Coast to Coast: Day 5 – Shap to Kirkby Stephen

(19th March 2013 – 20.5 miles)

My Trailblazer guidebook promised me that this stage, Day 5, could be considered a rest day.  A 20.5 mile rest day?  I wasn’t convinced by that assertion and just as well.  Today would be one long tramp and I would hardly feel rested and refreshed by its end.  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.

The Hermitage Shap

The Hermitage Shap

I was no longer surprised when I woke to more falling snow (not for the last time).  I went downstairs at The Hermitage and fearlessly met my daily challenge – another very fine full English breakfast.  And saying good bye to Jean, Pat and I set off on the trek to Kirkby Stephen.  With two heads, navigation today was easier and Pat’s updated edition of Wainwright’s guidebook proved handy in double checking the route.

Coast to Coast M6

It was still snowing as we crossed a C2C milestone – the M6.  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).

Coast to Coast Shap to Kirkby Stephen (1)

Visibility deteriorated further and we struggled to find the path;

Coast to Coast Shap to Kirkby Stephen (21)

and struggled with following some of the instructions in our guide-books: “Look for two isolated trees on the horizon.”  Horizon?

Coast to Coast Shap to Kirkby Stephen (2)

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

Coast to Coast Shap to Kirkby Stephen (3)

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

Coast to Coast Shap to Kirkby Stephen (7)

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

Coast to Coast Shap to Kirkby Stephen (4)

We crossed an eerie,

Coast to Coast Shap to Kirkby Stephen (8)

empty (apart from sheep),

Coast to Coast Shap to Kirkby Stephen (9)

blue grey white,

Coast to Coast Shap to Kirkby Stephen (11)

big,

Coast to Coast Shap to Kirkby Stephen (12)

and very beautiful landscape.  It was quite magical and unlike any other walk I’ve done.

Coast to Coast Shap to Kirkby Stephen (5)

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

Coast to Coast Shap to Kirkby Stephen (6)

In places, the going was wet and slushy but we covered ground quickly.  And we didn’t get lost – which was unusual for me if nice.

Coast to Coast Shap to Kirkby Stephen (14)

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

Howgill Fells Coast to Coast

and fresh snow highlighted their contours beautifully.

Howgill Fells Coast to Coast (2)

I ought to explore them properly one year.

Coast to Coast Shap to Kirkby Stephen (15)

By the time we crossed spongy Ravenstonedale Moor, we’d left the snow behind

Coast to Coast Shap to Kirkby Stephen (16)

and by afternoon we even had a few rays of sun.

Coast to Coast Shap to Kirkby Stephen (17)

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

Coast to Coast Shap to Kirkby Stephen (18)

Dry stone walls accompanied us for mile upon mile.  The skill of the craftsmen who built them humbles me;

Smardale Gill viaduct Coast to Coast

Smardale Gill viaduct

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

Coast to Coast Shap to Kirkby Stephen (19)

There was only one significant climb on Day 5 – and cruelly it came towards the end.

Coast to Coast Shap to Kirkby Stephen (20)

Trudging up from Smardale Bridge, we needed frequent pauses to pant and gasp whilst pretending only to be gazing back the way we had come.

Kirkby Stephen Macaws

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).

Kirkby Stephen Furlong post

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 my book and deep, undisturbed oblivion.

Pat and I decided that because today had been no rest day, tomorrow would be.  We would avoid an over the top moors walk to Keld and settle for an easier route, a road walk if need be.

Only it didn’t turn out that way.

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