“The Right to Roam”

Last night in Reeth, a beautiful little village built around a green, “the capital of Swaledale,” we chanced upon the honeymoon couple, Arwen and Philip Makin, with whom we had shared accommodations the night before at Little Birkdale Farm. We had been with them in the Land Rover that Gary had used to transfer us to and from the Keld Lodge. Yet we had scarcely spoken. At the King’s Arms in Reeth, though, we ended up spending a very happy few hours chatting. “Oh, we heard about you,” Arwen said, “you’re the Americans.” Up on Nine Standards Rigg, apparently, Mike had spoken to them about us. “I don’t think they’re married,” he had said. “This is how legends begin,” I thought, as we traded stories about ourselves and others. The real sense of community fostered by the walk was becoming more and more palpable; earlier in the day as I wandered around Reeth–visiting the Swaledale Museum and buying some new boots at the wonderful mountain shop–I had run into two other groups we had met earlier. “Now where was it that we saw one another?” we had asked.

During our rest day today, I took the bus to Richmond to have a look around. I visited the Georgian Royal Theater, built in 1788 and Britain’s oldest intact Georgian theater, as well as the Norman Castle. I felt somewhat odd wandering around this very large town, missing the fellowship of the road that had cocooned us these past ten days or so. And then as I sat in the central square, drinking tea, it occurred to me that I just might see Arwen and Philip who had been planning to walk to Richmond today. Within about ten minutes they popped up, right in front of me, happy and affable. And a few moments later I was greeted by another couple, the people we had met in Rosthwaite, the ones who had gotten lost above Black Sail.

Richmond, I was happy to discover, hosts an annual “Walking and Book Festival.” One of the authors featured this year, Sinclair McKay, has just published a book, RAMBLE ON, that details how “country walks and rambling were transformed from a small anti-establishment pasttime to the most popular recreational activity in the country.” We had talked last night with Arwen and Phil about the accessibility of paths throughout the country; Jim had been surprised and delighted by the numerous public paths we’d been using, and asked Arwen how common it was. She told us about the “Right to Roam,” and how important it has become in public policy. Nice.

And as much as we have been enjoying our roaming, I want also to note how pleasurable it is to spend two nights in one place, and to comment on how wonderful this particular place is! The village is beautiful, and our bed and breakfast, the Walpardo, is my favorite so far. It is a tiny 17th-century stone cottage on the smaller village square (Anvil Square), run by a lovely couple. There are only two rooms, a single and a twin, and they only rent out both when there is a group of three. Otherwise, they just rent out one.

So we are the only guests, and we have enjoyed wonderful conversations with Ann Bain and her husband. It was Ann who insisted I go to the Georgian Theater–“I was on the stage, you know,” she told me, “and not just sweepin’ it.” We talked about the ITV detective series VERA which I got into watching before our trip, and agreed that it wasn’t at all “rubbish” like most of what is broadcast “these days.”

I especially liked Ann’s story about the Swaledale bus service, which I took to Richmond. “It was better when it was a private company,” she told me. “Now it’s a consortium. It used to be run by a local family. If you wanted something from a shop in Richmond, all you had to do was call. They would put it on the bus and then you could pick it up here. And if you were supposed to be on the bus, they would wait for you. So you had no excuse for not getting where you were going. And you couldn’t misbehave, because they would tell your parents. All that’s gone now.”

There’s a gentleness in this lovely valley town, that I find deeply comforting. Though once it was a center of the lead mining industry, and probably not a terribly happy place after all. The average life expectancy for men was 45 to 55.

The Walpardo B & B:

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The honeymoon couple, walking the Coast to Coast and planning to return for their fifth anniversary:

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The Georgian Theatre:

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Sammy, the cat on the hearth at the Walpardo:

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2 comments on ““The Right to Roam”

  1. Barney says:

    Reeth is a lovely place. When Erica and I spent a week or so in Swaledale many years ago, we stayed further down the river, but visited Reeth and had a meal there. We did walks from Gunnerside and Muker; and we passed through Keld on a walk in Arkengarthdale. Must get back there sometime.

    I’m loving following your walk – thank you so much for blogging like this.

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