Coast to Coast

Day Seven – 28th April 2011: Shap to Kirkby Stephen – 20 miles

We awoke to a hard frost but the day was clear and bright yet again. After a hearty breakfast we grabbed our packs and started the trek to Kirby Stephen. We were quite surprised to find that we had no soreness from the day before; our training must have made all the difference. We weren’t that bothered about feeling tired and generally knackered at the end of the day (although it would be tested to the full in Grosmont), that was to be expected. What we did need was a quick recovery time and it appeared that this was indeed what was happening.

We were now out of the Lake District and entering new territory for us, although we had been to the Dales many years ago and stayed near Reeth. We took the path from the Hotel and rejoined the Coast to Coast proper just near the footbridge over the M6. Although we had seen traffic and passed roads, the noise and the speed of the traffic was a rude awakening and in a strange way the walk over the bridge was the scariest thing so far, it just wasn’t nice at all, weird! The walking was easy and we got off to a good pace. Looking back we could see Gary and Sam just setting off across the fields from Shap, they would catch us up later.

Shap and Kidsty Pike

M6 motorway

We soon reached the quarry and then Oddendale before passing the stone circles and heading out and across moorland. We crossed some limestone pavements as well as a huge isolated bolder which like most people meant that we had to have our photograph taken next to it.

Rachel on Crosby Ravensworth Fell

Then it was on to Crosby Ravensworth Fell with a few ups and downs along the way. It was fairly bleak but there was a good path most of the time and route finding wasn’t an issue. We dropped down into a little ravine where we could have turned off and had a look at Robin Hood’s grave but we wanted to press on and it didn’t really appeal anyway. After the Lake District there were less people about and we were alone for most of the morning. We caught the odd glimpse of walkers in the distance but no one else seemed to be on the Coast to Coast.

Due to the mileage we had decided to space out our stops a bit more and so hadn’t stopped yet. We decided that we aught to stop soon to top up energy levels but we would press on for now. We dropped down to the Crosby Ravensworth road and met three walkers coming towards us. They were doing the Coast to Coast the opposite way and were stopping at campsites although they weren’t carrying much kit. They had made an early start and had made good progress. We chatted for a while before wishing each other well and setting off once more. We arrived at the junction with the B6260 and couldn’t resist a photo of a road sign to Pleb. So that’s where they all live! Down the hill and pass the lime kiln we saw an ideal spot to stop for a break just before Broadfell Farm.

Broadfell Farm

After about 20 minutes we set off again just as Gary, Sam and another couple of ladies appeared. We all joined up and walked together. It transpired that The Two Ladies had very little idea of route finding and had no maps apart from the guide book which they seemed unable to interpret properly. Their idea of route finding was to quite unashamedly latch on to others. Gary and Sam had tried to shake them off but without success as one of them was quite a quick walker. We were also told that they had had a falling out and so rarely walked or talked together. We were also joined by another couple that walked with us for only about a mile before they stopped off at a farm selling refreshments. We crossed a few more fields until we arrived at Knott Lane and noticed hanging on the barbed wire a collection of dead moles. Judging from the amount of mole hills in this part of the world, the mole catcher was fighting a losing battle.


We chatted some more with Gary and Sam and found out that he was in IT and she worked in a solicitor’s office. They had lived down south for a while but had moved to Scotland which was where Gary had originally come from. It was good to talk, as they say. I am the unsociable one and didn’t like the idea of making ‘friends’ on the walk but I had to admit that after having Liz and Jon and then Gary and Sam for company it was good. It was very easy to be in Gary and Sam’s company. We didn’t walk with them all the time, we didn’t talk to them all the time and if one or the other wanted to stop and the others didn’t then we would split up and probably catch up later in the day. In fact most days that we met them we leapfrogged each other several times. We never arranged to meet up at a certain time or anything like that, but it just seemed to work. On this occasion we were so busy talking that we suddenly realised that we hadn’t been looking at guide book or map for quite a while. We had realised just in time before we went across Tarn Moor and headed towards Sunbiggin Tarn. The route doesn’t take you to the tarn but down the road and then across Ravenstonedale Moor. As we walked parallel to the tarn we could see the water twinkling in the sunlight and looked quite inviting but we had more miles to do.

Sunbiggin Tarn

The Two Ladies hadn’t a clue where they were and started to question the route we were taking and so as politely as I could I suggested that we were on course. As the path dropped down to what would have been a boggy area covered with duck boards, Gary, Sam and The Two Ladies decided to stop for a break. We pushed on feeling the need to be by ourselves for a bit.

I had got in the habit during that day of putting the map between my back and the back pack which worked quite well as it saved me having to hold it all the time. I could just reach around and pull it out whenever I needed to refer to it. So, as I decided to check on our progress across the moor, I put my hand back but it had gone. In a bit of a panic I turned round and there in the distance behind us was my solitary, laminated map dancing in the breeze. At least I hadn’t lost it but now I had to retrieve it before it flew all the way back to St Bees. Now safely re-united, we carried on, with map in hand now, for about half an hour, until we reached the hill top water reservoir on the other side of the moor. Out of the wind we tucked in to some food but just as we were packing up to move off, the Midlands couple appeared. It seemed they were in a hurry and soon sprinted off, we let them go. The wind was really picking up now and after believing I could do without my fleece, I finally succumbed to the inevitable and had to put it on. Much is made of Severals village but as you pass it you really don’t know it is there, assuming you are a philistine like me – archaeology never was my strong point. As we descended towards Smardale Bridge Gary and Sam caught us up and walked with us. We passed a disused railway workers cottage alongside the old railway line. If it ever comes onto the market I want it!

As we contoured around the hill, with the beck in the valley below us, we noticed another couple just getting to the bridge and making it their food stop.

Smardale Bridge

In a few minutes we were at the bridge and as is normal had a brief chat before moving off. They were Australians (or they could have been New Zealanders) which we gleaned from their accents and were also doing the Coast to Coast. We hadn’t seen them before on the trail but we would meet up with them briefly at Reeth in a couple of day’s time.

It was all uphill from Smardale Bridge but knowing that Kirkby Stephen wasn’t too far away (and mostly down hill) once we got to the top of this hill, spurred us on. The Smardale Gill viaduct came into view and after the obligatory photographs we continued uphill.

Smardale Gill Viaduct

A rusty sheep!

Once the top was attained we could just make out Kirkby Stephen, and in the distance, Nine Standards, a long way away on the skyline – our climb for tomorrow. We didn’t know then how bad it was going to be, which was probably just as well.

We passed through several fields and could see the tunnel that would take us under the railway line. In need of a wee stop we said farewell to Gary and Sam for the day. We passed under the railway and again through fields to a farm that had just separated probably about 200 lambs from their mothers. The noise was deafening, with each lamb competing with its neighbour as to who could make the most distressing call. The ewes for their part were doing the same from their side of the gate. We walked directly through the farmyard and then on to a lane that took us all the way into Kirkby Stephen which was a bit of a rude awakening with all the noise and bustle.

We had made good time, it being 4pm. The 20 miles had gone well and we had experienced a variety of scenery which helped the miles tick by. We were again in surprisingly good shape, even more surprising after the previous long day. We had completed 4 more miles and taken an hour less. We felt good, no problems with body or equipment and were looking forward to finding our B&B and relaxing before finding a suitable watering hole. We were staying at White Gill House but although we had a map with a grid ref and a guide book that plainly market its position, we couldn’t find it. We walked by it, and carried on to Frank’s Bridge (our start point for the next day), we walked back again and missed it again. We turned around and walked back again and then finally saw a sign for White Gill House, perhaps we were more tired than we thought.

White Gill House Kirby Stephen

There was a sign that asked walkers to go around the back, which we did. We rang the bell and waited and waited…..and waited. We rang the front door bell as well, but nothing. We went around the back again and tried the door to the conservatory, which was open. The wind was getting up and the back being in the shade made it pretty cold, so we made an executive decision and decided to wait in the conservatory and hope that someone would appear. After about half an hour we heard voices and the front door was opened. We called out, so as not to surprise them, the last thing we wanted was to startle them bearing in mind we were sitting in their house uninvited. Barbara was so apologetic. They had friends staying with them that night and had taken them out down to the river. They had assumed that we wouldn’t arrive before 5pm, no one does apparently, and so had nipped out. They really couldn’t believe how quickly we had completed the miles especially as we had carried all our own kit. They were walkers themselves and had completed the Coast to Coast and the Dales Way, so we felt quietly chuffed that we had appeared to be pretty fit. Barbara supplied us with tea and cake which was most welcome, before showing us to our room.

Some might say the room was fussy or chintzy but a lot of thought had gone into every detail and everything was just so. I think I would have worried if we had been wet and dirty but we were dry and dusty so no problem.

Ablutions done, we headed into town via a cut through path which came out right next to the Kings’ Arms.

Kirkby Stephen

This was the pub we were aiming to eat in so with little ado we grabbed a pint and found a suitable table. We were the first in and wondered if we had made the right choice but very soon we were joined by quite a few locals, which was a good sign. The food was good and we had an enjoyable evening. We got back to White Gill and soon our thoughts turned to the dreaded Nine Standards. It could be avoided altogether by taking the road all the way to Keld, but unless the weather was awful we were planning on taking the Green route. This was still a bit wimpish but we thought that it was prudent but also we were staying at Little Birkdale so the Blue route didn’t make a lot of sense as it would take us beyond our overnight stop and we would have to double back. How bad would it be? How deep would the bogs be? Would we get hopelessly lost? All these questions would have to wait until the morning, sleep was calling.


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