Over the past two days I've been allowed the privilege of having a "cheat's peek" into the world of the Coast to Coast walker. Alfred Wainwright's route along the public footpath's and back lanes of northern England stretches for 300km through the Lakes District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks. I joined Rob Reid and Chris Smith for days 8 and 9 of their Coast to Coast sojourn; walking the vale of the Swale River from Keld to Reeth.
If you want a mental image of the Swaledale, imagine bumping into James Herriot (All Creatures Great and Small) tending a flock of sheep. The vale is a series of green rolling hills decorated by winding country lanes and dry-stone fences. Small hamlets of small-roomed, stone buildings occur here and there, for no apparent reason.
Across this landscape is a network of tracks, lanes, trails and paths, which occasionally converge - usually near a tea shop or a pub.
The Coast to Coast is a popular pursuit, and the walker is rarely alone. But, due to the multiple possibilities of route selection, neither are you always walking in the company of the same folks. Rob and Chris had, over the past week on the trail, come to know many of their fellow walkers with whom they would share a few miles of pathway, part company, meet again at the lunch spot, and/or then share a B&B with of an evening. It makes the walk into a curious blend of personal and collective experiences.
We started in light rain at Keld and elected, due to the lack of visibility, not to pursue the high route via the old lead-mining fields of Gunnerside, but instead to follow the course of the river downstream via the villages of Muker and Ivelet. At Gunnerside we were somewhat crestfallen to find that The Kings Arms is no longer an operating licensed establishment, but then uplifted to find that the nearby Ghyllfoot Cafe provided good food and a fine selection of Yorkshire Ales. One of those ales, Buttertubs, is named after small sinkholes in the local limestone hills which, when filled with rain, made for fine cool storage for butter and other dairy products as the cart drivers paused for their own lunch on their delivery runs.
After a convivial lunch we continued across the lower slopes of Melbeck's Moor to Feetham where we stumbled upon the Punchbowl Inn. Over a pint of Black Sheep ale we did some calculations regarding the remaining distance to be covered before the las bus left Reeth, and discovered that I was in danger of arriving too late for my ride back to Richmond for the night. After a mile or so of Olympic Games paced walking, I surrendered, hung out the thumb, and was picked up by the first passing vehicle which dropped me at Reeth 10 minutes before the last bus departed for Richmond, where I made full use of the spa jets in the bath tub to ease my aching legs.
Friday morning saw me back on the bus to Reeth and reuniting with Rob and Chris whom I had abandoned the previous day. From Reeth we wandered along the contours of the river to the old Marrick Abbey, then up through the Steps Wood to the village of Marrick, pausing for a wee dram of Islay's finest at the top of the climb. On the hills above Marrick, Rob managed to find some 3G coverage, and we stood for a few moments in a cow paddock in North Yorkshire, listening the events unfolding in the night Preliminary Final at the MCG!
As we approached Richmond, the mysteries of the Coast to Coast network had seen the numbers in our walking party swell to 8 or 9. At the same time events at the 'G were approaching their climax. Several of our party stood as bemused bystanders as Rob and I sat on a park bench, staring intently into the distance, listening to ABC call of the final moments. When Trav Varcoe missed the shot which would have tied the game there was much bemoaning from the park bench, and muttered condolences from the assembled crowd.
Poxy Bloody Hawks!
We found our way the the Bishop Blaize Hotel and enjoyed some condolence ales. Later that evening Kleppy, Mollie, Ella and I had the pleasure of Rob and Chris' company at dinner at the George & Dragon Hotel in Hudswell (a community owned pub) where we were all entertained by the children being entertained by the puppeteer. A lovely way to end a very enjoyable couple of days on the Coast to Coast.