“Great Britain’s Highest Inn”

This morning I got a lift in a Sherpa Van for the eleven miles from Keld to Reeth, our next stop on the journey. My blisters made it impossible to walk at more than what seemed liked ten steps an hour, and so I decided it was time to take a break. As I waited for the bus in front of the Keld Lodge, the proprietor–who had given me the bus schedule moments before–suggested I ask the Sherpa driver if I might go along with the bags. (The Sherpa service is one of two or three–ours is called Pack Horse–that ferries walkers’ bags from one inn to the next. A great business for them, and a great service for us!)

The driver of the van kindly let me hop a ride with him (it would have been another hour waiting for the bus on its Sunday schedule), but he noted that we would have to take a detour up to Tan Hill. I hardly minded. At 1732 feet, with nothing for miles around, the Tan Hill Inn is quite a spot, offering rooms, camping, and–quite thoughtfully, a “wedding license.” I asked the driver how he thought such an inn got established in the first place; he suspected it might have something to do with serving as a trading place for stolen goods. The moors spread out in all directions, like the sea, trackless and wide. I loved it.

Last night, we stayed at Little Birkdale Farms, another amazing spot on the moors. Our “room” was the ground floor of a refurbished barn–a large space with a wood-burning stove, a kitchenette, deep leather sofas, and a small bedroom with two beds, each beside a window. (Jim and I have been taking turns picking the bed by the window; last night, we each had that luxury.) My casement window had a little ledge where I could place my books and various ointments and salves; I looked out over the Birk Creek and across the moors, very much reminded of Lockwood on his first night at Wuthering Heights. And I could see from the map that we were about 60 miles north of Haworth, something Gary (the owner, with his wife Cath, of Little Birkdale) confirmed in the morning.

Gary purchased this farm, unused since 1920 and completely derelict about ten years ago. He personally restored it, stripping both barn and house down to their bases and rebuilding with traditional materials and modern amenities: insulation, under-floor heating, plumbing, lighting. A small windmill on the property supplies all the electricity, and a pure spring provides fresh clear drinking water. “I’ve traced it back to 1705” he told me when I asked about the history of the farm. “And in the 1200s there was a monastic community on this site. Before that, in the Iron Age, people lived here as well. You can tell from how the land is terraced. They would have chosen it because of the spring.” Interestingly, Gary’s brother lives in New York City, where he runs a lap dancing club and a fish and chips restaurant!

The eggs we had for breakfast were from the chickens we saw wandering freely through the yard. And the chili Cath had prepared for our dinners–one vegetarian, one with beef–was excellent. Jim managed to wander around happily in the evening while I nursed my wounds.

No internet last night or the night before, so there’s a lot to catch up on. A few highlights:

I walked on the narrow, winding “metalled” (tarmac) road yesterday, the B6270, between Kirkby Stephen and Keld, climbing to over 1500 feet. My feet had developed huge blisters the day before, and I thought it would be a good idea to give them a rest from my boots. I wore my sturdy Teva sandals and thoroughly enjoyed the lonely walk through the windy high moorland, crossing from Cumbria into North Yorkshire, and entering the Yorkshire Dales National Park. I shared the road mostly with just a few motorcyclists, out to enjoy this beautiful countryside on a beautiful day. Just as Wainwright predicted, someone stopped to offer me a lift, but also as he insists, of course I refused. Jim was up on “Nine Standards Rigg,” walking through bog. Perhaps he’ll tell you about it.

Kirkby Stephen was a lovely little town, actually the largest we’ve encountered so far on the walk. We ran into our old friend Mike again, and I managed to learn his last name (Ryder) and his wife’s name, Anne. He was buying new boots for himself at the mountain shop and having a quiet night in, eating a sandwich in his room. We made our way to the Mango Tree, a wonderful little Indian restaurant where the owner squeezed us in without a reservation. Lentil soup, Ceylon curry, garlic naan, and dahl were a delcious and refreshing change of fare. Kirkby Stephen was striking to me for the number of religious establishments it featured: a main church where Anglican and Roman Catholic services are offered, two or three Methodist chapels, and a Quaker meeting house, along with a Temperance Hall. (There’s one here in Reeth as well.)

We stayed in Kirkby Stephen at a small B & B in a Victorian semi-detached house on the main street. (Flowered carpets everywhere, embroidered cloths on every horizontal surface, flowers in all the windows.) Our hostess, Mary, was delightful, bringing us a tray with tea and sponge cake up to our room as soon as we arrived. When Jim asked about a laundrette in town, she offered to do a wash for us and then hang it out on her line in a flowered back garden. I insisted on doing the hanging, but she took it in before nightfall and finished it off in the drier, bringing the basket of sweet-smelling clothes up to our room.

In the morning, I ended up going back to pick up the poles I had forgotten when we first set out. Jim and I had walked into town together to get supplies before taking our separate routes: he to pick up Ordnance maps, and I to get blister plasters and an elastic support for my knee (a wonderful help!) After giving me the poles, Mary sent me off again, promising I’d be “a new woman” today after taking the road rather than the country path. Alas, she was wrong.

The walk to Kirkby Stephen had also been thrilling: once again across heather moors and beside the sites of neolithic villages. We saw another stone circle and “pillow mounds,” along with relics of more recent moments in civilization: abandoned railway lines, including beautiful, elaborate viaducts over lovely clear streams. Wonderful.

Today I’m missing the Swale valley, which is reputed to be quite beautiful. I had been planning to walk along the river, though perhaps I’ll explore it a bit from the town. Jimmy once again is taking the high road, through abandoned lead mining country. Wainwright recommends that route, though I thought it would be depressing as well as difficult. Off now to explore the little cluster of shops and museums in this sweet village. Photos maybe tonight or tomorrow. Thanks for keeping with us!


8 comments on ““Great Britain’s Highest Inn”

  1. Judith says:

    I feel like I’m with you, without the blisters of course. Looking forward to more of your excellent photos. Will this be your next book?

  2. Barney says:

    Swaledale is beautiful. Erica and I had a walking holiday in Swaledale some years ago and fell in love with the area. On one circular walk we reached the Tan Hill Inn (it was the furthest point on that particular walk) and we were amazed that there should be an inn in such an isolated place.

    Your B & B’s continue to sound attractive. I’m going to make a note of some of them, against the day Erica return to the Lakes and the Dales for more walking.

    Sorry to here you’ve been suffering from blisters.

  3. Gerry says:

    aargh! The dreaded blisters. I guess you could look at it as the excuse to return sometime soon. Have you tried the trick of surrounding them with moleskin (rather than covering) to prevent contact? Hope you get some relief soon. And what’s the literature with blisters as a central element. There probably should be more.

    • jimigriffin says:

      Joyce has gotten to like Compeed blister plasters, something like our Dr. Scholl’s blister treatment I guess. I just got online for the first time in days, at a nice Tourist Office and library just opposite our B&B. Don’t think I’ll be able to stay long though. Good hearing from you and from everyone.

  4. Pat says:

    Hi guys! I have been following along and loving it. The photos leave me breathless, especially loved the one with the sky and hills reflecting in the water. Sorry about your aches and pains and blisters, Joyce. If you aren’t wearing wool socks already, check out that mountain store. You won’t regret the investment. I’ve been using google satellite a lot to further explore the places you visit. Amazing!

  5. Bonnie says:

    Moleskin is my recommendation too — it really works! Happy trails.

  6. Stacey says:

    This trip sounds so marvelous. Reminds me of our bike tours in Ireland – without the blisters, though, just sore tushes! An amazing vista at every turn. We’ll be in England soon, too, but, alas, touring by car not your way.

    I was going to mention Dr. Scholl’s Corn Pads (moleskin, as suggested by Gerry, but by brand) which, if the hole is large enough and the blister the right size, cushion the blister extremely well. Indeed, better than covering it. See if you can find some. And keep up the walking and writing. Hope to see you when you get back.

  7. pattygriffin says:

    hi joyce,
    sorry about the blisters. but i’m sure you’ll find that there is more to do than the walking, and you’ll find new pleasures.

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