The Pennine Way. Hawes to Keld [Frith Lodge]
Day 7. 13 miles
The grey and moody conditions outside meant it a reluctant departure from my cosy room in Hawes. I stayed in bed as long as possible as at only thirteen miles to Swaledale, today was the shortest I’d undertake on the whole Pennine Way, even with a four mile climb up Great Shunner Fell to start the day with. A bowl of porridge set me on my way and once out of Hawes and through the lanes and fields to Hardraw, I found myself walking into the clouds, such was how low they were and how misty it was. This morning had the atmosphere of a midwinter day. I was out of Hardraw pretty much as soon as I’d entered it and a walk up a dirt track led to the slow ascent up the mountain, which in reality isn’t as nearly as bad as the thought appears to be. The trig point at 2349 feet is stretched out across four miles so the effort to reach the top isn’t as nearly as strenuous as it is on Pen Y Ghent, and therefore the climb can be enjoyed and savoured rather than walking bent over at a ninety degree angle like often happens on the more challenging hills. Sadly, and this was exactly the same when we climbed Great Shunner Fell two years ago – then also in summer – the views back down to Hawes were non existent thanks to the ever thickening fog. Additionally, I don’t know how long it was before I realised that walking through that atmosphere meant I was becoming increasingly wet; running my hand through my hair gave me a jolt when it felt like I’d stepped out the shower. The day wasn’t a cold one and I simply hadn’t realised. I stopped to put on my waterproofs and not long after did the trig point and summit shelter appear almost out of nowhere.
Even in the fog, though, navigation was pretty easy. The wide track on the lower parts of the mountain turn into well trodden paths and intermittent flagstones as it narrows and winds its way to the top. Once there, the shelter is only so in the loosest of terms and the four sided slabbed seats are more for wind protection that to provide any rain cover. Such was the fog, though, that only when I was passing the shelter did I see another walker sitting there in the cloud, almost ghost-like, in just shorts and t-shirt. It made me realise how dangerous the weather can be and how the right clothes are absolutely essential, and how grateful I was that I’d spent good money on my jacket and trousers which were by now wet through due to all the precipitation up there. Because of the weather there was no point at all in hanging around at the top, and so the descent quickly began, passing a couple of German friends, one of whom was dressed like the guy in the 118 advert, in 1970’s style sports vest and very short shorts. A brief nod of acknowledgement and I was gone, again down occasional flagstones with the thick cloud showing no sign of letting up. It must have been past halfway down when, finally, the sun started to break through and beautiful, stunning Swaledale lay ahead on the horizon. After a couple of hours in extensive cloud cover it was an absolute treat now to see a view, and I continued to stop every few moments to admire it. The fields, all separated by drystone walls also contain their own individual barn, something unique to this part of the world. It wasn’t until I reached the road at the bottom, via an uncomfortable rocky path that wasn’t too dissimilar to the one in and out of Horton in Ribblesdale, did I remove my waterproofs, and then a few minutes later I strolled into the tiny village of Thwaite, and just in time for lunch.
Thwaite houses the Kearton Hotel and Tearooms, and I can’t imagine there are many Pennine Wayers, or indeed anyone walking through the village in general, who pass up an opportunity for a drink and a snack. Despite it being lunchtime, though, there were only a handful of customers in there and so I plonked myself down at a corner table and enjoyed my first scone of the walk. You also get a ginger biscuit with your pot of tea, which is a kind gesture and very much appreciated. One regret I did have, a major rookie error too, was not stocking up on pies and pastries whilst in Hawes. I still don’t know what I was thinking, and it’s not a mistake I shall make again. From Keld to Middleton in Teesdale there isn’t anywhere to stop for snacks (unless arriving at Tan Hill for a pub lunch), and regardless it’s handy to have a few supplies lying in ones bag, just in case. Like most stops of this nature, having to sling a heavy bag on again and undertake more tough Pennine walking isn’t pleasant and it takes a few minutes to get back in the groove, but it’s easy to do so when leaving Thwaite, due to the gorgeous views from the top of Kisdon Hill. Reaching there is a bit of a short, but steep climb but so long as you don’t miss the turn off to the fields, away from the path and roads that lead to Muker, the walk through and up from the fields and the heather strewn path to the top the hill is a quick one and then you can turn around and fully soak in the patchwork of fields that sit around Thwaite. It’s even better when the sun is shining, but I was at least grateful that the fog had buggered off so that the view could be savoured. However, don’t for a minute think that the beauty ends there, as moments later the River Swale emerges into view, down in the valley below. From here it’s a high level walk to Keld that is mostly parallel with the river, and for a couple of miles until the path descends through sheltered woodland, the river and valley is in full, beautiful view. Alfred Wainwrights favourite Yorkshire dale was Swaledale, with several walks being designed to head through here – the Pennine, there is also the lower route of AW's own Coast to Coast, and the Herriot. It’s a sad moment when the woods are entered, but also the realisation that Keld is only moments away is an exciting one, as it’s a really lovely little village. Strictly speaking the Pennine doesn’t actually head through there, it merely winds its way around its eastern side across the river and next to the waterfalls where Keld (Norse in origin) gained its name from. However, if staying in the village at what limited accommodation there is, or wanting a snack at the café in Keld, there is a path that splits off there next to the finger post that leads the PW across the river. I had no need for the former, and so I passed the waterfalls and climbed the steep banks to reach the open and wild Stonesdale Moor.
My original plan for tonight was to cross the moor and camp at Tan Hill, four miles away. However, en route over Stonesdale Moor lies Frith Lodge, a beautiful B&B run by the lovely Karen and Neil (and Jess, the beautiful Collie) who have renovated a derelict farmhouse into perfect accommodation where you’re guaranteed a friendly welcome, a three course meal and homemade biscuits in each of the five rooms. I’d stayed there twice before, most recently during our Coast to Coast walk over Easter, and was simply dropping in to say hello. I had contemplated staying the night but unsurprisingly they were fully booked when I’d checked just before departure. Even just popping in though today, I knew it would be a wrench to leave. Neil was in the doorway as I strolled up the driveway and no sooner had I relayed that previous temptation, did he utter words that were music to my ears “well, we’ve had a cancellation - why don’t you come in, I’ll make you a pot of tea and you can think about it”. I don’t think I’d even entered the lodge before accepting his offer. I even got to try Karen’s latest concoction, a lemon sponge, before dinner is enjoyed communally with tonight two couples from America and Germany who had struck up a friendship walking Coast to Coast, and a couple of Pennine Wayers. If you’re nearby, go and stay there. It’s perfect.