Post 142: 7 April 1997: Day 3 – Buckden to Bainbridge – 10 miles
In the morning, whilst watching wild birds eating food put out by the landlady, we had breakfast.
Fortunately, the day’s walk is short and so my hopefully my blisters would recover. The weather was good as we left Buckden. After climbing the old Roman road of Buckden Rake, we decided not to do the three-mile detour to the summit of Buckden Pike as, at over 2,000 feet, it was unlikely to help my blisters to heal.
Continuing over Stake Moss, there were fine retrospective views of Buckden Pike. A clear track alongside Cragdale provided easy navigation with an opportunity to admire the secluded environs of Cragdale Moor, inaccessible to walkers as there are no rights of way. A pleasant descent followed with expansive views of Semer Water as well as the valleys of Semerdale and Raydale. After passing through the quiet hamlet of Stalling Busk and the ruins of the old church, the banks of Semer Water were reached where we took the opportunity to stop for refreshments in what is real Dales country.
On leaving Semer Water, we followed the River Bain, at 2 miles in length England’s shortest named river, into the village of Bainbridge. Here was an opportunity to replenish food stocks and enjoy the wide-open spaces of the village green. In particular, Dick’s mother arrived with a huge, gorgeous, fruit pie, which we completely devoured like starving hyenas. There was also a fine old pub, the Rose and Crown, and sure enough, sitting outside, were Alan and Archie, joining us for the next part of the walk. Bainbridge is the crossroads of this walk and On Foot From Coast to Coast – The North of England Way, my 200-mile walk from Ravenglass on the west coast to Scarborough on the east coast. On reaching Bainbridge, coast to coasters will have walked just over 92 miles compared to our 30 miles.
8 April 1997: Day 4 – Bainbridge to Keld Youth Hostel – 10 miles
As we left this lovely dales village in bright spring sunshine, my feet were somewhat better, but by no means completely healed. After some gentle walking, Askrigg was soon reached where we passed Skeldale House, the surgery-home of Siegfried Farnon, his brother Tristan, and James and Helen Herriot, in the BBC television series ‘All Creatures Great and Small.’
We headed north from Askrigg and, on crossing Askrigg Common, the limestone plateau of Oxnop Scar came into view, followed by the narrow, winding Swaledale valley, surrounded by vast open moors. On reaching Muker, we stopped for refreshments to savour the unique atmosphere of this quaint village nestling between the River Swale and Straw Beck. In fact it was so warm, for over an hour we sat sun-bathing on a bench in the centre of the village. The village marks the point where Swaledale changes in character from a sheltered Dales valley to the upland Dales valley of Birkdale.
St Mary’s church was first built in 1580 but the present structure largely dates from 1890, whilst the Literary Institute dates from 1868. At this time lead-mining was prevalent in the area. The district around Muker inspired the Kearton brothers (Richard, 1868-1928 and Cherry, 1871-1940), who went to the village school in Muker, to devote their lives to watching wildlife, pioneering the photography of birds and animals, and writing and lecturing about their experiences. They are commemorated by plaques on the chapel.
For tourists and motorists visiting Swaledale, Muker is often the end of their journey as the roads become distinctly more remote and difficult to negotiate. For walkers the next section to Keld is pure delight, especially in June when the hay meadows are at their best with carpets of yellow, blue, purple and white flowers. Just before the Swale passes though a narrow gorge, I have seen deer pass in front of me, from one side of the valley to another. After passing through this Arcadia, we omitted a short detour to visit Kisdon Force in order to allow my feet to fully recover.
Arriving at Keld, we visited a café for a relaxing rest sitting outside in bright sunshine, before proceeding to the youth hostel, a former shooting lodge, and now an overnight stop for four long-distance walks. Keld’s unique remoteness is now offset by it being the crossroads of Alfred Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk, the Pennine Way, the Herriot Way and this walk; it is the ‘spaghetti junction’ of long-distance walks. Two chapels, the school and the youth hostel are the main buildings of note in the village, but the Quakers were instrumental in closing the public house.
At the hostel there was an opportunity to swop stories of our experiences with some Pennine Way and Herriot Way walkers.
‘Are you doing the Pennine Way?’ I said to a lady with bright ruddy cheeks which clearly indicated she had been walking along England’s backbone.
‘Yes, I am doing it in celebration of my fortieth birthday.’ She replied somewhat embarrassingly, not really wishing to give her age away to a complete stranger.
‘Your fortieth birthday?’ I exclaimed in complete disbelief. Two-hundred and sixty thousand walkers use the Pennine Way each year, but it was the first person I had met doing it as a birthday celebration.
‘Yes, I’ve never done a long-distance walk before and it seemed like a good idea,’ she said quite genuinely. ‘My companion has done it before and he is looking after me.’
My thoughts went off in a tangent; perhaps they were eloping, having an affair, or something even more interesting. Now a trip to Jamaica, Barbados, Fiji, Australia or New Zealand might be one thing to do when your forty, but to do the Pennine Way is another. Why walk through mud, peat bogs, rain, mist, and winds as a celebration of your fortieth birthday? I might have understood her reasoning if she had been Japanese. Their game show Endurance, where they have maggots crawling over them, lizards running at them and such like, indicates they enjoy suffering. However, she was as English as they come and, as we all know, the British like to see no more suffering than a couple on Blind Date reporting to Cilla Black how they had an awful time on their date and hate each other.
‘Are you enjoying the walk?’ I asked knowing that, if she answered the question incorrectly, all would be revealed.
‘Oh, yes, it’s tiring but I am enjoying it.’
That was it. No one enjoys the Pennine Way, she was clearly in love with her companion, although I never did manage to prise open their exact relationship. She was clearly out to grab her man by accompanying him on the Pennine Way; the birthday was just an excuse.
Also staying at the hostel was a seventy-three year old walking the Pennine Way. There are not that many other activities that you can still do at seventy-three. How many footballers, tennis players, golfers, cricketers do you see over sixty, let alone seventy? Rugby players and climbers seem to retire even earlier, usually with some form of injury. To be fair the pensioner had been a fell-runner for most of his life and for him walking the Pennine Way was not unlike walking to town to get his pension. Like most pensioners, it just takes longer to walk from A to B, but like the proverbial tortoise they get there.
There is little doubt that walking can be a lifetime activity and as you get older you can adjust your daily mileage. In order to maintain fitness it is best to increase the amount of activity that you do. On reading that Kate Winslett, star of the blockbuster movie Titanic, does two hundred sit-ups a day, I increased my level from thirty-five to two hundred a day. This had an immediate impact on my midriff bulge, so that my belt could be pulled in a few notches and it was easier to climb steep hills.
Another character at the hostel was a middle-aged man, walking the Herriot Way, who clearly relished the fact that this was the first time he had escaped from his wife and family for years. He said his wife was delighted to have got rid of him for a few days. Little did she know that the Herriot Way has a reputation for ‘matchmaking’, attracting as it does an even proportion of males and females, unlike the Pennine Way, which is male dominated. One can’t help wonder whether, after this walk, his marriage became another divorce statistic or was saved by it?
With the forty-year old having an affair, a pensioner, a wife escaper and no pub for miles, we had a quiet but interesting night and the coal fire was warming and relaxing.