The story continues …
Day 3 – Stalling Busk to Keld (16 miles)
A very pleasant day under blue skies, but little outstanding to make reference to. Initially the route took us down to Semer Water and it’s outflow, the River Bain which has the unusual accolade of being said to be the shortest river in the UK. One highlight was the salad boxes we bought for lunch in Askrigg from ‘The Humble Pie’ – a mother and daughter enterprise with excellent food and service to match. We enjoyed our salad boxes and the attendant view half way up Askrigg Pasture. The most attractive part of the day was the section between Muker and Keld.
Our accommodation for the night was to be a little querky and the fulfilment on an ambition: A Ger on the site misnamed as Swaledale Yurts. It seemed pedantic to point out their error, but having had the great pleasure of two trips to Mongolia over the past ten years we have been instructed in the difference between the Russian curved walled Yurt and the straight walled Ger of Mongolia. We had dinner delivered to our Ger which was excellent and enhanced still further by a roaring wood stove.
Day 4- Keld to Bowes (12 miles)
Today we really reaped the benefit of being within an extended period of dry weather as our route was to take us across the wet ground (bog!) known as Sleightholme Moor. First of all our route rose gentle up to the highest Inn in England – Tan Hill. Here, the welcome is always warm and the Theakston’s universally good, especially when you know you’ve earned it. Because of the ‘dry going’ across Sleightholme Moor it was really very attractive with views stretching a long way across the flat lands either side of the A66.
Our destination of Bowes has only one place offering accommodation, The Ancient Unicorn. Dinner was distinctly average and the beer disappointing but the room was nice and a walk around Bowes Castle a fun end to a lovely day.
Day 5 Bowes to Middleton-in-Teesdale (12.5 miles)
We took a detour at the start of the day to go and see God’s Bridge. A large slab of rock forming a natural bridge over the Rive Greta.
The day then consisted of a series of fells and reservoirs culminating with a delightful downhill stretch into Middleton. The day proved a lovely day for me to talk with Mrs W. The chance to be child free and out in glorious countryside in the sunshine was conducive to bringing each other back up to speed with our thoughts on work, church, life, approaches to child care and so much more. People marry for many reasons, but for us we love time in each others company and the chance to talk and really discuss matters of significance. For me the finest view of the day was the collection of isolated pines on the descent into Middleton. A view so iconic of Eastern edge of the North Yorkshire Moors.
Day 6 – Middleton-in-Teesdale to Westgate (15.75 miles)
The morning of day six introduced us to very different terrain. All morning was spent following the river Tees. At this point the river is at its most attractive and included the chance to see the well known High Force and the lesser known (and secret is in the name) Low Force. The last time we had seen High Force it was from the other side of the Tees on our ‘enhanced’ C2C cycling route in 2011. There is no bridge across the river at this point, so you have no choice of vantage point, but it was clear from the Southern Bank that this was the side to best enjoy it from.
Eventually you cross the river and have to leave it behind, heading up onto the fell side again. This proved a lesser walked part of the route and demanded compass work to get us to the road to Westgate. It was a long trudge on the road, but at least this was rewarded with some lovely limestone outcrops beside the road. Our destination was Hill House East for the night. Whilst all of our accommodation was good, Carol and John were the crème-de-la-crème of hosts. You just cannot beat being greeted with tea and John-made cake on arrival. Their hospitality was without equal. They were even able to provide me with a book explaining the history and chemistry of the local lead mining which really helped us appreciate the ruins we would see over the next two days which had been left from this long dead industry.
That night we ate ‘simple food done well’ at the Hare & Hounds , home to the Wear’d Ale brewery… …work it out! The brewery is in the cellar and the beer truly excellent. It would reason enough to visit Weardale again. A return weekend beacons because the scenery, whilst secondary to the quality of the ale, would offer excellent day walking.
Day 7 – Westgate to Blanchland (10.75 miles)
The scenery from Keld to Middleton may have been simply pleasant, but in Weardale we were back in a Dale every bit as fine as Wharfdale or Littondale.
It was made more interesting still by the remnants of the lead industry. This area had once been the richest source in the world of this famously malleable metal. Following an abandoned railway line gave an easy route into the Rookhope Valley, home to the one remaining arch of the Rookhope horizontal chimney. This remarkable piece of ancient industry was once the vent stack from a lead smelting works. When it was working, this ingenious horizontal chimney ran for two miles up the hillside to take the fumes away from the works, rather than take the conventional approach of building 100 feet vertically.
After lunch we headed up Bolt’s Law Incline, once the location of the highest standard gauge railway line in the UK. The remains of the engine house, whose stationary engine pulled carried up the slope can still be found at the summit. Great views were afforded along with a peppering of attractive conventional chimneys left over from the areas industrial past.
From the fell top we dropped down into the virtually medieval Blanchland. Not wanting to take out a second mortgage to stay at the Lord Crewe Arms Hotel (which did look idyllic) we had arranged for the landlord from a hostelry in the neighbouring village of Edmondbyers to collect us at the end of the day.
Day 8 – Blanchland to Hexham (11.75 miles)
Today was a case of putting in the miles to finish our week of walking. Having been blessed with such good countryside to this point much of this final day was something of an anticlimax. However thanks to the book I was lent by Carol on the Thursday evening I was able to enjoy the full splendour of Dukesfield Smelting Mill. As an industrial chemist, understanding the functionality of these structures brings an extra depth to the pleasure of finding and exploring them. This too had a length of ‘horizontal chimney’ as we had seen in Rookhope, but in this case passing through a chamber which was (when the smelter was operating) packed with brushwood. Today we might use demister pads to condense out liquids from a stack but I can imagine this would have worked almost as well and could be replaced from the local woodland when required. This brushwood and the horizontal section of chimney were so designed to make it easy to collect the condensed lead and silver which with volatilized out from the smelting hearth. And who better to do this job than children, small enough to walk through this confined space. Different times indeed!
Our journey ended at the splendid Hexham Abbey. Wainwright would have had harsh words with us for stopping at a point just five miles short of what he considered to be the climax and primary goal of this walk, Hadrian’s Wall. He, however, was only half way through his holiday at this point and had the time to walk home. We had to get a train back to Settle to enable us to be at back at work on the Monday.
Any long distance walk has it’s high-points and also some less fabulous stretches to join some of these together. However enjoyment is more about attitude than opportunity and on the mundane sections Mrs W and I simply enjoyed each others company (free from the pressures of work and fast pace of keeping up with our three year old son) or we revelled in understanding Victorian lead smelters (OK that would be mostly me!), a well earned lunch or an excellent pint of local ale. The walk did fulfil its brief, in that we walked across the whole breadth of the Yorkshire Dales on a route with better views than the Dales Way and (almost) free of the bogs which are the signature of the Pennine Way. Next time we will finally get to see ‘the wall’, walk the whole length of the Howgills and then through Dentdale and out to the splendid Western edge of the North Pennines. Unlike Wainwright I think I am looking forward more to the return journey than his destination, but perhaps ‘the wall’ with enchant us as it did him? However, sadly this will have to wait until 2018 / 19, so watch this space…