4th May 2009 – Kirkby Stephen to Keld – 12 miles
In a Geordie accent: “Day 6 and the lads are getting a little stir crazy, visions of hot tea and cakes appear at random intervals during the day. The bus from Kirkby Stephen seemed like a glorious idyll as the rain battered down and Nine Standards Hagg loomed large. Despite these temptations, they harden their resolve and push on….”
Rain pattered, yes it just pattered today, at least for the time being, against the bedroom window. The sun was nowhere to be seen, hiding behind stacks of grey cloud. We were down for breakfast at 08:00, we had time to spare today with only 11 miles to do so a late breakfast wasn’t going to cause any issues.
We set out in fleeces with waterproofs hopefully stowed in packs as the rain was quite light as we left. The steep climb up the road to Nine Standards was a test of calves which we seemed to pass with flying colours after the previous few days in the Lakes.
The wind grew stronger as we climbed and the temperature dropped steadily until we had to stop and put waterproofs on just to combat the cold. Pretty soon they were serving their usual purpose though as the rain started to fall. The cloud layer dropped slowly and we were soon climbing through lots of grey stuff.
The path to the top has had lots of water recently and it’s very slippery, which makes foot placement all the more important.
Unfortunately the cairns were wreathed in cloud when we got there and not at their best, so we pushed on quickly across the peat haggs. There followed 5 miles or so of desolate bogs, waterlogged path, howling wind, battering rain (yes, it’s now battering down) and almost zero visibility. The GPS kept us on course but the path is fairly easy to follow even in these conditions. You just keep your eye on the wettest part of the landscape ahead of you.
Heads down and wearing most of our kit we plodded our way down to the shooting hut just before Whitsun Dale and cowered inside for a short break, always a mistake in my view, you tend to lose body temperature very quickly when you stop moving and although the hut is well built and kept out the wind and the rain it was still very cold inside.
We pushed on soon after, down the valley into clearer air, but no less rain or wind and no warmer than higher up. My waterproof gloves had long ago become sponges and my hands were now feeling very cold. The fleece balaclava I have though is absolutely superb and kept my face and head toasty all day, even when it got wet.
We trudged the last two or three miles into Keld, through fields and pastures rather than through bogs, which sounds better, but in fact was almost the same – there is almost as much water standing in the fields as there is in the peat haggs on the top.
We arrived dripping at Keld Lodge at 14:15, half expecting to be told to bugger off and come back at a more reasonable time, buy there is now a bar, open to all comers and besides, our room was ready and we were welcomed in.
Keld Lodge is great. They still have a drying room, just like they did when the place was a youth hostel, but now the rooms are appointed like a modern hotel with en-suite facilities and loads of room.
A pint or two of their own brew and a lovely meal later and all is now right with the world. It’s still raining outside and a small emergency at home forces me to make several trips to the phone box down the road but not a patch on earlier.
22 miles tomorrow forces an early start, we’re heading for Richmond rather than Reeth, so keeping fingers crossed for better weather!!
Just thought I’d post an interesting note on the route, for anyone walking it this summer.
From Sunbiggin Tarn you are now recommended to take the southern route, down the road a short way, over the little bridge and then turn left onto the moorland, skirting the narrow beck and then along the narrow boggy path.
This is a much nicer route than the one to the north along the road past Mazon Wath. You get to experience a lonely wild mile or two of grassy moorland before joining the northern route just before Great Ewe Fell.