guy hadn’t been fly fishing! I was tempted to ask him if he was J.R. Hartley, but he was a great old boy and I didn’t want to upset him, so I wished him luck, ‘luck’s got nowt to do wi’ it’ he called and we said our farewells.
Two miles out from Armathwaite and the wooded paths ended, I was back on tarmac for a while, but at least it was quiet, a farm track leading to a camp site, which was probably just opening for the start of the summer season. That soon led to a minor road and even then I don’t think more than a couple of cars went by. That’s what road walking should be like!
Earlier this morning, while trying to process my massive breakfast, I’d had another look at the map and tried to select an alternative route to the one I used yesterday. I think I may have found one. It doesn’t spend much time beside the Eden, but then nor did the one I walked, but it uses more footpaths and fewer roads and the roads it does use are minor lanes and not likely to be used by juggernauts! It does mean I need to come back soon and rewalk that section, but it will be worth it to avoid yesterday’s section.
Anyway, back to the path. About a mile out of Armathwaite I left the road, choosing to use a footpath that runs parallel to it, taking me through fields and past the train station into the village. About 10 minutes before the end it began to rain, ever so slightly and I arrived at the Fox and Pheasant just in time, exactly at 2pm, which is the earliest time I can check-in.
I’m already not very happy with the Fox and Pheasant. There is no WiFi – apparently its been disconnected, but that’s not really acceptable nowadays. I get a faint mobile signal in my room, but nothing in the bar area. So I’m sitting in my room, which is like a feckin’ ice box, I’m literally dithering while I write this up, the radiator is on, but not producing any heat! So I’m going to post this and then go down and get warm. Unfortunately the bar area, although warm, doesn’t have any comfortable seating, it’s all wooden chairs or old church pews. That’s my whinge for the day.
I’ve fallen out of love with Twitter over the last few months, but a comment in yesterday’s blog, picked up and shared by a friend, has generated a fantastic series of tweets and kept me giggling all day as more and more people added their opinions. Who knew that my position on beans for breakfast would generate so much interest and basically split the waking community into two sides; with 99% of people agreeing with me, that they have no place on the breakfast menu and PilgrimChris standing alone on the opposite side!
— PilgrimChris (@PilgrimChris) March 29, 2018