Coast to Coast – Catterick Bridge to Osmotherly

Arncliffe Wood

Arncliffe Wood

Chapter 12 – Catterick Bridge to Osmotherly

The beautiful day in early autumn

Weather wise this worked out to be the finest day of trip so far. First thing there was a thin curtain of mist slightly obscuring my view of the race course, but that was to be expected at this time of year in the River Swale valley. By the time I had breakfasted and got ready to leave the sun had burnt that mist away and the prospects looked good for the long (in terms of miles) day ahead. Long but with barely any ascents, at least until the very end. Wanting to get as far as possible on what looked (on paper) an easy day I had decided to spend the night in the YHA in a place called Osmotherly but that entailed a bit of a climb along forest tracks at the very end of the day.

Although it hasn’t been particularly good for photography, in general, I would be churlish to really complain about the weather. Most days I’ve been walking all day dressed to T-shirt and shorts and that was definitely something I wasn’t expecting at this time of year. So far none of the wet/cold weather clothing I’ve brought with me have remained in the bottom of my bag.

As it was going to be a long day I got an earlier than usual start, walking out of the door of the hotel at 08.30. I’d only spent an hour or so in the bar the night before (there was some sort of function in the hotel, a wedding, I think, so that meant no dining room after 19.00), going to the bar mainly to see if I could connect to the internet. Not a busy bar but a few people in and the table I sat at was close to a small group of ex-army who were reminiscing about the good old days in Northern Ireland. Are ex-servicemen and women more prone to this reminiscing? Being separate and separated from society in general they establish relationships with others that don’t exist in the same way in civil society. I’m not sure if the military is attractive to those type of people who need to be told what to do and who live in an extended family situation or whether they just become dependent if they stay for any time, especially in volunteer as opposed to conscript armies where resentment is only slightly below the surface.

The dew was still on the grass, but rapidly disappearing as the sun got higher into the sky as the first section took me alongside the banks of the Swale. I’d spent quite a long time within sight and sound of the river over the last two or three days walking but within half an hour it took a turn to the south as I continued on my trek east and wouldn’t come across that particular river again on this trip.

A flat walk, passing through a number of small hamlets and villages, mainly through arable and livestock farmland, but with an occasional, small wood that had survived the efforts of the tractor and the plough. Also today would be the day when I would have the longest stretches on paved roads, but fortunately very quiet ones. Being a Sunday might have made things quieter but I don’t think there would have been a major problem even during the week. Some people don’t like road walking but I have no problem. You can go on sort of semi-automatic, just clocking up the miles.

Today was a near perfect early autumn day. The sun was shining but not beating down. There was a slight breeze at times and those sections that went through the trees were cool rather than cold. It was still early in the year and although some of the trees were starting to change colour there were only a few leaves falling when the wind blew. It was that stage of transition when summer was still hanging on with autumn trying to take control.

And the signs of autumn were all around. The changes in the trees I’ve already mentioned but there was also the explosion of berries on the likes of hawthorns and rose hips, supposedly a sign of a harsh winter to come. Today was the first day I was aware of acorns on the ground and when I passed some of the occasional houses there was evidence of a good crop of apples. Going through the fields of one farm I heard the sound of geese. Looking to either side of me to try to see where they were it wasn’t till the noise got louder that I realised they were flying above my head and looking up there were two small V formations heading south. The other noise of autumn were man-made and came from the tractors ploughing or raking the ground ready for sowing. In one field a large flock of seagulls were following the plough. They were a long way from home as the North Sea was still about 40-50 miles away. It’s difficult to tell just by passing through what the ownership of these farms might be but according to the guide-book many of these farms are big corporations, agribusiness rather than the romantic impression that some have of the countryside of small farmers, who are slowly disappearing as big money gets even deeper into food production.

Those are the sights and sounds of autumn but there’s also the smells. Silage and hay stacks are everywhere. The sweet smell of the silage is stronger when it’s being stored in home-made arrangements, normally a three-sided rectangle made from old wooden railway sleepers and then covered by a huge tarpaulin. This might be a cheaper option initially but probably there’s a greater element of waste and each year more of the silage is now collected and brought together into huge circular bundles and then wrapped up in green or black plastic. I don’t know if there’s any difference in use demonstrated by the colour or if it’s merely by chance.

The other smell of autumn, which wasn’t obvious to me until the end of the day as I prepared to shower and change, is the smell of decay and death. As on a couple of earlier days there were a lot of stiles and brushing pass various plants. Those plants are in their last throes, coming from nothing a few months before they have done what they came to life to do, that is propagate themselves, and now they are dying and that scent of death was passed to my skin each time I brushed against the ferns and bushes. It’s not totally unpleasant but it definitely lacks any freshness that would be the result of such contact if passing through here in the spring.

Even though there’s still quite a way to go this lunchtime I took time out for a drink – although I almost threw it down. My original idea was to just pass the White Swan in a small village called Danby Wiske but as I arrived my will dissolved away and I called in to see why it had been declared NW Yorkshire Pub of the Year for 2012. I don’t know if it had always been a pub as it had more of the decoration and atmosphere of a tea shop. Only a handful of people there, the beer was one I’d never come across before (I noted it down as Ullswater Brewery but can’t find any information about it on the net – strange drinking a beer with a Lake District connection when in Yorkshire but have never come across it there) but it was decent enough and away from tourist prices of the west.

It was as I was sitting down, close to finishing my very quick pint in this pub, that I realised (or more accurately learnt) how slow I must be walking. A youngish woman came in with her son, about 12 (I’m bad at ageing children) and she said that they had come from Richmond and was heading for Ingleby Cross (where I would pass through myself, but not the end of my day). Now I had started from Catterick Bridge about 5 miles to the east of Richmond and they were only a few minutes after me. One of the tricks I had to learn very early on was that with a load I had to slow down, to adopt a much more plodding way of walking as this was the only way to make each days goal without arriving totally exhausted. But I hadn’t quite realised how that new pace had reduced my speed so much. I was about to go anyway but drank up and left, trying to move a bit faster and wondering how far I could get before they overtook me.

The answer was between 6 and 7 kilometres as they reached me just as we were about to cross the railway before Harlsley.

Now they were only walking over the weekend, doing the whole of the walk over a period of weeks. Now I don’t think I’m just being jealous at the speed they were able to go BUT it seems to me that it’s impossible to say you’ve done a long distance walk unless you do it in one go. As I’ve tried to explain in earlier posts it’s not just the physical challenge it’s the psychological, knowing that you have to move on whatever. And anyway, things start to hurt, wear out, break down after 3 or 4 days walking. Little injuries can become worse and slow you down. If you are relatively fit then these weaknesses don’t show themselves over the course of a weekend. When they passed me a couple of hours later (more or less) I still had about 6 kilometres to get to get to my next goal, the pub in Ingleby Cross, and they just very quickly disappeared into the distance.

But before the pub I had to face and overcome the most dangerous part of the walk – the A19.

Thousands of people a year are now attempting to do the whole of the Coast to Coast, not counting those who might just do a few sections, and yet there’s been no effort whatsoever to make the crossing of that busy main road safer and less of a gamble on your life. The road is a dual carriageway but the traffic moves at same speed, and with the same approach to driving, as on a motorway, with the consequent total lack of regard of anyone trying to cross by foot.

You have to calculate when best to make your dash but it’s not as if you can anticipate accurately how the traffic will react. Crossing roads in Vietnam and China is an art which can be quickly learnt. There you step out into the road, let one lane of traffic pass, then cross that lane, the traffic will pass either side of you and then you just wait for the next gap. Really, when you get used to it it’s very easy.

In this country the drivers are not only becoming worse at basic driving skills and becoming bad at reading the road they are also becoming more selfish. The only world for them exists in their tin box and anything outside is a mere inconvenience.

I got to the centre reservation with no problem. Then the stream of traffic heading south seemed to be constant. Then coming up I could see a lorry on the inside lane and a car just behind it, then ‘a get across the road without being run over’ gap. So I thought that I could start across the road on the empty carriageway, let the lorry and car pass and then get to the other side before anything was too close. EXACTLY at the point I was standing the woman in the car decided that she needed to overtake the lorry. It wasn’t going slow, there was no reason for her to overtake at that point, but she did.

She passed within inches of me but I really doubt if she had seen me. She almost certainly didn’t hear what I suggested she should do as she carried out the manoeuvre that could have waited another second or two without any impact on the time of her journey. If she was racing to create a masterpiece of art, music or literature there might be a reason for what she did, but I think that highly unlikely. She was almost certainly racing back to, or a way from, her debt ridden life with a family that didn’t appreciate her and all that she had to look forward to was a bleak future of the same. Or so I wished on her as I left, without a shadow of a doubt, the most hazardous part of the journey, so far, and headed east towards Ingleby Arncliffe/Cross, why two names for what is nothing more than a village I don’t know – there are things I only think of when I’m typing at the computer and not when actually there so I could ask.

It was about 4 o’clock when I arrived at The Blue Bell Inn. The pub is at a junction of minor roads and there’s a bit of a green in front of it, with the First World War memorial, and an early 20th century water tower (an interesting building in its own right) close by. There were no other customers when I arrived but a few people came whilst I was there, 4 o’clock seemingly the quiet period after the Sunday lunch, and before the evening meal, trade. I only planned for an hour stop as I still had at least another hour before arriving at the overnight accommodation. I ended up staying longer as a couple of people I’d first met a few days before on the way to Keld recognised me and I ended talking to them for a while.

When I did leave it was still a very pleasant evening but the sun was starting to get low in the sky. I was then further delayed as the forest track I had to follow as it went over a hill was full of pheasants. I just came around a corner and they were everywhere. Male, female, chicks of various sides. On the track, in the shrubbery at the sides, in clearings, just everywhere. I’d never seen so many at one time, in fact, in those few minutes I probably saw more pheasants on the track up to Osmotherly than I’ve seen in my life.

Pheasants on track - Arncliffe Wood - Osmotherly

Pheasants on track – Arncliffe Wood – Osmotherly

At first I couldn’t work out why. OK, it was dusk and I could understand that might be the time they prefer to eat but it wasn’t until I had spent some time stalking them, just quietly moving along the track, with the majority walking ahead of me but some allowing me to pass as they moved into the bushes to the sides, when I noticed blue containers at intervals. As I got closer to one of these and saw a female seeming to peck at a tube coming out the bottom of these containers that I realised that this was their feed. The wild birds were more or less domesticated, coming to the same places, presumably at the same times, to get what the gamekeeper had put out for them.

Pheasant Feeding - Arncliffe Wood - Osmotherly

Pheasant Feeding – Arncliffe Wood – Osmotherly

As I walked further along the track I noticed areas with numbers and can only speculate that these would be locations for the ‘hunters’. If that’s incorrect then I have no other explanation for the numbering. If it was for the killing then it must be (to use an American term, not being able to think of an English equivalent) ‘like shooting fish in a barrel’. If I didn’t have my pack and intent on taking photos (and without a couple of pints inside of me) I think I could have caught some of them with my hands, without having to blast them apart by bird shot.

The light was beginning to fade and although I got quite close it wasn’t the most ideal of conditions for taking pictures but I hope you get an idea of the numbers around at that time.

I wasn’t looking at the time but I must have spent at least half an hour just trying to see what they were up to and when I started walking at a normal speed it was starting to get dark. The delay in leaving the pub and on the track I hadn’t taken into account and it took me some time to find the path off towards Osmotherly, which I reached as it was getting dark.

Going into, instead of out of the village/town, it was much bigger than I expected, didn’t help and was quite pleased when I finally booked myself into the YHA after 7 o’clock, the latest arrival time so far.

A long day but a pleasant one, all things being considered.

So at 19.15 on the evening of Sunday 29th September it was 144 miles down and 56 to go.

Practical Information:

Accommodation

Osmotherly YHA. It seems this was under threat of closure but has been taken over by a private company. I think the same company that runs the Caravan Park next to the old mill – which had been converted into the YHA. Building needs a bit of investment to bring it up to standard. £25.40, includes full breakfast, learnt that I’ll never, ever make scrambled eggs in a micro-wave – it wastes good eggs and comes out the consistency of putty.

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Coast to Coast – Reeth to Catterick Bridge

Richmond from the East

Richmond from the East

Chapter 11 – Reeth to Catterick Bridge

The day of joining the army

After such a good day yesterday I was somewhat disappointed when I first looked out of the window to see that it was misty. Typical, I thought, I don’t walk the sun shines, I do and it’s cloudy and overcast. But my pessimism wasn’t really justified. As I walked down the (long) hill back to the river and the valley I would be following, more or less, for the rest of the day.

Normally I was leaving at 09.00 but as today was going to be another long one, and after considering what I still had to do as I sat in the pub on my rest day, I thought that an earlier start wouldn’t do any harm and so started off at 08.30 – just in time to see the ‘hunters’ gathering a little further down the hill. As I’ve got closer to the higher Yorkshire Moors I’ve come across more and more evidence of gunmen after daft birds. I must admit I didn’t know that it would be such a major part of travelling through the countryside at this time of year.

But it lacks the glamour of the times when Grinton Lodge was the haunt of the rich and not the impoverished as it was now as a youth hostel. <!–more–> The gunmen arrive in their 4 x 4s, park up and when everybody has arrived they jump into ex-Army all terrain vehicles which takes them to their allotted place on the moors to wait for the pheasant and grouse (I don’t know if they are strictly segregated) to fly overhead so they can blast at them with anything up to a hundred pellets (I looked at a webpage in order to get accurate figures but found it so boring I’ve just picked a big number as a guide). However, ‘hunters’ are becoming ecological and now there are steel alternatives to lead. There are EU regulations, especially when shooting waterfowl where there’s a risk of lead pollution of ponds but I don’t know if that still is enforceable on moorland.

But even though it’s not cheap to go hunting it seems to lack the style of the past. Where were the flunkies dressed in suitably servile clothing to serve the kedgeree and champagne for breakfast? Where was the local drunken lord who was half shot by the time they went on to the moors and was just as likely to shoot his own foot off, or the head of a beater, than ‘bag’ a brace of grouse. Where was the display of ostentation that rubbed the hoi poloi’s nose in their poverty? It must happen somewhere but not as public as in the past. When I was having my breakfast in the Black Bull on the Friday morning the owner of the pub mentioned that the beaters had been in early on, but that they weren’t ‘posh enough’ for the gunmen. So where they go in Reeth I never discovered.

Anyway, they didn’t shoot me, just to make sure that the guns worked and I arrived at the bridge over the River Swale (by the St Andrew’s church) and picked up the route of the Coast to Coast, quite content that the sun had already burnt away the mist and the sun was being reflected from the dew drops on the grass.

And after my concerns about the pack a couple of days before it seemed quite comfortable – and remained so for the rest of the day – so it seemed that the day off and the passage of time had allowed me to adapt to my burden.

When I was planning this stage before leaving home I decided that I would go away from the suggestion in the book and carry on after Richmond to Catterick Bridge. This would add another 5 or so miles (and a couple of hours) to the day but that would have the effect of moving me on. From now I have to grab the miles when I can and, anyway, there seemed no point in arriving early in the afternoon in Richmond to then go sightseeing as I had already decided that the two activities, walking the whole route and a bit of culture, were not really compatible. I would grab the culture if it arose but wouldn’t go looking for it.

And the day didn’t seem (and didn’t work out to be) very onerous. The walk was through meadows and farmland, (livestock rather than arable, in the main), the occasional hamlet (that seemed more second, country homes than a living community (though I might be wrong here), a few short stretches through woodland all, more or less, on the northern side of the Swale valley – at least until arriving in Richmond.

But a few small points. I’ve said that I’ve found the guide-book I’ve been using accurate but this morning I just couldn’t find the continuation of the marked path. Nothing to do with visibility (as it was on the way up to Kidsty Pike) as I was on a road not far from, and running parallel to, the river. I never found it as I realised that I had the choice of going up into a few fields just to come down again on to the road on which I was standing. Thought just keep along this quiet (nothing passed me in either direction) road and get on the path when it’s important.

Another point is the naming of some of these sections, that’s not just on the C2C walk, but everywhere. There’s an old priory (now used as an adventure centre) and beside this a section through woodland that climbs quite steeply but which was paved at the time of the priory’s heyday (it disappeared as part of the dissolution of the monasteries in 1540). This pavement is called the Nun’s Steps (there are 375 of them) but why? Did the nuns get on their hands and knees and lay these stones? Did they quarry, or collect, and shape the stones to fit? Did they maintain the path as over time water running down the best constructed paths will cause damage? Certainly not, but they still get the credit. I know it’s just a moan which goes nowhere but worldwide structures, small to the monumental, take the name of those who might have commissioned (in rare cases had paid for) the building but had no direct involvement in the construction, and certainly never got their hands dirty.

We had to wait until the twentieth century with the constructions in the Soviet Union, China and Albania before the credit for the construction actually was ascribed to those who actually paid for, designed, worked on and completed the project. Now many of those sites have been stolen and privatised and probably bears the name of some insignificant individual whose declaration of theft is made in the change of name.

And blackberries. I haven’t mentioned blackberries before but they have appeared virtually everyday on one or more sections of the walks to date but very few people seem to pick them any more, and they will tend to be older women who live near a good source of berries and have just carried on doing what they started as children. The idea there are things available in the wild just doesn’t seem to be attractive to many people.

I remember having a conversation with a teacher who was a member of one of my walking groups in Spain many years ago. This was prompted by the same seeming lack of interest of Spaniards in such autumn crops. The teacher said that even if she attempted to suggest to groups of children that they could pick and eat the berries they would look at her as if she were suggesting something filthy, disgusting and taboo. Yet another product of our so-called civilized society where, in answer to the question ‘where does milk come from?’, many children will answer ‘the supermarket’.

I don’t go out purposely to pick these fruits and berries (although I must remember to go over to the Wirral sometime after I get back home to pick sloes in order to make sloe gin) but I always will test what’s there if I am walking through the countryside at this time of year. I must admit that the experiences haven’t been too good on this trip. Most of the blackberries, although ripe, have tended to be nondescript or even bitter on occasions. I think there was only one location where the taste reminded me of what I considered a blackberry should be like. That, I’m sure, is down to the crazy weather conditions of 2013 and the variations in different parts of the country, even between the west and east sides of the north. I can’t remember where but someone told me that the hazel nut crop this year had also been disastrous due to the fickle weather conditions, but don’t know how true that might be, or how local its effects.

On the very quite road that brings you to the top end of Richmond there’s a large boundary sign that looks incongruous if it wasn’t for the Coast to Coast walk. This sign is part of a bench and also for a small plaque with a quote from Alfred Wainwright about the ‘thrilling view of Richmond’. This got me thinking of how Wainwright seemed to become excited over the most simple and basic of matters. To him everything he saw was a wonder, something exceptional and spectacular.

View of Richmond - Wainwright

View of Richmond – Wainwright

Now I’m not going to say that there are some impressive natural, and man-made, ‘wonders’ in the UK and even along the C2C path – although due to the weather conditions this time I didn’t see many of them at their best, but, then again, I didn’t see them at their worse. But there comes a time when you have to pull back on the superlatives. From that point I could barely see Richmond, because of the trees in the way, and don’t understand why Wainwright was so excited, unless he had been walking for a long time or in particularly bad weather and he was looking forward to a pint (did he drink?) and a sit by an open fire.

I also don’t know if he did any travelling outside of the north of England. His approach is always so parochial and his references always seem to return to his ‘beloved’ Lake District. I’m sure if he had been asked to describe his plate of Cumberland sausage and mash (which would have to have been his favourite dish) he would have seen references to his favourite Haystacks and would have seen The Lion and The Lamb in the peaks of the mash.

But I speak ill of the great man. If I’m not careful there will be a fatwah taken out on me under the leadership of Ayatolla Bradbury.

At the time of taking the picture I didn’t notice the mileage at the bottom of the plaque, still 76½ miles to go!

As I’ve mentioned above I wasn’t going to spend the night in Richmond but as I arrived there at lunch time (just around one) I decided to have a pub break and then continue on to Catterick Bridge. However, Richmond obviously wasn’t pleased by my decision and as I went through the very last stile of the day – a day with a lot of them – my jacket on the top of my rucksack got caught on one of the poles of the stile, I stepped back to release myself and knocked my ankle against the edge of the pebble reinforced concrete that fixed the stile in place. So having started the day thinking that foot problems were something of the past I knocked my Achilles tendon hard against unforgiving concrete and I started my entrance into Richmond at a hobble.

I didn’t before I arrived, and still don’t after leaving, know a great deal about Richmond but one quirky bit of information about the place was that during the Total Eclipse of the Sun in June of 1927 the Centre Line of Totality passed through a house on the western outskirts of the town, marked by a plaque (strangely?) sponsored by the AA – the car organisation, not the drinking one.

Centre Line of Totality - Richmond - Eclipse June 1927

Centre Line of Totality – Richmond – Eclipse June 1927

The decision to merely pass through Richmond was mainly due to one of time and the desire to get a few more miles behind me but another reason was the fact of it being a garrison town, the home of the Green Howards (a museum of that regiment being in the main market square of the town) and one of the army’s biggest barracks/garrisons/centres – don’t know how best to describe it – of Catterick only being a few miles down the road.

I don’t like garrison towns. During the 1970s and 80s the army must have been told to keep a low profile when off duty after they had become accustomed to kicking in the doors of working class people in Northern Ireland and the IRA decided to counter-attack by placing bombs in British pubs. This situation was relaxed a little in 1982 when the ‘heroes’ returned from the Malvinas. When down in Plymouth just after that despicable little war I went into a pub at the town end of Union Street – not a pub I was accustomed of going into and which was never any good anyway so don’t know why I did so – only to find that a recently returned regiment was celebrating the fact that they had survived. Most of them had joined up expecting, assuming and, no doubt, hoping that the most that would be asked of them was to terrorise the local populations of Belfast and Derry and were, equally no doubt, shitting themselves on their way down to the South Atlantic. But now they were ‘real’ battle hardened soldiers and let the world know – post traumatic stress disorder not being in vogue at that time.

To go into a pub regularly frequented by soldiers when the British army has been engaged in a real fighting, killing war for more than 12 years and where most of those who had joined up had done so knowing what to expect didn’t really appeal to me. The place in the centre of Richmond I chose – the main, market square seems quite well endowed with pubs – was totally at random and worked out well but expensive. I don’t know what it would have been like on a Saturday night.

(There’s a new relationship between the people of Britain and the armed forces, particularly the army, which is different from what has existed in the years since the end of the Second World War in 1945. After that period of madness and carnage (even greater than in the war that was supposed to end all wars and which changed the look of virtually all villages, towns and cities with the construction of war memorials to those who had died between 1914-18/9) the population, in general, was tired of killing. However, the ruling class and all the governments ever to have been in power in this country never tire of sending men (and now women) to some far off land to kill for the sake of their interests.

Even though most soldiers wanted nothing more than getting out of uniform the Labour Government (elected with a landslide in 1945 and with the promise of a ‘new dawn’) who sent troops out to fight against the Greek people and in support of the fascist monarchists. Conscripts were caught up in this but there were those who had got the taste of killing and welcomed the opportunity to satisfy their thirst for blood in whatever theatre of war they might be sent.

(Similar groups of killers came to prominence after the First World War. In Britain these psychopaths joined the Black and Tans in Ireland and in Germany the Freikorps were those who fought against the German revolutionaries (murdering Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebnecht) and then, later, morphing into the storm troopers of the SA and the SS of German Nazism.)

After Greece and then Korea (which was still very much a conscript army on the British side) the ‘professionals’ showed their true mettle in the anti-colonial liberation wars in Malaya (with British soldiers being photographed with the severed heads of Malayan Communists) and Kenya (in what was known as the Mau Mau uprising – details of the barbarity of the British forces’ actions there, and the sanction from the highest levels in the British government, having recently come to public prominence). Aden (with Colonel ‘Mad Mitch’) and Cyprus followed this but they don’t get referred to very often as they were ignominious failures for the British.

Then came Ireland.

Before the British troops began their next, long-term occupation of the streets of what is supposed to be a part of Britain (and which didn’t seem to bother the vast majority of the British population) young men were urged to ‘Join the Professionals’, the advertising slogan used by the army. That disappeared from out TV screens and advertising hoardings as it became increasingly clear that professionalism meant kicking in the doors of the Catholic working class in the middle of the night. And for much of the 70s and 80s (with a brief respite for the disgraceful Malvinas invasion) the army took a very low-key role in the nation.

Then came the ‘War on Terror’.

And the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. To distract attention away from their illegal and immoral acts the politicians decided to make heroes of those soldiers who had been sent out to maintain imperialism’s financial and geo-political interests in the Middle East. So first we had the bizarre display of patriotism and grief with a huge proportion of the small Wiltshire town of Wootton Bassett turning out on the streets whenever a British service man or woman’s body was returned to the UK. (This wasn’t appreciated by many of the higher officers, after all this was only drawing attention to the fact that soldiers were dying in that far off country.) And then, not surprisingly by the Labour Government, five or so years ago Armed Forces Day was introduced, as yet another cynical manoeuvre of politicians to distract attention away from their policies and to shine the spotlight on ‘our’ boys and girls fighting for ‘us’.

So now we have relations of killed soldiers stating that their son/daughter/husband died ‘doing the job they loved’. But the job of a soldier is to kill. Why have we accepted this quantum leap in the appreciation of what these young people do ‘in our name’? And yet, even though these soldiers have joined the army knowing exactly what to expect (which wasn’t the case with the Malvinas War) they still come back to the UK and then out of the army, complaining of and suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.)

Saturday is market day in Richmond but after a couple of pints I just returned to my route, having to go down a very, very steep hill to get to the river and the continuation of my walk for the day. I ended up wasting time as I hadn’t used my time in the pub to check my escape route from Richmond and it was all inside the bag. Asking the way proved, as usual, unproductive as the army or army rejects I did ask pointed me in completely the opposite direction (the reason why I don’t normally ask for directions is due to the fact that most people don’t know, even if they live in a place, or it’s a scream for some to give you wrong information) so some time was lost in leaving the town behind me. But it had now turned into a very pleasant day, the terrain was gentle, the ankle didn’t hurt too much and the couple of pints had the desired effect of providing a mild anaesthetic to the pain of walking and of life in general.

In a couple of hours or so I arrived at Catterick Bridge and the hotel I as staying in for the night. It didn’t look too promising when I noticed that there were ‘For Sale’ signs on the outside of the building but assumed that I would still have a room for the night.

So at 16.45 on the afternoon of Saturday 28th September it was 125 miles down and 75 to go (which contradicts the information on the sign on the other side of Richmond. My calculations might be out but I’m not going to bother to set them straight en route).

Practical Information:

Accommodation

Bridge House Hotel, Catterick Bridge. Right across the road from Catterick Racecourse and a stone’s throw from the busy A1 – don’t know if it’s still a motorway at this point.

Doesn’t inspire confidence when the front is covered in For Sale signs. Decaying, needs a lot of improvement, probably has survived so long as it is a big place and can put on functions – there was one (I don’t know what kind) the Saturday night I was there.

The most expensive place for me to stay over the trip but it wasn’t worth it or value for money. Didn’t have much choice – wanted to cut down the length of the following day when the stage from Reeth to Richmond seemed to be wasting time. In military country and I’m not fond of garrison towns so knew I wouldn’t have liked Richmond.

Cost £55 for a single B+B. Places half the price have been at least twice as good.

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Coast to Coast – The Second Scheduled Rest Day

The Swaledale Valley at Reeth

The Swaledale Valley at Reeth

Chapter 10 – The second scheduled rest day – in Reeth

The rest day – with a bit of culture

The score: 8 days down, 2 rest days, and 5 more days to go.

I look at that line above and then compare it with the distance travelled (and more importantly the distance to go) and wonder what’s gone wrong. Surely I should have been well inside the second hundred by now. The back of the journey might now be broken but I will have to see if the rest of it doesn’t break me.

This is a rest day but a messy one. On reflection I made a bit of a mistake in the booking process with this one. Last night I was in the Black Bull pub/hotel in the centre of Reeth but tonight I’m in the Grinton Lodge YHA, which is about a mile or so from the pub. I did that in an effort to save on accommodation costs but as I realise how the day will have to develop that starts to seem like false economy.

One of the reasons for a day free from walking is also to have a day free from packing, free from moving on, free from carrying anything on my back, free to just sit at the computer, free to have a few drinks and then prepare for the next day’s trek. But I have to pack up, get out of the room earlier than I would have liked and at some time during the course of the day get myself a mile up the road (and I discovered that it was very much ‘up’) and settled into another location.

This wasn’t made any easier by the fact that, considering the building and its age, I had a good room (with a four-poster double bed, a view out over the main village square and a bath rather than a shower – I know it wastes water but I consider I had earned a bit of luxury) and not one that was merely a spare space that could be used for nothing else. But I didn’t know that until I was shown the room last night. That’s the problem of travelling alone when it comes to accommodation, you never know what to expect.

Even though I had to get out of the room early there was no problem in just sitting at a table in the bar, using the computer (at least until the battery ran out – that’s an issue that arises with modern electrical and old buildings, where’s the power to come from?), and having the occasional pint – although I felt proud of myself in that I waited until after midday before getting the first one.

Apart from the actual process of moving to another bed that was my original plan for the rest days, to catch up on my writing and had no other real plans for exploration. I hadn’t been long on the route before I realised that it was physically impossible to keep such an extensive ‘diary’ on a daily basis, I just couldn’t concentrate, so extra time was necessary and even with the rest days I fell quite seriously behind (hence the late postings now).

Weather wise the second rest day was almost a carbon copy of the first. In Reeth it was misty in the early morning and it looked as if it had rained overnight, but not seriously so, but by midday it had turned into a very pleasant early autumn day, warmish, sunny and bright, with a blue sky. Stuck inside the pub until about 4 o’clock I wasn’t really aware of that until I picked up my pack and walked.

Reeth is only a tiny village, the day before I was expecting to see it in the distance as I came along the path beside the River Swale but I arrived there before I knew it, a small place tucked away up the hill north of the river. And I’m sure it would have merited a short exploration but when I left the pub I headed straight for the path to Grinton and the YHA.

That’s one of the issues with these long distance walks – there’s no real time to explore the area you’re passing through. And this is especially the case on the east of the Pennines where there are a number of ancient sites with standing stones and burial mounds as well as relics of the industrial past of the region. But to have taken any time out for such visits would have made the days impossibly long. For example, there were some stone circles indicated just off the path on the long day across the moors from Shap to Kirkby Stephen but any diversion, even for the shortest of time, would have had a significant effect on the day. As it was that was my longest single day, not getting to my overnight stay until 18.15. Even a short ‘cultural’ visit would have made the day more of a struggle than it actually was.

But to have done justice to all the possibilities would have completely altered the structure and reason for the walk. Doubling the time would have made these diversions doable but I’m not sure if it would have been really worth it to combine the challenge of the long walk with an exploration into the history and culture of the areas you pass through. Perhaps best to do them as two separate excursions rather than squeeze them into one.

The Black Bull, Reeth

The Black Bull, Reeth

So at 16.00, more or less, I left the comfort of the pub, strode out into the sunshine – now without the addition of bandages (the tops of the feet that had been damaged in the Lake District had all but healed and the anti-inflammatory cream had worked wonders on the knee. I was still aware of the weakness in the joint whenever I came downhill but it wasn’t swelling as it did before and felt comfortable once I was either on the flat or going uphill.) and headed towards first the river and then the neighbouring village of Grinton.

After having said that there was no time for ‘cultural’ visits I did take a few minutes to visit the church at Grinton, just by the bridge at the bottom end of the village.

Having no religious inclinations whatsoever I still visit churches if I have the chance, looking for those quirky aspects which are often there if you look for them. And there were a few in this church of St Andrew’s which traces its origins back to the 14/15th centuries.

St Andrew's Church, Grinton

St Andrew’s Church, Grinton

First I couldn’t find any specific reference to St Andrew although there was a definite reference to St George who stands in a stained glass window above the village war memorial directly opposite the entrance to the church. It may not be unique but I can’t think of many places I’ve visited where the memorial to those who dies in the First World War is actually situated within the church itself.

Also all the stained glass windows seemed to date from about 1880 to 1920. They have the look of Victorian/Edwardian design and are in very good condition. As the church is quite ancient I don’t know if that meant there was an element of vandalism by the rich so that they could guarantee their entrance into Heaven by paying for new windows. Anyway, apart from the structure itself (and a very early 14th century font which, for some reason, I didn’t photograph) there wasn’t any decoration I noticed that gave the impression of great age.

By chance I probably arrived at the ideal time to take pictures, the low sun, a couple of hours before sunset, providing good lighting conditions from the outside for the windows. Not perfect pictures by any account but not bad for a hand-held camera, I think.

Stained Glass Window, St Andrew's Church, Grinton

Stained Glass Window, St Andrew’s Church, Grinton

On leaving the church I ignored the pub across the road (making a mental note to perhaps visit it later that afternoon) to head to the youth hostel and a shock – it was a long way up a very steep hill and this was my rest day. This made the change of bed for the night an even less good idea in hindsight but I eventually got there and prepared my bed for the night – slightly different from the four-poster of the night before.

I can’t remember if I’ve said so before but one of the down sides of staying in cheapish hostels is that you have to make your own bed each night and are expected to strip it the following morning and after a while this gets quite tedious. Not as tedious as having to pitch and break camp but getting there. I’ll be glad when I get back home and stay in a bed where the sheets don’t get changed every day.

That’s only one down side, there are many others, which you live with for the convenience of the location and the price. I experienced another later that night. After having prepared my bed I went to the lounge to work on the computer and then had booked myself an evening meal. Coming up quite early – my going to bed time is getting earlier as the days roll on – I opened the door to be virtually assaulted by embrocation oil. In my absence 3 cyclists had arrived and had left their signature in the room. If that’s anything to go by you must be able to smell the Tour de France before you even see it.

Another aspect of the Grinton Lodge YHA which was different from all the others I had stayed in was its acceptance that visitors – this is not just the young, although for many young people they would rather lose an arm than their iPhone, but for older people as well – want to be able to charge their communication devices. If places don’t offer such a service many young people just won’t go there. Many of the older hostels were constructed when no-one walked around with something that needed regular access to electricity. Now more than 90% of people do. Grinton was the first place I’d visited that had recognised that and there was a three pin power socket and a little shelf at each bunk space so that everyone could charge their phone as they slept. In the other places I’d been to there was a queue to get to the only socket for a room of 10 or more people.

There was a school/college group staying on the night I arrived at the youth hostel and, coincidentally, I had also decided on an evening meal. During the evening meal and the breakfast the following morning I developed the theory that parents/teachers must be congenitally deaf. It wasn’t a big group, they were in their late teens and they weren’t particularly rowdy. However, the noise level went up exponentially once they were in a room but the teachers didn’t seem to be aware of this. This isn’t the first time I’ve considered that this must be a condition that affects millions of people around the world as I’ve come across similar situations in other countries.

Apart from Africa. There the children, in whatever concentration of numbers, were quiet in comparison to their British peers. Mind you, in Zimbabwe, I was told of a teacher who beat a young 10-year-old around the legs with a cricket stump when the boy got out of line, so that might account for the peace and quiet.

So on the afternoon of Friday 27th September it was still 109 miles down and 91 to go – even though I had moved a short distance east from the centre of Reeth by going to the YHA I had gone about the same south, so nothing gained or lost.

Practical Information:

Accommodation

Grinton Lodge YHA. Up a very steep hill from the river, a bit of a shock if you’re not expecting it (even though if I had looked at my map properly there would have been a shock but no surprise). £20.49 B+B. It’s based in what used to be a hunting lodge for some big landowner/aristocrat, can’t remember which, with all its Victorian pretensions as a crenellated castle. On the edge of one of the many Yorkshire moors that are still used for killing game birds – you can’t really call it hunting as it’s no more challenging that visiting a shooting range in a travelling fairground.

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