Had there been a gun at the Shooting Lodge I would have used it to put Archie out of his misery.

Post 34

Please note this will be the last post for 2-4 weeks as I will be on Grandparent duties during February. The diaries will resume towards the end of February/early March, after my second grandson is born. 

5 April 1991: Day 8 – Keld Youth Hostel to Grinton Lodge Youth Hostel – 13 miles

Keld is at the crossroads of the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast. After a muddy lane to a footbridge East Gill Force is reached. Swaledale and the waterfall are most dramatically viewed in the depths of Winter and therefore I have included in this section photographs taken at the beginning of December 2008.

East Gill Force
East Gill Force

Swaledale Eat Gill Force BW

We left Keld Youth Hostel at 10.15am in light rain, somewhat late due the extensive foot repairs Archie had to do. He had about twenty blisters to attend to, as well as a swollen shin. The diagnosis was that his relatively new boots were to blame and it was hoped that by loosening them some of the problems would be rectified. It was either that or amputation and the latter seemed a bit extreme, especially as we had a relative short day. In order to try and ease Archie’s suffering, we decided to follow the low-level route along the River Swale. One of the characteristics of Archie was that he never complained about his aches and pains and, unless asked, wouldn’t reveal that he was in pain.

Swaledale 2008 052


Swaledale 2008 068

The delightful village of Muker was soon reached. The name is Norse in origin meaning ‘the narrow newly cultivated field’. In early June the hay meadows hereabouts are a delight.

Near Muker
Near Muker

Arriving at Gunnerside, we spotted a long line of rucksacks outside the pub and decided the Black Country Stompers must be inside. This assumption was correct and we joined them to find them again disputing which route they should have taken. The super-fit were wishing they had taken the high-level route, while the rest were content to keep to the low-level route. The super-fit were capable of walking 100 miles in twenty-four hours, which is impressive. At least that’s what they told us, or was that the walker’s tale equivalent of a fisherman’s tale? We did not delay our stay at the pub as I had promised Archie we would have a cream tea at the ‘Barn’ in Swaledale’s ‘capital’, Reeth. The scenery between Gunnerside and Reeth, with the intricate drystone field walls and field or laithe barns, was stunning.

Swaledale 2008 108

Swaledale 2008 083

Swaledale 2008 170

Unfortunately, when we arrived at Reeth the ‘Barn’ was closed and we settled for an ice-cream in the large square.

Near Reeth
Near Reeth

Just as we were leaving Clint came to the window of a pub but, on trying to enter, we found that the pub was closed and the door was locked. No wonder he looked so pleased, locked inside a pub. He had already told us that he had decided not to walk the extra 1½ uphill miles to Grinton Lodge Youth Hostel; he had found his lodgings for the night.

Swaledale 2008 127
The steep climb up to Grinton Lodge Youth Hostel

It is sod’s law that the youth hostel will always be miles from anywhere and at the top of an unrelenting hill; Grinton Lodge fitted this description. Archie’s leg was in bad shape at the start of the day’s walk and this hill was the last thing he needed. The hostel is a former shooting lodge and had we been able to find a gun I would have shot Archie there and then to put him out of his misery.

Grunion Lodge Youth Hostel
Grinton Lodge Youth Hostel
Swaledale in August 1997

Caught naked in the shower by two ladies!!

Post 33: 4 April 1991: Day 7 – Kirkby Stephen Youth Hostel to Keld Youth Hostel – 13 miles

Only 13 miles today; a wonderful days walking is in prospect? At least it was, until we left the hostel in pouring rain.  The Yorkshire Dales National Park is entered.

‘Don’t worry Archie, we’ll be in North Yorkshire today and it will brighten up,’ I said optimistically. ‘This walk is a piece of cake.’

‘Yeh, sure,’ Archie said, unconvinced. As if to show his scepticism he said he would send some clothing home to ease his pack weight. I also decided to send some maps home, something that always lifts the spirits. It also gave us some extra time in the Post Office out of the pouring rain.

In view of the appalling weather, we decided not to go over the ‘tops’ via Nine Standard Riggs, instead following the B6270 via Nateby. It was some several years later before I managed to walk to the Nine Standard Riggs, which had always intrigued me from photographs and descriptions of them. In recent years, erosion has become so prevalent that the National Park advise alternative routes for different times of the year. Such has been the growth in popularity of walking and, in particular, the popularity of A Coast to Coast Walk. The origin of the Riggs is not known but probably the best explanation is that they were boundary stones from the 18th Century. Less plausible is that they were to keep marauding Scots at bay.

Nine Standard Riggs in 1997
Nine Standard Riggs in 1997

As we climbed the lane between Nateby Common and High Pike Hill, Archie’s leg was clearly causing him problems and gale force winds, horizontal rain and sleet added to his misery. At the top of the watershed a yellow van was parked, enabling me, whilst waiting for Archie to catch up, to stand behind out of the wind,.

‘Do you want to get in the back?’ someone shouted from inside the van.

I looked through a window and saw a father and son.

‘Yes thanks, but don’t move the van or I’ll be disqualified,’ I said, relieved to get out of wet and wind. Within five minutes, four other coast to coasters arrived at the van, including one dressed in a cape, making him look like Batman; they all huddled around the van for shelter. We decided to take some photographs of this ‘mobile oasis’ in the Pennines, but, once my gloves were off, my hands froze. It was April in England.

As promised, on entering Swaledale in North Yorkshire, the weather eased. We reached a barn with a ‘Nuts’ electioneering poster on it, an appropriate name for a politician. The door was open and no second invitation was needed. Forget McDonalds, this had all the trappings of a super lunchtime stop: thick walls, a stone in the glassless window opening, and straw on the floor. What more could we wish for? Actually it was quite dark, but then Clint and Wendy arrived with head torches to brighten up our five-star restaurant. One of the attributes of experiencing hardships on the trail is that the small comforts are greatly appreciated. Another walker joined us; he had started following the Nine Standard Riggs route, but found the weather so bad he had decided to abandon it and head for the lane and shelter. He had no gloves and his hands had turned to ‘Daz’ whiteness.

Continuing along the narrow lane, we arrived at the youth hostel at 4.00pm, giving us an hour to sit in the porch whilst waiting for it to open.

The big 50_6756_edited-2
The porch of Keld Youth Hostel

The Black Country Stompers arrived and the porch soon filled up with hot and steamy bodies; for the first half-an-hour it felt as though I was in a sauna with my clothes on. The Black Country Stompers clothes and hats were completely disarranged as though they had just descended K2; in fact they had taken the Nine Standard Riggs route, encountering a rough time, some members of the party falling into deep bogs. The party was getting fractious as some members had not wanted to follow that route. One of the difficulties about large parties is meeting everyone’s needs and keeping everyone happy. I will not go walking with more than four other walkers – call it anti-social if you will, but it minimises friction, increases the likelihood that you will meet and talk to other walkers, and ensures that you are walking with people of a similar ability.

Keld Youth Hostel is a converted shooting lodge and run by the Youth Hostels Association (diary update – in 2016 it is run privately). We were now at the half-way stage of our coast to coast walk. Keld is an ancient settlement of Scandinavian origin its name being a Norse word meaning ‘a place by the river’.

One of my unforgettable memories of Keld Youth Hostel was getting out of the shower, sparsely clad in my towel, just as a female entered.

‘Oh dear, am I in the wrong room?’ I said in panic and embarrassment.

‘Oh no, no,’ a foreign voice said, ‘the female shower is full.’

‘Yes, but this is the male shower room,’ I said clinging desperately to the towel around my private parts.

‘In Holland we often go in the male shower when the females is full’

‘Fine, fine.’ At that point, another female arrived and I left with my tail between my legs, thinking two is company, but three is a crowd.

We later met up with this Dutch party, which had brought a chef with them to cook meals whilst they walked Coast to Coast east to west. They drank wine with their meal, something which used to be forbidden in hostels but is now accepted practice. We were very envious as the nearest pub was about three miles away and we didn’t have the energy for yet more walking.

By this time I had acquired a number of new walking companions, and I was given the job of booking accommodation for these new friends; we usually booked two days in advance. It had been much easier booking for two instead of five.

The best toilets in the country? Lycra clad cyclists and how not to dry your clothes.

Post 32. The route goes over pleasant limestone country to Oddendale, where we were caught in a hail-storm. I tried to find my compass, but, after having put my hands in the thirty-three pockets adorning my body, to no avail, panic started to set in. Walking without a compass in heavy rain or mist basically means you are blind. We spent about half-an-hour searching amongst the grass of Seal How Common in the faint hope that, if I had dropped it, we might find it again. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. We were just about to give up when I looked in my map case to find it hidden under a map; phew relief. We passed the ancient cairn of Robin Hood’s Grave, that man again! Just to confuse you, it is not really Robin Hood’s grave.

We eventually arrived at the village of Orton, where I decided to go to the toilet. This was an experience never to be forgotten as, on entering, there were carpets laid out in front of the urinals, flowers on the window-sills and heating. It was enough to put a gentleman off his aim. I can imagine some coast to coasters spending the night here in comfort. To cap it all there is a collection box to help fund all the luxuries. Why is it that men’s toilets (I can’t comment on ladies toilets) in Cities are disgusting places where you spend the absolute minimum of time, don’t dare breathe for the fumes, always find the hand-washer and drier faulty, and can’t find any toilet paper? Yet in the country, toilets are clean, fresh, have toilet paper, and are well looked after. I think you can always tell how civilised a place is by the standard of its toilets; Orton takes pride of place. (Diary update – you now have to pay for toilets in Cities and there are far too few, a disgrace and discrimination against the elderly, people with illnesses and the disabled).

After passing Sunbiggin Tarn, we began crossing Ravenstone Moor, at which point I took a funny turn. I am not one for funny turns, but I definitely felt as though I was about to pass out. I said to Archie that we had better stop for refreshments. Thinking I was suffering from six days of exposure to the elements, I huddled behind my rucksack to keep out of the wind. I managed to find some crumpled biscuits, which seem to revive me a little. It was a worrying moment and I’ve never felt like it on a walk since. We carried on, but as I still felt weak and might have another funny turn we joined and followed the main A685 at Newbiggin. This was probably the correct decision as we soon ventured on a café and, after tea (with three spoonfuls of sugar) and scones, my sugar levels were restored and there were no problems for the rest of the day. It had been a long day and we were relieved when we arrived at Kirkby Stephen.

The youth hostel surprised us as it had pews and stained glass. I immediately went to leave the building as I thought we had entered a church by mistake. However, someone came to us without a dog-collar and introduced himself as the warden of the hostel. Then a lycra clad, attractive looking, cyclist called Sue came through the entrance door, at which point I decided it wasn’t a church; the warden explained that it was a former Methodist chapel. Whilst walkers often arrive at hostels in loose clothing, as though they have come straight from the jumble sale, cyclists often arrive in skin-tight lycra with steam rising from taught muscles; it can be most off-putting. Sue had travelled up from London and was cycling around the north of England. She joined us at the pub, where the Black Country Stompers, Clint and Wendy, and another guy from London, Dave, were also obtaining liquid refreshment. There was quite a camaraderie developing amongst us and Coast to Coast was developing into a social whirl, rather than a walk. At times, normally first thing in the morning, you felt it would be better to keep to the socialising rather than the walking. Clint was an interesting character having been a climber and skier. Like me, he doesn’t sleep very well on long-distance walks, his doctor advising him to take sleeping tablets. Given that he also drank and smoked quite heavily, a ‘hangover’ from his climbing days, it was a miracle he was fit enough to do the walk. His claim to fame and fitness was that he had climbed ‘The Old Man of Hoy’, although he didn’t say whether it was twenty or twenty-five years earlier.

When I got back to the hostel I had a look in the drying room to see how the washing I had done earlier was drying. Oops, I had put it high on some drying racks and it had dripped all over the Black Country Stompers clothes that were drying; I was the most unpopular person in the hostel.

Bed and breakfast before Trip Advisor!

Post 31: We eventually found our bed and breakfast and, suffice to say, it was the worst I had ever stayed in. The evening meal consisted of a dollop of mashed potato, one sausage and half a dozen peas. Does this lady not know we had walked 62½ miles to get here? The only thing she seemed keen to provide was newspaper to help dry out our soaking boots; would this be extra on the bill? The house was well ventilated as the windows had huge gaps round them. I would have thought that double-glazing salesmen would have a field day here, but perhaps they haven’t found Shap yet; they have found everywhere else in the British Isles. I am thinking of taking out a court injunction at home to stop me being harassed by double-glazing salesmen.

‘No, no, I don’t want to have my windows replaced yet’

‘When would you like them fitted sir?’

‘Not until the windows drop out. Go to Shap instead.’

It was the bed and breakfast from hell, when you least wanted it. I decided the only escape was the pub, but Archie, suffering from malnutrition, was too tired to even walk the few hundred yards. I also felt exhausted, but remembered I had a wife and two children and needed to make a call home (no mobile phones or email then!) from the local red coin-box phone, to re-assure them they still had a husband and father.

On the way back from the telephone, I noticed the Black Country Stompers in a pub and, not being anti-social, decided to join them. It turned out that they had back-up transport carrying their main luggage for them, no wonder they looked so well, whilst I felt tired out. This was a serious matter, which I referred to the Long-distance Walkers’ ‘Ethics ’ Committee. The decision was that although this was permitted it was not to be encouraged as it detracts from the sense of independence that one gets from carrying a thirty-pound pack. What is this committee? I am the Chairman and Gary is the Secretary. It was formed in a pub when we had nothing else to do for three hours. Its aims are:

1) To encourage interest in and enjoyment of long-distance walking, both for individuals and groups, according to ability and experience.

2) To determine definitive rulings on moral and practical issues concerned with long-distance walking and maintain the highest standards of behaviour of participants (e.g. allowable route, permitted use of transport off the route).

3) To provide a source of information to members and others on new developments, new routes, equipment, literature and courses available.

To encourage you in the history of Shap try and visit the Abbey ruins which were established in 1199, before falling into the destructive hands of Henry VIII in 1540 and fell into disrepair and ruin. He has a lot to answer for! There are famous Shap stones hereabouts, erratic huge granite boulders.

3 April 1991: Day 6 – Shap to Kirkby Stephen Youth Hostel – 22 miles

I woke up thinking I was at the end of the earth. I had a headache and the number 22 was spinning round in my head. Surely, we didn’t have to walk 22 miles today? We walked 19 yesterday; Wainwright was going down in the popularity stakes. Having totally criticised the bed and breakfast, I have to say the breakfast was excellent, a real ‘heart attack breakfast’; after it I felt like a ‘New Man’. On a long-distance walk, fruit-juice, bacon, eggs, sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms, black pudding, fried bread, cereals, toast, coffee is just what the doctor ordered and keeps you going until about 10.30am. If not doing a long-distance walk it is sufficient to give you a heart attack.

It was an early start as we left Shap at 8.45am, with dramatic skies over the Lakeland Fells, sadly left behind We soon reached the M6, a tarmac snake of six lanes. As we looked down on the roaring traffic, this was strangely one of the most uplifting experiences of the walk. I realised how good it was to be away from so called ‘civilisation’. The cars were going seventy to eighty miles per hour, caught up in the ‘rat race’. We were walking at the grand speed of three miles per hour, four downhill and two uphill, free as birds. Yes, it was good to be doing Coast to Coast, and good to be away from the trappings of the modern world; the hardships of Shap were not so bad after all.

Black Country Stompers, yet more Guinness and Shap

POST 30: 2 April 1991: Day 5 – Patterdale Youth Hostel to Shap – 19 miles (normal route is 16 miles)

Relief! My infected blister was a little better. As I walked through reception at 8.00am, I bumped into Theresa who said,

‘You don’t look very happy.’

‘Oh, I’m not awake yet.’

Not a man for swearing, I didn’t like to say her stupid and incorrect advice about the weather had meant me walking extra miles, resulting in sore feet. ‘Are you going to Shap today?’ I enquired.

‘No, we’re stopping half-way.’

‘Oh, perhaps we’ll see you later on during the walk.’ I said hoping that I wouldn’t or, if I did, a suitable revenge could be plotted such as turning a signpost around so that she headed off into a wilderness, never to be seen again. This is probably the reason that, from time to time, signs get turned round – a sure way of getting rid of walkers you don’t get on with. As it happened, I didn’t see her on the walk again.

We left Patterdale at 9.15am in torrential rain. It would have been tempting to stay in Patterdale, which Wainwright points out in his guide, is one of the options. Passing through fields, streams had become gushing rivers and Ullswater was probably twice its normal size. It was at this point that we decided to follow the low-level, longer route along Ullswater, rather than the recommended route over Kidsty Pike. Despite the rain, we made good progress, then, near Howtown, stopped in the doorway of a barn to have a hot drink. It was at this point we encountered the Black Country Stompers, a long distance walking group from the Midlands. They surrounded us, pulled out their lunch packs then, as we were grossly outnumbered, we decided we would have to relinquish our bit of shelter and move on. Such are the hierarchies of the trail. However, right was on our side, so that the rain eased off considerably. We continued over Askham Fell to Butterwick, where, feeling somewhat tired we stopped on a bench, near the road, for lunch.

How about this for an alfresco lunch spot
How about this for an alfresco lunch spot
Post lunch relaxation
Post lunch relaxation

‘What would you do if a bus to Shap passed by now?’ I asked.

Archie thought hard and long, ‘Oh, we couldn’t get on a bus ’

‘No but what if two blondes in a sports car stopped and offered us a lift to Shap? Now that would be a different matter.’

Clearly five days on the trail were starting to have an effect and we were experiencing delusions and day dreams. Could we last the solitude and mental torture for another nine days?

Fortunately, we soon arrived at Bampton Grange, where there was an inn and an opportunity to bring us back to the real world. Soon after the Black Country Stompers arrived, then Clint and Wendy. There were enough of us to have a party but no one had the energy. With a roaring fire we were able to dry our clothes and the pub looked liked Sketchleys on a busy day. The warmth of the log fire was cosy and comforting, plus there was Guinness to replenish lost nutrients. I could easily have stayed there instead of heading out into the elements. It was not to be; the call of Shap was beckoning and what would I say to all my sponsors who had offered to donate money to the wildlife rescue centre in Scotland if I failed to finish the walk? There is something about walking to Shap that leads one to a negative frame of mind. I think it goes back to my childhood when Shap was always the first place in the country to be cut off by snow and in a child’s eye it was the last place on earth. Here I was walking towards it, conjuring up all sorts of images of bleakness and barrenness. On arrival, in torrential rain and mist, I was not disappointed as we trudged down the windswept main street; we could have been at the North Pole. However, we did find one shop open and managed to re-stock with barley sugars, Yorkie bars and fruit pastilles; my sugar levels were at an all time low.