Coast to Coast - East to West 2006

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 5 - Days 7 & 8 - Muker to Shap

[Index of Walks] [Previous] [Top] [Next]

[Index of Walks] [Previous] [Top] [Next]

Day 7 - Sunday 11th June - 15.5 miles - 1,550 ft ascent

Muker to Kirkby Stephen

The weather forecast was for another hot day, but with thundery showers approaching from the east later on. I had a very good breakfast at 8.00 and was off by 9.00 into the bright sunshine, already feeling very warm without much breeze. This time I took the low level route along the banks of the Swale back to Keld. Again, there were beautiful meadows full of wild flowers and the river, now very low through lack of rain, running nearby. It was getting hotter as I reached a bend in the river where the path started to rise up. Rather than follow it, I decided to see if I could get along by the river to reach the waterfalls at Kisdon Force from this direction. It was alright for a short way, but soon there was no route possible on my side of the river because of the steeply rising, rocky river bank. However, as the river was so low, it was possible to cross over by some stones, though I did immerse my feet in the water after stumbling with the weight of my pack whilst crossing. It was quite easy walking on the other side, past ruins of buildings and large swathes of bluebells, to just below Kisdon Force, where it was necessary to cross back to the other side of the river again. This I accomplished with a quick dip of one boot, which was already wet from the previous encounter. It is the first time my feet had got wet all week, and they would dry out before long in the hot weather.

Both Kisdon Low Force and Kisdon High Force were lit quite well with sunshine coming from downstream making it better for taking photographs, which wouldn’t have been the case later in the day when the sun would be blocked by the steep riverbanks. From here onwards, it was simply a matter of following the footpath back to where it joins the Pennine Way route into Keld, although even that involved an awkward scramble at first. To anyone else wanting to visit the falls, I would not recommend my route, which was only possible because the river was so low - far better to stick to the signposted route.

Click to Reduce

Kisdon Force, a series of three waterfalls on the River Swale
Kisdon Force
The River Swale above Keld
Swale above Keld

I was very hot by the time I had finished scrambling up the fairly steep valley, then up through Keld to the road by the Youth Hostel, which looked deserted, probably because everyone had already left by now. As I started climbing up onto the moor side on the way out of Keld, however, there was more of a breeze to cool me down a little, and then the sun clouded over for a while. At about 11.00, I stopped for a rest by How Edge Scars on Whitsundale Beck, overlooking the beck down the steep drop below. The sun came out again but was accompanied by a breeze, as I set off again to the remote farm of Raven Seat, which was a short distance further on. From here onwards the route climbs steadily up onto the open moors, as a large area of wild and remote countryside is entered with little sign of habitation for miles around, the only man made objects being a few shooting butts and the odd shooting hut or shelter, though a minor road was just visible in the valley below. The whole panorama is of a similar nature with wild, open moorland as far as the eye can see.

At about 2000 ft above sea level and about a mile and a half from Nine Standards Rigg, I stopped for a lunch break not far from the path. There was a huge procession of people who came towards me, many of them in quite large groups of a dozen or so. There was not much point in asking people around here what they are doing, as nearly all of them are likely to be doing the Coast to Coast. Those just climbing Nine Standards Rigg generally approach it from the Kirkby Stephen side where there is closer access. In less than an hour, about forty people walked past, and I met others both before and after that. Of course, most people set off at a weekend and are likely to reach here about a week or so later, also some of the people I met were just starting out to do the second half of the walk, having split it into two separate weeks. One of the groups had booked accommodation a year in advance because of the difficulty of finding rooms for a fairly large group.

I sunbathed for about an hour, watching the procession of walkers filing past, and then all became peaceful again with just the birds for company and the last group of walkers disappearing into the distance. Mallerstang had been prominent on my left for quite a way but, as I climbed higher, Wild Boar Fell came into view as well as the Howgill Fells, all of these bringing back memories of my walks of the Westmorland Heritage Walk. It wasn’t long before I reached the summit and the Nine Standards came into sight just beyond. Last time I was here two years ago, one or two of these were in a very bad state of repair and in danger of collapse. Since then the builders had been out in force, four cairns having been completely rebuilt, and repairs made to some of the others. They had made a very good job of them, and the largest one was built with a seating ledge all the way round.

Click to Reduce

The cairns on Nine Standards Rigg, several having been recently rebuilt or repaired
Nine Standards Rigg
Looking south from descent of Nine Standards Rigg towards Wild Boar Fell and the Howgill Fells
S from Nine Standards Rigg

There was still a haze about, so some of the distant fells could not be seen – I could just see Dufton Pike but Cross Fell was lost in the haze. There was another small group of walkers by the cairns but, for once, they were not Coast to Coast walkers, but just out for the day. By this time it was rather late for anyone expecting to walk as far as Keld.

I was getting fed up with the foul taste of my drinking water when it has warmed up towards the end of a hot day, so will have to buy some squash to mix with it to improve the taste. I tend not to do this because of the extra weight of carrying the squash as well as my food and drink, but in warm weather it is definitely worth the effort. It was now 3 p.m., the other walkers had departed, and I was left with the whole place to myself. There was hardly a sound other than the breeze and the call of a few distant birds. All that remained now was about five miles of steady descent into Kirkby Stephen. When I did the Westmorland Heritage Walk two years ago, I got myself lost by going too far from the summit in search of the path, but now I just took the most obvious well worn path from near the cairns and that led me straight down without any problems, and there was not even any sticky peat to contend with because of the long spell of dry weather.

As I dropped down, the temperature got higher and higher so that by the time I was nearing Kirkby Stephen I was baking hot. Any cloud that had been around dispersed and the scenery round about and over to the distant fells looked at its best, apart from the slight haze that still persisted. It was 5 p.m. when I reached my destination and my first priority was to buy a cool drink from the nearest shop, downing it in double quick time. Although there was quite good mobile phone reception in town for a change, it was a lot cheaper to call from the nearby call box, especially as it was at an off-peak time. For the minimum charge of 30p I was on the phone for quite a long time with no sign of my credit running out. This is very good for anyone who is making a call, but not so good for the next person who is waiting patiently to use the phone.

I was staying at the King’s Arms Hotel in the centre of town, the youth hostel being closed on a Sunday, and due to be closed for evermore after the end of this year, along with many other rural hostels. After a refreshing shower, I investigated what food was on offer. Food prices were very reasonable with main courses starting at less than £6. I had Cumberland sausage, mash and peas followed by blackberry and apple crumble, washed down with a few pints of Black Sheep, which was all very good.

It was fairly busy in the bar and restaurant, there being quite a few people staying in town because of the Appleby Horse Fair not far away. Amongst them was a group of six people including two young children sitting in the bar. The little girl was running around between bouts of crying and generally being a nuisance, and John the landlord as well as one of the locals at the bar tried to keep her in control, as there was little evidence of that coming from the parents, who just admitted that she was a bit of a handful without making any effort to do anything about it. In an attempt to avert later problems in the restaurant, John offered them a table in another part of the bar, making it known that there was to be no running around in the restaurant. They assured him that there would be no problem once she had some food and that her present misbehaviour was merely because she was hungry.

When everyone went through to the restaurant to eat, all went reasonably well at first, but as soon as they had finished eating the little girl went out of control again, running around everywhere, now joined by the boy who was a year or two older. There was not the slightest attempt on the parents’ behalf to control them in any way and they were becoming a nuisance to all the other diners. After a while, I turned round and glared at the parents, which prompted a hasty departure from the restaurant and left everyone else to enjoy the rest of their meals in peace.

[Index of Walks] [Previous] [Top] [Next]

Day 8 - Monday 12th June - 20 miles - 2,200 ft ascent

Kirkby Stephen to Shap via Great Asby Scar

Overnight had been a bit of a problem, as my room faced west into the hot evening sun so, even with the window and curtains wide open, it was still very hot and there was a lot of noise from traffic and people outside until very late. I slept on top of the sheets at first to stay a bit cooler, and it was only in the middle of the night that it had cooled down enough to close the window and pull the covers over myself.

I woke up to rain for the first time since the start of the walk. There were heavy thunderstorms forecast for some places, but not necessarily everywhere. After a good breakfast at 8.00, I waited a while to see if the rain would ease off a bit, although I couldn’t afford to wait for too long, as I had a 20-mile walk ahead of me. Visiting the nearby Co-op, I bought some orange squash and a Cornish pasty – I still had a number of other things left to eat from previous packed lunches. By this time, the rain had eased off quite a bit, but I put on my waterproofs as it still looked very unsettled, which was just as well as there were a few spells of heavier rain for a while.

The route to Smardale was not difficult to find, though it was not helped by a signpost along a lane in Kirkby Stephen with its pointer for Smardale Fell pointing in the exact opposite direction. Visibility was reasonable despite the rain and, after about an hour it cleared up enough for me to remove my waterproofs, which was a relief, as I do not like walking in them, particularly in warm weather when they make me feel so hot and sweaty.

There is some very nice countryside around here, with gently rolling hills nearby and the high fells in the distance. I could still just make out the cairns on Nine Standards Rigg, and could see Mallerstang, Wild Boar Fell and the Howgill Fells under a murky sky. Smardale Bridge is very picturesque, and there was a large group of people around there, presumable seeking out some of the ancient settlements, of which there are many in this area. I pressed on, passing a couple that were walking the same way as me on the Coast to Coast. They too were heading for Shap. The route over to Sunbiggin Tarn started to get less and less distinct which, on a walk as popular as this is generally a sign that it is not the right route, so I checked with my GPS and I was exactly where I should have been. It was only when I met a Dutchman coming the other way, as I reached the road by the tarn, that I learned that the route had been diverted for conservation reasons, avoiding the marshland by taking a route through the heather a little higher up.

Click to Reduce

Scandal Beck and Smardale Bridge
Smardale Bridge

My plan was to try to make way over the limestone pavements of Wainwright's original route, before he met up with rights-of-way problems and had to reprint his guidebook hastily with an alternative route along minor roads. This area is now access land, so there should no longer be a problem. I took a path following the wall up the hillside and more or less followed on the other side after it was crossed by a stile. Someone had scratched onto a footpath marker "C2C", but this path seemed to go off too far to the east, so I soon gave up on that and headed up the hillside back near to the wall again. At the top I stopped for lunch at 1 p.m. It was quite chilly in the strong wind, so I had to resort to wearing my fleece to keep me warm. I had a good drink of my orange squash, although water wouldn't have tasted too bad today, as it was a lot cooler.

When I set off again, I followed the wall, thinking I would have to cross it at some point, but this was not necessary as it conveniently curved round the way I wanted to go. There was another point where a wall at right angles obstructed my path, so I had to climb it carefully so as to avoid dislodging any stones, but for the rest of the way I found that by following the wall it got me where I wanted to go. In areas of access land, stiles should be provided at reasonable intervals to avoid the need to climb walls, but it will take some time for this to happen, especially in some areas. I passed a field on the left in which there was a trig point, and then I could see the monument on Beacon Hill. Still following the wall, I came to a gate by Great Asby Scar Nature Reserve, and went through that in the direction of the monument. I wouldn't say that it was particularly easy going, but it was a much more interesting route than the lowland one, even on a day with poor visibility.

Click to Reduce

Limestone pavement on Great Asby Scar on Wainwright's original route near Orton
Great Asby Scar
Jubilee Monument (1887) on Beacon Hill with Great Asby Scar behind
Beacon Hill Monument

Limestone always looks rather grey and drab in dull weather, so on a sunny day the whole area of limestone pavements would have looked so much more impressive. I reached the road by the monument at 3.15 p.m. and had another rest. Several walkers were now going past, but I noticed that most of them had walked along the road instead of taking the path that runs a little way from it. It is far more pleasant on the path - there is enough road walking already on the Coast to Coast without adding more. The only downside to this was that someone had decided that some of the shake holes by the side of the path would make a good dumping ground for a few old fridges and other scrap items. It amazes me what lengths some people will go to rather than dispose of things in the proper way.

After meeting the road again and crossing over, there now commenced a stretch of moorland walking with limestone outcrops here and there. There was nothing particularly interesting, but it was good upland walking and generally easy going on grassy paths, waymarked for quite a bit of the way. The weather at least seemed to be improving, with patches of blue sky and bright sunshine coming over from the west.

Click to Reduce

Large boulder on Crosby Ravensworth Fell on the way to Oddendale, looking back towards Orton
Large boulder on Crosby Ravensworth Fell

Oddendale sounds as if it should be a picturesque little village or hamlet, but the view when passing by is of a very large and rather ugly farm, though there be something more attractive out of sight beyond that. Fortunately the farm is mostly screened off by trees, and the route then heads towards the M6, passing a huge limestone quarry on the way. Massive vehicles drive to and from the cement works just across the motorway. Eventually I reached the motorway footbridge; the first one of two, then went over the fields to Shap. My B&B was down at the southern end of the village, so I had been told to take the first path to Forcebridge. However, the only path visible was headed further north, so I just had to make my way through the long grass making my own footpath along the right of way. This was not a problem, as the grass was dry, but with wet grass I would have been soaked. I arrived at my B&B at about 6.15 p.m. for a shower and pot of tea before going up the road a short way to The Greyhound Inn for a nice steak and ale pie with potatoes and vegetables and a few pints of Tetley’s cask bitter.

It was very busy in the pub, which quite surprised me, as it was right at the bottom end of the village, quite a distance from the centre. There were a number of Coast to Coast walkers in there and I sat close to a couple of chaps who, as it turned out, were staying in the same B&B as me. They had met an Irishman on the way and he had joined them in the pub, although he was not going any further as he had to go back home.

[Index of Walks] [Previous] [Top] [Next]