Apr 24 2011

Walk 28: The Herriot Way – Day Three

The chimney at Old Gang Mill

route: Reeth to Keld
Date: 24th April 2011
distance: 11.1 miles
ascent: 2,377 feet
time: 7 hrs 10 mins
walkers: Dave, Graham, Leanne, Roger, Sandra & Simon

Day three began with another fine breakfast and we were soon all ready to go. I felt fresh again after another reasonable night’s sleep, it wasn’t bad but it just wasn’t my own bed. I could tell that i had walk for two days as the legs felt used but not achey, my feet on the other hand were causing me more of a problem. I taped some cotton wool pads to the bottom of them where needed and stuffed some toilet roll in the boots for more padding. Today was a step up again on the previous day with more climbing to be done, although it would be slightly less distance which I wouldn’t complain about. Over the course of the next six or seven hours we would make our way to Keld and walk along part of the coast to coast route along the way. At this point we had the option of taking a detour to the top of Rogan’s Seat which is one of the 40 peaks on our Yorkshire tops list. We had all done it last year when it was 3ft thick with snow but it may be an opportunity to see what it is like on a gloriously sunny day. It was going to be another hot one and my t-shirt was already starting to get wet as we stood near the village green in Reeth applying sun cream. Today was going to be a long one….

Wu Tang was back in the hot seat and would be our guide for the first part of the day as we left Reeth between the Black Bull and Kings Arms. After a slight misunderstanding of the directions we quickly found our way back to the correct route and made our way beyond the medical centre and out onto the lovely green grass. We followed a slightly worn route through numerous narrow gates and stiles as we made our way towards Healaugh. The temperature was rising all the time and I had a feeling that today was going to be hard a little later on, but for now it was a really pleasant start to the day and allowed us to cover a mile or more without actually having to do much other than put one foot in front of the other.

We soon arrived in Healaugh and it was time for Wu Tang to pass the tour guide roll on to Sherpa G-String. As we had done an extra mile or two last night it meant her turn was split over the two days and her responsibility was now done. G read out the next point and we walked by the old red phone box and up a little lane before we cut through some woods and I had a bit of welcome shade. From here we climbed fairly sharply up and out onto a farm track. We were now out onto the open hillside and followed a clear path for fifteen minutes or so as we chatted away to each other about anything and nothing.

After another few minutes we reached Cringley Bottom (not to be confused with the place Mr Blobby lives) and we were confronted with a beck running across us at the bottom of a small valley. We read the directions a couple of times and L’Autobus made their mind up it was straight on as they descended down into the valley before climbing up and out the other side. Meanwhile the boys were unravelling maps and cross checking with GPS technology before deciding that women’s intuition was correct in the first place.

Once we reached the top of this little climb we set off together and followed the clearly worn path for a short while before it gave way to a slightly boggy section that in turn led us to the Surrender Smelt Mine.

Roger did his usual trick of disappearing to explore as the rest of us rested for ten minutes and picked something to snack on from our packed lunches. The old smelt mill was impressive even though it was far from complete. We got to discussing how it was named Surrender smelt mine and wondered if it was after the nearby Surrender bridge. One thought was it was something to do with the War of the Roses but no doubt that will be far from the truth. The sun continued to shine down as we gathered our things together ready to move off. We paused for a minute and… nothing, absolute silence. It is always wonderful to hear nothing and something that you don’t often get the chance to experience as there is usually some wind blowing or something but for a few second we could hear nothing. That was until the grouse that was perched just above us let out a mighty cackle and broke the silence.

The grouse was still calling out as we made our way towards Surrender Bridge before taking the track that would lead us towards Level House Bridge. The call of a grouse is one thing I have become familiar with over the last year or so and it may be a little sad of me to admit this but I like it, but I will keep that to myself. The long track from the bridge was easy going on the legs as the climb was hardly noticeable but as with yesterday I tried to walk at the side of track on the grass to protect my feet. Away to our left was a row of grouse butts, one of many we spotted throughout the four days and it is fair to say that grouse shooting is big business in this part of the world. We spotted a second row of butts as we neared the impressive looking Old Gang Smelt Mill that grew ever closer.

Old Gang smelt mill is an impressive place. A little more intact than the one we had seen a little while earlier it still had its chimney and you got more of an idea of the size of operation that went on back in the day. Roger vanished again and the rest of us inspected the buildings before regrouping for a map checking and clarification on what the plan was now.

Leaving the old buildings behind allowed us to see more clearly the columns of a larger building that sat above the others on the hillside. This was the old peat store where the peat would be dried and kept before burning. Should I ever visit again I would like to take a closer look at this as the building looked monstrous in comparison to the others.

Level House Bridge was the next target and it was soon reached meaning that G handed over the reins to Beaky and he would be responsible for making sure we reached Keld tonight. The girls nipped off up the road to powder their nose and once done we made our way towards Merry Field. We passed a group of teenage girls who were doing the Duke of Edinburgh scheme and they all seemed to be enjoying it as I said hello whilst they sat having their lunch.

Another row of grouse butts ran off to our left as the ever changing landscape now changed dramatically. Today we had gone from green fields to heather covered moorland, then through some old mine buildings and the spoil heaps they created, but now it was like walking on the moon. Nothing was growing anywhere.

In front of us and off to our left we could see Great Shunner Fell sticking out above everything else in view. The third highest peak in Yorkshire would be on our route tomorrow as we climbed over it before descending back to Hawes. Off to our right was an old piece of machinery that had been left, a reminder if one were needed of the mining that used to go on up here.

A little further on we decided that we would stop for lunch. We managed to find the only patch of grass around and sat down to enjoy our lunch as the D of E girls overtook us. The grass hadn’t had any rain for weeks and felt like sitting on a scouring pad whenever it came into contact with skin so it wasn’t exactly the most relaxing lunch ever but it was nice to get off my feet even if I was smack bang on top of Mellbecks Moor, that seemed to be millions of miles away from the nearest shade.

With lunch polished off, we said goodbye to booby one and headed for booby two. Booby one and two are not exactly technical names but I did feel that after looking at the profile in the guide book they vaguely resembled a pair of boobs and the name stuck. Our guide told us that we were to ignore the sign post for Keld as it took us down a ridiculously steep path and that our route would be slightly longer but more gradual. That sounded like a plan so we walked by the fingerpost until we cut left off the path and began to drop down towards Blakethwaite Mill that could be seen below us.

At first this path seemed fine to me and I aren’t bothered by things like this anyway so I would usually think it was ok. I could sense that a few of the others weren’t quite as comfortable with it as it began to get steeper and with a more severe drop away to our right. We passed the D of E girls who seemed to be very cautious and continued to descend.

Once at the bottom we were at yet another old peat store and there were various other buildings include a kiln that could be seen nearby. It is amazing to think that these used to be operational out in the middle of nowhere and how resourceful man can be. We climbed up the other side of the valley towards booby two before pausing to look back at where we had just been.

We were now near Lownathwaite and the sun was beating down as we joined the coast to coast footpath with the reminders of the old mining industry still all around us.

A few minutes later we had reached the t-junction where the coast to coast path meets the track that leads up to Rogan’s Seat. As we had discussed earlier in the day we would take stock and see who fancied going for it. We had agreed that there was to be no pressure from anyone either way and to allow each member to do whatever they wanted. It wasn’t like we were in a rush to get anywhere, so as beaky, Roger and G decided they wanted to go, I decided that it was too much for me and I joined Wu Tang and Ramblo to make our way to Keld.

We reached the old lead mine in Swinner Gill and I found the one thing that seemed like the most precious thing in the world to me right then, shade. The three of us sat there yapping away about the walk and how we were feeling as well as other things as we waited for the Rogan’s Seaters to return. After half an hour or so we moved across the old pack horse bridge to sit on the path on the other side of the valley. We thought that we would have a more extensive view of path that drops down from the top.

They came into view and we watched the for a few minutes before deciding to set off slowly towards the gate at the end of the path we were on. We laughed about how they would just come down and walk right by us if we waited so off we went.

Roger had made astounding progress and was almost with us as we reached the gate but Beaky and G were now a fair way behind him, not that it was an issue to anyone. We waited at the gate until we were all together once more then set off for the final one and a half miles. We had walked this way before when we did Rogan’s Seat last year so we all had an idea of what was to come. Sometimes ignorance is bliss when it comes to things like this as knowing what is ahead can sometimes be demoralising but today it had the opposite effect as apart from the tiny little climb into Keld it was all downhill. Away to our left we had a wonderful view of the River Swale as it snaked through the valley towards Muker.

While waiting for the boys to return from their extra detour we had been discussing why sheep feel the need to eat on slopes that seem really steep to us when there is plenty of easier pickings. They are obviously not bothered by it as we spotted many of them all over the hillside on the steepest sections and we had a couple just above us as we walked by. It wasn’t exactly high or steep compared to some of the others we have seen but it shows they feel comfortable as two elder sheep were joined by a couple of little lambs. I might try tipping my table to a 45 degree angle to see if the food tastes nicer or something as there must be some reason they do it.

Crackpot Hall was soon upon us, closely followed by the remains of a tractor as we came towards the end of another fabulous day of walking. East Gill Force was a nice little treat for us just before we reached Butt House and the end of day three.

We checked in and took our bags to our room before ordering a drink and heading out to the table in the garden. An umbrella went up and as the others sat on the benches I laid on the grass using the bench/ table and umbrella for shade. It had been an absolute scorcher and one that had left me feeling very tired. I had taken on plenty of water but maybe it wasn’t enough under the circumstances. With each day that we completed the legs felt a little more tired but the sense of achievement went up. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would have been doing this until the formation of the Badgers in early 2010. Walking is certainly the way to travel around the Dales. It may not be the fastest but it allows you to take in all the sights, sounds and smells of the wonderful countryside we are lucky to have so close by. My mind flashed forward a day to Great Shunner and the challenge that may bring, but my day dreaming was interrupted by a wagtail sat on the wall a few feet away from me. It was chirping away and full of the joys of Spring so why shouldn’t I be. I had already achieved more in the last three days than I ever thought I would and whatever tomorrow may bring, I would be ok!

Sir Edmund


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