Coast to Coast - East to West 2006

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 4 - Days 5 & 6 - Bolton-on-Swale to Muker


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Day 5 - Friday 9th June - 17.8 miles - 1,750 ft ascent

Bolton-on-Swale to Reeth

I had breakfast at 8.00 and was on my way by 9.00, not taking a packed lunch, as I would be in Richmond by then. Although the first several miles of todayís walk are fairly flat, it was a big change from yesterdayís walk, as it soon joined the banks of the River Swale. There was even a footpath diversion to avoid a short section of road walking on the B6271, and the route to Catterick Bridge followed the river, which could be seen at times. When the path went a little way from the river so that it wasnít visible, there was a blaze of colour from the wild flowers on the riverbanks as well as buttercup meadows to the other side. I made the mistake of not checking my guidebook at Catterick Bridge and continued along the north side of the river instead of crossing over the bridge. About half a mile further on I realized my mistake when a notice on the path said "Private Ė fishing only". Rather than backtrack all the way, I managed to cross the river by scrambling up onto the A1 road bridge, walking between the crash barrier and the parapet, then down a steep, nettle covered bank to the path below.

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Overlooking the River Swale near Brompton-on-Swale
River Swale near Brompton-on-Swale

The path departs from the riverbank on the way to Colburn, but there is still a good variety of scenery to see, though the way is not very clear in one or two places when walking from east to west. It is waymarked very much with the west to east route in mind, with wooden signposts pointing in that direction only and the occasional little yellow footpath marker with "Coast to Coast" written on in felt tipped pen for the opposite way. There is a short section by the attractive Colburn Beck before more farmland is crossed to get back to the Swale. I stopped for a break and a much-needed drink of water after about five miles, overlooking Swaledale, with the first sign of some gentle hills rising on either side of the valley. I met a Dutch couple heading for Danby Wiske, having passed four other Coast to Coast walkers earlier.

A little further on I made a mistake with the route by not paying enough attention to the guidebook. I should have been on the riverside path, but ended up high above the river with a very steep drop down through the woods to where I needed to be. This meant that I had to backtrack for a while until I found an easier slope that I could climb down. After a while, the route joins the road into Richmond, with the town visible on the hillside ahead, before going round on the opposite hillside, with fine views across to the castle. Finally, it drops down to the river below the castle, then over the bridge and up the steep road into the town centre.

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View across River Swale to Richmond with Castle in centre and town centre to right
Across Swale to Richmond
Market Place in Richmond town centre
Richmond Town Centre

My first port of call was Somerfield's supermarket where I bought a litre of fresh orange from the fridge as well as a few other things for lunch. It was marvellously cool in there, as they had air conditioning. I had gradually been getting accustomed to the heat, so it felt like walking into a refrigerator when I entered, which gave me the chance to cool down a bit, especially when I was able to take a long drink from the chilled fruit juice once I got outside.

I thought I would send off a couple of postcards, so started looking for somewhere that sold them - not normally a problem in a tourist area. It took about two laps round the town before I found a newsagent selling postcards, but when I looked through the selection, there were cards of all sorts of places around the Yorkshire Dales, but not a single one of Richmond. Down a side street I found a Post Office selling a fair selection of postcards with just one of Richmond, so that was it, like it or not. It was almost as if it were a town in denial of itself, acknowledging other places around, but not recognising its own considerable tourist potential.

Finding a convenient seat by the castle walls overlooking the river and the bridge, I sat down to write my cards and have my lunch, finishing off the orange juice while it was still cold. The river down below looked so tempting that I just felt like jumping in to cool down, as the strong sunshine had soon negated the effect of my recent cooling down in Somerfieldís. A while later I set off on my way out of town, calling at a chip shop on the way for a can of cold shandy, which I quickly gulped down to satisfy my craving for cold drinks. The route climbed steadily up a minor road to Whitcliffe Wood, with views back to Richmond Castle and across to the River Swale. Rather than walking on the road at the top of the hill, I walked a parallel path through West Field Park to the left, until I eventually had to rejoin the road when the park came to an end. After a while the road became a track and then entered the woods, where there was at least a bit of coolness in the shade, but at the cost of losing the view.

Emerging from the woods beneath Whitcliffe Scar, a limestone escarpment, I continued along the hillside and, on a couple of occasions, heard the sound of running water. On the second occasion, I could see a pipe coming out of the hillside nearby with water flowing into a drinking trough for the animals, obviously coming straight from a spring, so I took the opportunity to wash the salt and sweat from my face and have a good drink. It tasted wonderfully cool and refreshing and far better than the lukewarm water in my water bottles, which tasted of plastic and was generally unpalatable.

As I passed a large, white cairn, I wondered why it was there, and even stopped to have a look, taking a photograph of it with a view across the valley. It was only a bit later, when it looked like the track was taking me in the wrong direction, that I realised that the cairn was where I should have turned off down a path. Nothing much was lost, as I was able to cut across and join the path further down. My feet were feeling like they needed a rest, so I stopped for a short while to let them recover. From time to time, there had been a bit of a breeze to take away some of the relentless heat, and now there was a little more, which would be very welcome if it were to continue. The path led to the road into Marske, and then up quite a steep road until a path went off over the fields near the top of the hill. The scenery was now changing to the real Dales scenery, which always looks so beautiful, especially in bright sunshine. Some care was needed to keep on the right path over to Marrick Priory, as it crossed countless fields, dropping down to cross a stream, then over a ridge before dropping down on a long paved path through the woods to meet the road near the priory. All the way along was a series of squeeze stiles, generally with a little sprung gate as a further deterrent to animals trying to get through, but sometimes a bit of a deterrent to walkers as well, and not always easy to spot at the far side of a large field.

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Across Swale from Applegarth Scar
S from Applegarth Scar
River Swale and Marrick Priory from near Fremington
Swale towards Marrick
Reeth looking towards Grinton Lodge Youth Hostel (on hill far left)
SE from Reeth

Marrick Priory is now a Field Study Centre, so access is restricted, but at least it means the buildings are maintained. A couple of miles of road walking brought me to the lovely village of Reeth where, after a few rather vague and misleading directions from the locals, and a couple of circuits around the green, I found my B&B, having passed close by on first arriving at 6 p.m. There was no signal on my mobile phone so, after a quick bath, I went out to the phone box to report home, then for a couple of pints of Timothy Taylorís Landlord sitting outside the Black Bull, along with a giant Yorkshire pudding with beef and vegetables. There was now quite a breeze blowing and, for the first time in ages, I actually felt cool, so I finished off with a pint of Old Peculier indoors. The Landlord seemed quite expensive at £2.50 a pint, but the Old Peculier was £3, though the meals were not overpriced and were of a good standard. I returned to my B&B and watched some television for a while before falling asleep.


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Day 6 - Saturday 10th June - 12.5 miles - 3,100 ft ascent

Reeth to Muker via Keld and Pennine Way

Breakfast was at 8.30 with another couple who were doing the Coast to Coast the normal way, and we had an interesting chat. They had taken a high level route from near Kidsty Pike to avoid the tedious and difficult walk along the side of Haweswater, then dropped down near to the dam at the foot of the lake. I had wondered about doing this in reverse, and this reinforced my feeling that it would make a better alternative.

I set off at 9.30 and was pleased to find that there was a cool breeze blowing on, what was forecast to be, the hottest day so far. It didnít take me long to go up the road and start climbing up onto the moors in beautiful walking weather, with lovely sunshine and a cooling breeze, which got stronger higher up on the moors. The only drawback was the haze, which limited the long distance visibility. After the first taste of the Dales yesterday, I was now well and truly there, and it was such a joy after all the dull walking across the Vale of Mowbray. On the way along I managed to get some photographs of a peewit whilst it was perching on a wall, and also a young grouse in the long grass, also managing to disturb some of the vast rabbit population round about.

The route was not all that clear at times, but that didnít matter, as it was easy to make corrections by walking over the open moor. I stopped for a rest at Surrender Bridge, the start of all the old mining and smelting mill ruins and remains. There were quite a lot of people about, partly because of the annual run from Reeth on a circuit around the moors, and partly because it was Saturday and there were people out for weekend walks. This part of the walk is not enjoyed for the beauty of the landscape - anyone who wants that should take the alternative route through Swaledale. This is a trip through the industrial archaeology of the area, past old smelt mills and lead mines with all the associated spoil heaps and scars on the landscape that have resulted from these activities. I passed a group of people wearing hard hats with minerís lamps, obviously preparing to explore some of the mines, and further along I joined the full throng of runners taking part in the race. There seemed to be a never ending stream of them heading up to the top of the moors, though most of them were walking rather than running on this uphill track, and not going much faster than I was.

Over the barren wasteland at the top of the moors all vegetation has been killed off by the lead in the spoil that had been left around, and very little had managed to re-grow, even after all these years. There was a piece of old, rusting mining machinery on top of the moor as a reminder of the past industry. Nearby was a checkpoint where the runners were getting their cards stamped before heading down a steep hill, then along the path towards Swaledale. I settled down for my lunch break a little further along, with a view across the valley and also a view of the runners coming past. There must have been hundreds of them because they continued to stream by all the time I was there and, just when I thought the last ones had passed, another lot came along. They were of all ages and physical ability and some of the tail-enders must have joined in more for a walk than a run. Quite a strong wind was now blowing, which kept me reasonably cool on what would otherwise have been an extremely hot day, and this must have been a great boon to the runners in particular.

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Preserved ruins of the Old Gang Smelt Mill
Old Gang Smelt Mill
Blakethwaite Smelt Mill with some preservation work being undertaken
Blakethwaite Smelt Mill

After a good break, I set off at 1.30 p.m. down the steep hush to Gunnerside Beck, which was a bit of a scramble in places. A hush is where the miners allowed a large gush of dammed up water to flow down the hillside in order to wash away the soil and reveal any mineral deposits beneath. It was a rather crude but effective method and has left a legacy of large scars down many of the hillsides. A little way up the beck lie the ruins of Blakethwaite Smelt Mill, with evidence of preservation work that was currently being undertaken. From there I took a steep path up North Hush past Lownathwaite Mine and over the top of the moor towards Swinner Gill. The wind was still quite strong, although it didnít feel so because of the high air temperature, but wherever there was shelter from the wind it became unpleasantly hot.

Dropping down towards Swinnergill Mines and Crackpot Old Hall there were some stunning views down the very precipitous Swinner Gill and also into Upper Swaledale. My accommodation was at Muker, some way off the route, so I had various options for getting there. A path leads down from the Swinnergill Mines to the eastern side of the Swale and this would have been the shortest and easiest option, but I had plenty of time to spare, so I decided to go via Keld, then along the Pennine Way route, high up the side of Kisdon Hill, which gives some magnificent views of Upper Swaledale and Swinner Gill. I didnít need to go right into Keld to take this route, but was tempted into the village by signs along the path offering cold drinks and refreshments. Still consumed with a craving for cold drinks, I succumbed to the temptation and bought a cold can of Sprite, which I downed in a matter of seconds before retracing my steps to join the Pennine Way. This route is not easy, as not only does it climb several hundred feet up the hillside, it also is very stony and uneven for much of the way. The views, however, make up for all the effort involved, especially on a sunny day like today, which shows the scenery at its very best.

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Upper Swaledale from near Crackpot Old Hall
Upper Swaledale
East Gill Force near Keld
East Gill Force, Keld
Swinner Gill across Upper Swaledale from Kisdon Hill on Pennine Way
Swinner Gill & Swaledale

About half way along I stopped for a rest with a magnificent view across Swaledale to Swinner Gill. Further along, the route drops steeply down towards Muker, with a birdís eye view of this picturesque village, whilst the Pennine Way branches off towards Thwaite half way down the hill. On entering the village I found my B&B straight away, and settled into my very large double room with en-suite shower, and lovely views out of the windows on two sides. After a refreshing shower and cup of tea, I went out to the phone box opposite the pub to call home, as there was no signal on my mobile phone. As it was such a warm evening with quite a wind still blowing, I decided to do some washing before going back down to the pub for a meal, as I thought it had a good chance of drying.

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Muker from Kisdon Hill
Muker from Kisdon Hill

Down at the Farmerís Arms I enjoyed a very good lasagne with freshly cooked vegetables and potatoes, along with some very good Theakstonís Best Bitter, whilst sitting outside taking advantage of the lovely weather. It seemed a pity to waste such a beautiful evening, so I then had a stroll along the road by Straw Beck for a while before seeing a sign showing that it was only half a mile to Thwaite. Whereas the first part had been along the road, there was now a footpath through meadows for the rest of the way. The meadows were a delight, as they were covered in wild flowers Ė buttercups, daisies, clover, some harebells and a whole host of others. Whether they had grown that way naturally through organic farming, or whether they had been planted with E.U. subsidies I didnít care Ė it was just good to see them like that.

There is not a lot to see in Thwaite, so I just walked round the village and set off back again, calling at The Farmerís Arms again for a nightcap of Old Peculier to round off a perfect day. It is not often that everything goes so well, but when it does you just have to savour it and make the most of it. People are always complaining about all that is bad in the world, saying that everything is getting worse, but they tend to forget all the good things and all the things that improve or at least remain unchanged. I returned to my B&B to find that a strong gust of wind had lifted up my shirt, which had been left to dry over the open window, and deposited it on the flagstones below. I went down to retrieve it and there was no harm done, as it was still clean and nearly dry. It was then time for bed, where I watched some television before nodding off to sleep.


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