Coast to Coast: Through the Dales and the Vale of Mowbray
Day 9 August 16 Day Nine Keld to Reeth 12 ½ Miles
We woke up to pouring rain this morning. Funny how it doesn’t even phase us anymore. There was not much wind and it was warm. Good enough! Rumours were flying that it would clear. It didn’t. We started our day’s ascent along the River Swale. There were two routes to choose from today. There was a low level walk along the valley floor following the Swale and there was a high level walk through some of the old mining sites in the fells above. Because the mining past interests me, and because I love old ruins in general, we chose the high level route and were not disappointed in our choice.
In spite of the rain, we were back in our element. After a day of bog schlogging, we were scrambling up through the rocky fells. As we ascended the River Swale dropped away below us and we found ourselves in the bizarre landscape that was half nature at her most exquisite, with mauve heather carpeting the hillsides and half man at his most destructive, with mine tailings mixed in amongst the heather. Our ascent took us first to the ruins of Crackpot Hall, and no that’s not a reflection on the walkers who take that rout. Crackpot Hall is an old framing stead that had to be abandon when it became unsafe due to all the mining that had happened underneath and around it. We wandered around in the ruins and took pictures of what was left, the remains of the kitchen hearth and even an old metal bathtub. We couldn’t keep from wondering what life had been like for the people who lived there. No doubt not easy.
The rain continued, and the ceiling was just high enough for us to make out our rout up the rocky, Swinner’s Gill, which took in the ruins of the Swinnergill’s lead mines and smelt mill. We were in our element climbing up the narrowing gill with the stream running along beside us. We climbed up over wet rock as the gill narrowed and steepened until we found ourselves climbing up dodgy peat rather than stones. Fortunately we found our way to the top of the gill to follow a very nice shooters track through the rainy moor until we found a descent into Gunnerside Gill to the ruins of Blakethwaite Smelt Mill with its elegant stone arches and round smelt mill.
We crossed swollen becks and climbed up scree strewn gills up to the devastated landscape caused by the Old Gang Lead Mine. It was sobering to walk through the destruction, like a dead moonscape, then look out into the distance at the richly heathered hills surrounding. Hard to believe such devastation could exist next to such beauty. As we approached the Old Gang Melt Mill, we passed by a fleet of matching black, shiny Land Rovers. Upon questioning an elderly gentleman in the first, we discovered that he was a gamekeeper, and all the Land Rovers were full of hunters waiting for the mist to clear so they could shoot grouse.
We ended our day at the School House in Reeth, arriving just as the rain finally cleared and the sun peeked out from the clouds.
Day 10 Reeth to Richmond, and beyond (Bolton on Swale)
It should have been an easy walk of just eleven miles, and that over gently undulating hills as we left the Swale and followed up to Applegarth Scar. We even stopped at a farmhouse for tea and scones. It should have been a leisurely day. We would have been in Richmond by early afternoon, had we not put our heads together for a hair-brained scheme. Neither of us relished walking 24 miles tomorrow, so we hit on a brilliant plan to walk into Richmond, as planned, hop a taxi out to Bolton on Swale, which we thought was another five miles on our way, then walk back into our B&B at Richmond. We got our mileage a little off. Instead of being five miles from Richmond, Bolton on Swale ended up being seven and a half miles from Richmond. Now tow and a half miles may not sound like much in the scheme of things, but my feet can attest to the fact that an extra flight of stairs at the end of the day can feel like a major ascent. We arrived at our B&B at seven that night. As luck would have it, this was the only place we had in the journey that had a bathtub, a very large bathtub, which we took full advantage of. Though I have to admit lying there in the warmth and the bubbles with my glass of red wine, I feared I might just drift off to sleep and pull and Ophelia.
Being too tired to find a place for dinner, we ended up having bread and cheese and fruit and a bottle of wine in the room, always one of our favourite meals anyway, before falling into bed. The good news is that tomorrow will be only 16 ½ miles rather than 24 ½ thanks to our brainy idea and the use of a good taxi.
This was another day when Whiney-Arse KD commandeered the reins. It was probably the toughest day I walked so far. Nothing really hurt. I just could barely hold my eyes open, and I walked in some sort of weird fog all day, even though it was a lovely day to walk, the first sunny, rain-free day we’d had in awhile.
LESSON LEARNED: I can’t walk fourteen hard miles a day and not get enough sleep at night. Duh! As a writer, I live under slept most of the time, always attempting to get just a little more written before I head off to bed, and I was trying to do the same thing en route – walk hard all day and write at night. It was not a workable plan. After today, I promised myself if I wasn’t finished with what I was doing by 10:00 pm, it didn’t matter. I’d shut down and go to bed anyway.
Day 11 Bolton on Swale (Richmond) to Inglby Cross 16 ½ mile
Our biggest danger faced so far, crossing the A19 dual carriageway before arriving at Inglby Cross. As far as the scenery of the day was concerned, we could have been in Kent, as we passed grain field after grain field and cow pasture after cow pasture. The experience was made interesting by the fact that the grain and the hay harvest were in progress and we saw some very interesting farming techniques going on while we were passing through. The flat walk was made challenging by at least a half a million stiles. It’s amazing how tiring it becomes to hoist body and full pack over one stile after another, most made for people with VERY long legs, some wobbly enough to make going over an act of faith, and some hoisted high with hip-deep nettles surrounding the giant step and a strand of barbed wire connecting it to the rest of the fence. Add to that the fact that we were in cattle country and for some reason, cows seem to particularly enjoy relieving themselves at the foot of styles. Wicked sense of humour, cattle. Oh, and there was the odd electric fence just to keep us on our toes. So in the end, our fears of not getting enough of a work-out on the flat of the Veil of Mowbry were put to rest.
We were told that the long flat stretch between Richmond and Inglby Cross, the Vale of Mowbry, is twenty-four miles that just have to be gotten through to get back to the good bits. That wasn’t far wrong. Though the rout isn’t unpleasant, it’s just miles of farmland, which does little to stimulate tired minds and tired feet. And feet do tend to suffer terribly on the long, hard flat.
Never mind. Zig-zagging our way through the racing traffic on the busy dual carriageway of the A 19 gave us an adrenaline rush we needed to see our way through to the end of the day’s walk. With the Cleveland Hills looming bright in the distance, we’re assured of a more exciting walk tomorrow when we head into our third national park, the North York Moors.