Day Ten: Blakey to Grosmont

The day started off perfectly. Blue skies and a slight breeze, which meant that by the time I got up, around 7:30 (a lie in so far) the entire tent was bone dry, any condensation which had collected during the night (as on previous nights) had vanished. I attempted to tackle a full English, and half won, before getting back on the trail.

The Lion was definitely a great place, it’s decor suited to the harsh weather conditions that were the norm up here. However it was more gentile than Tan Hill, it’s most obvious comparison, with a proper dining room that appeared to be serving a local OAP club when I got there. However, sometimes there is safety and comfort in that.

The route started off on one of the main roads crossing the North York Moors. Because everybody stayed at the Lion, campers and B&B-ers alike, there was a line of people already on the road ahead of me. We marched on through miles and miles of browny-purply heather moorland. After a while two valleys opened up on either side of the road, and it became apparent that we were now on a long finger of moorland surrounded by lower and greener land. I knew from my map that eventually we would reach the tip of this finger and reach today’s first village, and thus our first pub. However this peninsular seemed to be never ending, every time you cam to a rise instead of seeing a descent beneath you instead saw a continuous line of yellow sand surrounded by a constantly thinning edge of moorland.

Eventually we reached the first village, Gaisdale, and I was ready for a pint. It might only have been 12:30, but I felt it was ungrateful to the weather, the landscape and the lovely villages not to indulge. However, I was very naughty and went for a pint of I international lager rather than local ale, because it was so hot.

While drinking my pint and finding out more about the two girls adventure in Tan Hill I realised that it was only an hour and a bit until our final destination. Luckily there were more pubs inbetween so I decided to perform my own solo mini-pub crawl to the campsite. This was slightly scuppered when ten minutes outside of the first pub i my right knee, which had been doing very well and hadn’t been put under too much stress, suddenly twanged and became unable to bend without causing me excruciating agony. The immediate solution was to walk with a peg leg down to the pub, and rest it there in a large and relaxed beer garden secluded by hedges and next to a camping field separated from the rest of the pub by a stream which was linked by a smal wooden bridge. Idyliic is the word.

After a couple of pints in the sunshine with Ian, one of the few other people doing the walk within spitting distance of my age, we made it down to the campsite. I say campsite, really it was a field next to a farm. There was a toilet and a room with a sink, toaster and kettle but no shower. The visitors book was filled with comments saying that it was such a nice place they hadn’t been bothered about the lack of a shower. I didn’t share this attitude. I would turn my nose up at the garden of Eden if it didn’t have proper facilities. However I didn’t have a choice so I had to indulge in another wet wipe wash just to avoid being anti-social. I was worried about turning up in London tomorrow night after two days of sweaty walking and no shower-stinking to high heaven and looking as weather beaten as I was I might be mistaken for a homeless person the moment I left Kings Cross and not be let on the bus home.

After setting myself up I went for a wander in the village Grosmont. It was a one street town, pretty enough but it’s main claim to fame was having a stop on the old north York moors railway, one of those steamlines that has stil been keep going as a tourist attraction. Practically everything in the village revolved around the train – the pub was called the station tavern, there was a shop selling model railway parts and a second hand book shop stuffed with annuals, picture books etc about trains and railways. While I was there a train pulled out of the station, and for a moment I could understand why people got so obsessed about these machines. It was a visual and visceral piece of engineering, a huge hunk of metal propelled by spinning and shifting wheels and pistons that dwarfed the tiny carriage with the drivers in eating 99 flake ice creams as it slowly chug chug chuged away from the platform. Pretty impressive.

Day Nine: Osmotherley to Blakry Ridge

I got up and set off early. The sky was clear blue and the sun was blazing, and I sweating my socks off before 9am as I hit the first upwards slope of many.

It was really a day of two halfs. The first half involved climbing up and down a series of ridges on the northern escarpment of the cleaveland hills. It was reminiscent of the cliff bastards on the southwest coastpath except these were higher but slightly less steep. The other major difference was the view. The top of the escapment overlooked what I assume is the Tees valley. The land below the escarpment was tabletop flat and spread out for miles and miles of irregular shaped fields like a massive green crazy-paving with trees and villages sprouting in the cracks. In the middle distance was Middlesborough, looking like the industrial concrete nightmare of popular myth. As I crossed the escarpment and the horizon cleared even more I could make out the hazy but distinct outline of the northern Penines to my left (probably where I’d been from the day before looking over at these hills) and to my right was the sea. However wainwright in his infinite wisdom had decide not to make a bee-line for this coast but struggle on further for another couple of days to somewhere far more picturesque.

This was the bit I was worried about with my knee, so I decided to take my time about it, and do everything I could not to be in pain. The ups were generally ok but the downs would have been agony were it not for my new trick of climbing down sideways with my bad leg always going first, thus avoiding the extreme bending that was sending it mental. It looked very awkward and painful but actually it was the best way, albeit slower than I would have wished normally. However I just accepted that slowness was better than no-ness, ie agony and having to stop the walk. As it was I did ok, and didn’t let myself get bothered by being overtaken on several occasions.

Despite the inconvenience it wa an absolutely fabulous walk and I doubt there could have been a better day for it. It was hot, especially on the slopes shielded from the wind where I sweated so much I had to stop for a minute to furiously blink and then wipe the stinging persperation clinging to my eyes, but the view made up for it.

The second half of the day was much more level, but just as high. The route took you up onto the north York moors proper and kept you up there – the final destination was a pub way up high on Blakey moor called the Lion Inn.

The north York moors is something like Europe’s biggest area of heather moorland. To be honest when that’s all you can see of it, as it was at the beginning of this section, it’s oppressive and asphixiating in it’s dryness and darkness. However, when you start to see the land below, and can properly contrast the moorland with the verdant valleys that prop it up, it becomes a lot more impressive.

The valleys are long and their sides follow an inverted exponential curve, so they start out very steep but then quickly smooth out into a long graceful sweep down to the relatively tiny river at their bottom. At the top they are still dripping with moorland, all bubbly and overflowing like the top and sides of a cake overdone with (green an purple!) whipped cream. But then suddenly the arable land kicks in, green smooth and slightly curved fields enclosed in ever-present stonewalls like an patchwork quilt made out of the green blaize from a snooker table.

The Lion is just in the edge of a fantastic valley like this. From the outside it looks unremarkable but inside it’s a warren-like maze of low ceiling-ed cozy stonewalled rooms. A bit suffocating in the heat of that afternoon, but

Day Eight: Reeth to Richmond

After finishing my blog last night I briefly went to the pub and noticed on the way that the sunset was reflecting a glowing pink light off the few clouds left onto the surrounding hills. This picked out the details of their craggy scars and made them stand out even stronger against the darkning blue of the late evening sky. It was very pretty but also foretold of a cold night.

After watching the football sharing a couple of pints with Matt and Allan, the two guys who I’d originally met on the way to Kidsty Pike (probably the only people whose names I’ve actually learned while on the walk), I retired back to the caravan where it was so cold that I had to sleep with my jumper and thermals on. Thank goodness I wasn’t in my tent for this sudden temperature drop!

The walk the next day wasn’t long, just over 10 miles and taking about 4 hours to do. The weather was bright and sunny and the landscape was becoming greener and greener. The space whales were becoming smaller and more spaced out and were acquiring hairy backs of green bushy woods where before had been moors. I took several trips through these woods, their interiors cool, lush and sun dappled, and over numerous streams, fields and meadows. The different greens burned themselves onto your retinas,
amplified by the sunlight and clear blue sky.

It was a pleasant but uneventful day, except for the point when you rounded the hill on the way into Richmond and caught sight of the cleaveland hills in the distance that formed the last section of the route. It was reminiscent of rounding smardale fell and seeing the penines except these hills were much further away and surrounded by a much bigger expanse of flat land. They looked like cliffs striking up from the sea and it was very exciting to see them.

I eventually got to Richmond about 1pm and was hoping to do some serious mooching but discovered that without the ability to buy anything (due to not wanting to carry it) my desire to shop was seriously curtailed to just the own and a half outdoors shops, and they weren’t great shakes. I was also disapponted by the lack of alfresco eating and drinking options – a town with such a lovely and large square isn’t really playing to it potentially if only a couple of places have tables and seats outside.

The weather heated up as I waited for the bus that was going to enable me to skip the next section in order to get home for friday. I bumped into a couple of people (including Matt and Allan) who I would now not see again as I jumped ahead of what had been our shared schedule. I felt a little bad for cheating, but knew it was for a greater good. Anyway, the bus would be taking me across that flat (and mostly boring) expanse of land I had seen earlier and despositing me next to the hills, which were much more exiting (and difficult).

After a quick stop in Northallerton, where I cramed two outdoors shops into twenty minutes and even managed to find the gadget I was looking for (a firestarting flint) but didn’t buy it because it was the wrong brand, I eventually got to Osmotherley at the foot of the Cleaveland Hills. It was a lovely camping and caravan site, only slightly spoiled by the way in which you had to pay for everything-at one point the owner even tried to squeeze 60p out of me to charge my phone up in the socket behind his desk. I even spent £3 on wifi access in the hope of catching up on doctor who, but unfortunately it didn’t seem to have enough bandwidth and so was a complete waste of cash (and probably a silly idea in the first place)9. And then an early night, as tomorrow involves an incredibly demanding route of over 20 miles up and down the north York moors that I’m slightly concerned/scared about due to my knee. The consolation was that the final destination was a pub apparently very similar to Tan Hill where I would be sleeping, eating and drinking. I’m sure that thought will keep me going when the going gets tough as I’m sure it will!

Day Six: Kirkby Stephen to Keld

The rest day on saturday was great fun-Jenna’s parents came to meet us and we went for a mooch around several of the local towns and even had lunch at Tan Hill, the highest pub in England which I had stayed at while doing the Penine Way section of LEJOG. The weather was glorious and the dales looked fantastic. The road from Tan Hill went via Keld to Kirkby Stephen – basically the same route as we would be taking the next day. It’s an amazing sight, coming down from so high up and seeing the opposite view from that i had seen a Smardale fell the previous day – over the lakes and Howgill Fells with the north penines on our left. I also spent the day stocking up on medical products, including a neoprene compression thingy for my knee. I now officially had a sports
injury. How extreme!

We knew the next day was meant to be rainy, so I wasn’t surprised to hear the loud drumming of rain drops on the tent in the morning. However, once myself and Jenna set off the weather seemed to improve a bit. I felt a bit stupid because I’d decked myself out in all my waterproofs and had to quickly shed them.

Our route took us right up to the top to see the nine huge cairns called the nine standards that overlooked Kirkby Stephen. There was a steady gradient which left you out of breath but didn’t require the 10 minute stops needed at the steep slopes of the lakes. The closer we got to the top the mistier it got and the more the promised rain came in. By the time we reached the nine oddly shaped cairns, apparently hundreds of years old, the magnificent view had disapeared to be replaced by cloud. This was a shame because the nine standards are the second highest point on the route, second only to kidsty pike which was also misty! A pattern was obviously forming!

We continued through the mist into the dark peaty bog land that I remembered so well from the Penine way. It was very atmospheric, like an episode of Doctor Who from the seventies. There was a group of walkers behind us, and whenever I looked back they were weaving their way through the shelves of black peat, looking almost like a squad of tommies trying to cross the Somme. Luckily I had bought a proper guide book back at Kirkby Stephen and Jenna did a fantastic job at navigating us succesfully through the gloom.

As we started to head into the Yorkshire Dales proper the mist and rain lifted and we could start to get a better sense of the landscape. It was dramatic and monumental but in a completely different way to the lakes. Instead of steep concave slopes leading up to gnarly peaks you had much more convex curves. It was almost like a race of giant space-whales had come down to earth hundreds of years ago and all gone to sleep curled around each other. Since then they had been covered in grass, heather and dry stone walls, but you could still make out their curves.

As we headed towards Keld and Swaledale a sharp distinction developed between the wild moorland at the top of these space-whales and the more fertile green pastures lower down where their sides sunk into the ground. Down here the land was sun-divided into hundreds of different enclosures by drystone walls, tons of which had their own windowless barns, so much so you might mistake the land for the middle stages of a monopoly game were hotels start to pop up around the board. It also appeared as if littler, baby space whales were nestling betwen their parents, creating smaller bulges at te bottom imbetween the bigger ones. Not only were the fields at the bottom greener and lusher than those higher up, but every other one was dusted with buttercups, the yellow contrasting quite strongly and not unpleasantly with the verdent green of the grass below. Some even had clumps of mutant buttercups several times bigger than normal which were a bit disconcerting in their oddness.

We stopped for a cream tea at Ravenseat, an old stone farm (not that there’s anything else about in the dales!) where the lady if the house had decided to serve refreshments to walkers inbetween dropping numerous sprogs. She had the latest (no. 5) wrapped in a sling around her as she brought our drinks and scones out. All the females on the table coo-ed as she told us that it was number five, and that she’d been baking scones the day after giving birth. What a trooper!

From there it was a short walk to the Keld Lodge, a new and quite upmarket establishment where we had a couple of pints while waiting for our cab back to Kirkby Stephen. While it was a shame that the weather hadn’t been nicer on the day Jenna joined, it was still incredibly lovely to be able to share the day with somebody (especially somebody so lovely).

Day Seven: Keld to Reeth

Today had a sad start as Jenna had to leave to return to London to get back to the real world an leave me on my own again.

The taxi driver took me back up to the road Keld. The route was still spectacular, even on the third time. The driver had decided to help me out by trying to get to the destination as quickly as possible, which meant quite a few stomach churning turns where it looked like we were almost about to accidentally be tossed into the absyss.

I had choosen to take a simpler lower route to try and preserve my knee so the route from Keld was quite simple. First I had to cross the route with the Penine way where I’d been not much less than a year before. I’d like to say it felt weird to be crossing my own path so soon, but to be honest it was a bit rainy and cold and I just wanted to get on.

Initially the path clambered over the steep sides of the valley around the village of Muker, then descended down to beside the river Swale, and followed it for most of the day. This meant walking though lots of small river-side meadows marked out in drystone walls and covered in buttercups, daisys and some purply flowery plant thing. The path would cut through these wild flowers, so there was always a clear green route through the speckled fields.

I stopped for a lunchtime pint at Gunnerside village because I thought it would be rude not too. The path then climbed to follow the edge of a moor, before descending again through meadows to reach the final destination of Reeth.

All the while the landscape was slowly shifting. The massive space-whales were still there but they were becoming more and more spaced apart as the valley floor increased in width and prominance. Their sides were becoming greener and less moor-like with trees growing in bigger clumps along their sides.

The final destination was a village nestled in the middle of several hills, with a large open green surrounded by pubs and tea rooms. The earlier cold and drizzly had been replaced by sunshine and clouds. Wherever you were you had a fantastic panoramic view of the surroundings, which were still dramatic but a tinge more pastoral than the wildness around Keld. You could feel youself starting to leave the Dales proper, which was a shame because I thought they were great, different from the the lakes but just as dramatic, wild and enjoyable. I had another pint at one of the pubs; several people passed who I’d met along the way and we said hello and exhanged tales of what we’d done, who we’d seen and who had already dropped out. It was a proper village experience, albeit a nomadic, transitory and temporary village formed by the hundreds of people making this pillgrammage from one side of the country to the other.

I’d made good time, I wasn’t too hurt or exhausted. To top it off the owner of the caravan site where I was staying let me stay in a disused caravan for the same price as just pitching my tent, which would enable me to hopefully get a really good night’s sleep. So a pretty good en to a pretty good day, despite the sadness at it’s beginning.

Day Five: Shap to Kirky Stephen

(these events occured last friday – there has been a slight delay in writing this post for reasons that will become apparent very soon)

I decided on Thursday night that the 20+ miles to Kirkby Stephen was too much for my knee to bear, and that I might even do myself an injury if I tried to put it through too much. I toyed with the idea of cutting out this section completely and having an extra rest day, followed by a planned rest day on Saturday, to allow my lower limbs to recover while still keeping to schedule.

However I felt shamed by the fact that I was surrounded by people in the pub garden who were carrying everything on their backs and they were still going all the way. A sense of cameraderie builds up along the route that links you with anybody else who is also trying the coast to coast. Even if you only chat for a minute, ask for or give a small piece of advice, you are connected by a shared experience and goal. I would feel a bit of a fraud indulging in that community if I were cutting days out willy milky just because I was a bit tired.

On the other hand, I knew the next day would be too much, and hurting myself would sacrifice being able to do the entire walk itself. I didn’t have the flexibility to spend an extra couple of days on the trail, so what was I to do?

I compromised by getting a bus to Orton, a small village about 7-8 miles away, cutting out a third of the day. I would still feel I was properly taking part (Orton to Shap is a full day on some itineraries), I’d find out whether there was a real problem with my knee or if I was just being pathetic, and (hopefully) I wouldn’t damage myself.

I set out early, and was so focused on getting to the bus stop in time that I forgot to pick up my packed lunch on the way out of the pub. Once at Orton I picked up a replacement (quiche-very metrosexual of me) set off on a very pleasant stroll along a country road, with the misty Howgill Fells on my right looking like they were slowly waking from a long nights slumber. It was lovely and peaceful and I seemed to be the first walker out for the day. Soon the path turned onto a heather moor, and I promptly got lost almost straight away.

Getting lost is frustrating not just for the time you lose but also because the route you take is always much harder going than the official route. The uneven ground made my knee start to twinge uncomfortably. I righted myself and set out for a lovely stroll along a clear path through rolling grass moorland. It felt lovely and wild, until I once again got lost and had to resort to using my iPhone to get me back on track after a quick panic. Behind me were a couple of others who had also give astray, so I helped right then and we continued on for a bit.

The landscape was getting more classic dales-like, with more stonewalled enclosures and green grass. I left the couple having a mid morning snack while I continued on, and then promptly overshot a turning and got lost again. I was starting to get frustrated by my constant mistakes, and my knee and blisters were starting to hurt.

I rejoined the route and decided I’d have a sit down, rest my aching body and eat some quiche. The sun was blazing and it seemed the right thing to lie on the grass for a couple of minutes and relax. Within seconds I was joined by a flock of large flies, all competing to see who could irritate me the most.

No rest for the wicked, I quickly joined another couple to escape the flies nd try and ensure I didn’t make any further mistakes. By this time I was properly hobbling, especially on the downs, which was unfortunate as we had to descend down the the steep sides of a hill to a bridge across the stream in the valley below.

The couple decided, quite wisely, to have a little snack and sit down at the bridge. I wanted to continue onwards as Jenna was arriving into Kirky Stephen mid afternoon. I made my excuses and goodbyes, and proceeded on a couple of metres before the female part of the couple informed me I was going in the wrong direction and physically turned me onto the right path. I must have looked a state to these people, hobbling, unable to navigate, and laiden down by an immensely heavy rucksac. They weren’t wrong.

I heaved myself up a steady sloping path around the steep sides of Smardale Fell. At the top I was rewarded with the amazing sight of the land dropping down to the flat eden valley below, beyond which it rose again to form the monumental Penines. They were so big they looked like a massive cloud bank had descended from the sky and landed on the earth. The weather was so bright and clear I could see cross fell and the northern pennines to my left, and eveb make out the radar station i had walked past while on the Penine Way, while directly infront of me was what I could only assume was the start of the Yorkshire dales.

It was absoultely stupendous, as was unfortunately the pain in my knee, left heel, and soles of my feet, so I continued down the side of Smardale Fell. At the bottom I took a detour to the train station to meet Jenna-the only thing keeping me going was the thought of the sympathy I would soon be getting.

I had made it to Kirkby Stephen and now had the rest of friday and whole of saturday to rest and see whether I was in a fit state to continue, or whether this was one ambition I needed to put on the back burner.

Day Four: Patterdale to Shap

Despite feeling quite broken the night before, I woke up energised and ready for the day. Undoubtedly the youth hostel and it’s comfortable bed had a lot to do with this. My knee was still twinging whenever I went down the stairs, but I dug into my first aid bag and pulled out a compression strap which appeared to do the job. My clothes were clean and I had a good breakfast, balancing healthy stuff (weetabix and a fruit yoghurt) with a little bit of unhealthy stuff (just a single sauage and bacon strip with hash browns, lots of beans and no egg).

I set off feeling good, and in direct contrast to the previous day my blisters were giving me no trouble. My Heath Robinson blister care solution – compeed covered by moleskin covered by zinc oxide tape to keep everything in place – seemed to be working. The climb out of Paterdale was hard but not too hard, a steady slope that was never murder. At the top we had a fantastic view into one valley I couldn’t name, followed by another fantastic looking valley (boardale) that myself and my two companions went a little way down before looking back and seeing the two girls who had been behind us taking a higher route the opposite direction. We suddenly realised we’d gone the wrong way and did an about face. The irony was they had done exactly the same thing 10 minutes earlier, and turned back partly because they’d seen where we were.

We continued on past Angle Tarn and started the ascent up to The Knott. Even from a distance you could see the tops were covered in mist, which was a shame because the weather wasn’t too horrible (no rain – that’s balmy by lakes’ standards!). Despite (or because) of being so high up the entire area was crawling with walkers – you could see them above and below scampering along in lines like ants.

I was on my own and I climbed higher, but I could see the path clearly. I keep climbing as the mists drew in around me, confident that if I was climbing up I was going in the right way. I looked back at one point and saw somebody following me through the mist, so I knew I must be ok.

Finally I reached a set of cairns. I decided now was the time to check my map. Within seconds I realised that I didn’t have a clue where I was, and I couldn’t see anything further than 10 metres away to get my bearings. This could be serious I though-lost, on a mountain, covered in mist, a gail vlowig around me.

My solution was simple. Sit on the cairn and wait for somebody to come. If nobody came in ten minutes then I’d have to come up with another plan, but I’d wait for that eventuality before working out what the plan would be.

Luckily very soon a group of about 20-30 people arrived at the cairn. My openig gambit was “do you know where we are?” – the classic greeting of hill walkers the world over. Even more luckily this group had a couple of GPS gadgets. Within minutes we had our co-ordinates and worked out on my map where we where, where we went wrong and how we could find the right path. We stuck together until we found the path (and it really looked like a path) and then separated. This one event convinced me (understandably so) that a GPS is essential on big hills, because of not despite a lack of experience.

Later on at Kidsty Pike (still in mist) I bumped back into the guys I’d been walking with before, and they two and all the people they were with (and by the sounds of it others in the pub where I’m writing this at the end of the day) made exactly th same mistake, got to exactly the same point whereby somebodies GPS came to the rescue. I am now truly converted.

As we came down the hill the mists clears to reveal Haweswater reservoir. It was quite a cool sight, but it was definitely a shame that we hadn’t had any views while at the very top. However, when you dance with the devil etc. – weather is part and parcel of the british landscape, the lakes especially, and one really has to accept the risk of it being awful.

At the bottom I started a long trudge around the resevoir. It was goodbye to the lakes, and already the surrounding hills were starting to lose their prettiness and look quite ordinary (albeit big). In a sense I wasn’t sorry to see them go as they’d been so bloody hard to cross, but I’d love to go back and do a couple of the days again as they were really specular – today and roswaithe-grasmere being highlights.

Getting round the reservoir really took it out of me, and after that I still has miles to go before Shap. It was at this point my body started to break down. The soles of my feet became red raw. My knee started seriously twinging again, and I lost all my pace. A group of people overtook me, and I could see them disappearing into the distance ahead of me as I struggled to keep up. Just before getting into shap I was almost hitting the ground with the end of my poles in an attempt to vent my pain.

Luckily the pub where I was camping was situated pretty early on up the high street, and when I got there I collapsed on a heap in the garden. Unfortunately they didn’t have a shower, so I had to conduct my first wet wipe wash of my backpacking career, which actually seemed quite successful, although I gave myself an extra squirt of deoderant just incase. The pub was adjacent to a co-op, backbone of Britain, so I treated my self to a can of macaroni cheese mixed with half a tin of seeetcorn, followed by a large tin of fruit cocktail. You might laugh or shudder, but it was cheesy tasty, filled me up and delivered 3 of my 5 a day. You can’t sniff at that!


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