Coast to Coast Day 6 – Kirkby Stephen to Keld.

Day six of the C2C for us was Kirkby Stephen to Keld in the Yorkshire Dales. Although a short day (at around 13 miles) in terms of mileage, the day starts with a five mile upward slog to over 2,000 feet to the top of Nine Standards Rigg.

Nine Standards Rigg is the summit of Hartley Fell, at 2,172 feet. It is almost on the border of Cumbria and Yorkshire, and sits at a very significant point in The Pennines from where all water landing to the east runs to the North Sea, and all to the west to the Irish Sea. The Nine Standards themselves are a set of large cairns of various shapes which sit in a row right on top of the fell. They can be seen for miles, and we could even see them from our room in Kirkby Stephen.

Setting off from the town go Kirkby Stephen, the local church in the background.

We had a stunning day for it, the best so far, and it was hot even as we left the town. Kirkby Stephen is a lovely village and I decided I’d love to return one day. We had a lovely Indian meal the previous evening and would have liked to have spent more time wandering around.

About to cross the river and set off for Nine Standards Rigg – a beautiful day.

It was a hot climb from the off, but bearable, and actually really enjoyable. We saw very few people, and one family of what the lady in the B&B described as ‘the flip flop brigade’. They were playing very loud music, something I can’t stand when out on the fells, and so we walked past and away as quickly as we could. Call me a snob if you want!

My vlog entry for the day 🙂

One of the other things that characterises Nine Standards Rigg (apart from the stones themselves) is the peat bogs. They are pretty big and pretty serious, and also pretty seriously eroded. Being such a popular walk, the path gets so eroded on the way up that it has been split into three different routes depending upon the time of year and the conditions. The red is apparently the most revered, and the green the easiest and safest in poor conditions, but we were directed to the blue by the signs and so stuck with that. I’m very much a conformist when it comes to National Parks and their regulations.

Approaching the top of Hartley Fell, with the Nine Standards clearly visible.
On the very top of the Pennines!

The trig point from which all water flows west or east in England.

The views from the top were great, and we soon made our way to the quite memorable trig point pictured below.

The views and waypoints on a clear day (which we had) were all marked out in detail here.

The route from here had partly been covered in flagstones which briefly lulled us into a false sense of security as I’d read in Henry Steadman’s fabulous book on the C2C about how bad the bogs would be. But then they ended, abruptly. We then spent the next almost three hours tracking and backtracking, squelching and jumping over bogs, some twenty yards or more across. If you’d just walked in a straight line along the path you’d have ended up either up to your waist or without your boots in the mire in places. It was almost comical. Having both of us suffered blisters from wet feet in the Lakes we were keen to try to avoid the same fate, and so did our best to stay as dry as we could. We sort of managed this, but it was tricky.

the flagstone section before the bogs took over!

We took the blue route, but I think most of them are pretty similar in length and difficulty – it is all about managing the erosion.

The peat bogs stretch on for what seems like forever – at least we could see where we were going!

Thankfully the path eventually emerged to run higher along the river along more farm like tracks, and whilst still wet and squelchy, were manageable. Eventually after what was approaching 7 hours, a crazy amount of time for a 13 mile walk, we reached the tiny hamlet of Keld. Keld has about 4 houses, two campsites, and a lodge/hotel, where we stayed, the Keld Lodge. The Lodge used to be a youth hostel, and still feels a bit like that, but the hospitality (and I have to say the food) that we had was second to none. It also had a great drying room, very useful when you’ve just tracked for hours through wet peat bogs. Oh they also served the best pint of Black Sheep bitter I’ve ever had.

The main thing to note about Keld though, is the fact that it lies exactly at the half way point of the C2C walk. It is 96 miles in each direction to the sea, and the commemorative photo above will be something for the long term scrapbook that’s for sure.

So here we were, 6 days down, and exactly half way. 92 miles to the North Sea, and tomorrow would take us through lead mining country, see Cow ‘Usses’, and go through the very beautiful Swaledale to the even more beautiful Reeth. The Coast to Coast was delivering everything we thought it would and more :).

Coast to Coast Day 5 – Shap to Kirkby Stephen.

Day 5 was our longest day yet, a 21 mile stretch from Shap to Kirkby Stephen.

Although not huge in terms of altitude gains, we’d had three really tough days before this, culminating in yesterday’s 18 mile, 3,500 feet day over Kidsty Pike to Shap. Mel got really tired at the end of yesterday and when you have a longer day ahead you just want to make sure that it goes to plan. Managing time therefore became a concern for me, and I didn’t want us to end up trudging into Kirkby Stephen really late, and after all the rain we’d had I had no idea how the ground conditions would affect us today, even if it was a much flatter day than before.

Today we also left the forever memorable Brookfield B&B behind too. Run by a lady named Margaret, very much in the old-fashioned style, it was a veritable home from home. Despite the fact that we were probably in the B&B for only about an hour in waking terms, Margaret couldn’t do enough for us, including all of our dirty laundry. She also completely dried out Mel’s very wet boots which looked almost beyond rescue post Lake District soakings. We actually hypothesised that she was up all night with a hairdryer on them, and hopefully that isn’t true.

Brookfield House in Shap. A treasure.

I must finally mention Margaret’s packed lunch. We’d had a packed lunch every day from wherever we stayed, as simply there isn’t anywhere en route to buy anything at all. The lunch we got from Margaret, as well as doorstep sandwiches and crisps, contained an apple, a banana, a bottle of lucozade, some buttered tea loaf, cheese, an almond tart, and a chunky piece of the best fruit cake I have ever had the privilege to eat. In fact it might be the best example of anything I’ve eaten ever. Margaret gets a mention in the C2C books as being a bit of a star, but that undersells her. I’ll remember her, and the visit there until I die, it’s as simple as that.

The walk from Shap climbs straight out of the long town over fields to a footbridge over the M6 Motorway. From here on, you definitely know you’ve left the Lake District well behind, even if you haven’t quite left Cumbria yet. The landscape changes dramatically to be much more rolling and overall gentle, and even if the the ups and downs don’t stop, they come at you less severely and less frequently too.

The (only) way you (can) cross the M6 as you leave Shap!

No idea why I have a photo of the M6 from the bridge, but I do!
And leaving Shap behind you are not left with the best of views……

The walk to Kirkby Stephen is effectively split into two, with a neat and well positioned stop at Orton after about 8 miles. Some people make Orton a stop for the night too. It is a pretty little village, and it earns a stop for most people (including us) because of Kennedy’s chocolate factory and shop. Although tiny, the place has some very famous and very delicious chocolate, and we duly obliged with some of their delicacies. I wished we could have picked up more, but I made a mental note to check if I can get some more online at a later date.

The start of the heathery moors which would dominate eventually most of the second half of the c2C.
Strange coloured sheep they have around these parts – maybe that plant was a nuclear one? :O

Kennedy’s Chocolate Factory in Orton – delicious stuff!

From Orton the walk continues over heather and part forested moorland and it is a really lovely walk. It was nice too to have another sunny (mainly, although it did start to rain lightly part way through the afternoon, reminding us that we were still in Cumbria) day after the horrors of the Lakes.

Bridge over Scandale Beck towards Kirkby Stephen, a lovely spot.
Smardale Viaduct towards Kirkby Stephen.

Approaching Kirkby you come down a fairly steep hill and through an old railway tunnel until you finally hit the town. Our B&B, Lockholme, presented us with a somewhat over-protective host who demanded that Mel took off not just her boots but also her trousers before he would let her in the house! He did give her a towel to wrap around herself so she could get upstairs with a modicum of dignity intact, but that is surely well over the top. Sure there was a bit of dried mud on the bottom of them, but why run a B&B for mainly Coast to Coasters if you can’t cope with a bit of grime on people’s clothes?

Oh and another thing – they refused to give us a room key for our bedroom when we went out in the evening, saying that ‘people run off with them’. I do understand the concern of course, but why even have them then? They were lovely in other ways and very friendly it has to be said, and there were some lovely touches like giving me some jelly babies the next morning for the climb to Nine Standards Rigg. But live and let live I say, especially when it is your livelihood.

I’ll say one more thing, and then I’ll shut up…….it really bugs me when people plead for Tripadvisor reviews, and especially when they say “please say nice things about us as we know where you live”, even if it is in jest. I actually write quite a few Tripadvisor reviews, and the jury is more than out as to whether I’ll actually do so here, but maybe a ‘constructive’ critique is in order.

Finishing off then, we had a really lovely curry in town that evening. I actually walked down there in my bare feet as I had two whopping blisters from my wet boots two days ago, and my flip flops really aren’t good for walking long distance in (it was about a mile and a half return), The Indian restaurant, The Mango Tree, was great, and deserves, and didn’t ask for, so will get, a Tripadvisor review. Give them a shout if you’re in Kirkby Stephen, which is a lovely little town with what looks like some nice pubs too.

This was on the wall of our B&B.

So 21 miles done, and 89 in total now for 5 days. The following day would see us go over the Pennines to Nine Standards Rigg and into the Yorkshire Dales, hit many a bog, and see the start of the very beautiful River Swale. It would be a great and very memorable day, as indeed every day of this trip was….