194 Miles Across England in 10 Walking Days
Time to restart our walking after a day of rest in Kirkby Stephen. It was very nice to be clothed in clean apparel and embark on the final leg of our adventure, armed with actual Ordinance Survey maps (the national mapping agency for Great Britain) that would fill in the gaps in Wainwright’s description. We would learn, however, that even with this new aid, we were sometimes left in doubt as we crossed The Yorkshire Dales National Park and the main watershed of the Pennines.
Above, Fred surveys the Nine Standards
Day 7, Walking Day 6, 12.5 miles – The route out of town sent us through the downtown portion of Kirkby Stephen and on to the bridge over River Eden, passed the cricket field, continued around a hill and through the hamlet of Hartley. There was an initial light rain which soon abated, leaving a residual overcast sky. In Hartley we met a weathered older man with his dog, also walking to Nine Standards, our intermediate destination. The man strode ahead of us as the church bells of Kirkby Stephen rang out behind us and as we picked our way uphill around quarries to Nine Standards, a series of tall stone boundary markers atop the Penine watershed. The walk down from Nine Standards was exceedingly boggy and, after sinking deeply into mud and arduously extracting our feet and mud-ensconced shoes, we searched for even the smallest tufts of grass to provide minimal firmness as we crossed the seemingly impassable area. Large, rolling green hills provided a contrasting backdrop to our struggle through the bog.
Finally out of the bog, we had lunch (apples and peanuts) seated on the ground in an abandoned stone sheep fold. We saw not a single solitary walker as we followed the river downwards, towards Raven Seat, which consists only of a sheep farm and a few cottages. The path was something that had become the norm, namely, muddy and uneven. When down, we took the road along the River Swale and occasionally saw a human in what had become a bleak landscape. We were unsure of directions and stopped at a house outside Keld to ask directions to Frith House, our next overnight B&B. Our fears were verified – we would need to strike out across a very steep expanse of pasture, terminating at a lone grey stone two-story house atop a barren hill we could see in the distance. We set off down a lonely road leading to the pasture when a van stopped next to us. Luck was with us; it was Mr. Pepper of Frith House. He was on his way home and gave us a ride to the bottom of the driveway before he took a side route to unload tools. The bottom of the driveway to the house, however, still presented us with a long steep incline. Finally, we arrived at the house, where Mrs. Pepper welcomed us with tea, the British go-to for all occasions. Next, we showered in the cavernous bathroom; the window over the sink offered a stunning view of an expanse of endless rolling hills.
Being somewhat revived, we pored over maps until the evening meal at 7:30. Given our location in the middle of nowhere, our only meal option was Mrs. Pepper’s fare, which turned out to be wonderful, especially for hungry hikers: vegetable soup, beef Wellington, boiled potatoes, carrots, cauliflower and, for dessert, a delicious plum crumble with custard. The room we ate in was low-ceilinged and dimly lit. Two cats, one on a chair at the head of the table, observed us intently as we ate. While the food was excellent, and we appreciated the ride in the van, we felt decidedly isolated. Here we were alone with two rather taciturn strangers in a huge, dark stone house on some unknown hill seemingly far removed from civilization, a perfect setting for a murder mystery. Our memories of Frith House remain vivid and we still talk about our stay there.
Day 8, Walking Day 7, 18 miles – We survived the night, safe and sound. The day commenced with a full, traditional English breakfast (fried eggs, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, sausage, beans, toast and black tea) to fortify us for the long walking day ahead. After breakfast we sat in the dining room (complete with a traditional drying rack hanging from the ceiling over the fire place) while waiting for Mr. Pepper to take us to a taxi at the bottom of the driveway from whence we proceeded to nearby Gunnerside. At Gunnerside we purchased some postage stamps and then found our path along River Swale. For part of the way we walked on an old river dike, but part of the way to Reeth was on a road. At Reeth we enjoyed our first pub lunch of the walk, sitting on a bench on the spacious green. Lunch consisted of satisfying meat and vegetable pies. We then continued on amidst lovely natural scenery to Marrick Priory and Marske, followed by Whitcliffe Woods and its avenue of majestic trees, before catching our fist glimpse of Richmond (photo above right). We saw many pheasants and enjoyed the path through the woods.
Once in Richmond, we found our way to our B&B, Channel House, operated by a young family. Richmond is a sizable market town of over 21,000, one of the largest along our way. It is situated along River Swale. We found a pub called the Turf, where we finally were served after what seemed an interminable wait – after 18 miles on our feet, we were hungry! The evening was capped off by checking in with family in the U.S. at a local pay phone.
Day 9, Walking Day 8, 22 miles – Breakfast had a somewhat different twist this morning when we pronounced ourselves willing to try the proprietress’s black pudding, a distinct regional type of blood sausage originating in Great Britain and Ireland. It is made from pork or beef blood, with pork fat or beef suet, and a cereal, usually oatmeal, oat groats or barley groats. Unique is enough said.
Another long walking day lay ahead of us. After setting off from Channel House, we passed the local news agent and began to again follow the River Swale, where we encountered three young Brits. We were unsure of the path, but they were confident they knew a good route, one with less mud. We needed little persuasion to decide to walk with them, although keeping up was difficult as they walked much faster than we did; we eventually lost them.
The route followed an old rail line until Catterick Bridge and the village of Bolton-on-Swale. This was a FLAT walking day. Our first! We saw barley fields, green pastures, good-looking Holsteins and chickens. Fields were now enclosed by hedges instead of the stone walls of our previous walking days. Eight miles of the day consisted of tarmac road. Despite being easy to follow, the tarmac was hard on the bottoms of our already tortured feet!
About 1:00 PM we stopped at a pub in Danby Wiske, where we could lunch outdoors. Our prior British walking companions were there ahead of us, and an older couple from New Zealand came in a bit later. After lunch, we continued on a road with a high volume of traffic zooming by. Finally, we were on a farm road crossing through a series of fields that eventually led us to Grinkle Carr Farm (our B&B) just prior to Ingleby Cross, where we were met by the proprietress, an artist, and her two grandchildren. More importantly, she provided us with ample tea and biscuits upon our arrival. Options for the evening meal were few and we ended up eating at a Happy Chef along a highway. It was a bit pricey, with nothing to recommend the food. We were very happy to go to bed and get off of our feet, which were increasingly crying out for relief. They still needed to hold out for 35 miles!
Day 10, Walking Day 9, 18 miles – Awakened to throbbing feet – not from our blisters, but from the pounding of walking on yesterday’s tarmac. Breakfast was at 7:30 and at 8:15 we took a taxi the short distance to Clay Bank Top. We were soon ascending a very steep hill with numerous large flat stones. A dead sheep on the trail did little to enhance the climb. We were then confronted with a large moor, Urra Moor, offering a much welcomed flat path, along with heather, hunters, and grouse (above photo). After the moor, a railway path led to the isolated Lion Inn at Blakey, which was full of walkers of one ilk or another. The morning found us hop-scotching with a British couple, and we also had an unlikely encounter with 45 Czech walkers in a Polish bus.
After a short lunch, our path continued on a road and then returned to the moor, this time past Fat Betty (a squat white cross boundary marker (photo at left). The moor sheep here looked quite ragged compared to those we had seen in the Dales. The weather was windy and chilly, but at least it was not raining. We passed Trough House (a gamekeeper’s building used by shooting parties), encountered more moor, were startled by a grouse flying low in front of us, and enjoyed the view down to the dales, where there was a significant amount of green.
Coming off the moor, we saw a Michelin Man (a statue to promote their tires) and walked across fields to Red House in Glaisdale, our B&B for the night. Tea and biscuits promptly appeared and were enjoyed in the glass porch. We were surprised to find that the proprietress was originally from Michigan and raised chickens to supplement her livelihood. We were assigned the so-called pink room (in accordance with its overwhelming color scheme), which had a huge bathroom and a multitude of plates on the wall above the bed. Dinner that night was at Mitre, one of the few pubs in this village of 1,000. The pub filled quickly soon after we ordered; the memorable item of the meal was the dessert, sticky toffee pudding. Quite a treat. After supper we strolled around the church cemetery.
Day 11, Walking Day 10, 17 miles –The last day! Breakfast companions were a young German couple and a father and his young son from Rhode Island. The latter were the only U.S. American hikers we encountered the entire way. As we left the B&B, we trekked downhill to the early 17th century Beggar’s Bridge, crossing the river Esk, on a path through the woods that was, not surprisingly, wet and muddy. Then we continued down into Little Beck and were soon back into woods again to Falling Foss, a 67-foot waterfall. After that, the path led us to a car park and out of the woods to a road alongside the woods.
The next village was Egton Bridge, an oasis nestled amidst peaceful woodlands and pastures. Here we popped into a shop and purchased wine gums, establishing themselves as a favorite treat for Fred. From Egton Bridge, we found ourselves ascending again, climbing up and up a hill until we finally saw a body of water in the far distance, the North Sea. The trail then turned into open moors (meaning no trail), muddy and boggy, where we forced ourselves onward as every step became increasingly painful. Our two mantras, “if we keep going, we will finally get there” and “we are closer than we were” kept us going.
It was overcast and a cool wind blew across the moor. We passed Hawsker pub (closed) and began our final leg on the road (photo above) to our destination of Robin Hood’s Bay, the sound of gulls now heralding the end of our journey. We finally arrived at Robin Hood’s Bay, a small fishing village, at 5:30 PM, strode (limped?) down a pretty steep hill to the water and drenched our feet in the North Sea as Wainwright had recommended. WE DID IT!!! The feeling of victory, however, was somewhat dulled by our extreme fatigue. Our feet were also numb by this time – either from pain or the cold sea water.
We entered the famous Wainwright bar, where we saw the father and son from Rhode Island and also spotted the hopscotch couple coming down the road. We still had a stretch to complete, but thankfully not on foot. We found the bus stop and were soon on the bus to Scarborough. Ah, what relief to have a seat and warmth. Finally, we could take in the scenery in comfort. The bus stopped at the train station in Scarborough, and from there we walked downhill to Blands Cliff Lodge, where our room was a bit seedy, a contrast to other rooms on our hiking days. We ate at an Indian restaurant, and, true to form, mist enshrouded us both to and from the restaurant.
Ardith and Fred at Robins Hood Bay, August 22, 2002
Day 12 – No distance walking today. We awoke early to the sound of sea gulls, watched a little TV news, and got dressed for a day of exploring Scarborough (above), a city of about 250,000. We found a café across the street for breakfast and made arrangements for a taxi to Manchester Airport the next morning. We bought some postcards, walked to the beach, and enjoyed being free of backpacks and muddy paths. We went up to a former spa, where we sat outside, had tea and wrote postcards until driven away by rain.
Intermittent mist accompanied us as we walked to Down Bar Street and to Wetherspoons, where Fred fortified himself with an orange juice and Ardith with a glass of wine. Our next Scarborough visit was the massive, medieval castle situated on a rocky promontory, looking out over the North Sea, veiled in fog and mist. Nearby, we paid homage at Anne Bronté’s grave in the cemetery of St. Mary’s church, a place she loved and which was portrayed in her novels. After our day of leisurely wandering about Scarborough, we found a restaurant with a sea view and, of course, ordered fish. After our meal, we went to our room to pack for our return trip to the U.S.
Day 13 – Travel day. At 6:30 AM, we found ourselves in a taxi for a two-hour ride to Manchester Airport. After checking in at the airport, there was enough time to purchase a book for the flight and have breakfast. The flight was on time and not completely full. We both read all the way to Chicago O’Hare and pronounced it a good flight. At this point, sitting for a stretch of time was quite welcome. After landing at O’Hare and retrieving our bags, we boarded the VanGalder bus from O’Hare to Madison. The prior night we had been eating fish in Scarborough and tonight we ate Mediterranean food at the Dardanelles (a then favorite Madison restaurant). At long last, we headed home.
Day 14 – 7:55 AM church was followed by brunch with a good friend. Ardith then picked up her car from another friend’s house and drove the three hours back to Iowa, where she immediately visited her father and prepared a meal for him.
This may well be more than you wanted to know. And yes, if you add up the daily mileage it does not equal 194. Some of that is because our mileage is approximate — some discrepancy is due to our taking a couple of taxis to remain on schedule. We had to stay where we had made advance reservations, and we had to be on our flight back to the US in order to meet our respective university teaching commitments.
We both have GREAT and vivid memories of this adventure and much wish we could do it again. We certainly experienced northern England in the raw.
We have enjoyed other international walking and biking adventures. Perhaps we will share them in the future.