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Coast to Coast - September 2007

Day 8 - Sunday 16th September
Keld to Reeth
(11 miles)

I slept very well indeed, but unfortunately I woke early to grey, low cloud and drizzle. Sob... I decided that tea in bed might brighten the appearance of things a little, and so I skipped out, filled the kettle and switched it on and then returned to bed to take a quick canter through the guide book.

Again I was conscious of the need to try to make up some ground, but at the same time Reeth is another of my favourite places on the Coast to Coast, and I was already nurturing the germ of an idea which involved a happy afternoon spent drifting round the museum. What a dilemma! :) I eventually decided that I still had plenty of time to make up my lost mileage, and so decided to stop at Reeth and camp.

Decision made, and tea partially drunk, I got out of bed again and began to wash for breakfast. Packing followed--it always seems to take me even longer in a B&B than it does when I've slept in the tent--but I was downstairs at the appointed time, and seated in a very comfortable dining room surveying Mr and Mrs Whitehead's interesting memorabilia. Mrs Whitehead is famously Conservative, and amongst other things there was a rather attractive, I thought photograph of William Hague :)

It was only when my breakfast arrived that I realised that I'd forgotten to mention that I don't eat meat. (Well I do, in fact, eat meat, but only free-range and/or organic meat: see Compassion in World Farming for an explanation, if interested.) It was clear that time and effort had gone into the making of my brekky, though, and so I said nothing and ate it all, and it was certainly delicious.

I had... Weetabix with Bran Flakes and then bacon (eek!), sausage (eek!), egg (not sure whether that's an eek!), black pudding (yum! eek!), tomatoes (phew...), mushrooms, toast and coffee, and I felt pretty sure that that would probably see me all the way through to the end of my next long-distance walk, whenever it might turn out to be. It was all great except for the coffee, which was too weak for my tastes, and I remembered--too late, unfortunately--that I've discovered in the past that it's *always* best to stick with tea in Yorkshire.

After breakfast I finished my packing and then walked back to the Lodge to settle up. Having done that I took a picture of the Butt House...

The Butt House - Keld

...and began to walk down the hill towards the village. Just as I was draping my earphones onto my ears, though, I heard someone calling me, and when I turned round it was John, from Sherpa, on the road behind me. Since there was suddenly a second pair of hands available I took advantage of the opportunity to record my historic sojourn, and asked John to take a piccy for me in case I'm never able to stay at the Butt House again :)

We then continued down the lane. By then it was about 10am, and there were a lot of C2C walkers standing around near the little shop, very close to the point at which the path leaves the village. I said good morning to the Sherpa crowd--they all seemed a little preoccupied--and then the rest of us drifted off in a loose grouping down the path towards the river.

Goodbye to the Sherpa bunch

A very short walk along a narrow path leads to a left turn, which in turn leads to a small bridge.

Bridge across the river at Keld

Crossing the river at Keld

In a Rowan tree next to the river I spotted a very large bird, which at the time I took for a grouse.

Large bird in a tree

Now that I'm able to see it more closely, though, it looks more like a chicken! Can grouse or chickens climb, or fly into, trees? It's a mystery...

Is this a chicken, then? Or perhaps a pheasant?

As is often the way when people start at roughly the same time in the morning, a bunch of us walked along together for a while but gradually drifted apart as we settled to our individual paces. The weather had brightened a little but I was unsure about whether it was going to rain. I headed steadily uphill and eventually arrived at one of my favourite old buildings: Crackpot Hall. Tbh, I'm not entirely sure why I'm so fond of it, but whenever I see it I always feel that I'm on familiar ground.

Crackpot Hall

The story goes (or at least it once went... this is something I read a long time ago, and it may be wholly incorrect) that it was accidentally built the wrong way round, so that instead of the front door facing down the hill towards the magnificent views it faced the other way, where there wasn't a great deal to see. I really don't know whether that's true or not, but it's always the story that springs to my mind when I see it.

Anyway, I stopped for a photo, and to linger a little on familiar ground, and as I was doing that the Sherpa people arrived. Jan said something about how I was always popping up in the same places as them, but of course that does tend to happen when a number of people are walking a recognised long-distance route simultaneously. In any event, I took a last piccy and then pressed on.

Sherpa bunch inspect Crackpot Hall

From there the route passes behind the hall and continues through old lead-mining territory. It's quite stony, and at times wet and slippery underfoot...

Pretty pathside pool

...and from time to time bare hillsides revealed evidence of hush mining, a process in which a large quantity of water is released in the hope of uncovering minerals beneath the surface. As I walked the scenery brought back the music I'd been listening to when I'd last passed that way, in the same way that a smell can sometimes conjure up memories of a particular time or place.

The path eventually began to descend towards the ruined Blakethwaite Smelt Mill. The weather had deteriorated a little, and by now I was walking in a light drizzle. It wasn't particularly cold, but I was looking forward to the chance to stop and investigate my sandwiches when I reached the ruin below.

Blakethwaite Smelt Mill

The lower part of the path down to the mill is quite steep and slippery, and so it was necessary to be careful when placing my feet. Eventually I got down, though, and after crossing the little stream I found a few other C2C'ers huddled behind what remain of the walls of the main building, in an attempt to shelter from the steadily increasing rain. I got out a cheese savoury sandwich (my favourite...) and stood around chatting with Debbie and Mike, and as we ate we watched the Sherpa party coming down the hill towards us.

Since it was wet I didn't hang around longer than was absolutely necessary, and it was probably not much than 20 minutes later when I picked up my pack again and set off up the hill. There are a number of paths providing a choice of routes, but I aimed for what looked like the steepest and hopefully the most direct way up, and it didn't take long to get most of the climbing out of the way.

The Swaledale Outdoor Club organises one of the best, and most popular, long fell races in the North of England on an annual basis--the Swaledale Marathon--and I've run it twice, most recently in 2004. It starts near Fremington and finishes in Reeth, covering a distance of 23.2 miles with 1,258m of ascent (plus the inevitable descent, of course), and for a brief period the route crosses the Coast to Coast path near where I was now walking. Refreshments are provided up on top, at Level House Bridge, in the form of drinks, sandwiches and cakey things, and as I made my way towards that point memories of the race came flooding back. On this occasion I wasn't doing any running, though, and it was certainly a lot less sunny than it had been in June of 2004!

Swaledale Marathon, 2004: the view from behind

At some stage as I continued I spotted a bird carefully camoflaged in the grass at the side of the path.

Camoflaged bird -- can you spot it?

I think it may have been a black grouse, but really I'm pretty hopeless at birds and so it's possible that it was something else entirely :)

Eventually I arrived at the point at which the path begins to descend by the side of the gill. The Old Gang Smelt Mill was soon visible in front of me, and I stopped there briefly for a loo break.

Descent towards Old Gang Smelt Mill

Not very long after that I arrived at Surrender Bridge (familiar from the opening credits of All Creatures Great and Small), and crossed the road to embark on the last few kilometers of moorland before the descent into Reeth.

Surrender Bridge

I had intended to follow the hillside all the way over, concluding with a descent of a very narrow, overgrown and exceedingly unpleasant little footpath that drops steeply but rapidly to a road not far from the market square. As had happened the day before, though, I inadvertently dropped down too soon--I think I must have misread the map (oh, surely not!) and turned right just after Thirns farmhouse--and found myself following a path along the riverside towards Reeth instead. In fact, I've never been that way before. It was a very beautiful path indeed, and so for once I was glad to have made a significant navigational cock-up.

Before the river I passed through a little village which I think must have been Healaugh, and that provided a most gratifying opportunity to take a mirror pic in one of those cunning reflective devices situated on dangerous bends in the road.

Soon I was down to the river itself, though...

River Swale

...and the path followed it faithfully to within about a kilometer of the town...

...at which point it turned left to pass through fields...

...with several gates...

Oh, Noes! Not again...

...and eventually finished more or less at the foot of a rainbow :)

Oooh, a rainbow!

The drizzle I'd encountered on the way over to Blakethwaite mill had lifted earlier, but it had come on again as I'd been walking along the river. It was that very light but extremely wet sort of drizzle, and by now my pack and I were comprehensively soaked. Consequently, when I found myself passing the lovely Reeth Bakery (cum cafe) on the left just before the market square I immediately dived inside, and was delighted to bag the one remaining space at a table in the tiny room at the back.

Everyone else was dry and neatly dressed, and in my extremely dishevelled condition I felt like a bit of a yob as I attempted to manoeuvre my pack through the door, without brushing tea pots, cakes and elderly customers off their tables and chairs and into a heap on the floor. It was worth the embarrassment in the end, though, and the elderly couple occupying the other two seats at my table smiled bravely, and welcomed me into their midst.


I'd spotted some very interesting looking cakes at the counter as I'd made my way through to the back, and now I returned for a closer look. One of them was unfamiliar, and therefore intriguing, and enquiries revealed that it was a curd tart. They were quite large, and I was told it was possible to have the whole thing, a half or a quarter. I decided to go for the half, and a pot of tea, and then retired again to my seat in the back to begin to dry off.

It turned out that the man and woman at my table were husband and wife, and that they lived in another part of Yorkshire. They were taking a week's holiday in the Dales, and spending the day in and around Reeth. I was able to confirm by dint of careful questioning that they were both familiar with curd tart, and they turned out to be happy to explain the recipe to me as I waited for my food to arrive. It involved milk, rennet (to render the milk into curds), eggs, raisins and various exotic spices, and I'm not sure how I've managed to walk so often in Yorkshire in the past without ever encountering it before.

As my things arrived the friendly couple departed, and most of the other diners left shortly afterwards. The tart was interesting and delicious, and as I ate it I saw a steady stream of C2C'ers passing the window and making for the square. I was surprised that none of them came in: clearly they were a more self-disciplined bunch than me :)

Yorkshire Curd Tart

I was reluctant to leave my warm and comfortable seat, but eventually I decided I'd better begin to make a move. My museum plan had ended badly once I'd realised that it was Sunday, as a result of which the museum was closed. Earlier in the day, though, I'd discovered that I'd somehow lost my compass--I thought I'd probably left it in the Butt House--and I was anxious to see whether it might be possible to buy a replacement. I therefore gathered my things together, manoeuvred my pack through the door once again and set off for the shops on the far side of the square.

The newsagent had no compasses, but they pointed me in the direction of the Tourist Information centre at the bottom of the square. Fortunately my luck was in, and I was able to buy a replacement there. At the same time I asked where the campsite was, and the helpful assistant gave me directions. I therefore set off through some small back streets which led me to a steep but lovely lane...

...and not long afterwards I arrived at the Orchard Camping site.

Another enormous bull, near the Orchard Camping Site

I stopped at what looked like the reception area, where I was greeted by a friendly man. I explained that I was camping, and asked where I could put my tent, but the man said it was going to be rainy and stated that he would "put me" in a caravan instead. I thanked him, but explained that I actually wanted to camp. He was insistent, though, and after a couple of minutes of to-ing and fro-ing he said he'd take me over to the caravan and show it to me.

I followed the bloke across the grass, and he led me past a slew of fairly modern looking caravans to an older one, and opened the door. At first glance it looked okay, and so I said I would stay and handed over the 5 charge. As soon as the proprietor had left, though, and as my eyes became accustomed to the light, I began to notice that the caravan was a little dirty. There was a collection of dead flies on the window sill, thick dust on the carpet, several empty beer cans on a shelf and a rather repellent stickiness about the table top. Even sitting cautiously right on the very edge of the couch I felt uncomfortable, and reluctant to touch anything, and I realised that there was no way I was going to be willing to sleep either on the couch or on the carpet. I thought about asking again whether I could put up my tent, but it seemed clear that the owners were not keen to accommodate campers and so after half an hour or so of sitting around, unsure of what to do for the best, I decided to go back to the Tourist Information centre to see whether they could recommend a B&B.

Checking my watch I saw that it was almost 5.30pm, and so I left my kit where it was and ran back up the hill to the market square. Unfortunately, I saw the assistant leave the building just as I approached it, and so I turned round and slowly re-traced my steps to the caravan. By now it was getting on for 6 o'clock, and a bit late to be ringing round for a place to stay. I consulted the brick, though, which lists accommodation, and after trying a few numbers I was lucky enough to find a room at Hackney House. That turned out to be quite close to the camp site, and when I arrived I was greeted in a very friendly fashion and offered a cup of tea while the owners got the room ready.

After my tea I went upstairs, got out my wash things and went next door to the bathroom. The bath was large, and looked very inviting, but unfortunately the other guests had used up almost all of the hot water, and so in the end I lowered myself into a couple of tepid inches and did a bit of half-hearted splashing.

I then returned to my room, changed into my clean clothes and lay back on the bed to watch Ray Mears doing something clever with a couple of twigs and a pebble. By then I was hungry, though, and so at about 8.15pm I made my way back up the hill to look for somewhere to eat.

I tried the Black Bull first, but the Sherpa walkers were in the dining room and I didn't want to give the impression that I wished to descend upon them. I'm always conscious when walking alone that people sometimes feel obliged to invite solo walkers to join in, and since I detest the idea of creating those sorts of feelings I sometimes prefer to move on. So it was on this occasion, and therefore I set off for the other pubs to see whether any of the other C2C'ers were around. I didn't see any, though, and in the end I decided to go back to my room and eat my second sandwich, and maybe some of my yummy broad bean snacks, in front of the television. I was still a little fed up after my unpleasant experience at the camp site, and a quiet evening in bed, in front of the television, began to feel like a pretty good idea.

In fact, I had a good time back at the B&B. First I watched an episode of Jimmy's Farm--the sight of the smiling piglets cheered me up a bit--and then I watched an interesting documentary about the Mafia. Still, when I turned off the light I wasn't feeling quite as cheerful as I had been earlier in the day, and as I lay in bed waiting for sleep my thoughts turned for the first time to the prospect of finishing, and I resolved to make up my lost ground the following day and press on.

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