19th June 2011 – Kirkby Stephen to Shap – 19.0 miles
Although it wasn’t actually raining when I set out this morning, it did look black and horrible and the forecast was for scattered showers pretty much all day. It was cool enough to justify starting in the Paramo with just a baselayer beneath it, but I thought it may be a bit overkill to start in the waterproof troos again, so I stuck them in the pack and went for the Craghoppers instead.
I’d planned to meet one of the forum members today, at about 11:00, just beside Sunbiggin Tarn. I really enjoy meeting people I’ve chatted to on the forum and this was the second such meet of the trip, after Doug at Lord Stones cafe. However it did sort of focus my mind, so rather than being quite relaxed about when I could leave the Black Bull, I made sure I was out early and put on a decent pace to try and be there on time. I found myself racing through the fields out of Kirkby Stephen, sweating like mad and beginning to feel my calves tightening up. I stopped and reassessed my attitude, this was daft. A meeting on the fells is only ever likely to be tentative, so no point busting a gut on the way. If I made it on time then fine, if not I’m sure Brian wouldn’t hold it against me.
Breakfast at the Black Bull is from 08:00 to 09:00, and I’d already decided that with 20 miles to go I wanted to be walking by 08:30 at the latest. So I got down to the dining room a few minutes early and grabbed some Corn Flakes and a slice of toast, washed down with a cup of tea and fled.
The breakfast room had quickly filled with a huge party of what I think were Australians, but with my talent for upsetting people, they were probably Kiwis, I just don’t have the ear to differentiate between them. The first of their party to come down asked me to move to a different table as she was sure the long table setup for 20 people was for them; I moved politely. I was then asked to move again by the landlord, as I was now sitting a table for two, I moved to the solo lone walker table in the far corner.
The early bird Aussie lady told me they were going over Nine Standards today, but their guide was so experienced he would know how to avoid the bogs! I didn’t want to contradict her, but unless they were walking along the road, there was no way to avoid the bogs. You can be prepared for them; gaiters, waterproof troos, spare socks maybe, but you are going to get wet, end of. She was immensely proud of their guide – he knew all the routes in the Lakes too. I wondered if his name was Dave and if he could swim like a fish (anyone under 45 is not going to get that – sorry).
I left the twittering Aussies to themselves – I silently wished their guide good luck – you couldn’t pay me enough to guide 20 old hens across the breadth of England. Well you could, provided I didn’t have to guarantee that 20 arrived at the other side. I know plenty of places en-route where you’d never find a body. In fact I’ve often wondered how many missing people you’d discover if you opened up all the really big cairns on the tops of remote hills.
With a light breakfast inside me I was walking by about 08:15, down the main street of the town – straight past the footpath sign I was looking for (but not looking well enough obviously), and then on for another couple of hundred yards, before I spotted my mistake and had to backtrack – the first navigation mistake of the walk I think. I did spend 5 minutes looking to see if there was a way of turning the extra distance into a “long-cut” but there wasn’t, so I had no choice but to backtrack.
The fields just outside Kirkby Stephen held a series of bizarre looking sheep – some of them wearing hoods, some looking very bedraggled and a set of pink sheep!
As I entered the fields outside Kirkby Stephen I started to come across a series of canes topped with orange fluorescent ribbon – obviously some sort of route was being mapped out. These led all the way down to Smardale Bridge and beyond. The little imp in me started to whisper in my ear again – “you should move some, just one or two – go on – you know you want to”. And so he went on for ages.
At Smardale Bridge I’d decided on a slight deviation from the traditional C2C route – mainly to be different, but also, if I’m honest with myself, to avoid the steep climb up Begin Hill on the other side. After a few minutes I wished I’d taken the hill. The path to Friar’s Bottom Farm is fine; it’s a very easy lane – but beyond the farm the path uses a narrow overgrown path between walls – heavily overgrown – lots of nettles, lots of grass, flowers and other stuff that catches the rain and deposits it on your trousers, socks and boots as you brush through it. By the time I reached Brownber my feet were pretty much soaked and my trousers from the knee down were heavy and dripping.
The stakes followed this route too – also to avoid the hill I guessed – and along with the occasional orange ribbon tied on gates, continued to mark a path. I must have followed these stakes for the best part of 5 miles, until I found their source. A huge car park beside the road at Brownber, filled with horse boxes, and the first set of horses setting out, past me and down the lane, following the orange canes back the way I’d come.
I was ever so glad I hadn’t had to pass them on the narrow little path between the walls – there wouldn’t have been room for horse and walker to pass easily and I can imagine that I would have had to be the one to squeeze into the nettles to let them pass.
There must have been about a hundred horses taking part and once they reached Smardale Bridge they would be using the C2C route for a good few miles. The stakes went most of the way back to Kirkby Stephen and as I walked on I found they went as far as Sunbiggin Tarn. I imagined this was going to cause a few conflicts today. Not only were 100 horses going to churn up an already very wet and muddy section on the way to Sunbiggin, but so many horses and people sharing the path would be tricky – especially in the narrow section through the heather. I was glad to be going backwards and early – and not for the first time.
It had been raining since about 09:00, a steady heavy drizzle/light shower thing but my trousers (above the knees at least) were coping reasonably well – not getting soaked, managing to shed as much as they absorbed – until about 10:30 – when the heavens opened and small domestic pets began to fall from the sky, alongside the stair rods – it teemed down for about 30 minutes. My trousers were immediately soaked and I knew I had to change them, or I’d chafe myself to death over the next couple of hours.
Just south of Sunbiggin there’s a wooden bridge and gate in a wall – the only wall for miles and the perfect place to remove ones trousers and replace them with waterproofs. There was no point just putting the overtrousers over the trousers – I was going to have to go with them alone. I started the delicate process of removing boots without completely soaking my socks – using a dry bag and a couple of big stones and then removing trousers. Just as I was in the process of dropping the wet ones around my knees a group of people hove into view on the far side of the wall – I belayed the dropping process – explained what I was doing and also explained that although I would wait till they were through the gate, I couldn’t wait until they were out of sight – the ladies agree to keep eyes forward 🙂
As soon as they were through I started again and managed to get wet bags off – just before another group arrived. There was nothing for it – I called to them before they could reach the gate and asked them to wait for just a moment while I slipped into something dry. They good naturedly agreed and I soon allowed them through. Wet pants off and waterproof on I felt much better and was able to proceed. This did make me somewhat late for Brian though.
I arrived at Sunbiggin at about 11:10 – only a few minutes late, but there was no-one about and no-one within sight either, and I could see a fair distance. I checked the date and realised I’d got it wrong – Brian wasn’t expecting to meet me until tomorrow. I decided not to wait. It was still raining, so I scrapped the high level alternative I’d planned (over the limestone pavement and Castle Folds) and stuck to the traditional route – something of a familiar story for the last few days.
I rang Brian and explained about my cock-up – he told me he was only just at the M6 footbridge – so I figured we’d still cross paths before he reached Orton, his destination for the night. The rain began to ease off, the sky lightened somewhat and it warmed up a little too. I’m startled at how comfortable the overtrousers are, when worn over no trousers. I’m a complete convert – if it even looks like rain tomorrow I’m going to start out in them and perhaps not even bother packing the Craghoppers. I just don’t feel the need. I can vent the troos using the zips up the side and they fit well enough in the areas that tend to chafe, so I’m sorted.
I was now in the fields beneath the Scar, passing lots of westers and one or two were seasoned enough to spot I was doing the walk and asked how it was going east to west.
My answer is pretty much the same to everyone, it’s great! It’s the path you know and love, but seen from a different perspective. You certainly meet more people, but they’re always different, so you can’t build those relationships that you can when you’re walking in the “bubble”. This isn’t a bad thing, and you do pretty much get to meet everyone doing the C2C while you are. And there’s lot of them. I reckon about 50 per day on average.
On the way up to the road above Orton I met a guy plugging a gap in a dry stone wall. Regular readers will know I have a thing for dry-stone walls. They fascinate me. I actually thing they are one of the modern wonders of the world. I said this to the guy as he paused to say hello.
“I hate the bloody things” he said. “I don’t think there’s a wall on the farm without a gap in it” he continued. “They’re really beginning to show their age now. It’s a full time job just maintaining them!”
“So you’re a Waller then?” I asked “I didn’t think there were any full time Wallers left”.
“I’m a joiner by trade, a Waller when I have to be and a farmer in my spare time!”
I complimented him on his skill; it was hard to spot the gap from the rest of the wall. “That’ll be all the bloody practice I’ve had” he said. He was cheerful though, he was just displaying typical Cumbrian humour I think. We chatted about the walk and walkers in general and C2C walkers in particular; he didn’t think they were responsible for wall damage, that was mostly down to wear and tear and the occasional stupid sheep trying to escape from predatory hikers. After a few minutes I could see he was itching to get back to his wall, so I left him to it and pushed on.
I was feeling foot sore again, quite weary, and I knew there was still a way to go. I was glad I’d stayed low, despite the clearing weather. I continued to pass westers, but presumably these were now heading to Orton rather than Kirkby Stephen.
I finally met Brian just beyond Robin Hood’s Grave. I saw the red coat he’d told me he was wearing, from a good long way off, along with another walker in a red coat. We met and said our hellos. Apparently the other walker was Marion – a lone female walker that Brian had spotted a little way behind him earlier and had thought might be me trying to catch him up, so he’d slowed and met her and they’d continued on together. Marion was going to meet her husband who was supporting her in their caravan.
We didn’t really have long to chat, I was knackered and still had a way to go and I needed to get it done before my legs stopped working completely. Brian had had pretty bad weather, more so than me I think, and through the Lakes section too. We swapped notes on the path in both directions and he showed me he was using the maps from the Walking Places C2C website.
I reluctantly cut short our chat; my calves were getting sore.
Just beyond Oddendale I passed three guys looking very tired. I nearly suggested they looked like I felt, but bit my tongue just in time. The first guy asked me if I knew where Oddendale was – he was Polish or Russian I guess and his English was heavily accented. I tried to explain they were nearly there and would be in their B&B within 10 minutes. I gave up after the blank look spread across his face and I just pointed over the nearby wall and said “there”.
Two minutes later I was crossing the quarry road and met a guy walking really slowly with a huge backpack. We both stopped and I asked him “Where are you heading to?” “Robin Hood’s Bay” he replied. “Crikey”, I said, “you’d better get a wriggle on, its 120 miles and it’ll be dark soon”. He didn’t laugh, but he looked too weary to break a smile never mind properly appreciate my spontaneous wit!
“I’m going to find a wild camp spot on the moor in a while and get my head down”. I said there were plenty of places over the next few miles, but to find somewhere before reaching Orton as it was all farms and fields after that. I envied the fact that this guy had no schedule to keep – no B&B waiting for him – nothing to compel him to move if he didn’t want to – he was taking as long as it took to reach the other side. On reflection though I was glad of the B&B waiting for me – I could have a shower and clean clothes and I could sleep in a warm soft bed tonight. Both methods of travel have their advantages.
I crossed the footbridge over the M6 and entered the fields on the way into Shap.
The long grass was wet, but I wasn’t bothered anymore, I could almost smell the pastries at Brookfield. I found a lamb in the very last field, with its head stuck in the fence – obviously trying to reach some special grass you can’t find in the field itself. It had managed to get its head bewteen the wire mesh, but not out again. I approached to help, waiting until it had evacuated bladder and then bowels, before getting up close and personal. I grabbed two large handfuls of neck and yanked its head out. I figured being rough but quick would be less detrimental to the sheep than pussy-footing about, trying to be gentle and extending its panic.
Good sheep-deed done for the day, I staggered into Shap. I received an effusive greeting from Margaret at Brookfield, who remembered me from my previous two stays and was shown to my room – the first double bed of the walk so far!
The hospitality at Brookfield is second to none. I sat in the lounge and was soon joined by a lady walking with her sister – taking it really easy and finishing at Kirkby Stephen – and then a couple doing the whole thing in 12 days; Andrew and his wife. We were treated to a fabulous selection of home-baked fayre; sausage rolls, scones with jam and butter, lemon meringue cake and other little savouries. I’d seen this before of course, but the others were amazed and so appreciative. Margaret is a real star of the C2C!
I went to the Greyhound with Andrew and wife and met the three easters I met on the way into Keld. Carly is the daughter of the veteran long distance walker; 9 times Pennine way and 3 times C2C, plus their friend Mally, with the straw cowboy hat. We had a great evening, but I was feeling tired, so made my excuses early and left. The easters are having a rest day in Shap so I won’t see them again now, which is a great shame.