Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Coast to Coast - Tuesday 12th July - Day 7 - Kirkby Stephen to Keld 12.75 miles

The road from Hartley
The Pennine View campsite was failing to live up to it's name as we emerged from the tents, as the hills we were destined for today were obscured by cloud. Somewhere in the mist rolling around on the summits were the huge stone cairns of Nine Standards Rigg, the mysterious markers on the Pennine watershed. After we crossed this point later today all rivers would flow east to the North Sea instead of west. The origin of these huge cairns in not known but there are many theories and they are known to have existed at least since the 18th century. 
Approaching Nine Standards Rigg
We were invited to breakfast by our friends in the nearby tent and had toast and coffee with them until it came time to say goodbye. The odd thing is that although we had socialised with this lovely couple since arriving on the campsite, for some reason we never exchanged names, so whoever you were, it was a pleasure meeting you. We set off in the direction of the town and although the weather was dry, there was  still a lot of cloud on the hills and the outlook wasn't promising. As we reached the market square in the town, we passed the quiet American woman we had seen at the start, all of those miles ago and nodded a 'hello' in her direction. Leaving the town, we crossed the quaint 'Frank's Bridge' and headed off across a field where we met an old man walking his dog. 'You've got a lovely day for it', he said optimistically. 'Looks like it might rain' I said, ever the pessimist. 'No, it will clear later', lied the old man. It didn't clear but neither did it rain much so I suppose in the battle of the amateur weather forecasters, it was a draw. We took the road through the village of Hartley and followed it steeply uphill onto the open fells. As we climbed, the weather became more threatening until, as the tarmac ended and we joined the track up onto Nine Standards, it had become cold and windy so we stopped to don our waterproof jackets. We were now crossing peat bogs, and had been advised by a walker on the campsite who had crossed them the day before that they were 'terrible' and we would definitely need to wear gaiters. As I didn't have any, this was going to prove to be a problem.
The remote Ravenseat Farm
We continued climbing with the huge cairns getting larger but every time we thought we were close they would disappear behind the brow of a hill, only to re-appear later seemingly no closer than before. This happened a few times and just when we were becoming frustrated and wondered if we would ever reach them, there they were just ahead of us, nine huge cairns standing taller than a man on the Pennine watershed. By now, the cloud had started to drift closer to the hilltops and it looked as though we were in for a soaking. We stopped by one of the cairns to eat a chocolate bar as the cloud drifted over our heads and the first few spots of rain started to fall. Expecting a deluge, we set-off again across the bogs, that weren't as bad as we had been led to believe and although we had to divert occasionally around some of the wetter sections, this proved to be the case throughout the whole route. Passing over White Mossy Hill, we continued down to a pillar of stones marked on the map and started descending, following a clear, unmade track downhill towards the B6270 road. Something felt wrong, so I stopped and checked the map and sure enough, we had been seduced by the obvious route leading downhill  when we should have veered further left on a much less obvious path. Rather than climb back up to the point where we had gone wrong, we opted for cutting across the peat over a small gully to pick up the correct path. As Alan crossed the gully, I followed, but as I stepped on the opposite side, a large chunk of the far bank collapsed and I was dragged backwards by the weight of my rucksack into the gully. I lay there for a moment completely upside down, observing my feet against the sky and called out for Alan as, pinned back by the weight of the rucksack, I was unable to get up. I lay there like a beetle on it's back wriggling around trying to right myself. After calling a couple of times, I realised Alan couldn't hear me over the wind so I tried to release the rucksack straps to enable to get up. Eventually, I managed to get free and stood up to see a rather bemused Alan looking around trying to work out where I had vanished to. 
Our tents pitched at Park House campsite, Keld
After having a laugh about my 'dying beetle act' we continued to follow the path across the moors towards Keld. The weather, although still very overcast, had not worsened since the shower we had had on the summit of Nine Standards and we were looking forward to tea at the remote Ravenseat Farm in Whitsundale.  Approaching the farm, we could see a number of D.O.E. youngsters sitting around on the picnic tables but unfortunately, there was also a sign saying that there was no tea and cakes today. It was signed with a 'sorry' and a kiss but that hardly made up for missing out on the much anticipated cuppa! We stopped for a break nearby and had something to eat and a cold drink from our supplies and strolled the short few miles into the remote outpost of Keld, a tiny hamlet in the upper reaches of Swaledale and the halfway point in the walk. When I had passed through here on my earlier trip in 1998, there was nothing much in Keld apart from the formidable Doreen Whitehead, who along with her husband Ernest, ran the Butt House bed and breakfast. Doreen was known for her no nonsense personality and ran a tight ship almost on military lines. She also offered three course meals and had a drinks licence otherwise Keld was dry and there was nowhere to get a drink or a meal. Now, Doreen has retired and Butt House and the old Youth Hostel have been taken over and are run by the same people, with Butt House still operating on similar lines and the youth hostel having been converted into Keld Lodge, a hotel and pub restaurant. The outside world has reached Keld. 
Wain Wath Falls
We were staying at Park House campsite and after ringing the doorbell on the farmhouse, were shown where to pitch our tents by Heather, who runs the site. Here too, we were told that we could get evening meals, breakfast and packed lunches so we promptly ordered all three. Once we had the tents up and had carried out the ritual of showering and washing clothes, we had an excellent dinner of home made beef stew before heading off for a few pints in Keld Lodge. Walking back to the campsite in the twilight along the deserted valley road, with only the sound of the occasional lapwing and bleating sheep, I felt like I had temporarily stepped back in time, into another age where even a mobile phone signal is still a dream!  

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