Day 8                   Kirkby Stephen to Keld

11.3 miles                    Torrential rain

We slept well at Fletcher House and after a good breakfast we donned our wet weather gear (again!) and walked out into the rain.

Fletcher House

Leaving Kirby Stephen

Frank's Bridge, Kirby Stephen

We crossed Frank's Bridge in Kirby Stephen and passed through the pretty hamlet of Hartley.  Such picturesque places but rain so heavy I was unsure whether to risk using even my phone's camera. Drat!

Today's walk takes us over the Pennine watershed of Nine Standards Rigg and into the Yorkshire Dales.  Because of erosion and taking into account conditions, both weather and underfoot, the route over the Nine Standards has been divided into three seasonal options.  The Red Route, being Wainwright's original walk by the Nine Standards to be used between May and July; the Blue Route via Whitsundale between August and September and the Green Route along the Nateby to Keld road between December and April, or any other time when the weather is bad.   Talk of intentions at breakfast in Fletcher House was divided, with the Aussies and ourselves going for the Red Route and the Americans being more cautious because of the weather forecast and opting for the Green.

After Hartley there is a very long lead into the climb proper, first on a farm track past a large quarry and then on rougher, stony ground.

As we gained height we had glimpses of the Nine Standards, which are large cairns that can be seen from many miles away and look a bit like giant skittles.  Cloud moved in and obscured them and the wind would blow it away again.  The conditions were pretty awful, very wet and wild, and we decided that if visibility was very poor when we reached the Nine Standards we would backtrack and join the Green Route.

The Red Brisbanes

I climb cheerfully towards the Nine Standards

Some distance behind us walked an Australian couple from Brisbane in red waterproofs and behind them, the Aussies. Eventually we were pleased to reach the Nine Standards, which close up were weird impressive structures, solid in the mists.  We stopped for a while and were joined by the Aussies, the Red Brisbanes and the American couple we had chatted to at Haweswater on Day 5.  Suddenly Carole decided she had seen enough of the Nine Standards and set off on the Red Route, soon followed by myself and the rest of the gang who seemed happy to join someone who apparently knew where she was going.   Hmm!  Oh well, she did seem confident, perhaps because she was using the straightforward 'A Coast to Coast Route Guide' by Tony Grogan, which has excellent maps.

We reach the Nine Standards

Everyone attempts to take photographs in the rain

The areas of quagmire became larger and more frequent and we were pleased to reach the new crowd funded paving at the head of Backstone Beck.  This took us across boggy areas that would have been almost impassible in today's conditions.  Unfortunately the paving came to an end and it was often necessary to divert around black bog, testing the ground ahead of us and very often sinking nearly to the knee.

After half an hour of this we all had wet feet.  One of the Red Brisbanes went full length into the bog, rolled on his back and lay there laughing like a drain.  What else could he do?!  Carole stumbled and her arm sank to the shoulder into the bog.  She said she was surprised that it felt lovely, so soft, spongy and warm compared to her chilly fingers.

Once we had passed the worst of the boggy ground we continued on alone.  One of the nice things about the Coast to Coast Walk is that one meets and walks with people for a while but everyone walks at their own pace and it is not considered unfriendly or rude to just stop for a coffee, or walk off more quickly if that's what one feels like doing.

Up until this point we had the wind and rain in our faces and it was helpful when our path rejoined the Green Route at Little Gill and we had the wind on our backs at last.

We carried on through the rain, listening to the haunting cries of curlews and heading for Ravenseat, home of the Yorkshire Shepherdess.  Carole had recently read her book about her life on the farm and was keen to see it and even more keen to try a cream tea there.

After some tricky stream crossing (wet feet again) we had Ravenseat within our sights and were appalled to see a 'Cafe Closed' sign propped up against the gate.  As the rain lashed down I wailed about the injustices being heaped upon me but in the end we decided to go into the farm to see if we could find a barn to shelter in to drink our own coffee.  Miraculously we came to such a barn and there we saw a group of hikers packing up to leave and on the table in front of them were mugs and plates.   They said they had asked at the farm and so Carole and I decided to try our luck and went to knock at the farmhouse where the surprisingly attractive shepherdess, Amanda Owen, answered the door; piles of her books were handily available for purchase placed on a shelf to the side.  I asked if there was any chance of a coffee and she smiled and said of course there was, and would we like cream scones too?  

Ravenseat Farm

Shelter from the storm

The farm dog looks for tidbits

Scones and coffee from the Yorkshire Shepherdess

We returned to the now empty barn and the cream scones were brought to us by her eldest daughter and were delicious.

Leaving was difficult but we had become chilled and it was best to get moving again.  As we walked away from the farm we saw a sudden movement in the grass, lightning fast and after several minutes chasing around on the sodden hillside we found a shrew curled up in a nest attempting to hide. It was fascinating to see this tiny animal so closely.

The views from this point on are fantastic, with the swollen Whitsundale Beck racing along below us and pouring over a waterfall to crash down into the ravine below.  Soon we reached the River Swale and followed it to join the road near Keld.  As we approached the village we passed the Wainwath Force waterfall, which was thundering with a cascade of mud and water, quite alarming to behold.

Whitsundale Beck below


Wainwath Force

We were dreadful sights when we arrived at Butt House, sodden and filthy from our bog encounters, but our welcome was one of the nicest we've had.  We stepped into a warm drying room where our host organised us as we took off our wet gear and hung it up. There was even a special device to dry boots.  No two hikers could have been happier as we went up to our warm room carrying pints of Black Sheep ale, extra biscuits and a menu to choose our evening meal.

Dinner was good at Butt House and eight of us sat around a large oval table; the Aussies, the American couple and ourselves being C2C walkers and a lone American and English guy, both of whom were doing the Pennine Way.  Dinner was a salad starter, then lamb and lentil tagine with apricot and lime couscous followed by bread and butter pudding.  Plenty of beer and lively and interesting conversation made a perfect end to a long day.