Coast to Coast

Day Nine – 30th April 2011: Little Birkdale to Reeth – 14.5 miles

We awoke having had a chilly night, the fire having gone out at some point. We rushed around to keep warm, collecting all our bits and pieces together before cooking our breakfast. This was a self service affair with all the provisions required to give a good kick start to the day.

We knocked on Cath and Gary’s door and said that we were off and we needed to settle up. Cath came over to our cottage and we gave her the cheque at the same time as her collecting all our pots etc from the night before. She was quite taken aback that we had washed everything up and put everything away. We wondered what other people do but all I can say is we were brought up properly! We chatted for quite a while, Gary telling us about how they found the farm and then how they went about re-building it. They mentioned the way some guests often abused their hospitality, which was quite shocking really but I suppose in this day and age when people don’t take the time to understand how people survive in these remote areas, not surprising. They have a wind turbine for their electricity and even that morning it was flying round at a great speed of knots, but they said that they have had it blow over which was incredible bearing in mind the size of the base and the bolts holding it to the ground.

So it was with heavy hearts that we left Little Birkdale. My initial reaction to the place the day before was completely wrong and I would return in an instant, and just for the record Cath and Gary are lovely people, salt of the earth – we wish them well.

View back to Little Birkdale

We had spent far too long talking really but we were cutting across the fields to join up with the river and then the road into Keld, rather than the road all the way, so this would make it slightly shorter as well as more pleasant. The jumble of fields made route finding a little tricky in places but we had the OS map and we soon joined the road without going astray. Even so it seemed to take longer than I had anticipated getting to Keld. We had the River Swale for company for most of the way, passing Wainwath Falls as we did so.

Wainwath Force

Keld itself was very pleasant and in the sunshine was very inviting. We hit another milestone at Keld, we had officially completed half of the route but this fact went unnoticed as we concentrated on route finding.


We dropped down and then crossed the Swale joining the Pennine Way for just a few yards. The route we were taking was the low level route as the high level route with its industrial heritage didn’t really appeal. However, we were to be quite surprised at how much high level there was on our route. We climbed almost to Crackpot Hall before descending back down to the river, passing Swinner Gill before stopping for a rest and some food.

Swaledale from near Crackpot Hall

Swinner Gill

Being a Saturday there were a few people about that had seemingly parked in Muker a couple of miles on and were walking towards Keld, no one seemed to be going in our direction. We thought about going to Muker but we didn’t have time as it was slightly off the path, so we passed by.

The route was lovely as we followed the river and then across a selection of meadows until we reached Ivelet and then Gunnerside. It was from here that I lost my sense of humour. We had picked the low level route for a reason, that it was low level, so why at Gunnerside does Steadman direct you steeply up and out of Gunnerside? We were using Steadman as a guide book and so automatically followed his low level route. It wasn’t until later that I realised that there were footpaths that followed the river all the way to Reeth and in fact Martin Wainwright uses this route. Why Steadman puts in this loop up on to the moor and then back down again to the river I really don’t know. But before we started the steep ascent we stopped for a food break and sat on the seat on a bank overlooking the valley. It was a nice spot to stop and quite warm in the spring sunshine and a couple of wasps seemed to be intent on becoming our friends. From our viewpoint we could see other walkers, walking along the valley floor; looking back now, I only wished we could have joined them.

View from Gunnerside

But our chosen route was upwards so we set off uphill and past some ruined houses. Just before we reached the crest there were a group of walkers having a food break in a hollow which seemed strange bearing in mind the weather was so good. But, as we reached the top we were met with a howling gale which slammed into us, it was bitterly cold and coming straight at us. The Steadman book was incorrect here as it mentioned a wall that clearly didn’t exist and there were two paths and it didn’t state which to take. We took the left which seemed the most worn but also kept a watchful eye on the right hand path to see where it led. The moorland ended at Blades but we couldn’t see any hint that there was a hamlet nearby and so asked a walker coming towards us as to whether we were on the right track. He assured us that we were heading in the right direction and on the right path and sure enough just around the corner, was Blades.

Swaledale towards Reeth

We continued mainly on tarmac, sometimes going up, sometimes going down, until Healaugh where after crossing a field we arrived back at the river. We stopped at Healaugh for a while, there being a convenient bench so taking the opportunity for a rest. Perhaps if we hadn’t started from Little Birkdale but from Keld this seemingly unnecessary diversion might have been more palatable. The scenery was good but this route, on our day, was bitterly cold, so rather uncomfortable. The odd hamlet and village was pretty but there were no shops or pubs so my question remains, why? It just seemed that we had gone around the sun to meet the moon, only to end up where we wanted to be, alongside the river. Although I wasn’t in a bad mood, I just wanted to get to Reeth as the day hadn’t been as I expected it to be. It is said that most people’s bad day is on day 5 so I had done pretty well really, perhaps I just needed a rest. I tried not to let Rachel know but she knew that I wasn’t overly happy and I was a bit short.

The weather was much warmer now we had returned to the valley and it was pleasant to walk along the river and soon enough we reached the suspension bridge just outside Reeth. There was a family there with their small children and we struck up a conversation with them for a while as they seemed interested in what we were doing. We walked through some residential roads before arriving at the green and the memories flooded back. We had been here before, 20 years before, on our first family holiday when the eldest was 3 years and the youngest 6 months, staying at Hurst high up on the moors. We checked out the pubs and shops to see what was on offer before heading off to the B&B. We had decided to stay at Cambridge House just out of Reeth on the Arkengarthdale Road and although it was the most expensive stay of the trip we hoped it would be worth it. We were staying for 2 nights as we were having the second of our rest days and we were looking forward to it and hoped that by paying a premium we wouldn’t be disappointed.

Cambridge House Reeth

As we approached the guest house we were met by Sandra and asked to enter via another door where the boot/drying room was. We deposited our boots and were shown to our room which was well presented and had great views to Reeth and beyond. We were told that tea and cake would be served in the conservatory in half an hour, so our showers would have to wait. We arrived downstairs to find another couple and an older gentleman that were also staying there and we got chatting over our cake and drinks. Both had stayed before which was reassuring, the older gent did some gentle walking whereas the younger couple were adrenaline junkies and into mountain biking as well as walking. Sandra and Les had set the guest house up specifically for walkers but this was no bunkhouse. There was a good selection of books, maps and leaflets about anything and everything in the area and as Sandra and Les were walkers and bikers themselves they could answer and advise on anything related to their hobbies. Some people have complained about the rules of the house but nothing was over the top at all and everything was very reasonably requested. They had systems that worked very well and ran the place exactly how I would have expected them to do.

We reluctantly left the conservatory and our new found buddies and returned to our room where we showered and then unpacked completely bearing in mind we were staying for 2 nights.

Feeling suitably refreshed we ambled down to Reeth to find a suitable pub for our evening meal. We plumped for the Kings Arms as it seemed busier, which is always a good sign. We grabbed a table and placed our order and then a few minutes later Gary and Sam appeared. We hadn’t seen them for a couple of days so we had some catching up to do, but just as we started jawing, our food appeared. The food was most acceptable and we despatched it pretty quickly. We were glad that we arrived when we did as there were now no tables left. After draining our pints we got up and walked over to Gary and Sam for a further chat. Their food had just arrived so we didn’t want to stay too long as they needed to eat. This was the last time we would see them as they were not having any rest days and so they would complete a day before us. The Australian couple we had passed at Smardale Bridge were also there so we all joined in wishing each other well for the coming days. It felt really strange to be saying good-bye and quite emotional really and that coming from someone that initially didn’t want to talk or walk with anyone else for the duration of the walk – how I’d changed! I think we all felt that a tight bond that had been created between us was now being severed. We had already completed a lot together and come a long way, in fact over half way. I genuinely wished we could have continued with them but it was not to be. Gary and Sam seemed to have enjoyed our company, strange I know but true, but how much (albeit in a small way) wouldn’t manifest itself until our last day.

So with a heavy heart we left the pub and walked up the lane back to our B&B. We were soon tucked up in bed and relished the thought of a bit of a lie in the following morning and a chance to have a rest day.


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