Coast to Cooast: Day 5 – Shap to Kirkby Stephen

(19th March 2013 – 20.5 miles)

My guidebook promised that this stage could be considered a rest day.  A 20.5 mile rest day?  I don’t think so!  There might be few climbs involved but this is a long walk and by the end, my feet would be humming after covering over 40 miles in two days.

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I was no longer surprised when I woke to more falling snow (not for the last time).  After meeting yet another very fine full English breakfast (these were becoming somewhat of a daily challenge), Pat and I set off on the long trek to Kirkby Stephen.

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Conditions weren’t the best as we crossed a C2C milestone – the M6.  But standing on the footbridge was smugly satisfying.  We had completed approximately one third of the walk (as the crow flies that is, actually more in miles).

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Visibility deteriorated and we struggled to find the path and follow instructions in our guide-books: “Look for two isolated trees on the horizon”.  Horizon?

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The snow-storm didn’t last though and as the morning wore on the views began to clear

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with helpful signs pushing us along where the going was uncertain.

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(For most of the Way, official signposting is non-existent especially in the National Parks though this is, I understand, being rectified).

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It was an eerie,

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(mostly) empty,

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blue grey,

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big,

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and handsome landscape.

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Pat, carrying only a day-sack, set a fast pace and his back was to become a familiar sight over the following days.

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It was wet and slushy under foot but we covered the ground pretty quickly.  And we didn’t get lost – which was nice.

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The Howgill Fells, which I had skirted the previous year on the Dales Way, were to the south

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and fresh snow highlighted their contours beautifully.

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As we crossed spongy Ravenstonedale Moor, we left the snow behind

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and by the afternoon we even had some rare sun.

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After several days walking by myself, I enjoyed having company – and Pat would kindly laugh at my jokes (either that or he was hysterical with weariness).

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Dry stone walls accompanied us for mile upon mile; the skill of the wall builders always humbles me

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Smardale Gill viaduct

as does the feat of building (a now sadly disused) railway viaduct.  This was once the main line to Kirkby Stephen from the west.

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There was only one long climb on day 5 – and cruelly it was towards the end.

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Trudging up from Smardale Bridge, we needed frequent pauses (or at least I did) to pant and gasp whilst pretending just to be gazing back the way we had come.

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When we finally reached Kirkby at about 5pm, we were greeted by ‘wild’ macaws.  I had read about these several weeks before but was still startled to see a ‘tropical’ bird apparently hale and hearty in wintry Northern England.  (This article explains).

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I had just enough energy to lift my camera for an obligatory shot of the famous signpost in the centre of the town.  It is, I believe, the only one in England to record distances in miles and furlongs (220 yards).

A very hot bath, a snooze, a cup of Earl Grey, attention to the only blister of the trip, a couple of pints, a meal, a chat with Pat and Sue, a stumble back to my B&B, a few lines of book and deep, undisturbed oblivion.

We had decided that tomorrow was going to be an easy, rest day.  We both needed one.

Only it didn’t turn out that way.

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