You need special shoes for hiking — and a bit of a special soul as well.
The alicoop is up, the midges are out on cue, dinner is cooking on one of the myriad picnic tables at Ravenseat Farm and the sunset is giving the swell of the Pennines an orange hue. It was quite the day. To get myself a few miles more ahead of where I thought I should be camping last night in order to finish this thing, I set my sights on Keld, about a 25 mile walk from Orton. It was along the way that I noticed a more pleasurable stop at a farm with camping on the lawn next to a stone bridge marking the exact halfway point of the walk.
The day began much cooler than yesterday, which proved to be absolutely enervating, so I was thrilled to get underway, the trail leaving the charming village by road at first, then straight onto the heather-clad moor. Birdsong followed me everywhere, complex and foreign to my ears from yellow wagtail and linnet as well as one of my favs, the lapwing with its dog-toy squeak. Coming over the rise, birds filled the spare trees reminding me briefly of the Drakensberg in South Africa and it’s haunting long views.
Likewise most days, I passed through gates and over stiles, each having its own distinct character. Sometimes I’d come across a spiffy affair with a long, easy-to-reach metal latch that was equally easy to move and a gate evenly hung on its hinges would simply open wide for me to pass through. Even better would be a spring in the gate so I can simply let the door close with a pleasing slam on my way past. But more often than not, the gates hang askew in their hinges, have awkward to open latches or have one extra little clip that seems totally unnecessary. Then there’s the gate in a kind of pass through, where you push it open, put your body into the space and squeeze the gate in front of you. All well and good, unless you’re carrying a backpack, and then things get a little tight. I often stood up on the edges of the fence to hoist myself beyond the gate. Not pretty, but sufficed. Stiles can be ladders or strategically placed rocks, some built right into the wall a bit like the Incas. I got up, over, and through all of them, and was sure to close the gate once past.
The moors are wonderful places, high, mysterious, full of life, even if seemingly monochromatic. Once in the middle, all that surround – fell and dale – disappear, as if being far out on the ocean. It’s no wonder that this area is full of prehistoric sites, rock cairns, circles and settlements. One in particular is said to be the most important in Britain, but its remains are mostly seen from outer space, so I moved right on by.
It was in this place of big sky that I saw my first backpacker, another woman on her own from Holland. She sauntered in the way backpackers do, but I was hoofing on past where she planned to stop for the night, so moved right on by again. That is one thing that has surprised me on this walk, that I have not run into many walkers. I am wild camping for one, so not doing the usual stages and meeting up with the groups who have their bags carried between B&B’s, and I also added dozens of miles in the Lakes and missed Coast-to-Coasters while off on my own, but still, this may not be as populated a walk as it ought to be.
Soon, the final pull on the moors reached its apex and Kirkby (with a silent k) Stephen opened below. It’s one of one larger towns on the hike, and greeted walkers with a little town theme of worn out boots filled with flowers. Densely spaced row houses lined the main thoroughfare as I marched along looking for a place to get water before the big push into the Pennines. The Black Bull has an inviting seat right on the sidewalk, and within earshot of the local color, already working on their second or even third pints at 2 in the afternoon.
I took a look at the 13th century church built of sandstone from the local quarry I’d pass up the hill, crossed Frank’s Bridge over Eden Beck and I was off. Five miles winding up and up, past Fell House with guanaco in their yard, past bleating sheep and their soft wooly white lambs in black face and long silky black legs, onto the peat bog of this new range of hills in beautiful Swaledale.
At the top is Nine Standards Rigg, a series of huge carefully stacked rock cairns guarding the summit. I didn’t quite ascertain why they are there or who built them, but I found the place in the late afternoon particularly special, imagining my own stories of the peoples who went before.
The standards mark the beginning of the infamous bogs, ones that can steal a boot, a trekking pole and one’s dignity. I am incredibly lucky in that the rains have stayed away for months since a very wet spring, so mostly the walking was spongy dirt, and where it wasn’t, the park service has placed huge rock slabs, I barely got a toe wet.
Though I did manage to miss my turn and found myself taking a long and circuitous route to the farm. Wondering if I was on the right trail and having just about enough after 20 odd miles, a nice couple came around the bend in the nick of time and drove me the last 1/4 mile to the farm where I’m sleeping tonight.
Is that cheating?