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).