The mist had dispersed; the skies were azure; Frith Lodge was breezy and bright. The cooked breakfast was a little different, and came in the form of a Yorkshire crumpet! (A crumpet dowsed in beaten egg before toasting, topped with bacon).
The Pennine Way passes north-south just outside the gate to Frith Lodge, and so we walked south towards Keld, accompanied for a while by Neil and his border collie, Jess. Unlike the previous evening, the visibility was perfect. At the dramatic East Gill Force, the Pennine Way crosses the C2C, and we were once again on our easterly trajectory.
Within a short time, there was a decision to be made: were we to follow the high road – the Wainwright route, following the ridge north of Swaledale – or the low road – by the river and through the greenery of the dale? We decided to take the high road, as the weather was so good.
The route took us gently up hill veering north into Swinner Gill at the top of which sat the ruins of an old lead mine. Ahead of us were our old acquaintances, Phil and Dennis, joined for the day by their mate Andrew who had brought his greyhound. We noted that they had turned south on a narrow path following the contours on the other side of the gill. The temptation was to follow, and yet the book, GPS, and compass were urging us to go east, up a precipitous gully in which ran the East Grain stream. There was no clear path, and it did look like a hands-on climb. Julia and I took some time to reach the conclusion that we had to head east, and it proved difficult and at times precarious. At the top was a sentinel signpost; and coming up from behind were the three men and their dog.
The five of us made good progress over Gunnerside Moor before dropping into the eponymous gill.
This was a very atmospheric place with the ruins of the Blakethwaite leadmine flanking the beck. The weather remained pristine, but one couldn’t help but think that life in the mine must have been arduous in the extreme, with a good two mile trudge to Gunnerside at the beginning and end of each day. We started this trudge, heading south on the east side of the gill, before turning east once again for our second steep climb of the day, up the wonderfully named Bunton Hush (hushing was an ancient form of opencast mining involving flooding to remove the grass and topsoil to reveal the veins of lead). By this time, the three Yorkshire lads had forged ahead, and we could just make them out high up this man-made ravine. Getting up the hush involved a great deal of clambering, and use of all four limbs, before we emerged onto what looked like a lunar landscape with the old tips and workings from the mines on the blasted Melbecks Moor.
We had our packed lunches and coffee from our flask, having dropped off the moor into Hard Level Gill. We knew that our afternoon would be gently downhill to Reeth, passing Level House Bridge, the remains of the Old Gang smelting mills, and Surrender Bridge.
As we walked into Reeth, and approached our night’s abode, The Buck Hotel, we were confronted by the sight of many Coast-to-Coasters sitting outside on the inn’s benches, basking in the sunshine, supping beer, and showing off their knobbly knees. We were familiar with most of these walkers, on “Ow do” terms even if we didn’t know all their names. So we joined them, discussing the finer points of what had been a beautiful Dales day.
The Buck Hotel was very friendly, and served really good food (we partook of their speciality – pizza – that evening). But it also harboured a shabbiness that was beyond endearing. We had the honour of a four poster bed, the frame unadorned by drapes and curtains; it looked like a medieval instrument of torture. The bedside light didn’t work; the water, when filling the bath, produced an unwholesome froth – the detergent obviously hadn’t been rinsed away. I’m definitely getting more fastidious as I get older!
After supper, we went for a stroll around Reeth’s green. The embers of the day gave an iridescent glow; the old stones houses and shops looked bright, warm, inviting. Little did we know that we were in for a few days of dark, glowering skies.