Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Herriot Way: September 2012

The Herriot Way has been on the agenda for many years. Friends had completed the walk twenty-some years age and had thoroughly enjoyed the experience, other than a cold mud-wallow in the bogs of Great Shunner Fell – I'm not sure if their expedition was before the route over the Fell was flagged, or if they had simply lost the path.

The walk was originally devised to link Youth Hostels in a four day circuit of Wensleydale and Swaledale. Sadly only two Hostels remain in business, although Keld Lodge still offers accommodation, albeit of a somewhat higher Star Rating and at far from YHA prices.

In the event I've walked most of the route in bits over the years as part of other projects. It was still an attractive proposition, however, due to its ease of access from home, the Sherpa bag transfer service (at the inflated “no single bag” rate), the sheer attractiveness of the Dales and the walk's modest length for a punter of suspect fitness.

On a damp September Sunday afternoon my lift duly deposited me at Aysgarth, ready for a post breakfast start the following day. A couple from near Penrith (Greystoke, I think) were staying. They were halfway around the circuit, having left their car at Keld two days before.

The George and Dragon across the road provided a worthy evening bolt-hole with excellent beer and a friendly atmosphere. The food looked good too, but I was already amply fettled.

Cornlee Guest House
01969 663779

The Start from Cornlee Guest House
Cornlee is a comfortable and welcoming B&B, located directly on the Herriot Way. There is ample safe parking nearby for those who, like me, intend to start the walk from Aysgarth.
My room was spotless and very comfortable with a good TV and Wi-Fi. The food was excellent, as was the beer at the nearby pub.
Jayson and Karen are keen to go the extra mile and happily agreed to accept delivery of my bag from Sherpa on the final day (despite me heading home on completion of the Way).

Monday 10 September 2012
Aysgarth to Hardraw: 12 miles

And he's off. In the rain. Down the wrong track...

Well, more of a missed turn than a wrong track; losing the path within 100 yards of the start was a less than auspicious start, particularly as it was played out in full view of the Penrith couple. With my navigational and hill walking skills firmly established in the eyes of my fellows, the mistake was duly rectified.

River Ure
The first few easy miles to Askrigg were, with tomorrow’s route over Kisdon, the only paths on the walk that I'd never trodden before. Back in 1998 I'd walked a shortened version of “A Dales Walk”, devised by Bob Allen. That route took a higher, more challenging way between Aysgarth and Askrigg, but coincided with today's trek for the remainder of the way to Hardraw and, indeed, for much of the first three days.

The weather alternated between spells of dull cloud and deluges of rain. To paraphrase a saying from my childhood home town, “If you can see Addlebrough it's about to rain, if you can't, it's already started." The going underfoot was good, however, and the surroundings were pure, plump, wonderful Wensleydale.

Over my years of walking I've occasionally experienced sharp cramp-like pain in my feet, forcing pit stops to allow the pain to ease. When they do occur the cramps start after a prolonged period on the hoof and, once started, they tend to recur. They cramps began after a café break at Askrigg and plagued me for much of the rest of the walk.

Near Litherskew
I resisted the temptation to visit Mill Gill Force and plodded on between the downpours in soggy but wonderful surroundings. The Penrith couple were frequent companions as we passed and re-passed each other. There were frequent sightings of a couple of ladies walking behind at a similar pace, but who never quite got within hailing distance.

A final fury of rain and hail at the sublime hamlet of Sedbusk ensured a squelchy entrance into the bar of the Green Dragon.

The spread of Wi-Fi to rural B&Bs and the advent of small tablet PCs must rank as the single greatest advance for the comfort and entertainment of Billy-No-Mates solo walkers. Sad to say I missed my PC when I was out and about. However, my little Nexus 7 is small and light enough to shove in a backpack (or Sherpa van) and has enough poke for all but the most demanding tasks.

Green Dragon Inn
01969 667392

The accommodation at the pub was in an annex at the rear. It is well equipped, comfortable and generously sized. The shower proved difficult for the ham fisted to properly control, however, and I never did quite get the hang of the telly.
The pub has a good range of well kept real ale and the food was edible, but uninspiring (could have been the chef's night off).
The evening passed pleasantly enough, but was too quiet to be memorable – that's Monday nights for you! Thank goodness for the Wi-Fi...

Tuesday 11 September 2012
Hardraw to Keld: 12 miles

Disgusting. Loathsome. Repulsive. Enough of my table manners, the breakfast was good.

It was still raining at breakfast time. A route purist would have walked a two mile loop into Hawes and back, but I'm not that pure... So, directly up the Pennine Way track I slogged.

Ascending Great Shunner Fell
This was my forth or fifth time over Great Shunner Fell. It's an easy enough walk: a four miles plod up and a four miles trudge down. The views can be magnificent from the summit shelter, spanning a great chunk of the Pennines: the three peaks and beyond in the south to Cross fell way to the north.

On my first visit to the hill (doing “A Dales Walk”, if I remember correctly) I found the climb to be hard work. A much fitter me, some five years later, walking the Pennine Way, scarcely paused to draw breath. Today's visit felt more akin to my first.

The weather bucked up a bit and the sun shone. It was apparent that the hills to the south were suffering repeated heavy squally showers which continually threatened to veer north but, for the moment, stayed at bay.

I saw The Penriths gaining on me during my slow, laborious ascent. They caught up as I was munching a rejuvenating Mars Bar at the summit shelter. What appeared to be The Ladies were also heading up the hill. Other than our happy band the route was quiet, with only one, female, heavily laden, southbound Pennine Wayfarer met.

The rain hit just as we were preparing to head downhill. The temperature plummeted, the wind swirled and eddied, and the deluge began. It didn't last too long, but it was a vicious little storm and one to be repeated throughout the remainder of the day. It encouraged me off the hill a good bit quicker than the walk up it.

I eventually reached the stony, enclosed track leading down to Thwaite. An elderly farmer was working in an enclosure adjacent to the lane, whilst a woman I took to be his wife was manoeuvring a tractor. I've often been amazed at the lengths to which some rural workers will go to avoid acknowledging a passer-by. With more than a degree of ingenuity the couple managed to avoid eye contact and proved deaf to my overly cheery, “Good morning.” Is it shyness, indifference, distaste or hostility? Bloody townies!

Great Shunner Fell
Thwaite hosts the Kearton Hotel and café, and is something of an oasis at this stage of the walk. Despite the ten minutes taken to shed and store wet, muddy clothes and boots, it provided a warm dry refuge to enjoy a ham butty and tea. And what a sandwich, more of a meal really, accompanied by a fresh salad and lovely, dry chips. After ten minutes feasting and another ten minutes dressing, it time to venture back out into the elements.

It was fine at first, up the steep but rewarding Pennine Way path on the flank of Kisdon. I'd originally intended to stick with the Pennine Way along a known path all the way to Keld. The Penriths had passed me, however, just before the junction of tracks and, in the event, I followed them on the slightly shorter, higher path over the hill to Keld. I'm pleased I did. It's a stunning green path, high above Swaledale, clear throughout and carpeted in soft turf.

Rainbow above the Swale Gorge
Then the rain returned. First a warning: rainbows pleasingly displayed over the Swale Gorge; then: the deluge. It had passed well before I joined the lane to Keld Lodge and my bed for the night.

Swaledale from Kisdon
I like Keld Lodge. It's expensive, but with very comfortable rooms, a good bar and lounge serving well kept beer and an excellent restaurant. It exists as a walkers' sanctuary, sat at the junction of the Pennine Way and Coast to Coast Walk, in glorious upper Swaledale; an unbooted visitor (other than an injured or decrepit hill veteran) would feel decidedly out of place.

Keld is dominated by Coast-to-Coasters. On this occasion, as a worshipper of a lesser deity, I listened and reflected on the enduring allure of that walk, becoming engrossed whilst eavesdropping the current trail gossip: the crossing of the watershed, half-way point achieved, tomorrow's digs, blister progress reports...

An adjacent table was a creative hothouse: a group of North American women were busily deploying iPads to edit photos and update blogs. Bloody Wi-Fi!

I spent a pleasant hour reminiscing with a couple of Pennine Wayfarers who were heading north. It was also time to bid farewell to The Penriths who were going home in the morning.

Keld Lodge
Near Richmond
North Yorkshire
DL11 6LL
01748 886259

Keld Lodge is expensive, but with very comfortable rooms, a good bar and lounge, serving well kept beer and an excellent restaurant. A “must stay” for walkers in the area, particularly for those who enjoy a good natter.

Wednesday 12 September 2012
Keld to Reeth: 12 miles

Another day, another inundation. The morning started dry but dull, with heavy rain forecast for later. That settled the first of the day's quandaries: down the valley to Reeth it would be, rather than the high route through the old mines. This now appears to be the preferred option for the majority of C2Cers.

It is a lovely walk. Compared with the previous days it was decidedly crowded. I fell in with a trio of Canadians, mere youths of about my tender years and enjoyed the group's company for a leisurely stroll to Gunnerside. It's strange how the confidences and insights freely shared over an hour or two's walk with a stranger, would ordinarily take a friend months, if not years, to glean.

It dawned on me that there is a distinct lack of raptors in the northern dales. I didn't see one on the entire trip. Could the dearth possibly be linked to the abundance of cultivated game birds (farmed, not well-read)? Surely not...

The Swale, near Reeth
Gunnerside was shut. It was the teashop's day off and the pub wasn't yet open. An ever-growing crowd of walkers gathered on the cobbles outside the King's Head waiting for noon. With the gathering throng of mutually acquainted ramblers, I was beginning to feel like a bit of an interloper into other peoples' journeys and adventures. After a cold lemonade, I quietly left the bar and proceeded alone.

To avoid some road walking and to escape the pack, I crossed the river at Isles Bridge. That's was when the rain started. Heavy, persistent rain that never fully abated for the remainder of the day. I continued plodding eastwards on the Low Lane track, an alternative route that I would heartily recommend.

Calver Hill
After repeated attacks of foot cramps I searched for a sheltered spot to take a break. Unfortunately, everywhere was soaked and exposed to the elements, so on I trekked. It wasn't until a mile or so short of the pedestrian suspension bridge over the Swale that I found a dryish spot for lunch: boots off for a Mars Bar and Lucozade.

My arrival in the village coincided with the main influx of walkers, most of whom were heading for one or other of the pubs. I continued to my digs, for a cuppa, a bun and a bath.

Reeth is a favourite spot with ample venues for a pie and pint. I enjoyed a fine evening sampling the wares of the three pubs and enjoying the company of various and varied acquaintances met over the day.

I must walk the C2C again before I get too creaky. It has a social element that few other treks can offer.

Hackney House
Bridge Terrace
North Yorkshire
DL11 6TW
01748 884302

I've stayed at Hackney House before, on my partial circuit in 2009 of “The Inn Way…to the Yorkshire Dales”. It is welcoming, homely, unpretentious, great value and is handily placed only a stone's throw from the centre of the village. Mrs Keyse will go the extra mile to ensure the comfort and convenience of her guests.

Thursday 13 September 2012
Reeth to Aysgarth: 11 miles

Weather-wise today was the best day of the trip: windy, but with not a drop of rain. Great conditions for photography. Unfortunately, as I realised whilst somewhere near the Youth Hostel, I'd left my camera in Reeth. Too far to retrace my steps, especially as I was on a schedule: I'd arranged a pick-up in Aysgarth at 16:00 hours (the photos illustrating today's blog are from a 2009 walk).

I was not on top form either. I found the pull on to the moor wearing, a feeling made all the more acute after being effortlessly passed by a succession of walkers following The Inn Way. I've found that it's not uncommon on a multi-day walk to have the odd off day: today was it. On a bench near the divergence of tracks I decided to take the shorter route over Greets Hill, rather than the classic way by Apedale Head.

While pondering the route options The Ladies (last glimpsed approaching Great Shunner Fell summit) passed. They'd spent the night in the Youth Hostel. They weren’t for chickening out by taking the soft option. It was gratifying to establish that they weren’t a figment of my imagination.

At Greets Hill I stopped to chat with a couple of blokes walking The Inn Way. They were also heading for Aysgarth. We would pass and re-pass for much of the remainder of the day.

Greets Hill
The moors hereabouts are wonderfully remote, desolate and pitted with the remains and traces of a long dead lead mining past. Even the sheep population is sparse. The main activity is the breeding and slaughter of grouse. Unfortunately there were no shooting parties on the moor today. I like to see the pampered warriors being ferried in SUVs from butt to butty station, camouflaged and armed for total war. Them there grouse must be hard little bastards!

And then I had a revelation. The foot cramps had made an unwelcome return. I belatedly applied the Art and Science of the Bleedin' Obvious: I loosened my boot laces. Feet swell when walking. What are secure, comfortably encased tootsies at the start of a walk, become constricted and painfully squashed little appendages after an hour or two of effort. The design of my current Brasher boots must render my feet especially sensitive to this effect. In any event, by completely loosening the laces along the length of the foot and securing the boot only at the ankle, the condition disappeared. Later lacing experimentation has confirmed both the condition and cure. It came as a relief: I'd started to fear that I had developed blood circulation problems. In a way, I suppose I had.

From bleak Black Hill the route drops once more into the verdant, if somewhat soggy, pastures of Wensleydale. One of the attractions of this part of the world is the stark contrast between the inhospitable uplands and the green pastures and picturesque hamlets and villages of the dales.

Castle Bolton
I bumped into the two blokes again, sat on a bench outside Bolton Castle. Despite some reservations we decided to use the Castle's rather upmarket Tea Room. It was very good and welcoming and is to be recommended. Despite being armed with rucksacks, walking poles and muddy boots, we negotiated the aisles and the more genteel customers without inflicting anything other than minor damage to them or to the building's ancient fabric.

The final couple of miles of the walk are through more pastures, some woodland and over the river at Aysgarth's Upper Falls. As would be expected after all the rain the view of the falls from the bridge were impressive; I'd love to show a picture of them, but the camera...

In the event, and despite slow progress and frequent breaks, I triumphantly entered Aysgarth with an hour to spare.


Despite the weather it was an enjoyable trundle in a favourite part of the Dales. It mixes two days on less frequented paths with one day on a National Trail and another along England's favourite walking route. It is a walk of contrasts and an admirable introduction both to the northern Yorkshire Dales and to multi-day walking.

In addition to the relevant OS Explorer maps, I carried Stuart W Greig's “Walking the Herriot Way” which has detailed route descriptions and sketch maps. The book also has accommodation and camping lists, together with transport notes:

All the accommodations were found on the Sherpa site. I would happily use all of them again:

I arranged baggage transfer through Sherpa. They were as efficient as ever. My only gripe is that on this route there is a minimum of two bags per pick-up, effectively doubling the cost for solo walkers. I do not see how this can be justified where other bags are being transferred along a section. Interestingly, the company accepts single bags along the C2C route, but there was no discount where the routes coincided:

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