4th May 2006 – Shap to Kirkby Stephen – 19 miles
As expected, after the previous afternoon’s tea, breakfast was excellent. G&D had requested breakfast at the same time and we later all agreed it was one of the best of the whole trip. I started with a superb homemade fruit salad and then moved on to the usual Full English, with sausage, egg, bacon, fried bread and lashings of tea and toast. I carried a great weight for the first hour or so .
Following breakfast and just as I was preparing to depart, Margaret asked me about the Walking Places web site, which I had mentioned to her the previous evening after browsing through the journals placed in her guest lounge. I gave her the details and also picked up the details of one of the journal author’s that Margaret had some contact with. This led to me spending a few minutes on her computer, trying to sort out a problem she had been suffering from for a few weeks. I must have that sort of “technical guru” look about me, as this happens quite a lot.
The weather didn’t look too promising, it was grey and overcast but warm and there was certainly some rain to come but I started out with my fleece on and waterproofs packed away. A day out of the sun was probably for the best anyway as I was a bit lobster looking from the previous afternoon.
As it was I got away for 08:20 and headed back up the road towards Shap for 100 yards or so and picked up the footpath next to the Greyhound that runs under the railway and across the fields to the footbridge over the M6. I spend a lot of time on this road, albeit a bit further south, so it was nice to walk over it for a change and see other drivers heading for work. The walk was turning out to be a fantastic experience, I wasn’t anything like as tired as I expected to be and the time alone during the day was very therapeutic. They say meditation is giving the front part of your brain something mundane to do while the back part winds down. Well this was my form of meditation, letting the front half concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other, while I sorted things out with the back half.
The landscape on the other side of the motorway is a little daunting, the Hardendale Quarry seems to have swallowed up huge tracts of land and the path almost seems to trespass across this busy environment. The huge quarry lorries dashing back and to along the access road certainly don’t care about your presence, unless it’s to try and scare the life out of you with their horns.
There used to be a trig point on Hardendale Nab, but that was consumed by the quarry a few years ago, so no point in diverting to look for that one, even if you could gain access to the compound.
The open country soon takes over again and I joined a long straight stony path leading away from the cluster of buildings called Oddendale. The geology is limestone based now and there are several small limestone pavements across which you must pick your way, the path sometimes difficult to follow over these as erosion is not as obvious as it is across the moorland.
Once you reach Crosby Ravensworth Fell however, the path is easy to follow as it is marked be a series of wooden posts topped with a cryptic C>C symbol. I could see a familiar pair of walkers about 20 minutes ahead of me now; G&D had managed to leave about half an hour before me while I was providing tech support services to Margaret.
As we crossed the Fell and passed Robin Hood’s Grave I gained a few minutes on them and as I approached the road leading to Orton the rain that had been spitting for 5 minutes turned heavier and more persistent so I took 5 minutes to put my waterproof trousers and coat on.
I had planned at this point, to cut across the new Open Access land to see the ancient settlement at Castle Folds, which appeared on Wainwright’s original walk, but was removed from later editions due to it being private property. With that restriction now removed I was hoping to bag the nearby trig point and see the vast expanse of limestone pavement before dropping down along the public footpath to Sunbiggin Tarn.
The weather however was now putting me off this plan, the clouds were looking heavy and the easier option of the paths and roads below Orton Scar seemed like a great idea. The walking is easy and the surroundings are pleasant and the rain didn’t really dampen my spirits. I caught up to G&D at Scarside (as opposed to Scar Side further back up the road) as they were checking the direction of the path in their guidebook.
They used a combination of Stedman and Hannon for directions during the day, often alternating between the two books. They liked the simplicity and clarity of the maps and diagrams in Stedman’s book, but preferred the descriptions and instructions in Hannon’s book, which seems to take Wainwright’s detailed and often hard to read maps and makes them more complex and even more difficult to read. Gareth also had the OS strip maps (OL33 and OL34) and a compass for backup.
G&D walked at almost the same pace as me, evidence of which I had seen for most of yesterday morning and this morning. Although I was walking solo, it’s often nice to have some company, especially if I don’t have to continually break my stride and slow down to maintain contact. They were amenable to walking together, so we set off across the fields towards Sunbiggin. The next few minutes revealed a unique feature of their Coast to Coast walk – at every gate they had to open, they would kiss. Apparently this tradition started out a while ago with kissing gates, but for the C2C they were determined to kiss at every gate (kissing gate or not!). I can imagine most of you are metaphorically sticking your fingers down your throat at this point, but I actually thought it was very romantic, especially from a couple who had been together for almost 20 years. Well done guys – keep it up .
The rain abated as we reached Tarn Moor and the sun became quite hot, so I stopped for a minute to pack away my rain gear and then walked on down to Sunbiggin Tarn. I was expecting flocks of birds of all varieties on the tarn, but although there were one or two, it wasn’t the sanctuary I was expecting. We stopped for 10 minutes and I popped some raisins and glugged my Lucozade, enjoying the unexpected sunshine. We then set out on the northerly loop around the tarn towards Mazon Wath (what a brilliant name) and the mile or so of road walking that follows.
At the cattle grid that signals the turn off towards Ewefell Mire, we came across a large group of walkers taking a rest by the wall. G&D have the same opinion of large groups of this, they are fine, as long as you’re not stuck behind them. So we waved cheerily and pressed our advantage, pushing on along the track towards Smardale. This little valley is a joy to behold after the rather dull brown fells and the sun was shining brightly and warmly by now. We must have been some of the few people to have started from Shap that morning, as there was a large number of walkers, including a couple of large groups and several pairs, all of whom must have overnighted at Orton to get here before us. We passed most of these sitting along the walls that lead down to the picturesque little bridge over Scandal Beck. We were surprise when we got there to find no-one around, so we took another 10 minute break to enjoy the scene and take a drink.
The path beyond the bridge led to Smardale Fell and the view northwards takes in the magnificent Smardalegill Viaduct, a relatively modern addition to the valley that somehow does not detract from its beauty, indeed I actually thought it added to it. The path was dry and easy all the way into Kirkby Stephen, although the wind did pick up, but nothing compared to the last two days.
The approach into KS is rather dreary, following a path behind a number of garages and houses, unless you make the effort to turn off right onto the main road when things look a bit more reasonable. We arrived in the town centre at 14:27 and I continued my new ritual of stopping in the first pub for a pint of Diet Coke. The Black Bull was clean and fairly smoke free and looked to have a reasonable dinner menu, so I decided I would have dinner here tonight, it was also very close to the B&B.
G&D went their own way, to their B&B and then to their car, which was parked in KS for the duration of the walk, using the Packhorse secure car park. They had left clean clothes and provisions in the car and were swapping these for the clothes they had used so far.
I was welcomed warmly at the Old Croft House, again eliciting a surprised “You walk fast” from the landlady. I had beaten my Sherpa bag and settled for tea and cake in the large guest lounge. This was a quirly old house, with loads of character and a suit of armour in the hallway. A pair of staircases situated almost back to back led to the first floor where I had a reasonable size room with a separate private bathroom. This B&B also do evening meals and while I was waiting for my bag I began to regret having not booked one, as the smell coming from the kitchen was marvellous.
Once my bag had arrived and I had showered and shaved, I took a stroll around town to enjoy the sunshine. I had added to the previous days sunburn, again mainly down my right hand side and was beginning to wish for a circular walk to even things out. I strolled down to Frank’s Bridge and was accosted by a large number of ducks, before wandering around the graveyard of the church looking at the interesting old stones.
I bumped into G&D doing a spot of shopping and we had dinner at the Black Bull, we even remembered to pay this time as well. Two pints of Speckled Hen put paid to any further walking that night and I just about managed to stagger to my bed and was asleep for 21:30.
Old Croft House
A wonderfully quirky B&B (suit of armour in the hall) with a charming hostess. Arrived mid-afternoon and spent the rest of the day wishing I had booked to eat here as the aroma from the kitchen was fantastic. Welcomed with tea and homemade cake and seated in the large, comfortable guest lounge.
Clean single room with separate private bathroom (with bath and shower) and a super selection of books to choose from if you were staying in. TV, tea and coffee and orange squash, foot spa, double bed and plenty of plug sockets for charging my gadgets.
Breakfast was excellent and I would recommend this establishment to any walker.