Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Pennine Way South - Hawes to Keld - 21st May 2014

Meadow near Hardraw

I'm not a big fan of guesthouses that have a communal breakfast table rather than individual tables for each room. This isn't because I'm particularly unsociable but because you are forced to eat with whomsoever happens to be staying at the guesthouse at the time. Mostly, this is no problem, because the vast majority of people are friendly and sociable but there is always the odd person who just doesn't want to play the game and this was one of those mornings when I drew the short straw. I was sat with two walkers, one of whom was reasonably chatty but his friend was one of those people you wish you hadn't met. He wasn't directly unpleasant but just sat answering questions with a single word and had unfriendly aura that just made me uncomfortable. I ate breakfast quickly, paid my bill and was relieved to be outside in the fresh morning air on another beautiful day. 

River Ure

After a brief walk around the centre of Hawes, I headed out across the River Ure and through meadows carpeted with yellow flowers towards Hardraw, where the main attraction is the Green Dragon pub with it's Hardraw Force waterfall in the 'back garden'. This is a popular attraction that the pub owners charge to visit but as it was early morning and I have an aversion to paying to enjoy natural landscape features, I passed the pub without slowing my pace. Having spurned the 'opportunity' of paying to see the waterfall, I followed a walled lane and began the long five mile climb to the summit of Great Shunner Fell. 

Great Shunner Fell

I had expected this to be a hard climb but in the event, it wasn't, just a fairly long, steady plod with ever widening views back to Wensleydale. As I climbed higher, I could see the Buttertubs Pass over to my right, which from here appeared as nothing more than a loose thread dangling from an item of clothing, reduced as it was to insignificance in the surrounding vast expanse of moorland. This illusion was occasionally shattered by the appearance of a minute vehicle struggling up the impossible gradient. Soon, I became aware of a long, whaleback protuberance on the horizon ahead and realised that this was the summit of Great Shunner Fell, not what I was expecting at all. Towards the right of this frankly unimpressive 'lump' in the surrounding moorland, I could make out what appeared to be the stone wind shelter on the summit and it wasn't long before I had reached it and removed my pack and took advantage of the convenient seat in the shelter. What the summit lacked in aesthetic appeal, it more than made up for in the view from it's top. I had a virtual 360 degree panorama including Fountains Fell and Pen y Ghent, which I had climbed over two days earlier. 

Approaching Swaledale

To the north I could clearly see the brilliant white 'golf ball' of the radar tracking station on Great Dun Fell, which I now would not reach until I returned to complete the walk. After a short rest break, I followed the path from the summit in the direction of Keld and stopped for a while to chat to a very friendly man who was checking out the route for a forthcoming cancer charity walk. He had come from the Tan Hill Inn, which was clearly visible in the distance and after chatting to him for a while I discovered that he had passed Neil in Keld, who had left Hawes earlier than me as he was planning to walk further. 

I myself was stopping at Keld, a place I knew quite well having stayed there before on two previous occasions while doing the Coast to Coast walk. The village is a tiny, remote outpost at the head of Swaledale and as the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast both pass through, is something of a crossroads. In past years, finding somewhere to sleep and eat could present a problem because of the limited accommodation. This is still an issue but there is at least a small hotel in what used to be the Youth Hostel, so a beer and a meal is now available in the village. I also noticed that the campsite that I and my friend Alan had stayed at in 2011 has now entered the 'glamping' market with three large 'yurts' where tents used to be pitched and also a 'luxury' bunkhouse in what was a basic barn for campers to eat in the when the weather was wet. As I bade the friendly walker 'goodbye' and continued descending, the sun broke through the cloud and magnificent views opened out of Upper Swaledale. 

Upper Swaledale

I descended to the village of Thwaite with a mixture of joy at the scene unfolding in front of me and sadness knowing that my time on the Pennine Way was drawing to a close, at least for now. I had decided to finish at Keld and catch a small local bus that ran twice a day to the town of Richmond, where I would then check out the transport options for returning south. Thwaite was quickly left behind and I climbed from meadows to Kisdon House and then followed an uncomfortable, stone strewed path while trying to enjoy the fantastic view of the River Swale as it made it's way through the narrow, winding valley below. 

Soon, Keld came into view and I made my way to the hotel in the village where I purchased a pint of Black Sheep bitter and enquired about the buses from the barman who informed me that there was no longer any service in the village. Due to the lack of people using it, the service had been terminated the month before so I would now be forced to review my plans once more. For the time being, I wasn't worried though and I took my beer outside into the sunshine and had a friendly conversation with three people also enjoying their drinks in the sun. 

Later, I crossed the road and checked into my room at the Butt House guesthouse and that evening, had another communal meal with numerous friendly and chatty people, who it transpired were from America and Tasmania, making me the only English person in the room. The meal was in stark contrast to how I had started the day and after an interesting conversation and some great food, I retired to my room fairly early as usual to contemplate my options for the following day.   

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