“That’s it! Cheese! We’ll go somewhere where there’s cheese!” Wallace, A Grand Day Out (1989)
Day 35’s 26km walk was to take us north out of the Dales and into the county of Cumbria. We started in full waterproofs in the expectation of showers, although in fact rain did not materialise until right at the end of the day. After an exceptionally windy night, during which the tent walls had been buffeted about without let-up in 40mph gusts, Bank Holiday Monday was overcast and chilly. While I searched in the bottom of my rucksack for my gloves Stephen chatted to Colin, who was about to go and let the orphan geese out. He’d found them on the road after a hit and run which had killed the mother and some of the goslings and he’d rescued the survivors, and fed them by hand. They are fully-grown now, but still think he’s their father, and follow him everywhere.
Walking through the small town of Hawes we saw the Brigantes van a little way down the road, parked by one of the inns to pick up a hiker’s luggage to ferry it on to the next stop. We hoped to catch the driver to say hello and thank him or her for ferrying our bag from place to place each day, but the van drove away before we reached it. They could have given us a lift!
Our route took us out of glorious Wensleydale, but not before we had stocked up with a big block of fresh creamy Wensleydale cheese to take with us, to eat with fruit cake.
The route took us up a road lined with limestone dry-stone walls bordering buttercup meadows. Dotted around these were the stone field-barns so characteristic of the Dales, and by a grey limestone bridge was the first of many limekilns that we would see today.
A bridleway then took us on a steep pull-up onto Cotter Riggs. This Cotter must have been a wealthy chap: apart from his Riggs he also had Cotter Clints, Cotter Side and, perhaps inevitably, Cotter End. Once up onto the top, Cotter (having Ended), gave way to the power of the Church, and we came out onto the long curved hilltop of Abbotsfield Common, a high weathered limestone moorland round which the Old Road runs as an 8km rabbit-manicured dream of a track. A dream, that is, for hikers, but for the rabbits it was a nightmare corridor of death. We must have seen about twenty rabbit corpses on the path in various stages of decomposition. None of the little bodies seemed to be injured, and carrion eaters had not been on the scene. We wondered whether perhaps the rabbits had died of some disease.
Spaced out along the Old Road were the ruined farms of High Dyke, High Way and High Hall.
When the old road was in use they must have seemed less remote than they do now, and we lingered a little to admire the stonework: the stone mullioned windows, the lintels, door-frames and other details which suggested what fine farm buildings they must once have been. In essence and in character, they did not feel so very different from the excavated neolithic stone dwellings at Skara Brae in the Orkneys. Homes need doors, windows, shelves… and if the material to hand is stone, they must tend to look and feel the same, though thousands of years of human development separates them.
As well as the farms there were several lime kilns along the Old Road and it seemed they might have been for domestic use: for releasing lime to spread on the fields, and to make mortar for building houses and barns.
This moorland habitat felt different to the ones further south. There was no heather or bilberry, although signs announced a regeneration project to reseed the area with heather to encourage black grouse back. Instead there were field pansies, and bluebells among the grass, with a lark calling from amongst the flowers. Sheep grazed the grassy spaces between the lumps of weathered limestone pavement, and beyond them, there were views up to the scree slopes of rocky escarpments.
Towards the end of the morning on the horizon in the distance we saw a strange shape which at first we could not place. It looked rather like a giant lobster claw.
As we drew closer we realised it was a huge stone sculpture, two massive monoliths of limestone leaning into each other with a space between shaped like the meander on the river far below.
Its plinth made a perfect lunch spot, and we sat and ate and looked up the sculpture on the internet. It turns out it is one of ten sculptures in a series called Eden Benchmarks, created to celebrate the River Eden from its source high up in Mallerstang and placed at certain points on its 70-mile length before the river reaches the Solway Firth. Our sculpture, carved by Mary Bourne, is called Water Cut and stands near the source of the river.
It was hard to tear ourselves away from the sculpture and from its context. We admired the play of sunlight opening up through dramatic cloudscapes onto the slopes and scarps of the two ridges forming the valley of Mallerstang.
We could see our path open up in front of us: first the descent along Lady Anne’s Way down to the River Eden, then along the Eden itself up and over Birkett Common, which along with Bells on the other side of the valley make the two shoulders of a Gateway to the Dales – or in our case, the gateway out of the Dales.
I was pleased that the track was marked as Lady Anne’s Way, because she was one of the Jacobean women I researched for my PhD. She spent half of her life battling to inherit her father’s estates in Westmorland which she eventually did in later middle-age. She immediately went north, walked the boundaries of all her estates (including sections of the path we walked on today), especially between her very many castles. We came across one of these today: Pendragon Castle.
All of the castles were in ruins when she inherited them, and she undertook a systematic program of repairs and refurbishment. Although she perhaps made initial errors in the way she treated her tenants, asking for all arrears of rent that had not been paid during the previous landowner’s time to be paid at once, she ended up being much loved by the local people for whom she did much to support socially and economically. Apart from the castles, other buildings from the time survive, like Wharton Manor, a fortified farmhouse dating from the Middle Ages.
The track crossed the Eden and then meandered with the river down a charming valley. Such a different atmosphere to the hills above.
This path took us almost into Kirby Stephen, and our campsite for the night (the immaculate Pennine View which has only improved over the years we have stayed there), but unfortunately the weather closed in a bit and over the last few kilometres the views were somewhat restricted.
We initially thought we might eat in Kirby Stephen, but there was a very strange atmosphere to the place. The town had a massive police presence and it was explained by the taxi driver who ferried us out of Kirby Stephen to the nearby pub of Nateby that it was because of the rapidly-approaching Appleby horse fair. During this annual event, 10,000 travellers and Romany converge upon the town of Appleby-in-Westmorland to trade, race, celebrate horses. Last year, apparently, there had been huge amounts of trouble, and the police had been criticised for not doing anything. This year, well in advance of the festival, they were showing that they were around.
In the pub we met Bill, camping next to us and walking the coast to coast route. It was such a shame that we were not walking a route which would have allowed us to have walked with him for some of the way, because he was a fascinating chap. A retired engineer, he carries a little book with him in which he draws things he sees, makes notes, jots down some of the very many ideas he has in his head. He was thoroughly engaging.