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Journeyman's Coast to Coast Journal 2006
Monday 19 June - Kirkby Stephen to Keld
The usual early wake up for me but I felt totally refreshed and raring to go. It’s amazing what one good nights sleep can do for you. My legs, mind and body were in good shape and I knew that subject to me not receiving an injury, I would be strolling into Robin Hoods Bay on 27 June. I went down for breakfast early at 7.45am as I knew Gillian had served earlier breakfasts to the 4 Americans setting off to St Bees. It was an excellent full English breakfast and usual starters including tea and toast. I was joined by M & M who did not seem as keen as I was to get started on the route over Nine Standards Rigg. It had rained again overnight but nothing too serious. I wanted to purchase a couple of postcards, write on them and send them to my wife and also my son in Chicago, so I settled my bill and picked up my rucksack. As I was ready to leave it was extremely generous of Gillian to donate £5 to my charity – Macmillan Cancer Relief. Thanks again Gillian. I walked to the newsagents nearby and obtained the post cards and then went to sit on the bench outside the TIC opposite Old Croft House where the KK were staying. I selected today’s route on my GPS thinking ‘Maybe today is the day when this GPS will proves it’s worth’. I wrote on and then posted the cards and just before 9am I was joined by the KK fit and ready to go over the notorious peat bog – or was it?
As we set off down to Frank's Bridge and then along the paths to and through Hartley village I often looked ahead towards Nine Standards Rigg – you couldn’t actually see it due to the light rain and low cloud so I knew visibility would not be good on the upper slopes and that sensible navigation would be required. It was steeper than I had expected walking up the tarmac roads past the quarry but the KK were all fit and well and ready for the challenge – I reminded them in a confident manner ‘there is no way we will get lost up there’. As we were approaching the point where the track leaves the tarmac road for the fellside I saw a solo male walker coming towards us from the direction of Nine Standards. I thought to myself ‘He’s up early to come from Keld this morning’. I could see he was carrying quite a heavy pack and as he neared us I said Good Morning are you alright?’ I had been accustomed to a normal ‘Yes’ and was therefore shocked to hear ‘Well no, not really’. He explained that he was camping along the C2C and had already been to the summit of Nine Standards that morning but for a combination of reasons he had decided to descend and walk around the road to Keld. I could tell from the outset that this man, called Chris, was an experienced walker and a true gentleman. He explained that visibility was less than 30 metres on the summit and it was raining. He showed me his map, the OS 33 of the C2C saying that he couldn’t find a path on the top despite taking a compass bearing for the trig point and he couldn’t see the map properly because he had sat on and broken his glasses a few days before. As a point of interest the OS 33 map actually only shows the blue route from the summit of Nine Standards which would have been no good to Chris as we were in red route season. There are just a couple of signposts indicating the red route as you ascend the fell but these are no consolation on the bleak moorland when you’re glasses are broke and you can’t see the map.
In all the circumstances, walking alone, Chris had done the right thing in descending for an easier route to Keld but I invited him to tag along with our small team who were en route to Keld. I explained that apart from having the correct maps I had a GPS with a number of waypoints to help navigate Nine Standards. He was a little hesitant at first, not that he didn’t have confidence in my ability to get us up and over the hill, because because he was carrying a heavy pack and didn’t want to slow us up. I told him we were as fast as our slowest and he was the slowest then we went at his pace. We were not going to leave him. He tagged along and after full introductions started chatting with the KK as we steadily ascended Nine Standards. He was well travelled around the world and had many long distance walks under his belt including Lands End to Cape Wrath – great respect to him. I had to keep apologising to Chris because, typical of me going uphill, I unintentionally forged ahead of the others but then stopped to wait whilst Chris and the KK caught up. It wasn’t that I was a massive distance in front but the poor weather conditions can affect your mental state. We arrived at the Nine Standards and took some photographs. I went off to a point on the nearby hillside to bag the Nine Standards geocache and left good old Freddie the Penguin travel bug and took the Prowling Panther travel bug – I would find a place for him further along the route.
It was cold, wet and windy on the top of Nine Standards so we moved off quickly towards White Mossy Hill visiting the observation point and then the trig point. The conditions underfoot were wet and boggy in places but no where near as bad as they can be. I used the GPS to assist but I was quite happy to easily navigate across the relatively flat summit area and start the descent from White Mossy Hill towards the stone pillar about half way down to the track leading to Ravenseat. We were now below the cloud and rain and typically the weather conditions started to improve. A photograph was in order and whilst I don’t particularly like placing photographs of other people on the web without their consent I had to include one taken at this point in my journal. If any of the interested parties (who will read and see this journal) object then please let me know.
It was too early for lunch so we decided to move on and look for a suitable place to eat. We came upon the ‘black hut’ which was ideal and Chris, being the gentleman that he is asked ‘Have I got time to strike up my stove?’ ‘Of course you have Chris we are walking as a group and we are not going to race off and leave you’. Whilst we sat there, in warmer conditions now, I was looking up to the direction we had walked from for other C2C walkers. I knew there were quite a few others to follow including M & M, Gordon and Charlotte and the 3 Irishmen. The first couple to ‘come over the hill’ were Bill and Marie from near Bolton in Lancashire – I recognised the Lancashire accent straight away (they probably recognised I was a Yorkie). They were extremely friendly and I explained who we were and when I mentioned that Chris was around the corner of the hut cooking his meal – they walked across to him. Bill and Marie had met Chris on previous days so they chatted away about Chris’s misfortune with his glasses. We suggested he would not be able to replace or repair his glasses until Richmond. Bill and Marie were also heading for Keld so we said our temporary goodbyes as we would probably see them later. The only other C2C walker to pass by was a very fit and really pleasant young man called Tim who was also camping and therefore carrying a full pack. We had a chat but Tim was in no mood to talk for too long – he wanted to push along towards his camp site for the night. I was to meet Tim for a social chat and drink the following day in Reeth. Tim was a quiet young man who didn’t drink alcohol. He is a PhD student in fluid dynamics at the University of Essex and we had one thing in common in this respect – my son (not me) had a Doctorate in fluid dynamics at Cambridge.
As our small group sat there relaxing whilst finishing out lunch, typical of Chris he asked ‘Have I got time to wash my pan?’ He didn’t need to ask did he but that shows what a really nice guy he is. A short time later we were all ready to move on and set off towards Ravenseat and then Keld. The KK and myself had the delights of Butt House ahead whilst Chris, already behind his intended daily schedule due to his double ascent of Nine Standards Rigg, was pondering where to pitch his tent. Keld was perhaps too short for him and he wondered if he could push on down the Swale valley towards Muker and Gunnerside. Our group caught up with Bill and Marie near Ravenseat – they must have stopped for a lunch break after seeing us. I took quite a few photographs on the picturesque section between Ravenseat and Keld as did the KK and Chris, Bill and Marie went ahead of us. We passed a lamb in severe distress and dying - sadly we could nothing for it. We cut down to Wain Wath Force for a few photographs and then walked along the quiet road towards Keld.
We saw Chris talking to a local farmer and he ran across to us to thank us and shake our hands. He was getting directions to a camp site in Muker. It was the last time we saw this true English gentleman – would he make it to Robin Hood's Bay?
We arrived at Butt House a little earlier than expected – dare we arrive too early and upset Doreen? Of course we can and we did. What a wonderful, if not slightly disciplined, reception we had at Butt House. There was a rack for our boots, hangers for our walking poles, completion of registration forms and we had to be back down in the lounge for tea and cakes straight away – no time for baths or showers – we had interrupted Doreen’s afternoon preparations for our evening meal. I wasn’t going to argue with this wonderful lady, or her husband Ernest, who worked extremely well together as a team. The five of us assembled in the lounge to be served with massive pots of tea, a huge plate of buttered scones and a delicious lemon and cream cake. Doreen came in and took orders for our evening meal – again in a well organised manner. She took orders by room numbers and wanted us to keep the same seats at the dinner table for breakfast the next day. I was astounded at the choices Doreen gave us of starters, main courses and desserts. We placed our orders and Doreen left us to continue her cooking whilst we chatted and finished our tea/scones/cake. I thought ‘What a fantastic place with two dedicated and hard working Dales characters’. I had a bath and then carried out my daily routine of preparing maps, recharging batteries and arranging kit for tomorrow. I was taking the traditional higher level route over the old lead mining area whilst the KK wanted to take the more scenic Swale valley route. I supplied them with the relevant laminated sections of the lower level route maps to assist them. I walked to the nearby telephone kiosk to telephone my wife Linda who had started a 1 week holiday today with her sister based in Grassington, Wharfedale. She was a little worried about my crossing of Nine Standards as she had seen me looking at various pictures and reading logs about people getting stuck in the peat bogs.
At 7.15pm we assembled in the lounge ahead of our evening meal and ordered a drink of beer from Ernest – yes it is also licensed what a bonus. A bottle of Black Sheep bitter for me. We looked at the pictures and books in the lounge whilst chatting about Butt House. A short time later we were invited into the dining room and took our designated places at the large table. The respective starters including vegetable soup, prawn cocktail and garlic mushrooms were delicious and plentiful as were the varied main courses and desserts. This was a truly magnificent place to stay – credit to Doreen and Ernest for providing outstanding services such as this for many years. After lunch we were asked to assemble in the lounge where Doreen would take orders for breakfast and packed lunches. With the formalities out of the way we spent time chatting and listening to Doreen. I told her I had to ask the question she must have been asked hundreds of times ‘What was A.W. like?’ This topic started conversations that went on for over an hour and we all listened intently as we sparked Doreen’s unbelievable memory of past events. We actually asked if Doreen had ever considered writing a book of her memoirs ‘ No’ was the answer but the right researcher and publisher would surely yield a bestseller. We actually were told several sad things by Doreen. Firstly, here son Robert was undergoing his fourth course of treatment for leukaemia (we all prayed for him that night) and this meant that Doreen and Ernest had to spend some time visiting him and his family. Secondly, Doreen had cut back a little this year – she rarely had guests on Tuesday and Wednesday as Ernest and herself had started travelling the world and country as they were unwinding before retirement. Finally, next year may be the last year Doreen and Ernest provide accommodation for C2C, Pennine Way and other walkers. What a sad day it will be when we can longer accept the delights of Butt House. All the very best to you both – but I must bring Linda to this special place later in the year – if I can get in of course.
All five of
us reflected on a really special B & B and indeed village. It was
disappointing to us all that Keld Youth Hostel was to be auctioned off
later this year. Doreen told us that the YH had 35 beds and that there were
only 15 beds at B & B accommodation outside the YH – what would happen then
at this crossroads of major walking routes in the North of England. Let us
hope that common sense prevails and that someone buys the YH and turns it
into more or the less the same – accommodation for walkers. I retired to
bed with plenty of special moments to think about from our brief stay at
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