Coast to Coast – Reeth to Catterick Bridge

Richmond from the East

Richmond from the East

More on Britain …

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:


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.

More on Britain …

Previous     Next

Coast to Coast – The Second Scheduled Rest Day

The Swaledale Valley at Reeth

The Swaledale Valley at Reeth

More on Britain …

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:


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.

More on Britain …

Previous     Next

Coast to Coast – Keld to Reeth

Swaledale Valley

Swaledale Valley

More on Britain …

Chapter 9 – Keld to Reeth

The day by the river

Although one of the cheapest of the places I have stayed in so far the so-called bunkhouse at Keld was probably the most luxurious, more by chance than anything else. What is called the bunkhouse is basically an annex, attached to the main farm building, that’s been converted into a separate two storey house. In 2 of the 3 bedrooms there are bunks which means that it can be used as a place for a self-contained group or for individuals such as myself. On the ground floor there’s a kitchen cum dining room cum lounge. What made the place luxurious was that I was there by myself. (Well, not exactly. A couple came after I had gone to bed and occupied the downstairs bedroom but I had the place to myself when I was moving around.)

If it was good to get an early finish the day before I gave myself an added bonus with a late start today – not leaving until 10.20, the latest start on the whole of the trip. The walk to Reeth was only 11 miles or so and I had also decided to take the route that would follow a stretch of the River Swale before going up to the moors again before descending down to Reeth. It was a grey day, again, but at least the rain, more like persistent drizzle, that had fallen just before it got dark hadn’t remained and it didn’t look like the weather would turn for the worse. If I had gone on the higher route there would have been sections of boggy land where I would have been up to my ankles in mud and the views would have been non-existent so I thought there was little point of the additional effort. And anyway, going the lower route I would pass through, or close to, a couple of small hamlets and thought of having a midday pint in one of the pubs.

From the table I was sitting at for breakfast I was looking out over a small waterfall behind the house and across from that 3 or 4 pheasants were searching for food. I had come across the occasional game bird over the previous couple of days, but only individuals, and would start to see many more from now on. The route was starting to enter the Yorkshire moors that were specifically managed for the hunting of both pheasant and grouse.

I don’t think I’d got so close to a grouse before this expedition. They’re not very good flyers and the first one was ‘trapped’ as I came across it along a lane, just at the place there was a gate and when there was a wall on either side of the lane. The only escape route would have been the direction I had come but the grouse’s instinct is to fly away from perceived danger, not towards it even if that was the best escape route. So I don’t think they are the most intelligent of birds (and probably accounts why the not most intelligent of people can shoot so many of them). They panic as they run around but I was able to get a few, reasonably close, pictures of them. These were the red grouse.

Red Grouse

Red Grouse

The place I was staying was to the west of Keld, just before entering the village proper, and due to the drizzle, and the fact that I was quite warm and comfortable sitting alone in the house, I decided against going to the local pub. There might well have been a few people I had met on previous days there but laziness got the better of me. That worked out well as the pub was a lot further than I was given to expect so had no regrets when I realised the effort that would have been needed the previous night – I’m doing enough walking without adding any additional miles.

It seems that each part of the country has its peculiarities and little traps to catch out the unwary walker, and in Yorkshire that local joke are the stiles cum gates that are built into the dry stone walls. These are very narrow openings in the walls that often have a gate on a tight spring at one side and a flat, upright stone that prevents any sizeable animal from getting through. Not always, but very often, there are a couple of stone steps on either side of the opening so there’s a certain skill and dexterity to negotiate these obstacles. They tend to be narrower at the bottom, opening out higher up, as they would have been built so that there’s enough room for the feet but then allowing that most people are normally fatter at the waist. But when I say ‘room for the feet’ I really mean room for a foot, as few of these allow you to stand with your feet side by side.

So you have to imagine the situation. You arrive at one of these stiles and open the gate towards you as you step up to the gap in the wall. There’s only enough room for one foot so you have one leg trailing as you use one hand to keep hold of the wall and the other to keep the gate from swinging back and propelling you into space. Now you have a problem. What do you move first? Probably the best bet is to shuffle forward on the foot in the gap until you get to a situation where you can place both feet on the wall behind each other. Now it may be possible to release the gate BUT you have to bear in mind that you have a rucksack which effectively makes your body much bigger. If successful the weight of the gate and its spring presses against the rucksack but not in such a way that it pushes you forward. Now you have the use of two hands. Using them to lift your body you tentatively move forward so that you can squeeze through the narrow gap caused by the flat, upright stone. Then with a supreme effort you launch yourself forward, step through the gap on to the step on the other side, drag your bag through behind you, scraping the sides of the gap as you do so and you are through. If lucky in one piece.

Yorkshire Stile

Yorkshire Stile

I’m not that big and my rucksack, although big enough for me, not as large as someone who might be camping. How some other people get through is beyond me, very much like contracting the body as an octopus does to go through impossibly small openings.

Once you’ve got though and congratulated yourself on your self-preservation you look up and see there’s another one less than 20 metres away and there were a lot on this walk, through the fields and meadows alongside the River Swale.

After having seen the pathetic sight of the unfortunate rabbit the day before perhaps it was fitting that this morning I passed by a huge rabbit warren indicating that the rabbit population, in general, in the area seemed to be healthy enough. I have to take the guide-book writer’s word that it was rabbits as the entrance tunnels seemed very big to me but then I must admit I’m not really an expert on native British mammal’s underground construction sites. Also it seemed too low, the land sloped away quite quickly at this point to some hills behind, and too close to the river in the event of a flood – but then, again, I assume the rabbits know more what they’re doing than me.

The idea of a pub crawl fell apart quite quickly. The first opportunity would have meant a slight diversion to the hamlet of Muker. There’s supposed to be a pub there but I decided against the diversion for a couple of reasons. It was still relatively early. Although I had left later than usual I was at this point before midday and there was no guarantee that the pub would have been open at that time during this time of year, not quite the closed season but definitely on the point of closing down.

This is one of the negative consequences of the changes in the pub licensing hours that happened way back in the late 90s. When pubs had fixed opening times you could guarantee that a pub would be open during certain times of the day. If my memory serves me right they had to, as part of their license, coming as it did from the days when pubs were obliged to provide a service to travellers. I welcomed the change in the opening hours but learnt very quickly that this change was a doubled-edged sword and what we gained from the change was far outweighed by what we lost.

Stay behind pubs lost out as their regular customers would remain local rather than travel to a place they knew would stay open illegally. That meant that after years of knowing where someone might be at a particular time, especially on a Saturday, with the changes you couldn’t. One of the consequences of this was that when the pubs could more or less chose their opening hours that the pubs that used to stay open all afternoon stopped doing so as it wasn’t worth the effort if they didn’t have a sufficient number of people who were prepared to ‘break the law’. As things have developed in subsequent years it means that if you turn up at a relatively isolated country pub you have no idea whether it will be open or not.

A lesson in being careful what you wish for.

So I left out Muker and thought of the pint I would have in Gunnerside, another that the guide-book had recommended. On arriving at this village I found the pub shut, but not for the reason above but for the fact that it couldn’t pay its way and had closed some time ago, as have so many throughout the country. Among other things this exposes the limitations of guide books. However well there is an attempt to keep information up to date things can change very quickly and if you are going to actually depend upon such information it would be best to make a telephone call to confirm that the business was still running. This would be highly recommended if your plan was not to just drink but eat in such a place. Turning up on spec would not be a good idea in the present (and foreseeable) economic climate. I was told that this pub had been closed for some time, although looking through the windows it didn’t seem like that long ago.

But this made me think of the plight of pubs along routes such as the Coast to Coast. During the course of the year thousands of people must do this walk. Now, not every one of them will be a drinker but it is not unknown for alcohol to be associated with walking and those pubs that provide food will also be attracting more custom. But now the struggling pubs have a new problem in the fact that the infrastructure of accommodation that has built up to service this growing number of visitors is actually hammering another nail in the coffin of the ‘local’.

At one time British B+Bs were notorious, not for what they offered but for what they didn’t. They didn’t offer en suite; they didn’t offer all day access; they didn’t offer a friendly and welcoming atmosphere; they didn’t offer a home from home more a remand home from home; and they didn’t offer alcohol. Now, many things have changed, including the last. More and more places, with very limited accommodation, I’m not necessarily talking about anything that borders on a hotel, have acquired a drinks license and that is bound to have an impact on the pubs in these small country villages.

In the long distant past when I did any of these long distance walks, or even a strenuous day in the hills, it was almost obligatory to end the evening in the pub. Now you can get your alcohol fix without leaving your B+B, or even camping site. I’ve done this myself in a few places I’ve stayed in so far, even those places where there was a choice. To the best of my knowledge all hostels of the YHA are now licensed, at least I haven’t come across one that wasn’t, so that means even in the most isolated locations you don’t need to leave the front door for the fix. When I was in Shap, after a long and tiring day I wanted a drink but when I knew they served in the place I was staying any inclination to go out and walk again before the next morning just evaporated away. The same in Keld, even though I thought the pub was closer than it really was. And I’m sure I’m not the only one that has followed that pattern.

If the pubs could have survived with the walkers coming in during the day time as they passed through a village and then had those staying locally bolstering the takings in the evening they are now finding that one of their income strands is disappearing. If there might be opposition from pubs to the granting of these licenses when the pub exists the argument of the B+Bs gets stronger if the pub should close. In those circumstances, unless there is a local community group prepared to go through all the hassle of re-opening the local as a community run pub, as was the case in Ennerdale Bridge, then that village will never have a pub again. So even an increase in tourism and overnight visitors is not, necessarily, a recipe for success for the unique British institution. Things don’t look too promising in this region of the country and I came across a similar situation in some villages when I did the Hadrian’s Wall walk a couple of years ago.

Today was probably the day I reached my psychological low.

There were a couple of reasons for that.

Today is my 8th walking day and I’ve only just passed the half way point. That means there’s still a lot of miles to go and in only 5 days. So even if the final stages don’t have any major ascents during the course of the day each one will be long. That’s a problem but not the most serious one.

That is the rucksack. I’ve never liked carrying a big load and when you have to pick it up and then walk a not inconsiderable number of miles my enthusiasm wanes considerably. It’s not heavy heavy, roughly 12,837 grammes (that’s 28 lb 4.8119 oz, more or less). But today it felt uncomfortable from the off and not just becoming so towards the end of the day. I’m glad I got a more modern bag as my old one was inadequate for the Hadrian’s Wall walk and would have been totally unsuitable for the Coast to Coast. The new bags adapt to each individual’s size and preferences. Carrying it for a couple of days, as I did when I made my short expedition to the Lake District earlier in the year, was no problem at all. It starts to become a problem when it seems that you will have to carry it forever.

I haven’t been carrying the heaviest bag of those I seen along my way so far but certainly heavier than most. Of those I’ve got to know slightly most have their main luggage picked up each morning and dropped off at their next nights accommodation so they carry a minimum needed for a day’s walk in the mountains. A few companies have developed to cater for this wish and they probably make a nice enough profit from it as they are far from cheap. I didn’t even consider investigating these companies but, I must admit, there were a few minutes during the course of today when I wondered if that might not have been the best choice.

I’d pared things to the bone and considered that I had brought what was necessary to cope with any adverse weather conditions I might encounter at this time of year but it was still more than I would have liked. (But then I would have liked to have carried virtually nothing as my preferred walking environment is Mediterranean spring or autumn, or even the summer, which requires no wet/cold weather gear or, at least, it didn’t until climate change also made the weather uncertain in that part of the world as well.) The other issue is that the computer and camera (together with all the bits and pieces needed to keep them operational) weighed in at 7 lb 7.8692 oz (or 3399 grammes), just over a quarter of the weight.

Although these thoughts did have a tendency of making the day a little harder and longer than it actually was (and the lack of an alcohol anaesthetic due to closed pubs unavailable to mitigate such feelings and thoughts) the weather did improve as the day wore on and there was pleasant sunshine as I again came to walk along close to the River Swale on approaching the village of Reeth, my overnight stop.

And the next day was the second scheduled rest day!

So at 16.10 on Thursday 26th September it was 109 miles down and 91 to go

Now over the half way mark but it’s taken 8 walking days to get there – however the distances should start to roll by as length of walks becomes more pertinent than height (at least I hope so).

Practical Information:


Black Bull Hotel, £40 for a single B+B. Surprised when I was taken to a room, overlooking the green in the centre of the village, with a big, double, four-poster bed. And another surprise when I looked in the bathroom, no shower but a big bath. So the first treat in Reeth was a long soak in deep, hot water (with bubbles provided by the hand soap lotion). It’s important when you arrive at a place with baths (rather than showers) that you take advantage of the hot water when it exists. Only the most modern hotels and guest houses will have such powerful boilers they can provide hot water on demand when so many people arrive at the same time. I heard members of the group (of 9 I’ve come across a few times and who are now staying at the same place) complaining about the lack of hot water but if your priority after a days walking is a cup of tea – which I know is the case with some – then you have to get used to cold showers.

This is another quaint old building where the floors are uneven, I have to sit still in bed otherwise I’ll spill my tea on the bedside table; the door is a strange shaped piece of wood which fits the doorway – just; and like the place in Shap, even though the walls are thick you can hear voices from other rooms. There’s a certain smell about these buildings which is quite unique. It’s not of dirt but of a kind of ‘lived in’ smell, not the sterile, clinical atmosphere that seems to pervade modern housing – even the likes of my flat which is in a building close to a couple of hundred years old. I suppose the change came when they decided that the straight line was important in house construction.

But, now I’m here, it’s not as good an idea that I’m in the YHA for the second night. That’s a walk of about a kilometre away but, at least, it’s in the right direction for when I start to walk on Saturday. I don’t get the full benefit of a day off having to get out of the room in the morning and pack all my things. But after a late(ish) breakfast I plan to sit in the bar and use the computer until mid afternoon and then head up to the YHA.

Free wifi in the bar area only – blackbull1680 (due to the structure of the building and the fact that it dates back more than 300 years).

More on Britain …

Previous     Next