19th April 2019: Hawes to Keld – 11.8m

I dozed off about 8pm last night, but never got a decent period of sleep, thanks to the inconsiderate twat in the room next door who decided that full volume was the only way to listen to the TV. He/she was also one of those people who sleep with the TV on all night because I was woken several times in the night by what sounded like the BBC News channel, still at full volume. The other impairment to a decent night’s sleep were the pillows on the bed. They were made from some sort of white stone, artfully crafted to look like pillows, but there was no disguising their material, they were definitely stone-based!

I had an OK full English breakfast about 8.30, I finished it so it couldn’t have been that bad I guess. I was out the door and walking into a beautiful sunny day by 9.30. In comparison to yesterday, Hawes main street was blissfully quiet, just a few shopkeepers opening up and a delivery van unloading goods for the Spar. I like walking through towns before they wake up properly, they seem tidier without the bustle of people.

Sleepy Hawes

I was expecting today to be difficult. There are two big climbs, with a total of about 2,700 ft of ascent and I’m not feeling especially fit at the moment (⚠ major understatement alert), so I decided slow and easy was the key to making it. I set out with a full 2 litres of water in my hydration bladder and a 500cl bottle of Diet Coke that I’d bought yesterday and wasn’t prepared to throw away, so I would have it for lunch at the top of Great Shunner Fell. As it turns out I wished I’d been able to carry more water and there was some way to keep it cool.

The first mile or so across the fields out of Hawes were warm and I quickly had a sweat on, so I used my Buff as a bandana under my Tilley to catch the sweat before it ran into my eyes. That seemed to work and later in the day I pulled it down over my ears and upper neck to try and prevent sun burn on those exposed regions. As I crossed becks or found a source of clear water I would wet it and replace it. That feeling was awesome, lovely cold bandana on hot skin!

The ascent of Great Shunner Fell is easy enough, it’s a long grind with just a couple of steep bits, but the heat made it more difficult than I remember it being in the past. As I climbed I got a breeze though and that made a huge difference. It also dried out the sweat I was generating, so by the time I sat in the summit shelter I had a fine layer of salt across my face. 

The path ascending Great Shunner Fell

On the way up I stopped to take a break, by sitting on a handy boulder beside the path. Unfortunately it wasn’t as flat as it looked and I chose to put my back to the slope so I could look up hill toward the summit. The weight of my pack, combined with the slope of the hill and the angle of the boulder toppled me backwards off the rock and I only just managed to prevent a nasty fall by putting both hands behind me. I’m glad no one was around to hear the little scream of terror that erupted from me. I managed to flop ungainly onto my side and roll off without damage to anything other than my pride. I pressed on up the hill, looking for something flatter to sit on.

I could see quite a few people ahead of me on the path, two lines of people snaking their way along the path, flitting in and out of view as they passed through the peat haggs. I can stress about the strangest and smallest things and I began to wonder if there would be a free seat in the cross shelter on the summit when I arrived. They were about an hour ahead of me I guessed, so I persuaded myself that they would be long gone before I arrived. I thought they may be Duke of Edinburgh students or Scouts or something – that’s the usual explanation for large groups on the hills.

I soon reached the summit and much to my relief there was plenty of room in the shelter, in fact I was completely alone on the summit. The day had become hot, and although the views were extensive, the haze in the air reduced their length to only a dozen or so miles I guessed. I could make out Tan Hill Inn, which is about 7 or 8 miles as the crow flies and to the south I could see Whernside and Ingleborough.

Great Shunner Fell is now my most visited mountain summit

I sat down in the shelter and removed my shoes and socks. I had a couple of really sore spots on my left foot – the inside of the heel seemed to be getting rubbed by the point where my Superfeet insole met the inside of my shoe and the front of the ball of my foot was definitely developing a blister. There doesn’t seem to be any consistency with my feet anymore – I walked for 5 days in December, in the same shoes and same socks and in pouring rain, so my feet were never dry and yet I never had a problem with blisters – now this! I did some running repairs. I applied a couple of Compeed to the new blisters and reapplied the tube and tape to my little toe. It’s bizarre that it’s only my left foot that seems to a problem. The right foot is a bit sore, but it’s not blistering at all. I’m carrying too much weight of course (and I don’t mean in my pack) but it’s equally distributed across both feet!

After a few minutes and half way through my foot repairs, I was joined by an old guy who had walked up from Thwaite. He proceeded to give me his life story over the course of the next 30 minutes. He was enjoying a new lease of life after a cancer scare and wanted to walk the hills as much as possible. Good luck to him, I hope I’m still going when I get to his age. I drank my bottle of now warm Diet Coke as we chatted, but didn’t really feel like eating anything, despite the fact that it was about lunch time.

The old guy had said he was heading back to Thwaite, and as I didn’t really want to walk back down with him I made my excuses and left him to his coffee, and an impressive assortment of chocolate biscuits! As I headed down the hill I passed quite a few people on their way up. I stopped and chatted to one guy, who said he’d just moved into Thwaite and was exploring the hills around his new home. He was planning on getting to Shunner then heading across the open moor to the Buttertubs pass then heading up Lovely Seat and finding a path down to Muker. He asked me if I thought it was feasible and I told him I’d done the same walk but in reverse a few years ago and as long as he didn’t mind bashing across open moorland and maybe climbing a couple of walls it would be fine, in fact a great walk on a wonderful day! He had a long way to go but he seemed confident enough. He thanked me for the advice and plodded off towards the summit.

My left foot was still sore, despite the plasters I’d applied and that was before I met the track that takes you from the open fellside, down into Thwaite! It’s an absolute bugger; steep in places and great lengths of it are surfaced in big nasty, pointy stones which always kill my feet, even when they aren’t already suffering. As I descended along the track I was trying to think if there’s a worse 1 mile section of footpath anywhere in the Dales – I don’t think there is!

I hadn’t felt like eating when I was in the shelter, despite it being lunch time, and now I began to feel odd. My hands were shaking and although I still wasn’t hungry I forced down a packet of sugary sweets I always have in my pack. I still didn’t feel great, but I thought it was probably a lack of food causing a drop in blood sugars. I’d not really eaten much yesterday either. 

I made it to Thwaite, like you do, just putting one foot in front of the other and thinking about the drink that’s coming. I was trying to decide between a pint of ice cold Diet Coke, or a pot of tea. The Coke won easily and I added a bag of Seabrooks crisps, not because I wanted them, but because I thought I should eat something. The Kearton was packed, there must have been 30-40 teenagers in there, with all their packs lined up outside. I guessed these were the group of people I’d seen earlier heading for the summit of Shunner. I got served quickly enough, despite the crowds, and I later discover they were Army cadets doing some run or other. Rather them than me in this heat and with those packs too!

I was feeling more hydrated, but not especially great as I set out from the pub, with the ascent of Kisdon to do. It’s a ferocious little hill, steep as anything but I only had 3 miles to do and loads of time to do it. I plodded, really quite slowly, up the hill, taking frequent breaks on handy boulders. I had intended to refill my hydration bladder in the pub, but completely forgot and now I was worried about running out. The temperature was rising, my exertion levels were rising and my water level was falling, rapidly. I wasn’t prepared to drink directly from the couple of streams I passed, but I did wet my bandana and that helped.

Field barn on the track up the side of Kisdon
Steep climb up Kisdon
Across the top of Kisdon, with expansive views and a great path

Kisdon is a modest limestone lump, covered in heather and criss-crossed by dry stone walls, sitting beside the Swale, between Muker and Keld. It was formed during the last ice age, around 10-20,000 years ago as glaciers carved out the valleys surrounding it. As the glaciers retreated, the debris left behind blocked the previous course of the Swale, to the south of Kisdon, and found its current course, around the north of the hill. Early maps of the area, dating back to the 18th century refer to the hill as Kisdon Island. Looking at the current OS
map, it’s easy to understand why.

The Swale Way, Stuart W. Greig

There’s a very popular circular walk that runs between Muker and Keld, taking in the River Swale and a couple of different paths around Kisdon. I met dozens of people walking this route and was stopped at one point by a couple and their young daughter who asked about the surrounding hills. I pointed out what I knew and made my excuses. I was in need of a cold drink and I could almost see my destination, Keld, nestled in the gentle folds of Swaledale below me.

On my arrival, I headed straight for Keld Lodge and ordered two pints of Diet Coke – I drank the first one as the landlord was pouring the second. I booked a table for a meal later and after I downed the second pint I headed for my accommodation for the evening.

I’m staying in Butt House B&B, a lovely place with the most welcoming hosts of anywhere I’ve ever stayed. I had a fantastic shower, not just compared to the one last night, but unqualified fantastic. The difference a good shower can make is amazing. Amazingly there were no other long distance walkers in the B&B that night – just a couple of groups of friends who were staying in the area.

I drifted back over to the Lodge about 5.30 and had a cracking meal; braised beef and potatoes with a puff pastry floater that was wonderful, but I couldn’t finish it. Even though I knew I probably should. I’m feeling somewhat better for the food and hydration, but still not top of my game. I’m hoping a good nights sleep will see my right in the morning.

The food in Keld Lodge is excellent and the portions are huge!

I’m staying at Butt House for two nights, so tomorrow I can leave the bulk of my gear in my room and just carry water and my first aid kit. The weather forecast says I don’t need waterproofs or cold weather gear. In fact I’ve been carrying a long sleeve baselayer but not needed it so far. I’ve walked in short sleeve lightweight Merino vest and my trusty soft shell and still been too warm. I’ve found in the past though, that my pack chafes my back when I only use one layer, the sweat build up beneath the pack basically rubs my back raw, so even in the hottest weather I still use two layers.

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