Coast to Coast

Day Eight – 29th April 2011: Kirkby Stephen to Little Birkdale – 11.5 miles

After a good night’s sleep we woke with the odd muscle stiffness but once we got moving it soon went. Breakfast was varied and like everything else in the house was well presented. As we sat eating, Barbara set up the photo album from their Coast to Coast walk, on a photo frame which was a nice touch. It reminded us of where we had been and gave us an insight as to where we were going. We mentioned to Ken – yes, Ken and Barbie – that we were thinking of taking the Green route and he quickly convinced us that we should take the Red route over Nine Standards. He had been up there recently and said that it was fairly dry and that we wouldn’t have any problems. We thanked him for his advice but we still intended to use the easier Green route, not that we told Ken that.

Before checking out we nipped to the Co-op that was just around the corner to top up our supplies. We needed to get enough to get us to Reeth, 2 days away. While at the shop we met Gary and Sam who were doing the same thing. They were unsure of which route they would take and were waiting to see what it was going to be like when they got up there. After that meeting we wouldn’t see them again until Reeth as our timings were out during each day and consequently we would keep missing each other. We returned to White Gill to finish packing and then had a chat to Barbara about the Dales Way. They had also completed this walk and were singing its praises – so perhaps one for next year.

We ambled down to Frank’s Bridge and crossed the river before heading towards Hartley village and then the quarry. The route took us quite steeply uphill and followed a lane for quite a while as it contoured around Birkett Hill. It was here that coming towards us was a very fast walking, one half, of the Two Ladies. She passed us, head down and heading back to Kirby Stephen, no back pack and no map, she totally blanked us. We thought that perhaps she had forgotten something and was going back to retrieve it from the B&B, how strange. We found out the following day that Gary and Sam had met her and she had got lost and didn’t like the look of the moorland and so was returning to Kirby Stephen to catch a bus to Keld. She had apparently, fallen out with her walking partner again and had split up – for good or not we will never know.

We continued up the hill and arrived at the fell side proper and soon found the ‘Rest-a-While’ seat, and we did.

Rest-a-while seat

We had a quick snack and then continued into quite a strong and biting head wind. As we gained height we could look back to the route from the day before, but our route lay ahead and very soon we arrived at the junction of the routes across the moor. The weather was windy but good, visibility was good, and underfoot it was dry. We did think that we would feel a little cheated if we didn’t visit the actual Nine Standards, the Green route skirting around them to the west, so we made the decision to take the Red route after all and headed up towards the obelisks. The route winds itself up the hillside and it isn’t until the last few hundred yards that they finally come into view. It was at this point that the weather rolled in. We resisted putting on our wet weather gear until it was evident that this wasn’t just a blip. As we got nearer the Nine Standards it was raining heavily and visibility was about 30 yards. Through the gloom we recognised a couple that we had seen at the White Lion in Patterdale who were sheltering from the elements. We too took shelter behind one of the Nine Standards ourselves. We had made it to a milestone on Nine Standards, as we had reached the watershed. Now everything would be flowing eastwards and towards the North Sea. But, this fact had totally passed us by as we had more pressing matters.

Nine Standards before the weather changed

We had planned to have a food stop here but it was totally out of the question in those conditions. We did have a cereal bar but already the wind was tearing through our clothing and we had to get off the high ground as quickly as possible before we became hypothermia cases. We were to find out the next day in Reeth, when we caught up with Gary and Sam again, that our experience was somewhat different to theirs. They must have only been about an hour in front of us at the most but had relatively clear skies and not much wind and no rain, how quickly things can change.

There was nothing for it but to get the compass out and take a bearing and hope that we would soon drop out of the cloud. Having to navigate over that sort of terrain is probably the most testing of all as the constant ups and downs and skirting of bog mean that it is very difficult to maintain a correct course. I took a bearing, first to the trig point. There appeared to be a faint path but I was not prepared to assume that it was correct as it could have been a sheep run. With bearing taken we set off in what we hoped was the correct direction, and just as we did so the clag lifted just enough to make out the trig point bang on my bearing. But as quickly as it appeared the clouds flooded back in to mask it all again. We had to shout at each other to make ourselves heard, as the wind was so strong, so I yelled at Rachel to stay behind me so that I wasn’t distracted and could walk a straight line. The other couple saw us move off and followed just about close enough to keep us in sight. When we stopped they stopped, they had no compass and appeared to have no map. I had had no problem with them joining us but they seemed to be happy to tag along at a distance, I just hoped that they didn’t lose sight of us.

At the trig point I took another bearing and we set off. There were several paths or more probably sheep runs so it was useful to have the bearing to confirm direction. As we descended, the cloud lifted slightly and we could clearly see the way ahead. The ground was very dry with hardly any bogs at all; it was like walking on a mattress. The wind was still blowing a gale but the rain had stopped some while before, it having been just a squally shower. We thought about stopping at the millstone obelisk but it was quite exposed and so we decided to carry on and find shelter further on. We came upon a peat grough with a flat area with plenty of grass, a few feet below the moor line and so had found our ideal spot out of the wind. We had covered a lot of ground quite quickly in our need to get off the moor and were probably only about an hour or so from the B&B at Little Birkdale. Therefore, we took our time, but eventually, even in our hollow, the cold was getting to us and we needed to get moving.

We dropped down to the road which would be our companion until we reached our overnight stop. As it was a minor road, only a couple of cars passed us and although road walking isn’t great it was quite pleasant not having to route find.

We arrived at Little Birkdale and my initial reaction was of disappointment as it looked very messy. There was a half finished extension, duck and geese everywhere along with copious amounts of droppings. We had been unaware that it was a mini small holding, the pictures on their website not showing this aspect or elevation. But, this was our bed for the night and of course we wouldn’t be sleeping outside – or would we? We knocked on the door and got no reply. We were about half an hour before we had agreed but we had hoped that they would be in residence. We wrapped up and got as warm as we could but the wind was blustery and wherever we tried to get out of it, it would get us a short while later. The views from their front door were amazing, looking across to moorland and hill with the river in the valley below. The water level was very low and we were to find out later that the levels were as low as anyone could remember. An hour passed and nothing, then we could see down by the river about a mile away a figure walking. This was in fact the owner and then another figure, his wife, joined him. Eventually they made it up the hill by which time we were almost reduced to counting our digits to make sure none had fallen off, it was that cold! It had almost been 2 hours since we arrived, it hadn’t been great but at least we had the ducks and chicken to keep us company.

Little Birkdale

View from Little Birkdale

When the owners did arrive they were very apologetic, they hadn’t expected us so soon and had none of the bad weather that we had experienced, so had assumed we would be later than we were. They showed us into the accommodation, which was a self contained small house really, albeit joined onto the main house. It had everything we needed. Lounge with log burner, kitchen bedroom and bathroom. Gary got the wood burning stove going for us and Cath went to get the dinner on. The night rate includes dinner and Cath will cook anything within reason, but we had plumped for sausages, beans and baked potatoes followed by egg custard tart, which after the cold and windy day we had it was a perfect choice. It was quite apparent that once the fire got going it would generate quite a bit of heat so we immediately got down to doing some clothes washing. There were some convenient hooks on a beam just above the fire so with boot lace washing line in place we hung the washing up to dry. There was every chance it would smell of wood smoke but it was too good an opportunity to miss.

We had the use of a bath so again we took the opportunity to have a soak. There were no curtains or blinds at the window but it didn’t matter as the view from the bathroom was of moor and hillside and no one for miles, it certainly was a loo with a view. As we had plenty of space we spread ourselves and our gear out. It was wonderful to have a place like this all to ourselves. A knock at the door heralded the arrival of our dinner; it was piping hot and smelt delicious. The amount was generous but just right for our appetites, we were just nicely hungry. There were a selection of beers and wine in the kitchen which were reasonably priced, for us to help ourselves. We then settled up in the morning for anything we drank. We limited ourselves to just one bottle of red which was excellent. After our pudding we cleared away, washed up and put away everything and then adjourned to the lounge to finish the wine in front of the telly and a roaring fire – bliss. The heat from the fire had worked its way upstairs and so we decided to get to bed before the fire went out. We stoked up the fire to give us some heat during the night, packed as much as we could ready for the morning and hit the hay.

The next day was going to be a longer day as we had stopped about 3 miles short of Keld, which is where most people stop. By all accounts it was supposed to be a straightforward leg into Reeth.


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