18th June 2011 – Keld to Kirkby Stephen – 13.3 miles
I think it was the great Sir Isaac Newton who suggested that for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction (feel free to correct me) – I guess he came up with that one after an unexpected night on the beer! I woke with a cracking headache and the feeling that a sheep (probably a black one) had shat in my mouth in the night – it had then danced on my belly until just before I woke up. Bloody Black Sheep – I suppose I should be pleased I’d decided to skip the Riggwelter.
We four merry men had been joined after dinner by a young Yorkshire couple from Barnsley, who were camping in the field below. They were both great company. I didn’t catch their names unfortunately. The lad was drinking Riggwelter like it was the last barrel he was ever going to find and his cheerful girlfriend matched him 1/2 a pint for every one of his. He downed six or seven in the couple of hours after dinner while we were chatting and it had absolutely no effect on him whatsoever – it was either faulty or he had quite a tolerance. I shudder to think what the air in their tent was like in the morning.
I had a truly memorable evening in Keld (again) – so thanks to all the westers for their company.
I met John and his Dad, Michael, for breakfast and although he had agreed to meet us at 08:00, there was no sign of Boris the Banker. Nick had wanted to be there too, but there was apparently no room for non-guests in the breakfast room. It turned out that John’s dad is a walking books writer, so we had a little chat about books and writing and I made a mental note to try and find one of his books – mostly about Dartmoor and Exmoor. (Michael Bennie on Amazon).
The weather forecast actually matched the weather today – rain, worsening during the day, winds, also worsening and maybe brightening up later. I’d heard the rain at 5am when I woke briefly, but I’d managed to convince myself it was someone in the next room taking a shower. By 7:30 it was no use kidding myself though – it was here to stay. It was only light rain at the moment and the sky wasn’t looking too bad – but I decided to start in waterproofs and pack my dry gear in the event it cleared during the walk and I could change.
I took a leaf from Rambling Pete’s book and decided on waterproof overtrousers over nothing but underwear – it worked really well. I’d expected them to feel awful on my bare legs, but once you’ve got them on you don’t notice them. For the top half I used the baselayer and Paramo jacket combination again. All in all it worked well – I’d decided against the poncho as a starting out option simply because it flaps so badly in the wind – plus it tends to ride up your legs and can become a bit awkward. Not bad for the odd shower or an hour or two – but not something I was prepared to put up with all day.
On my feet I decided to go with my back-up boots – the Inov-8 Roclite 390GTX – these are much more waterproof than my Salomon Missions, which are more comfortable, but the need to keep Super Gluing the sole to the upper has rendered them anything but water resistant. I knew they’d get very heavy very quickly over the bogs on the top, so decided to go with the Inov-8s.
I used the road to begin with, just to avoid a few wet and slippery fields and picked up the path at Park Bridge. I passed lots of campers at Park House, all eating breakfast in the rain – it’s one way to enjoy your holiday – but I’ll take indoor eating most of the time.
From Park Bridge it’s through fields for a couple of miles, above the road, looking down onto the series of waterfalls. The fields were pretty muddy and I spent a lot of time slipping and sliding around – trying to keep to the grass and out of the mud. The Inov-8s coped well with the mud, they have a better grip than the Missions, mainly because they’re newer I think and they’ve not been worn down like the Salomons have. I was glad of the decision.
The path got steadily worse and worse, more mud, more water, more marshy grass and by the time I reached Ravenseat farm I could feel even these waterproof boots beginning to give up the ghost. They do teas and coffees at the farm, but I think it was too early; there was no sign of life. I pushed on up the road and then off across the grass beside Ney Gill. The path here is little more than a wet river of dark green grass amongst lighter green – the number of boots has created a watery channel, but at least it’s easy to follow as it climbs steadily up towards Birk Dale.
I’d remembered a Shooting Hut a little further along – somewhere Tex and I had sheltered last time on the walk, from the driving rain and wind – sounded familiar. I reached the hut feeling very damp on the outside, but mostly dry inside. The boots were doing well, the Paramo is still my all time favourite waterproof coat and the eVent overtrousers were also keeping my underwear dry. My main concern was my socks – above the boot line they were wet through and that would inevitably lead to a wicking of water down into the boots.
I took a ten minute break in the hut, reading the new graffiti and remembering the old stuff – it’s nearly all C2C related – lots of mentions of being wet and cold and thankful for the hut. I then headed back out into the rain. Immediately I felt cold – the temp had dropped some, but I’d also lost some heat from stopping – on went the hat and gloves! In June! Feeling better I turned right at the C2C fingerpost and headed up the hill.
The weather was foul, but visibility was good enough to see quite a distance, I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me, or behind. It was another 30 minutes or so before I saw walkers coming towards me – the first of quite a few. As I climbed higher the path got worse – less grass and more peat bog, more meandering around looking for a way of crossing the badly eroded sections without going nuts deep in the mud and peat. I passed a group of Americans who were having a great time – they were loving the weather and even today’s terrain wasn’t causing them any concern. I must admit to being quite happy too.
On the C2C in 2009 with Tex, we’d had awful weather on this section – wind, rain and no visibility, but it’d been my favourite day – perverse I know, but I was feeling the same now – I was loving it. I met more and more people, some felt like me, others were obviously completely pissed off with the whole thing. I took great satisfaction in telling people how awful it was lower down the hill and the higher up I got, the more truthful I was being. It really was bloody awful underfoot. I don’t remember it being this bad last time. I guess the thousands of boots are really taking their toll on this delicate landscape.
There are seasonal routes across Nine Standards, to help alleviate the erosion, but this is still not enough to prevent the damage that’s occurring, If this was a national trail the path would have been flagged a long time ago I think. But as it has no official status, there is no single body to fund the placement of flags across several miles of desolate peat hagg.
I finally reached the nine cairns just about noon – the visibility was now down to next to nothing and the rain was driving hard – I was feeling cold even with the hat and gloves on. My feet were sodden – having overtopped my boots on more than one occasion already, but I’d managed to stay upright all the way and was only muddy to my ankles!
On the way down from the Standards the rain abated and I managed to stop for a few minutes to grab a bite of lunch from my pack. I didn’t want to stop completely, so I munched while I walked and admired the views down into the valley. I had intended to bag the Dewey on Nateby Common, but I couldn’t face an additional slog across the peat, so I’d decided to just head straight down to Kirkby Stephen.
The way down was much longer than I remembered, and I was feeling a little foot sore in the Inov-8s – they aren’t the most supportive boots and the rocky path from the summit and then the road was beginning to leave its mark.
I reached Kirkby Stephen at about 14:00 and went straight to the Black Bull – they were great and let me check in straight away. I have a large twin room with lots of radiator space and two large bay windows with seats; so plenty of space to lay out my wet gear to dry. The landlord even provided a copy of Daily Telegraph to stuff my boots with. “That’s about all it’s good for” he said as he handed it over. I’ve never failed to be surprised at how effective stuffed newspaper is on wet boots. The paper draws out a lot of water if left in overnight. By the morning the boots were almost dry and the paper was sodden.
I was showered, shaved and human again by 14:30 and went into town to buy some supplies. I’m in Shap tomorrow, and the B&B is a mile from the shops and I don’t really want to have to add two miles to what is going to be almost 20 miles anyway; so I’m shopping for two nights and two lunches.
There are two chip shops in Kirkby Stephen and it’s always nice to have a chippie tea as an alternative to pub food. Unfortunately I think I picked the wrong chippie, it was very average. I sat in and had my pie and chips in a booth. I paid an extra pound for this privilege and then they wanted 10p per sachet for brown sauce! This was a long way from the fantastic chippie I found in Cowling on the Pennine Way last year – there you paid nothing extra to eat in and you were offered a free cup of tea if you did!
I’m back in my room now and it’s persisting down again now – no idea what the forecast is for tomorrow, but it doesn’t look good. I’ve got about 20 miles to do – if the weather is crap I’ll skip the diversions I’ve got planned and just use the traditional path. I’m also hoping to meet Brian from the forum at Sunbiggin Tarn – I hope it’s not raining when I get there 🙂