A cracking breakfast was served up by The Black Bull, including mixed nuts served with plain yoghurt; it promised to see us through to Keld!
We started our day by trudging through a damp, grey Kirkby Stephen. Leaving the town, we crossed the River Eden via old Frank’s bridge – a footbridge dating from the 17th century when it was part of a corpse road. East of the bridge, we ambled through parkland up to Hartley, before a stiffer climb around a quarry and up onto Hartley Fell.
We reached a point where we had to make a decision; there was a choice of three colour-coded routes: one low, skirting the Nine Standards; two high, both of which passed these landmarks. Although the cloud was low, it wasn’t raining and there was little wind. We took the red – the high route recommended for this time of year.
Despite the cloud turning to mist, the climb alongside Faraday Gill was quite exhilarating, culminating at the eerie Nine Standards. This line of standing stones is of uncertain origin and function, but on a misty morning, they resembled a fearsome cohort warding off potential invaders, “Turn back; you’ll find no joy in Yorkshire!” Rather tentatively, we continued on to the highest point of Hartley Fell, confusingly known as Nine Standards Rigg. By now, the terrain was very boggy – we had to carefully pick our way, and sometimes make considerable detours.
It was also very misty; visibility meant that we had to be guided by GPS waypoints. Whilst tapping in the next set of coordinates, we were overtaken by a snake of multi-coloured anoraks. This turned out to be a group of 10-12 Germans with an experienced guide; so we tagged on! We were joined by Dennis and Phil, North Yorkshire lads, whom we had met on a few occasions over the previous 4 – 5 days. They were much our age, but walked a bit quicker than we do (or should say that they walked quicker than I do – Julia has to adjust her pace down to my level). For me, this was a unique experience – I’d never walked across extensive bog before; despite the guide, several of his followers slipped into the unforgiving mire; the mist added to the otherworldliness!
Emerging from the mist and the bog just about simultaneously, we found ourselves back on the lower path. It wasn’t long before we came across a hunter’s hut; the door was open and so Julia and I, along with Dennis and Phil had the luxury of eating our packed lunches with our feet under a table!
The path continued east following Ney Gill, which was crossed on several occasions by precarious planks or slippy stepping stones. This brought us to the splendidly named Whitsundale, tucked into which is Ravenseat Farm. The farm is in the middle of nowhere, but was buzzing with activity – C2Cers sat at benches with hot drinks and cakes; the farmyard alive with the sounds of hens and little humans. The hostess is Amanda Owen, mother to the little humans, with another about to arrive (number 9!) by the look of things. She is a lady of no little renown, having written a book about abandoning a high flying career in The City to raise chickens and kids (and serve up tea and scones to C2Cers) at the top end of Swaledale. Apparently a TV show is in the offing. Julia bought a copy of “The Yorkshire Shepherdess”, which Amanda graciously signed.
The remainder of the walk contoured out of Whitsundale (I live in the hope that one day, Augustbankholidaydale will be thrown across my path) and onto the north side of its parent – Swaledale. We turned left when we reached a road, heading north away from Keld towards Tan Hill. Since Ravenseat Farm, we had been joined by Mike and Roger who were also spending the night at Frith Lodge. The lane passed through the hamlet of West Stonesdale, as the mist began to thicken. We were walking up the narrow valley of Stonesdale Beck, and on the ridge above the opposite bank, through the mist, we could make out the ghostly outline of a building. “I’m not walking up there!” Julia’s words merely echoed what we other three were thinking. And yet my little Garmin GPS, into which I had tapped the coordinates of Frith Lodge, unfailingly thrust its arrow at the haunted house! Our worst fears were confirmed by a rough track leaving the tarmac lane to the right, with a sign proclaiming, FRITH LODGE!
Within seconds of contemplating what lay ahead for the four intrepid ramblers, a 4by4 came into view, and out stepped a chirpy young man offering us a lift! It was Neil, the lodge’s proprietor; he had come down to the “main” road to pick up our luggage, and was happy to return with a few clients. The drive back to Frith highlighted how difficult the last mile of our day might have been, with a steep descent to the beck, and an even steeper climb up to the old farmhouse.
Frith Lodge had only opened in May of this year. Karen and Neil had transformed a derelict shell into something out of House & Garden. It has to be seen to be believed – go there! As we stepped into the drying room, we were entranced by the aroma of Karen’s cooking.
Indeed, the meal was exceptional. The Lodge is licenced, and so we were able to enjoy a Black Sheep aperitif! (Neil kindly tutored me on how to pronounce Masham, the North Yorkshire town where the beer is brewed). The four of us were joined by a fifth Coast-to-Coaster, Fritz, a tall, handsome young man from Alkmaar, near Amsterdam. All five of us had chosen the beef casserole in beer as the main course; it was what we could smell as we entered the building; we had all been lead by the nose!