After last week’s introduction to Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk from St. Bees Robin Hood’s Bay, this week I turn my attention to one segment of the walk. As previously mentioned, many walkers split the entirety of Wainwright’s route into two, opting to do just the east or the west half. The middle split point varies. However, since I had already spent the better part of a week walking in the Lake District, I picked up in the Cumbria town of Kirkby Stephen.
From Kirkby Stephen to Keld is approximately 14 miles, making it ideal for a day’s hike. This section of the route takes us out of Cumbria and into the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
Before leaving the market town of Kirkby Stephen, be sure to pick up some rations to keep you going. You won’t be passing any shops once you’ve left town. Also take a half hour or so to browse the 13th century church if it is open, being sure to see the boar tusk (reputedly the last one killed in England) and the carved stone of Viking god Loki. Then when you are ready, cross the river and you are on your way.
Crossing the Moors
Follow the footpath along hedgerows filled with berries and pheasants to the village of Hartley. Then take a steep turn up past a quarry. Eventually you will reach a divide in the path and it is decision time. Ahead of you are some very boggy moors, and there are three alternative routes across them. Posted signs caution you to stick to a particular colour-coded route, depending on the time of year. This is largely to help protect the erosion damage caused by thousands of walkers stomping across the peat bogs each year. Obviously it is up to you if you observe the request, but I assume you are walking because of a love of the countryside, so do your bit to help safeguard it.
Whichever path you opt for, do not discount the bogs. There is little, if any, marked pathway in parts and the sheep are not going to be much help if you fall in. Finding myself knee-deep at one point, I regretted not having any walking poles with me. I also was glad that I was not carrying anything more than a light day pack.
The blue and red routes both go across the moor by climbing Nine Standards Rigg. On a clear day, you can enjoy wonderful views across the Dales. However, if you attempt these routes during inclement weather, you run a high risk of getting lost. If you are contemplating either of the higher routes, follow the advice given to me by a local: If you can’t see the top of the Nine Standards from where the path splits, don’t go that way. If the weather is bad, if you are walking in winter, or if you simply prefer to avoid the climb, the green route will take you around. It is still a perfectly pleasant walk in its own right. Since things were looking more than a little cloudy as I passed by, I opted for the green route.
Into the Dales
After crossing the moors and engaging in several friendly conversations with the local sheep, I reached the B-road that passes through this area. Don’t expect that to mean traffic. I saw fewer than a handful of cars along this stretch of road. Soon the path leaves the road and you are again on moorland, splashing through more bog and meandering past a number of grouse huts.
If you are hiking in the summer months, you may be able to buy refreshments at Ravenseat Farm. I have heard rumours of scones too. But in October, there was no-one around. Nevertheless, the picnic tables are a nice spot to sit, enjoy the surroundings and take a breather.
From the farm, the path follows Whitsundale Beck across the Swaledale landscape of old abandoned stone sheds and waterfalls until you rejoin the road, which leads into Keld.
Keld is a fascinating village. Dare I say, this tiny cluster of old stone houses was one of my favourite locations. No shops. A bus that passes through a few times a day. And very little phone or TV reception. But it is clearly a close-knit community. The Keld Countryside and Heritage Center has some information about the village’s history and the lead-mining industry that attracted workers. There is also a series of fascinating audio recordings by locals reminiscing about days gone by. Nearby is a community orchard and garden. Perhaps most appreciated by walkers is the village hall. Inside you will find comfy chairs to collapse and rest those weary feet, as well as a large selection of cold and hot drinks, snacks, and cakes. There is no charge but all donations help with the upkeep of the hall.
I finished the day in Keld, caked in boggy filth but very happy with this portion of the Coast to Coast.
Where to Stay – Kirkby Stephen
My accommodation in Kirkby Stephen was at The Jolly Farmers Bed and Breakfast. Owner Carol gave a warm welcome, complete with tea and freshly-baked scones. She was able to provide lots of information and helpful tips about the next day’s walk, and where to visit in the town. My room was spacious and comfortable, with plenty of snacks. Next morning’s breakfast feast was just what I needed to get me going. Thank you Carol!
Where to Stay – Keld
Being so small, there are not a lot of options in Keld but what options there are are most agreeable. In the summer, several farms have campsites if that is your preference. I spent the night at Keld Lodge, a former youth hostel that is now a hotel and site of the only bar and restaurant for miles. My room was huge and comfortable. The drying room has plenty of space for hanging up your soggy clothes and letting your boots dry before you set off next morning. Both that evening’s dinner (I had fish pie and cider) and breakfast were excellent. The owner’s can also provide a packed lunch – be sure to order before you go to bed.
I kept a detailed diary of my walks and dictated thoughts and ideas along my way. Below are a few excerpt from today’s entry:
It really is a beautiful morning. The sun is shining and the birds are in full song. All I keep thinking of is William Blake’s Jerusalem. This is indeed England’s green and pleasant land.
I’ve reached Keld. I’m tired, dirtier than I’ve ever been, but I have spent most of the day walking with a big grin on my face. Did Wainwright feel this ridiculously happy?