Day 7: Tues Oct 19 Kirkby Stephen to Thwaite

Breakfast was poached eggs, blood pudding, sausage, tomato and mushrooms, with toast and coffee. Wonderful! But there is an ominous sky today. I was at an internet pastry cafe at 9 am for my e-mail, then I left town by Frank’s Bridge.

The weather was daunting on the way to Nine Standards Rigg (at 2200 ft.) and I considered going the lower winter route. However, I met two stalwart sisters who gave me confidence to go the higher, infamously boggy route.

We had a great walk together, cursing the bogs the whole way. The bogs were as bad as I have found in Ireland. I almost lost my boot in one! Rachel took the requisite photographs at Nine Standards (1000 year old stone columns) for us all. No one knows why they were built. Maybe a pet project of a retired stone wall builder!! This is the eastern edge of the Lake District and the last high area I’ll encounter. Grouse were being flushed as we walked, a popular place for hunters. It was cloudy, cold and windy, but only rained, of course, when we stopped for lunch. We ate in a ruined stone house with one wall standing to buffer the wind. As we traversed lower, stone barns were common. We followed a scenic wild stream with rapids and waterfalls from Ravenseat Farm down to Keld. Thwaite was only two miles further by road, but the girls were determined to go the much longer Pennine Way path around Kisdon Hill. I opted for the road since it was already 3:45. I’m glad I did! They arrived at the Kearton at 5:30, looking like drowned rats, but satisfied with their accomplishment. I had showered and was full of hot tea by then. Nice hotel, good food, a beautiful dining room overlooking the meadows and fells; it was a bit of luxury in the middle of nowhere. Dinner is mandatory (nowhere else to eat) and includes a dessert table and coffee.

The two sisters: Hattie was an archeologist, now a housewife with kids. Rachel is a publisher of children’s books, a great walker training for a trek in Patagonia. They have been on other walks together, even the Inca Road to Machu Picchu! Ensconced at the hotel were a group of six ladies walking the paths on day trips. They were probably between 65 and 75 years old and full of enthusiasm. Also there were two middle-aged couples and a strangely furtive businessman. I felt like I was in a Poirot TV episode with a dead body turning up at any time. Anything might happen!

Day 8: Wed Oct 20 Thwaite to Reeth

After a great breakfast, the three of us took the river route to Reeth by way of Rampsholme Bridge, Muker and Gunnerside, then the south side of the Swale, following Richard’s river route. By Gunnerside, the weather was cold and rainy, so I treated us all to tea and scones at a cozy tearoom with a blazing fireplace.

We are in Swaledale, land of stone barns and stone walls and the rambunctious Swale River. Last night’s rain had swollen the streams making the fords very difficult. Result - soaked boots when I tried to leap a stream. However, we are enjoying beautiful views of the river and Swaledale. We are constantly flushing pheasants. Farmers raise the chicks, release them to the wild and wait a year before hunting them. They are an easy shoot, half tame, sometimes approaching humans for food.

At Reeth, we have a pint at the King’s Arms to celebrate the end of the walk for Hattie and Rachel. The sisters were met by a relative, and headed back to London. I found a homey B&B and had lamb curry in the Buck Hotel with Black Sheep Best Bitters (my favorite ale so far).

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