Mike and I arrived in the bustling little town of Kirkby Stephen at about 5pm having left Orton shortly after 9 this morning. After a bit of freshening up at The Fletcher House, we strolled down Market Street to find a libation and a meal. After a couple of hits and misses, we settled on The Pennine Hotel, Bar and Bistro where I now sit in the aforementioned “bar” area tapping out these words. I’ll stay her as long as it takes to finish this post because there is a bona ride wi-fi signal here that permits quick uploads. Alas, our guest house has no wi-fi and my phone hot spot offers but limited data transfer in this alien environment.
The maps and books estimate that today’s course was about 12 and a half miles long and I cannot quibble with that. This was a day of uninterrupted sunshine and a high temperature of about 80 degrees. It was noticeably hot in the early part of the day, but as we emerged on to higher ground there was a stiff and refreshing breeze out of the east strong enough to remove wide brimmed hats – more than once. And there was plenty of higher ground as the terrain headed steadily upward out of the village through field after field where we were greeted by countless sheep and our boots were greeted by a limitless quantity of sheep droppings. (It’s no wonder that tonight’s guest house door is emblazoned with a sign commanding that we remove boots BEFORE ringing the bell for attention.) But the sheep dodging was rewarded by spectacular views that greeted us at the crest of the Orton Fell. This countryside, with rolling hills framed by distant mountains is every bit as stunning as what we experienced last year in the Lake District.
From the heights of the fell, the view that emerged next was of the verdant valley that is Smardale. A beck (or stream) runs through this deep gorge is filled with trees that had been largely absent from the local flora up to this point. The descent into the dale is precipitously steep requiring careful concentration lest one finds oneself tumbling rather than walking to the base. Down at the bottom of the hill we were rewarded with the crossing that is the Smardale Bridge. This picturesque bit of infrastructure served some long ago abandoned road that supported the economy of this area in the distant past. Now it is a photo opportunity for the hikers that trek through here all summer and the occasional cow or sheep that needs access to the far shores of the beck that passes beneath.
The thing about dales is that the old adage that “what goes down must come up” applies in spades. The ascent on the far side of the beck was arduous – especially as it occurred at about the nine mile mark when muscles are feeling the effects of the constant up and down. And this particular segment was marked by another adage that I have coined from these experiences on the Coast-to-Coast path: “When the guidebook refers to a hilltop as a way point, it is never THAT hilltop but one of the five or six hilltops that were not visible until the first one has been scaled.” But we remained undaunted as we trudged along until we reached the outskirts of his handsome burg that is Kirkby Stephen.
Mike and I agree that this day was a good opener for our 2023 season. It was beautiful though challenging. Body and sprit were stressed but not nearly broken. The first blister in two years of the Coast-to-Coast experience has emerged on my left heel but it is a small one that will respond well to the medicated blister plasters that we brought. Tomorrow we set out on another 12 mile trek to Keld that, in its initial stage out of Kirkby Stephen, promises to be a steady and steep climb to The Nine Standards, a landmark that sits atop the watershed of England. Wainwright himself remarked that “if you were a drop of water before this day you would fall downhill toward the Irish Sea. After this day your destination will be the North Sea.”
Smardale and the bridge.
Into the dale
Out of the dale. Hold onto your hats!!