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Coast to Coast - September 2007

Day 6 - Friday 14th September
Shap to Kirkby Stephen
(21 miles)

I slept well, and woke to a dry but dull morning. It had been explained in the pub the night before that they would open briefly in the early morning to let the campers in for a quick wash and loo break, and so I grabbed my little wash kit and made my way over.

After that I boiled some water for tea, and then lounged around in the tent for a while, contemplating the day to come. I knew it was going to be another long day, but I was looking forward to getting to Kirkby Stephen. In particular, I was hoping to find a decent walking shop that might sell me a flask, because I'd discovered the day before that the one I'd bought in Patterdale had been a duff and so I'd chucked it in the bin outside the Co-op. Remembering the Co-op now, I decided to return there for some sort of breakfast provisions, and reluctantly dragged myself out of the tent and began to pack up.

The blokes were up and packing too, and--unusually for me--I was the first to leave. We'd discovered that the pub had locked up again, and I'd begun to worry that having to leave through the back of the garden might prevent me from returning to the Co-op without having first to walk miles in the wrong direction. One of the blokes went to check things out, though, and discovered that it was possible to cut back through to the main road just a short way along. Phew!

It was 0835 when I left, expecting to see Ian and Dave that evening in Kirby Stephen but bidding a permanent farewell to the other bloke, who was setting off back home. It didn't take me long to get back to the Co-op, and there I spent a couple of happy minutes at the cakey thing display, before finally choosing a granola slice and a piece of chocolate shortbread. Yum! :)

After that I set off back along the main road, munching my breakfast. Soon after passing the pub where I'd camped I noticed a little cafe open on the other side of the road, and I was sorely tempted to go in for a drink. I remembered how far I had to walk, though, and steeled myself to continue.

The departure from Shap is a momentous event on the C2C walk, as shortly afterwards comes the crossing of the M6 motorway which--in my mind, anyway--marks the point at which the Lakes are left behind and Yorkshire begins, though I'm not sure where the true boundary lies. The walk to the M6 involves a brief dash through a tangle of residential streets and then the crossing of a series of fields. By the time I arrived at the fields the sun had come out...

...and everything looked dewy and fresh.

A sign confirmed that I wasn't yet lost...

...and I began to be aware of the low hum of traffic at some not-so-distant point.

Perhaps inevitably, there was a field of cows to be passed on the way to the motorway. The path headed straight through the middle of them, and I considered taking the direct route yeah, right..., but that rarely feels like a good idea to me when cows are about, and on this occasion I was able to summon up a good excuse for my caution when I spotted a man with a dog a little way in front. Cows tend to dislike dogs, and I definitely didn't want to walk into the middle of some canine v. bovine tooth v. hoof hate-fest, so I aimed left a bit and took a more circuitous route.

After that the motorway bridge came into sight...

...and it didn't take me long to get there.

I stopped at the bottom of the bridge to adjust my pack and savour the moment, and as I was standing there the man with the dog came over, and stopped for a chat. He told me that he used to work at the British Steel burned lime plant a few fields away, and for 10 minutes or so he explained the history of the plant to me, and a little about the processes involved. He told me that the plant is now owned by Corus. It was interesting stuff, and I realised that although I've seen the (sadly very unattractive) factory many times over the years I've never actually given it any thought before.

Eventually I decided I'd best press on. The friendly man and his dog set off to finish their walk...

...and I set off over the bridge.

On the other side the path dips down to skirt a quarry--an unpleasant, dusty place on a hot, sunny day, and a quagmire in the rain--and after that strikes out towards Orton, where I was planning to stop for lunch. I saw Robert and Helen just after crossing the motorway, and we said a brief hello, but soon we pressed on individually along a moorland path towards what always seems to me to be one of the major navigational challenges of the trip, although it's fair to say that it doesn't seem to strike others in the same way.

A kilometer and a half or so after Oddendale the path approaches the corner of a small pine plantation to the left, and from there it's necessary to identify the correct path amongst several that present themselves.

Looking back towards the junction of paths at the pine plantation

Henry Stedman's brick confidently informs me that posts mark the way forward, and that may be so, but more than one of the paths has posts and so even competent navigators need to keep a careful eye on the map, here, and possibly even the compass, in order to be sure of taking the path that takes the more interesting route towards Orton. Anyway, I spent 15 minutes or so consulting the map, the brick, the compass and the Gods, and eventually I made my selection and walked on. Some minutes later I passed a post, and was relieved to find a reassuring C.C. inscribed on the top.

I passed a couple of patches of limestone scars on the way to Crosby Ravensworth Fell...

...and as I re-fastened my rucksack after a quick dive into the bushes for an urgent loo break I found evidence of a recent, grisly drama in the grass.


There wasn't a great deal else of note to see, though, and once again I failed to spot Robin Hood's Grave, which in my mind resides in the same category as the alleged stone circle near Ennerdale Bridge i.e. the category labelled 'Monuments - Invisible (Query Fictional)'.

The first signs of Orton eventually revealed themselves, and I spent some happy time wondering what I was going to eat there. On my C2C crossing in 2000 I'd arrived in Orton with Matt, and we'd run into Mark and Sue outside a particularly nice tea shop. We'd all had tea and scones, and I hoped that I'd be able to find the place again, as well as the fabled shop selling home-made chocolates. Yum!

Orton hoves into view

It was still dry and sunny when I arrived in Orton, and I began to look around for the tea shop. A few minutes later I found what I thought was probably the right one: the New Village Tearooms. I couldn't be sure whether it was the one I'd visited on the earlier occasion but it looked very inviting, and so I went in.

I ordered a coffee and settled back to study the little menu. I was torn between choosing something breakfasty--involving eggs, perhaps, and bread--and something creamy cakey, involving a major calorie hit and a lamentable loss of self-control. Eventually I settled on scrambled eggs on toast, and once the waitress had confirmed that that eggs were free-range I ordered some and settled back happily to enjoy the break as I waited for them to arrive. When they came they were delicious, and I was just beginning to think about moving on when the door opened, and another C2C walker came in. This was Catherine, an American, whom I'd briefly met but not really had an opportunity to speak to before.

I invited Catherine over, and we sat chatting together for half an hour or so as she had tea and cake and I had a second coffee. Catherine was a lawyer back in the US, but in the process of considering a career change. She'd arranged to meet meet her parents after the C2C to do some walking further south, and then she was planning to return to the States in order to decide what to do next. It all sounded very attractive to me, and I made a mental note to start buying a weekly Lottery ticket on my return to mundane reality.

Further conversation revealed that Catherine knew the location of the chocolate shop, and so pretty soon we gathered our things together and set off towards it. Catherine chose her things quickly and left, but I spent a happy 10 minutes or so gazing at the delicious-looking treats on offer, before choosing a bag containing 3 cherries soaked in something alcoholic and dipped in dark chocolate and 3 truffles, 2 rum and 1 coffee.

After that I set off through the village to find my way back to the path. On the way I took a picture of the church, which apparently dates from the 13th century and is adorned with a 16th century tower.

The route back to the path is uncomplicated, but eventually it arrives at a junction which was the source of some confusion. This time I got out not only the brick, the compass and the map but also the GPS. Looking at the various sources of information now I'm not sure what was confusing about it, but certainly I was unsure of the correct way forwards at the time. In any event, I eventually picked the right road and set off in the direction of Sunbiggin Tarn.

On an earlier occasion when walking along this road I'd suddenly come across an American couple, who'd claimed to be writing an article about the Coast to Coast for the Smithsonian Magazine. They'd explained that they were taking photographs, stated that they were going to park a little further up the road and asked whether I'd be willing to have my picture taken. I'd said it was okay, and they'd impressed on me the need not to be startled if they suddenly appeared at the side of the road with a camera, and I can clearly remember striding along in my Mountain Equipment Ama Dablams (it was a rainy day) and gazing resolutely towards the horizon, attempting to appear oblivious, when the bloke jumped out from behind his car and started taking a series of rapid photographs. From time to time during the last 8 years or so I've wandered over to the Smithsonian website and searched in the archives, in the hope of finding a picture of my younger self en route for Kirkby Stephen, but I've always drawn a blank. Checking it again just now, though, I found an article written by one Michael Parfit about a trip that he undertook with his wife, Suzanne. It was published in September 2003, and I reckon it's possible that they were the couple I met. Still, no photo of the younger me, though :)

There was a little bit of road walking before returning to the path...

...and in a field I passed a most impressive-looking bull...

...and some curious sheep.

On the approach to the tarn I ran into some of the other walkers, and we drifted along together for a while, chatting aimlessly about this and that. Somehow we managed to miss the tarn itself. I'm not sure how that happened, as on previous occasions I've always gone right past it. Eventually we spotted it behind us, but it seemed clear that we were now on the right road and so we continued.

Sunbiggin Tarn

We passed an attractive little house...

...and some recently installed and extra-shiny windows provided an unimissable oppotunity for a mirror-pic experiment.

This piccy taking is complicated stuff...

The path eventually left the road to return to the moors, and in due course we passed Bents Farm--scene of my tearful retirement on my first, and unsuccessful, attempt on the C2C almost 20 years ago now. I never pass it without a pang of remembrance.

The others turned out to be much better than me at noticing the things highlighted for us in the guidebooks and on the maps, and so I managed not only to notice but also to take a photograph of Smardale Bridge a little further along the path. It's an attractive place, and I'm not sure why I've never noticed that before.

Smardale Bridge

We seemed to be on course for an early finish until gradually, and unaccountably, we realised we were lost, somewhere on Smardale Fell. Perhaps ineptitude with maps is contagious! Anyway, one of the walkers--Keith--had gone on ahead, and although initially we'd all trailed happily along in his wake, bound up in conversation, eventually we realised we couldn't see him any more. We nipped up and down the fellside searching for recognisable points in the distance, but nothing quite seemed to fit the map. Eventually we tried walking on a bearing in the hope that we might come out on the right wall, and be able to follow it back to the path, but that didn't seem to work either.

The realisation that one's gone significantly wrong within what had appeared to be virtual striking distance of the destination is always a bit demoralising, and spirits began to flag a little as we were forced to accept that we'd probably added a couple of unnecessary miles to what was already a relatively long day, by failing to pay any proper attention to what we were doing. I produced my bag of smarties, peanuts and raisins in an attempt to boost morale, and we got into a huddle to try to work out which direction to try next.

We set off up the hill, and I noticed some sort of viaduct in the near distance....

...as well as a cluster of rather indecisive looking cattle; just a little too close for comfort, it seemed to me.

For a while it began to feel as though we might never find the path again...

...but quite suddenly it sprang up as though out of nowhere, and not very far away we saw the Sherpa group approaching. It turned out that one of the Sherpa women had dropped out due to ongoing problems with her boots, but the remaining 4 were happy enough, and we all trailed along in a gradually expanding line as we completed the last few miles into Kirkby Stephen.

Left, right, left, right, left...

At one point I passed a bull even more heavily muscled than the one I'd seen earlier, although this one looked a little elderly, I thought.

There was a brief opportunity to try something artistic when we arrived at a railway tunnel...

...but it wasn't enormously successful.

Eventually we arrived at a farm yard, and I was very glad not to have dropped far behind the others when I saw that it was full of cows, presumably for evening milking. We went through in a bunch--phew!--and less than a mile after that we eventually arrived in Kirkby Stephen.

Cattle at Green Riggs Farm

I was planning to stay at the Pennine View Camping and Caravan Park where I'd left my car 6 days earlier, and so I turned right. The others turned left and struck out for a selection of pubs and B&Bs in the town itself. By now it was about 7pm, and I was tired, and so when I got to the (imo unattractively named) Croglin Castle pub opposite the campsite I dumped my pack at a table outside and went in to buy a large bottle of Magner's cider. As I waited for my drink I noted the very extensive menu and decided to return later for dinner. In the meantime, though, I carried my drink outside, where I was entertained by the squawking of parrots in the trees opposite!

Parrot in Kirkby Stephen

It must have been about 30 minutes later when I finally decided I'd better make a move, and so I picked up my pack and made my way over the road. I soon booked in, and found a nice flat place for my tent beside a tree.

Then I got my wash things together and walked across to the toilet block, where I had a lovely shower, and as soon as I'd wriggled into my evening clothes I made my way over the road and back to the pub, for dinner.

The menu turned out to be so extremely extensive that any complex decision-making abilities deserted me, and so I settled on scampi and chips, which at least had the twin merits of simplicity and predictability. It was pretty good, as scampi and chips in a pub go, and it was followed by a quite excellent bannoffee crumble :) By now I was exhausted, though, and so not long afterwards I made my way back across the road, undressed and snuggled down into my sleeping back. I reached for my book, but very soon afterwards I fell into a deep and restorative sleep.

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