Although it was Sunday, we had agreed to taking our breakfast early as our hosts were setting out to visit family. In the rush to get togged up, Julia forgot her walking poles. She realised this within a couple of hundred metres, but on returning to Tranna Hill, our hosts, and all guests had departed! Ah well, it didn’t look as if we would need them for today – a mere 7-mile walk over rolling meadowland to Kirkby Stephen (KS). We agreed that we would ring the landlady later in the day, and ask her to pass on the poles to Sherpa to deliver to our Monday night’s stopover near Keld.
We initially planned to take a short cut back onto C2C by walking along a disused railway line. On passing through the kissing gate to gain access to the old line, a noticeboard informed us that we were entering the Smardale Gill Nature Reserve. Simultaneously, we met a farmer walking his dog who extolled the beauty of the railway walk. Julia and I therefore hatched a plan to walk along the nature trail as far as Smardale, and then improvise a route on to Kirkby Stephen (KS).
This was the old Darlington to Tebay line, axed during the 1960s; it runs past a limestone quarry and lime kilns, before crossing Scandal Beck via the impressive Smardale Gill Viaduct. We then passed beneath the more utilitarian Smardale Viaduct (conveying the Carlisle – Settle railway) to the gaunt, turreted Smardale Hall.
The village was the end of the nature trail. Beyond Smardale, the disused railway continues towards KS, but it is privately owned, overgrown, and apparently requires detours in places where it proves to be impassable. So we hit the tarmac, zigzagging along country lanes to rejoin the C2C. For the last couple of kilometres, we headed north-east across pastureland. We had been extremely lucky with the weather – bright and clear; the walk through Smardale Gill had been particularly enjoyable.
KS is a major town as far as the C2C is concerned. The Black Bull Hotel, standing on the impressively wide thoroughfare of Market Street, was to be our bolt-hole for the night. But it was still early in the day – early afternoon; our luggage hadn’t been delivered by Sherpa as yet. We lunched at Mulberry Bush, on the other side of Market Street from the hotel, before meandering north to The Upper Eden Visitor Centre, the Market Square and into Kirkby Stephen Parish Church. This latter building is rather grand for such a small town, and is indeed referred to as the Cathedral of the Dales. Its voluminous interior certainly provided sanctuary for us – within minutes of entering, there was an impressive cloudburst, the pelting rain drumming loudly upon the church roof. Happily, the parish church proved to be very diverting; we sheltered there for some time. The highlight is the Loki Stone, which depicts a bearded, horned gentleman in chains; he sits at the western end of the nave, and glowers at you as you enter the church. Loki is a product of Norse mythology, but seems to have been adopted by Christians as a human embodiment of the devil!
A long and colourful history; a propensity of eateries and watering-holes; but by far the main motivation for ensuring that we had a stop over in Kirkby Stephen was the fact that it boasted a launderette! Yes, we were approaching the half-way point of the C2C and we had run out of clean smalls. The laundrette itself was very quiet; I was able to take out my tablet, and endeavour to bring this log up to date.
Back at the Black Bull, the bar was full of Cumbrian hospitality. We ate well; the menu was no-nonsense pub-grub; the beer-battered haddock was light and flaky. Brilliant. As we finished our meal, the good lady from Tranna Hill arrived, unbidden, with Julia’s walking poles! I doubt that I will ever witness a greater act of kindly landladyness!