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Journeyman's Coast to Coast Journal 2006
Day 7

Sunday 18 June - Orton to Kirkby Stephen

I was up again at 7am and took my time with the usual early morning tasks before joining other guests for breakfast. There were two of the Lloyds bank charity C2C cycle riders who were in high spirits and also two C2C walkers, Mark and his dad Mike, who Malc and I had seen in the Queens Hotel at St Bees and then again in Ennerdale Bridge, Grasmere and Patterdale. Mark and Mike (M & M) were carrying all their own gear but were staying at B& B or pubs along the route. During our conversations we realised we were both staying at Fletcher House, Kirkby Stephen later that day and agreed to meet up for evening meal if we didn’t see each other on the route. M & M were seasoned long distance walkers who had previously walked several routes including the Southern Upland Way, Offa’s Dyke Path and the Cleveland Way. Respect to you both. The breakfast was excellent and I had my usual full English with the starters. I collected my packed lunch, sorted out my water and rucksack and set off towards Kirkby Stephen at about 9am. M & M were setting off later than me.

The first few miles along the road and across the fields were pleasant in warm conditions but the clouds overhead were gathering and rain had been forecast for later in the day. It was a quiet Sunday morning in the Cumbria countryside and I was enjoying the peaceful surrounding listening to and looking for the wildlife as I walked along singing that ridiculous song called ‘Vindaloo’ by Fat Les. I don’t know why I was attempting to sing that rubbish but even when I stopped myself, a few hundred yards later I would start again. Was I losing it? Sadly, I relapsed, on other days still to come, into singing this song to myself and realised I was actually walking in step to the tune. As I arrived at Tarn Moor I saw the first information board indicating Open Access land in the area. Whilst I was reading the board I saw a large bird of prey gliding towards the area about 50 yards in front of me. Initially I thought it was a buzzard but on closer examination I ruled it out and feel sure it was a marsh harrier. It was watching something beneath it and I watched in amazement as it gradually swooped down and grabbed a bird, possibly a skylark. There were a lot of wildlife in this area and I saw a steady stream of birdwatchers carrying their equipment along the various paths crossing this wonderful moorland area.

I arrived at Sunbiggin Tarn a few minutes later and took a few photographs before looking up the long straight road that was to be my next section on the route. The road went gradually uphill for about a mile before cutting back sharply to the right for a similar distance to a collection of farms called Mazon Wath. I actually considered cutting across the Open access area by the side of Sunbiggin Tarn to join the road at Mazon Wath but decided against it. As I looked ahead up the road I saw 4 figures walking in the same direction as me about 1 mile away. I couldn’t be sure but it had to be the KK. I continued at a good pace and caught up with them about half a mile beyond Mazon Wath but before we took the path towards Smardale. It was the KK and they had set off early that morning following their overnight camping experience at Raisgill which was a few miles from Orton towards Kirkby Stephen. I tagged along with the ladies and as we approached Smardale we passed quite a few C2C east to west walkers. There were groups of 4, 2 and 5 and finally a solo male walker. I stopped to speak to them all as we passed them and as usual we talked about the respective routes ahead. Apparently it was fairly dry on Nine Standards Rigg but the overnight rain in and around Kirkby Stephen may have softened the bogs up a little, but guess what - just as we left the solo male walker it started to rain slightly. This particular male walker suggested we were going the wrong way and that east to west was best. I wasn’t going to argue with him but told him I disagreed. He was also interested in my GPS and therefore a quick demonstration convinced him he at least ought to have a look at one in more detail when he returned home.

Smardale Bridge

It was time for lunch so the KK and I agreed to push on to Smardale Bridge. I had read so much about the beauty of this area and on arrival we were not disappointed – despite the fact it was raining. The area around Smardale, in particular by the stream flowing under the bridge, was the most colourful area due to the many varieties of wild flowers that I have seen for some time. I took a few photographs of the general area whilst the KK huddled under Smardale Bridge eating their packed lunches. The rain was not particularly heavy so I was quite happy to wander around the area taking photographs of flowers and anything else of interest. It is well worth spending some time in this beautiful valley. The route beyond took us up Smardale Fell where we stopped to chat with a group of local ramblers. I couldn’t resist asking them if they knew the name of the colourful white flowers growing on the surface of the beck at Smardale. I showed them a photograph on my camera screen.

River Water Crowfoot in Scandal Beck

I felt sure someone in the group of elderly ramblers would know but I was wrong. (Editor's note: These have now been identified as River Water Crowfoot). On the way up Smardale Fell I saw the Smardale viaduct to our left and evidence of the old quarries and works along the disused railway. Away to our right in dark cloud we had views of the Eden valley and Mallerstrang and eventually Nine Standards Rigg. It did not look very pleasant up there. A little further along we stopped and I gave Kitty a Compeed to treat a hot spot on her toe. The last few miles were pleasant walking and we entered Kirkby Stephen at 2.45pm. I arranged to meet the KK outside their accommodation, Old Croft House, at 9am the next morning to accompany them over Nine Standards Rigg to Keld.

I had a quick look around Kirkby Stephen before I booked in at Fletcher House shortly after 3pm. Gillian welcomed me to her home and gave me paper to stuff into my boots , which were a little wet due to the rain and walking in wet grass. I was served with tea and cakes in the lounge and chatted to Gillian and her husband Steve for a while. I booked my packed lunch for the next day and booked breakfast for 8am. Gillian was so friendly and efficient. Fletcher House is a large detached building on the main road through Kirkby Stephen next to the Youth Hostel – which is another of the YH’s due to close later this year. Gillian explained a little about the history of the house to me saying it had initially belonging to one of the Wharton family, a famous name in these parts, and that descendants of this family from New Zealand were due to visit her in the coming days. As we sat there chatting M & M arrived and joined me a short time later in the lounge. The rain was a little heavier now but they were in good spirits. We chatted over tea about walking and agreed to meet in the nearby Black Bull for our evening meal. The Black Bull had been recommended by Adie from Kirkby Stephen who I had met some days earlier – I wondered how Adie and Mick were getting on. There were 4 other guests staying at Fletcher House that night. They were Americans who were staying overnight and then catching the Packhorse minibus to St Bees for the start of their walk tomorrow. I briefly spoke to them as they arrived but never saw them again as they were up early and off the next morning.

Following a hot shower I carried out my now well drilled daily routine and also washed my favourite, North Face, base layer. I had walked 13.69 miles today and although it was totally different terrain to the Lake District (and raining part of the day) I thoroughly enjoyed it. I walked to the Black Bull at 6.40pm and joined M & M. We chatted over a few beers and evening meal. We had a few things in common i.e. walking and they liked a few beers at the end of a days walk. We chatted about ‘what next?’ and I must admit they made Offa’s Dyke path and the Southern Upland Way sound very attractive – contrary to what I had heard and read about both walks. The evening meal was good value for money - I had chicken wrapped in bacon, in a sauce with chips and vegetables. I decided to have a walk around Kirkby Stephen before retiring to Fletcher House but the lure of a pint of Black Sheep bitter pulled me into the Kings Arms. It was quiet as I entered but within 5 minutes I had been joined by 12 other C2C walkers most of whom were actually staying at the premises. There were 3 Irishmen who were buzzing with the excitement of completing the long stretch from Shap today. They were on a faster schedule than me and so I knew I wouldn’t see much of them again. They intended doing some laundry early the next morning before setting off to Muker via Nine Standards Rigg – I said we may get chance for a chat somewhere along the next section. Also there were 5 Americans who had also walked from Shap that day. I spoke to them all briefly but they were ordering their evening meals – little did I know that I would meet and walk with two of, a husband and wife called Gordon and Charlotte from the south western area of Virginia. The other group of 4, 2 men and 2 women, were seated in the corner and actually called me over saying ‘Where are you from then?’ I recognised the Barnsley accent straight away and gladly joined them as I live about 8 miles from Barnsley. This group had just returned to Kirkby Stephen from Robin Hoods Bay by minibus and were staying the night in Kirkby Stephen. They had walked St Bees to Kirkby Stephen last year and then Kirkby Stephen to Robin Hoods Bay this year. We chatted for as good half an hour before I retired to Fletcher House and had a good nights sleep
 

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