Coast to Coast – Keld to Reeth

Ex-Hurricane and now Storm Helene is only a couple of weeks old but on a world stage, she’s got presence! Ali isn’t even a twinkle in Helene’s eye but manages to kill two people the day after. Storms are given names and they’re given boys and girls name to maintain equity!  The convention for giving names was introduced because it was easier and less subject to misunderstanding than the use of numbers or letters when communicating between agencies. It was also well known that people pay more attention to the potential for damage if the threat has a name. The first UK storm with a name was Abigail in November 2015 but the Americans have been naming theirs since 1953. At that time they were all given girls names because they were moody, ferocious and unpredictable and tended to be worse in summer but by 1978 it was recognised that boys could be moody, curmudgeonly, violent and unpredictable too so the anomaly was rectified and ‘Bob’ made his powerful appearance in 1979 off the Gulf Coast and they’ve been alternating every since.

Looking a bit damp but can’t fault the enthusiasm!

Helene and Ali are forecast to make an appearance in the UK on Tuesday and Wednesday after they get a bit of practice giving the lovely people of Ireland a good spanking a few hours before.

We’re walking with Kathy and Otto this week, now bear in mind the above and guess which days we’ve got planned. Yes, Tuesday and Wednesday! Now let’s add to the mix; we’re going to be at 1500 to 2000 feet (500 plus metres) and there’ll be no protection. Yes, we’re nuts but so are Kathy and Otto so we’re a matched pair of pairs and in fairness, Kathy and Otto have done their apprenticeship on a number of seriously high peaks in the Lake District and in some atrocious rain so they already know how to get wet.

Early autumn is usually a good time to walk in Yorkshire but Kathy and Otto have had rain and gales including the remnants of several tropical storms. They’ve forded swollen rivers and made last-minute diversions due to floods. Some of their walking has been in cloud and all of this has required them to dig deep into their reserves of courage and tenacity especially on some of the Cumbrian peaks so we’re not expecting them to be phased by today’s wind or rain.

We drive up from the low lands of North Yorkshire and find them after a couple of false starts near Keld. It’s already starting to rain and there’s a bit of breeze blowing as if it’s a meteorological warning from nature just laying down a gauntlet and making a statement, “You humans may be clever, but you still haven’t tamed me” and as we don our wet weather gear and watch the low cloud dump huge quantities of tiny droplet on the fells it seems to be making its point.

Kathy and Otto make an appearance and they’ve made friends with two attractive Australian ladies who’re going to walk with us in the belief that we know what we’re doing! Tam and Shannon are from the Gold Coast and whilst they see wet weather from time to time, I think it’s more predictable and lasts a couple of hours whilst they go for their evening meal – I’m generalising of course but the weather that I’ve experienced in their neck of the woods seems to be torrential but short-lived.

Kathy explains to me that they’ve decided on the lower route and this proves to be a great decision as the weather starts bad and goes downhill, if we take the upper route we’d most certainly be walking on instruments as the visibility will be so poor we’ll have to rely on the apps on our phones running GPS on OS Maps, all doable but not a wise choice so lower route it will be; however, to add a little bit of interest, I’ll take them partway up the dale to Crackpot Hall to inject a story into the morning’s proceedings.

Keld’s main ‘walking’ claim to fame is that it is the crossing point for the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast and as such is popular as a stopping point for the pilgrims on both of these epic routes. There’s a lot of heritage activity here mostly promoted by Keld Resource Centre who is a religious-based organisation who’re restoring a number of listed buildings and establishing resource centres.

They’re also responsible for the wonderful Keld ‘Well-Being-Garden’ where you can sit amongst beautiful plants in solitude to contemplate your, err, whatever you want to contemplate and improve your wellbeing; however, to do it today would require a heated wet suit and a shed load of enthusiasm.

There are toilets in Keld and at twenty pence a go not bad value but I do wish they’d employ an honesty box so that those who do not have the requisite change could still indulge should their need be urgent. They are well looked after though and good value.

Our path is well marked and we descend the steps towards the Swale through shrubs and trees that separate us from the elements. At the bottom is a wonderful glade with a footbridge crossing the river and showing a tributary that is clearly in full flow. As we ascend the steps on the North Eastern Bank we get our first glance of Kisdon Force a wonderful waterfall that is beautiful on a sunny day and awesome on a rainy one like today.

We stop to take a few photographs and it’s then that I notice the rain is drifting down the dale in defined but gentle waves like curtains in a draughty room. My dad would have said, “It’s that fine rain that really makes you wet”. That’s a bit of a profound truth as I’ve never experienced rain that has any other effect, I do understand what he meant though, it is composed of fine droplets but there are a lot of them and before we know it they’re combining on our coats and running off in tiny streams that cascade together and produce a constant flow to the already saturated ground.

We make our way up the bank and, in between showers,  we can see broad-leafed trees that are growing on both sides of the river. They stretch up the hills for three or four hundred feet and beyond them is gorse and heather with an occasional dry-stone-wall some of which are built along scree slopes and defy logic as to their use or need. These dales used to have forests of oak trees where hunting could and did take place. Over the years they were cut down to build the ships necessary for the wars with the French and Spanish and anyone else who would venture on the high seas. The current trees are a beautiful mix of deciduous and conifer all changing colour at different rates as we spin towards the Equinox this weekend. Even in this limited visibility, they’re beautiful.

We reach the junction and would have taken the left fork had we been using the upper route currently in the heavy cloud and now being swept by huge gusts that occasionally gain enough strength to make us stagger forward before regaining balance and decorum, Kathy’s choice of lower route is, without doubt, a good one.

Crackpot Hall.

The building has been a hunting lodge for Thomas the first Barron Wharton who used to come to the oak forest to hunt red deer. It was also an office for the local lead-mining industry and a family farm over the decades if not centuries. It also has a secret! Well OK, perhaps not a secret but during the 1930’s Ella Pontefract and Marie Hartley visited and eventually settled in the dale and whilst they were visiting Crackpot Hall they saw a four-year-old who had a “mocking, chuckling laugh” as she roamed alone with her dog and cats, her name was Alice and they wrote about her in one of their books. Ella suffered from ill health and died from blood pressure at the age of forty-nine, Marie managed over a hundred years and the little girl Alice was tracked down by David Almond who produced a 30-minute programme about Crackpot Hall and the book they wrote; you can find it here (It’s a BBC broadcast so I apologise if you can’t receive it in your particular country.)

The track is easily negotiated and as we approach Muker the draw of coffee in a warm shop becomes a real magnet. It adds about two kilometres to the walk but is worth it and also allows a visit to the wool museum and art gallery.

The name ‘Muker’ is Norse in origin and means “the narrow newly cultivated field”. It is small but does have a shop, pub and toilets together with an art shop, wool museum and the Church of St. Mary the Virgin – (with the exception of the miraculous birth, why is the church so obsessed with virginity?) Not bad for a tiny hamlet.

As we leave Muker I mention the protected meadows that we’re walking through and describe the myriad of flowers that light up the dale in early to late spring and on into summer. There are some splashes of colour even now but spring is definitely special.

Here are a couple of photographs from the spring walk and I’ve included a link to the whole blog from spring at the end of this blog.

Muker to Gunnerside is through more meadows and whilst it doesn’t slavishly follow the Swale, the sound and sight of its increasingly agitated water is evident as it strives to shift the rain that’s still falling in sheets and now requires draining from these upper regions. Further down, many lives have been lost through people fishing or even just walking in or near the lower stretches of the river as it goes from placid, meandering stream to vicious, thundering rapids in just a few minutes.

There is a short respite from the rain in Gunnerside and it gives us the opportunity to eat our sandwiches, pies and bananas in comfort whilst discussing the best track to take for the next leg.


Gunnerside is yet again, Norse in origin and is similar in meaning as Muker and means ‘hill or pasture’. Local employment is listed as clockmaking, hill farming, gamekeeping and construction, the latter concerned chiefly with the maintenance of traditional dry-stone-walls houses and barns.

It’s well endowed with facilities including the inevitable pub and church but it also has a junior school – what a place to live and learn, just wonderful.

The fields to the Healaugh are dealing with the torrential rain with no mud or swampy clay but for over 200 metres that would have been irrelevant anyway as we walk along the top of the flood wall. A slip would see us fall six or eight feet on one side and about the same on the other but complicated by the fact that you’d end up in an angry and fast-flowing river with little chance of rescue; they’d find the body but there’d be little chance of a pulse. It creates an element of apprehension as the wind blows in strengthening gusts and results in some very firm hand holding coupled with wobbly steps along the lichen-covered coping stones.

Healaugh, for a change, is from the Saxon and means ‘high-level forest clearing’ and we pass through it not seeing the telephone box with a litter bin and small carpet and fresh flowers but I’m assured that it’s there. I love village life and think of the wonderful times with my children with Postman Pat meandering through the lanes of Greendale on TV.

The rest of the walk takes us through many fields with evidence of the old barns at the edge of each. The weather is improving apace and the last couple of miles sees blue sky and sunshine with fluffy cumulus scurrying across the sky driven by the driving wind still evident at such a height.

There are strip-field and barn patterns still obvious in this beautiful dale. They are now protected by legislation and policed by the National Park Authorities and other bodies. The photographs show the general layout that evolved as workers were expected to work for very meagre or even no wages and feed their families off the strip of land that would grow a few vegetables and enable the odd sheep, goat or cow to feed with a barn that could be used for storage or protection for the animals in the harsh winters that can deliver weeks of snow in these parts.

This dale is rich with heritage and is beautiful even in driving rain but now it sunny as we walk into Reeth through the houses on the periphery with people acknowledging us with a cheery ’hello’ or ‘now then’, it’s the people of the Dale that do it this way and have done for years, God bless them, they’re wonderful and make us feel very special as we wend our way to the hotel.

Today was challenging in the rain but turned out bright and beautiful complemented by the people of the Dale.

Thank you, Kathy and Otto and all of the people of Swaledale.

Enjoy the snaps…G..x

Here’s another Swaledale walk…

Please comment - I love comments...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.