Archive for June, 2012

We woke to grey skies, Jonny, after opening the tent door, immediately asked where the sun from last night had gone? He started asking a higher power for the sun to come back. By the time we had the tent packed away, Jonny had got his wish. The sun had broken through the haze and looked like it was going to make for a glorious day.

We set off, made out way through Keld village itself. A friendly vicar said hello while he was sorting out the posters on his church, I did wonder how such a small village could fill a church so large. On the other side of the village we cross the river and start to ascend up the side of the valley again. From here the path went round a hill, still climbing, along a path which was very tricky to negotiate. There were several points where there was a near sheer drop to the valley floor and into the river at the bottom. A few times standing on loose stones left my heart in my mouth, slipping quite close to the edge. There was one moment after I slipped where a rock did go over the edge, followed by nothing, no sound of it hitting the bottom at all, like a cheap moment in a bad action film set in the mountains.

The path merged with another about a mile from Keld, and this allowed the path to widen. Also the path moved away from the edge of the cliff face. Moving from the edge meant that we were more sheltered from the little breeze that there was that morning, I soon began to suffer the heat. I slowed down a lot and ended up struggling up the side of the valley on to the moorland above. Half way up I heard voices behind me, a group of (how to put this nicely?), less youthful people, were approaching me fast. I decided that I should move to the side to let them pass. As they passed they were all very friendly, well mannered and the like. I was not impressed with one bloke though, who thought he should rub in the embarrassment of being overtaken by coffin dodgers by telling me “I’ve got a tin knee, ya know?”. Thanks mate.

Making it to the top we had a quick stop and carried on. We went over the moorland above the valley for a while. This was better, the wind was blowing over the moors more, and there was some intermittent cloud cover. The moors gave way to another valley quickly, back in the shade, out of the wind. This valley was very short we were down one side and climbing up the other within what seemed like only a few minutes. We stopped for a quick breath at the bottom of the valley amongst the ruins of an old farm. The climb up the other side, seemed to take hours. In all the time that we were climbing we saw no one, and we had no confirmation that we were going the right way up the valley. The path was not very distinct and I was worried that we were going to reach the top and find we had climbed up the wrong part of the valley. The valley disappeared completely before we reached the top. We ended up trudging over heather and bracken, trying to find a path which alluded us until we had actually gotten to the top. From here all we had to do was follow the track, which was easily big enough for a car to pass down, to the road at the end. At this point we can’t really call it moor land, that seams to nice. It was more a baron waste land, with no plant life at all, just rocks as far as the eye can see. I said to Jonny at the time that if it wasn’t for the track, and the occasional fence, I would have no reason to presume I was even on on earth. It could easily have been the set of a science fiction film. It was a place which left me cold, there was no beauty here at all. I think I would have been more sympathetic to it if the weather matched its mood, but the weather was quite cheery, and the landscape, dull.

The heather returend a lile or so later and was joined by a more industrail scene. Here the remains of an old lead mine tower above the track. I saw the buildings, with the wide track from the road and thought to myself that here is a place which could easily be turned into a youth hostel, much in the same way as Black Sail hut had been in the youth hostel. Then it hit me, water supplies; lead mines, probably not the best mix.

Looking on the map it seemed like we would be on this path for some time, it was many miles to travel until we crossed the road, the first sign of civilisation since we left the Keld. However, it was all downhill, on a large, even track and we were at the bottom very soon. We had a quick stop at the road, where we decided to detour again from the prescribed route, again favouring the route which followed a road meant for all traffic. This was another road, much like yesterday afternoon. The first section had very little in the way of any life, the second, as we began to approach Reeth, began to fill out with farms and villages.

We eventually reached Keld at around four o’clock. We hung around in the village centre for a short while, enjoying a can of fizzy pop, going into the local supermarket and getting dinner for the following day. We didn’t buy much because we knew we would get more tomorrow. We then went down the road to our camp site on the other side of the village. We knocked on the door where we were met by a slightly over friendly man. He told us that he was doing a special offer for all those on the coast to coast walk: a caravan for the same price as a tent pitch. Naturally we didn’t argue. It wasn’t the best caravan I’ve ever seen. There was no plumbing and we still had to use the campers toilets, but these weren’t far away. On the upside, we didn’t have to pitch or take down our tent, we had a TV and a charging point for our phones. We also had a bed each, which was more comfortable than the floor.

On the moors I found myself bored with no beauty to look at or occupy my mind. I decided to think up names for my blisters. Having a caravan made it a lot easier to burst Rebecca and Jemima because I could sit on the door step. Bertha, wasn’t so much an issue today, but the colour of what came out of Lindsay was disgusting, a sort of baby food brown.

Seeming as we had a luxury caravan, and had finished at the luxury hour of four o’clock, we decided to finish off the day with a luxury pint and steak pie at the local pub. A nice way to finish off a day which all in all I didn’t enjoy that much.

I woke up really early this morning, the sun had obviously risen from the light coming through the tent, but I could not tell if it was time to get up or not because my phone was on charge in the farm house. The same was true of Jonny. We both sort of guessed when it was time to get up, and we got it pretty much right. After having a wash in the shack which they called the toilets and getting some breakfast, we knocked on the door, got our phones back and left. It was half past eight on the nose.

Following yesterdays horrible final few miles we decided that we would do as much as we could by road. We left the farm and followed the country road for several miles, no real traffic to speak of, only the occasional tractor or quad bike. A few quaint little villages nestled in the hillside which looked perfectly idyllic in the warming sunshine which beamed down most pleasantly. It was not so hot today, perhaps because it was still morning and the sun wasn’t so high in the sky yet, possibly because we were lower in the valleys and we were not so exposed, but defiantly contributing was the cooling breeze that was constantly blowing and the slight haze in the sky.

Our walk took us off the edge of the map and we had to follow instincts to get back on. We could see the main road and we knew that we just had to follow that to wiggle our way to Kirkby Stephen. The main road was fairly busy, but there was a wide verge for us to walk along. This wasn’t too bad, the grasses were soft, but on some stretches the grass was long and easy to trip over in. Along this road there was only one hill of any really note. It was getting to the top of this hill that we eventually walked back onto the map.

To save some time, and to keep with the ethos of walking by as much road as possible for the day, we took a path off of the road and headed for the village of Nateby. The path was not well marked, very few way markers and several times, in what is only a short distance, we ended up in a farm yard or on a hill with no where to go. We eventually reached the village by sneaking through a gated courtyard of another farm.

We stopped in Nateby at one o’clock. We stopped for a packet of sweets and a quick breather before we started on what was a single road all the way to our camp site for the evening. Back at the main road we could see our path snaking its way up the side of a steep slope and over the top of the horizon. Seeing the contours on the map confirmed that it was going to be a steep climb and finally when we embarked on the road, the road signs 33% gradient made sure that we were fully aware of how steep the hill was going to be.

By now the weather had clouded over slightly, just as well because the hill was hard work to get up. There was no obstacles to climb or rocks to slip on. Nothing to think about, just a constant climb. Jonny disappeared round a bend in front of me fairly soon, which left me by myself to appreciate the wilderness because after leaving Nateby there was absolutely nothing. The occasional car passed, quite a few motor bikes cruised past but they were the only people. There were no farms, no roadside cafés, nothing. When I reached to top of the hill, I looked back. Beneath was the main road, a few villages and Kirkby Stephen, which we had skirted round. And in the distance was the outline of the Lake District on the horizon, now left well behind. Turning back towards the east, there was just a baron wasteland, where sheep seem to have right of way on the roads, and buildings lay rotting and abandoned, the only thing which grows is the heather and the only noises come from the wind and the birds.

That was how it stayed. Eleven long miles with nothing but quiet, no distractions from the views, save the occasional dive to the side of the road to avoid an oncoming biker gang. I kept a tab on how far I had travelled along the map, noting the corners. Every time I went around another corner I knew there would be a long straight and I thought to myself that I’d see a small red dot in the distance (Jonny), I didn’t.  Jonny must have powered up the steep part earlier to have gotten so far in front.
I nearly forgot to mention, as we went over the summit on the road, there was the sign that we had kind of been waiting for… “County of North Yorkshire”. Finally out of Cumbria, this was a kind of mile stone for me along the walk, having successfully traversed an entire county. Just Yorkshire to go.

The last few miles and then there was suddenly something to comment on. I passed a farm which still had people in it, things were working and it wasn’t in ruins. Just past that, a telephone box, which still had a phone it, that was working too. After that the road take a big dip into the valley, the decent was steep and put a lot of strain on my knees, nearing the bottom I was actually hoping for some up hill climbing to relieve my knees from the pain. That was exactly what I got as the path got to the bottom of the valley and started to climb the other side. This was not so bad, the climb was not far, and then it levelled out, the road then followed the contours pretty much all the way to Keld, the village that we would be staying in.

When we left Nateby me and Jonny discussed which camp site in Keld we would rather stay in. I said that we should go for the one further in the village, in case there was a pub or something to do in the middle of all the house (when I say all the houses I mean a cluster of about 20 houses). Knowing this decisioned I was prepared to plough on straight past the first camp site. Literally as I was walking past the gate Jonny came walking around the corner back towards me, he gestured towards the first camp site so I walked in. Jonny put his thumb in the air, so I knew I was doing the right thing. I asked Jonny why we had gone back to the first camp site, on the edge of the village, apparently the other camp site had no one at the door. Jonny had knocked several times, given them 10 minutes, gone to the toilet, come back and still nothing. There loss.

We rang the bell at this camp site and a man came to the door within seconds, he pointed out where to pitch, all the amenities, and told us we could buy a beer from him. I sat down with my beer and enjoyed the weather (the sun had come back out), I told Jonny to do the same, but he decided he wanted to put the tent up first. I felt bad about not helping Jonny put the tent up, but I did say I’d help him after I’d had my beer, and that he should do the same. I was glad of the camp site, sitting in the sun by the river, I’m sure the other camp site was no where near as nice a sight, with such splendid views of the valley walls and the river. I was quite happy until a smug Yorkshire man with a big grin on his face came over to tell us the score of the Luton game. Jonny said he was glad he hadn’t got a television to watch now with a result like that, apparently some of the other games that weekend hadn’t gone his way either.

When Jonny had finished putting up the tent he did sit down and enjoy his beer. We toasted to having reached the half way point, and despite being behind out own schedule, five days in and being half way through a ten day trip, we’re not that far off track.

***Squeemish, or those eating, stop reading here*** That night, after the beer and dinner, I set about clearing up my feet. The compeeds had stopped working and there were some serious blisters forming. I thought I’d best do my best to relieve them. Against all the advice you ever here about blisters, I made merry with a safety pin. Some came quietly, leaving little more than a flap of skin, others needed several holes and was more like surgery to relieve them. There were a couple which somehow or other had become infected, these were not your usual blisters, they had filled with puss. I managed to drain one fine, but the other was a bit of an issue, I got most of it out but the last little bit was staying put, so I squeezed hard, and the last burst over the side of Jonny’s tent. It was quite impressive it you could see the distance travelled. Clearing up with wet wipes on both the tent and my feet took some time. Followed by twenty minutes or so of Savlon application. This was going to become a nightly ritual from now on, blister draining and foot cleaning.

Day four got off to a bit of a bad start. In the night the wind going through the trees above us made one hell of a racket and kept waking me up. Also, god knows where the light was coming from, but there was a constant light coming through the canvas of the tent. It was like the sun never really set. It was odd, it really did seem brighter inside the tent than out.

Breakfast was a quick boiled pasta affair. Water bottles were filled up from the stream and Jonny and myself were taking our tent down when Gus finally got up (Gus was the name of the other camper in our little woodland squat). We left him to his breakfast at around half past eight, fully well knowing that if he walked at the rate he was telling us last night, he would probably overtake us in a few hours time.

The walk along the rest of Haweswater was not as bad as I had thought it was going to be. The worst parts of it were out of the way the night before and we were at the other end of the lake in around an hour and a half. In that time there was not much going on around the lake, but there was a lot of wildlife on the shore. The usual sheep which scurried up and down the hillside, but also of note was a stampede of about seven or eight stags which ran past me. Jonny said that he didn’t see them but did see a single deer. I dunno where they must have come from then?

I was hoping to see a huge dam at the end of Haweswater, but a wood blocks the view from the path and when the path moves round in front of the dam, then there is a small housing estate blocking the view. A short walk from here and were soon in farmland territory. The hills here are forgiving enough for a tractor to go up and for cattle to graze. The grass is green, the roads are wide and the paths are soft underfoot. It is also the edge of the Lake District. From here to Shap should have been a walk in the park compared to the ordeals of the Lake District, but I didn’t get a very good nights sleep and I, foolishly, did nothing about my blisters. They really should have been burst the night before, but they weren’t.

It was around 11 O’Clock that Gus predictably over took us. Then he stopped for a sandwich, then he overtook us again. There isn’t really much to say about the section from here to Shap. The way was easy but I was tired still and so I found it difficult anyway. It wasn’t particularly spectacular, which is why we forgot to take any photographs, infact watch any advert for Müller yoghurt and you’ve got the general gist of it: pleasant but nothing to write home about. The only thing of note at all way Shap Abbey, which wasn’t really that spectacular either.

Arriving in Shap at around lunchtime we decided to have a rest, eat something and stock up on supplies. I was eating my way through the heavy tins of food as fast as I could to try and relieve some of the weight from my rucksack and was replaced as much as I could with several days supply of sachet foods, anything with “just add water” written on it. While in the local co-op a nice lady commented on my shuffle of a walk, recognising me at once as a walker and not a local. I was quite amazed really how many walkers there were all congregating around a single shop, but then again it was the first proper shop on the route and there wouldn’t be another for several days.

Sitting outside the co-op, on a high street bench Jonny was having some lunch and I, a packet of sweets. The lady who I had been talking to in the co-op walked past. She asked if I had managed to find something for my feet. I told her that the chemist she had suggested was closed and there was nothing suitable in the co-op. With that she produced two packs of compeed plasters and gave them to me. I was a little bit shocked that someone would walk the length of the village and back again to make sure that I was all right for blister relief. If your reading this; many thanks to you blister relief lady. Jonny was not very happy about this because it meant that I had to get my feet out and play around with blisters while he was eating. The nice lady gave me two packs with five plasters in each, all gone by the time I was finished. I had no idea until I took my socks off that things had got so bad on my feet. I really was grateful to the nice lady after seeing the carnage that lurked beneath my socks.

The whole foot thing put us a little behind schedule and we finally left Shap at around half past two. After leaving the village both the main railway line from London to Glasgow (WCML) and the the main road from London to Glasgow (M6) are crossed over by foot bridges with quick succession. After these there is a steady climb up hill to an abandoned quarry, the footpath is followed to a small hamlet, where the footpath turns and follows across the top of some moorland on the plateau of the hill. The path has neither heavy incline or decline but is fairly rocky and quite sore on the feet. Me and Jonny had some discussions and both agreed that while not brilliant it was much more comfortable to walk on tarmac than on uneven rocks. I had looked at the map and seen that there was a short cut which would save time by being a little longer but on roads. This route also avoided taking a chance in a large bog that was marked on the map, after what happened outside the Black Sail hut, neither of us wanted to be going through any more bogs than we would have to.

The short cut seamed to work for a bit, it was, however, a bit of a mind-numbing route with nothing of interest at all. The section that was still on the moors was hard on the feet and I wasn’t joking when I said to Jonny that if we saw a taxi on the road I’d flag it down. I was at a bit of a low ebb, low on energy, painful feet and to top it all off the sun was coming out and now it was too hot and I was sweating like you wouldn’t believe. I know, too cold yesterday, too hot today, I need to make my mind up. I was grateful for every little breeze that swept past, even for such a fleeting moment.

When we reached the road we could here the church bells coming from the village of Orton. This was good because we knew that the camp site for the night was only a mile on the other side of Orton. Another look at the map showed we could save further time if we went through a farm, taking a footpath across its fields. We could see from the road that the fields had horses in and they were covered in grass. This would be good for the feet and so we went for that route over the road in the end.

The route itself would have been fine if the farm owners hadn’t have taken up all the way markings. We both, in absence if signs and a map which didn’t mark walls, followed what appeared to be a path in the grass, it was semi instinctive. Then we came to a dead end. We could see where we should have gone but to back track would have taken ages. We took the decision to cut across through the farm yard itself. It felt like we shouldn’t be there (probably because it was trespassing) but no one saw us and we were back on track.

We passed through the village at what must have been gone 6 0’clock, because the post office was shut. The village itself was very nice, very quiet with the exception of the odd truck passing through. There was a nice pub/hotel in the middle which was begging for me to go in, but given the late hour I decided not to even suggest it. I was beginning to see that even Jonny had had enough for today and just wanted to get the weight off his back. We managed to walk the final mile very quickly.

We shuffled up the path to the farm house attached to the camp site where an old lady showed us where to camp. She agreed to let us charge our phones in her house for the evening and was very sympathetic to our tales of woe and foot ache and back ache. I had since found out it was Jonny’s back which was giving him jip. The weather by now had turned cold and windy again.

Curiously that night I lost the ability to use my thumbs about four times. They would just lock up and I’d have to wiggle them free with my other hand. I’m still not sure why that happened. It has never happened before or since. It was  definite inconvenience to lose the use of thumbs while trying to make a tomato and pasta dish from a packet, but I managed.