The Pennine Way Revisited - 1994

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 6 - Grassholme to Hawes


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Day 9 - Monday 20th June - Grassholme to Keld - 17.1 miles - 1650 ft ascent

Accommodation: Keld Y.H.A. - 15.10 full meals

After a good fried breakfast at 8.30 a.m., I started out at 9.15 a.m. The weather had brightened up considerably from what it was like when I first got up - there was a fairly strong, cool wind but otherwise it was fine making it quite pleasant for walking. Over the first hill I came to Hannah's Meadows and High Birk Hat farm where Hannah Hauxwell used to live. The meadows have now been taken over by the Nature Conservancy and there were various signs explaining about the area and the types of plants that made this a Site of Special Scientific Interest. These seemed to be mainly uncommon types of grass and to the untrained eye there was nothing that looked any different from many other meadows. Certainly, the variety of wild flowers in Teesdale was far greater than here.

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Top of Grassholme Reservoir (in a strong wind)
Grassholme Reservoir
God's Bridge over the River Greta
God's Bridge
Sleightholme Beck
Sleightholme Beck

After walking past the various reservoirs the scenery became more bleak as I climbed up over Cotherstone Moor but not so bleak as it had been on my previous walk when it was shrouded in mist with a bitter northerly wind blowing. On a fine day like today it was just rather uninteresting because of the featureless landscape which stretched for miles around, although there was more interesting scenery over in the far distance. Over these northerly moors one never feels entirely alone as there curlews and lapwings constantly swooping overhead. I stopped in Sled Dale for a short break at 11.15 a.m., sheltering from the wind by a wall, and then headed towards God's Bridge which I thought would make a good place to stop for lunch. After a further walk over the desolate moors, the busy A66 suddenly came into sight. This has now been made into a dual carriageway and the Pennine Way diverted to an underpass which is like a large corrugated iron pipe under the road, but at least this avoids having to risk life and limb crossing the road.

I reached God's Bridge at 12.15 p.m. and found a nicely sheltered spot down by the River Greta to have lunch sheltered from the wind. This is roughly the halfway point on the walk, or at least it is the place where I had to change guide books from 'North' to 'South'. Once again there was no water coming down the river as it had all disappeared underground higher up. However, under the natural limestone bridge some of the water re-appears and trickles downstream where it builds up as more of the underground water joins it again. Obviously in wet weather there is much more water reaching it on the surface.

I set off again at 12.50 p.m. with 6 miles to go to Tan Hill Inn and a further four and a half miles to Keld. After a mile or two I met three Pennine Way campers heading from Keld to Baldersdale. After crossing Sleightholme Beck the scenery became more drab and the weather more overcast. The worst thing about the weather was the very strong headwind that I had to fight my way into, although at least with it coming from the south west it was not too cold. One rather dilapidated steel gate dealt a rather nasty blow to my big toe as it dropped right down when I pulled it off the latch. Fortunately no real damage was done and the pain went away after five or ten minutes. As I gradually got higher up towards Tan Hill Inn the wind got stronger and it made walking up a gradual incline like walking up a steep hill. I took a short break about two and a half miles from Tan Hill which can be seen for miles but seems not to get any closer. Eventually I reached the Inn at 3.40 p.m. and called in for some shelter and a pint of Old Peculiar at 1.90. I didn't make the same mistake as last time by having two pints early on in a long walk, which had weakened my spirits later in the day. This time I only had a short walk left to do and that was mainly downhill. There were a number of Americans in there who were discussing the various places they had visited and intended to visit. One thing that surprised me was that, being the highest pub in England, they had no postcards of the place.

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Tan Hill Inn
Tan Hill Inn
Keld from Pry Hill
Keld from Pry Hill
Waterfall on East Stonesdale Beck near Keld
East Stonesdale Beck

I left the comfortable shelter of the pub to do battle again with the wind. At least now I was walking over almost level ground, but the wind seemed even stronger than before needing quite a lot of effort to make progress. After a couple of miles I started to drop down a little and at last the wind started to ease off a bit. The sun started to come through as I was approaching Keld giving some marvellous views towards the village itself and along Upper Swaledale - this real Dales scenery looked even more beautiful in contrast to the dreary, featureless moorland scenery that made up most of the day's walk. I arrived at Keld Youth Hostel at 6 p.m. to find that it was very quiet with only four others in there for the night. This was quite surprising as it is the crossing point of the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast Walk, but then that seems to have been the case most of the way. The others were a group of women from Birmingham aged from about 45 to 60 who were doing the Coast to Coast walk by stages. Last year they walked from St. Bees to Shap in a week, this year they were walking from Shap to Osmotherley and next year they will walk the rest of the way to Robin Hood's Bay.

I investigated the drying room to see about washing and it didn't seem too good. However, I was told that heating came on overnight using off-peak electricity, so I did my washing and took a chance. The warden was quite young and very helpful. He served up the dinner and then cleared away everything himself, refusing offers to help with the washing up and saying "That is what I am paid for". If a lot of the other wardens heard him they would probably lynch him for setting a bad example!

After dinner I went for a little walk to Kisdon Force. Despite having been here twice before, I had never quite found out where Kisdon Force was, mistaking it for one of the waterfalls down East Gill Beck, whereas Kisdon Force is where the river Swale flows through a narrow part of the valley with very steep sides and is therefore rather hidden from view. By taking a little path going off the Pennine Way and scrambling down a rather steep slope I reached the falls which were considerably bigger than the ones on East Gill Beck. I made my way back to the hostel and caught up with two men and a boy carrying shotguns and about a dozen or more rabbits between them. The rabbit population around here has got out of hand, so something like this needs to be done to keep it under control. It was starting to get rather cold as I made my way back, but when I got inside I found that the warden had lit a big fire in the common room for the others. It was a bit too hot in there but it made it look more cheerful.


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Day 10 - Tuesday 21st June - Keld to Hawes - 12.9 miles - 1870 ft ascent

Accommodation: B&B Halfway House, Hawes - 15 B&B (hostel full)

I woke up next morning with rain outside and low cloud at about 1500 ft. Some of my washing was almost dry but some was still quite damp. Still, my socks were going to get wet anyway, so what did it matter if they were damp to start off with. After breakfast I hung around for a while to see if the rain would ease off which it did by about 10 a.m. and I even set off without having to put on my waterproofs. I made my way back to Kisdon Force to see if I could get a photograph and met the four Birmingham women who were just coming back up, having made a detour to see the falls after I had told them how to get there. Unfortunately the small patch of sunshine which had appeared when they were there had gone and there seemed little prospect of any more so I had to take a photograph in dull conditions. I made my way back up to the Pennine Way path further up the side of the valley which still gave some very fine views of Upper Swaledale even in the poor conditions. Further along I met a chap from Orkney. He had walked from Kirk Yetholm to Malham, and was now on his way back again and had spent the night on the hillside in a bivy bag.

The walk along Upper Swaledale was sheltered from the wind but, as I rounded the corner, it was a different story as I was met with a very strong, cold wind head on and it was also starting to rain again. I took some shelter and put on a pullover and my waterproofs in an attempt to keep warm whilst doing battle with the elements. It did not take too long to reach Thwaite, where I decided to call in the cafe for a pot of tea whilst hoping for the weather to improve, as I could see that the top of Great Shunner Fell was covered in cloud. For 70p I had a pot which gave me four cups full, which I considered was pretty good value. Eventually I decided that the wet weather seemed to be set in for the day so there was nothing more to be gained from waiting any longer.

After the initial farm track which was easy for walking, the way got more and more boggy. Stone slabs had been dropped there but had not yet been removed from their pallets and laid, so they were of little assistance. At one point I stepped onto a grey patch which I normally associate with firm ground, as it generally comes from sand or rock beneath the peat. In this case it was a pool of clay slurry and my foot sank down about a foot deep coating my boot and leggings with a slimy grey mess. I had to stop at a little stream and wash the leggings inside and out and wash the boot as best I could.

I met a few Pennine Way walkers on the way to the summit and they said that it was even worse further on. However, in general it was not too bad as the ground had been dry for some time before the rain so the peat had not had enough time to get really soft - that isn't to say that there was not quite a bit of side stepping to do to get around some of the worst areas. Towards the summit I entered the mist which restricted the visibility even further, although there was no problem in following the path which continues in a fairly straight line all the way over the fell. Past the summit it becomes almost level, with only a very slight downhill slope for about two miles, which seemed like twice the distance in the rain and mist, before the somewhat steeper drop down towards Hawes. At one point I was walking along some old wooden palings which had been laid flat on the peaty path, when I stood on the end of a loose one causing it to tilt up and to make me do a neat backward roll down a peaty dip with my legs in the air. After a quick manoeuvre I managed to right myself by putting one foot in a stream. Surprisingly, my foot didn't seem noticeably wetter from this, which could be either that my boot did a good job of keeping out the water or, more likely, that my foot was already so wet that it didn't make any difference. I stopped a bit further on by another stream (these were not in short supply - in fact there were streams everywhere - even the paths were doubling up as streams). I had to wash down my rucksack with cupfuls of water to remove all the slimy peat that had stuck to it when it took the brunt of my fall. I was quite surprised how warm the water was. This could, of course, have been that my hands were so cold that it just felt that way, but the weather had, in fact, turned a lot milder and the strong wind had substantially reduced.

As the path eventually started to drop down more steeply I came out of the mist and the rain also started to ease off making the walk more pleasant. I was undecided as to whether I should make the short detour through the Green Dragon Inn to see Hardraw Force but my rather soggy state made me decide against it, although in retrospect it would have been worth it, as all the rivers and streams were quite full, so the waterfall with its 98 ft drop would have been an impressive sight. I squelched my way into Hawes just before 4.30 p.m. just in time to cash a cheque in the bank, which had late closing that day. I wandered around the town for a while and wrote a postcard, as I thought that it was a bit early to roll up at the bed and breakfast.

It was nice to have a bath and change into some dry things when I reached the bed and breakfast, which was just a little way out of town. Actually most of my things were reasonably dry; it was only my feet that were really wet. Mrs Guy, the landlady used to teach in Rawdon, which is where I was brought up and where my mother still lives, although she taught at the comprehensive school, whereas I went to the grammar school. After a cup of tea and a chat I went into Hawes to 'phone home and to buy fish, chips and peas. Rather than join all the tourists in the pubs in Hawes, I decided to walk the half mile up to Gayle to see if there was a pub there. There was no pub but the waterfalls were worth the visit after all the rain. I returned to Hawes and had a couple of pints in with the rest of the tourists.


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