Monday, November 19, 2012

Thwaite to the Tan Hill Inn

We awoke to dreariness.  But, we were in a warm hotel room, and most of our things had dried overnight. Warmth and comfort do a lot to mitigate dreariness.

I admit, I was slow getting ready.  You see, this was my second to last day on the trail, and I didn't want the walk to end.  We'd originally planned for me to continue until the end of this week, but we hadn't made as much mileage as we'd thought we should.  Chuck wanted to reach Kirk Yetholm by 1 December, and we weren't even half way there yet.  

Chuck was definitely ready to get going, and I could only repack my backpack so many times. So, we stocked up on candy bars and bags of nuts as we checked out (the hotel bar offered our best and really only choice for supplies in a town with no stores) and got underway.  Our path out of town was through a farmer's fields, and the sheep we passed were especially cute this morning - such expressive faces.

Reluctantly (at least for me) we left the sheep behind and immediately started climbing up into the hills - Kisdon Hill, to be precise.  I turned to look back at Thwaite.  The village that stretched below me looked timeless.

I imagine that Thwaite hasn't changed much in many years.  I can only hope that it will stay like this well into the future!

The wind was blowing fiercely from the side as we made our way north, pushing us into the slope itself.  It was blowing my legs over with every step, and I tripped over my own feet several times. "Not an auspicious start," I thought to myself.

Chuck on Kisdon Hill, trying not to be blown over
Eventually, we rounded the corner, and the wind was now at our backs.  We were blown away, but this time by the glorious views which appeared before us.  The guidebook had let us down once again, although the "let down" was less disappointment than pleasant surprise. It (the guidebook, that is) had spent barely a sentence describing the walk from Thwaite to Keld, and yet, we both felt these were the best views of the trip so far.  We were looking down into a beautiful valley containing the River Swale. The hills across from us were filled with greens, reds, and browns, and tiny silver ribbons of waterfalls snaked through them.
The River Swale

We ooh-ed and aah-ed and took loads of pictures.  We even saw our first live hare running across the rocks up ahead of us.  Kisdon Hill was filled with interesting limestone outcroppings and lots of little nooks and crannies - perfect for hares or maybe for sheep.

Perhaps I had been wrong when I worried about the day ahead.  For a day that started with wind and gloom, things did seem to be looking up.  I changed my mind; this was a marvelous day!

We descended into the valley, towards Keld.  As we lost elevation, it started to sprinkle and then rain.  But, we didn't really care.
Here comes the rain again...
At least we didn't care for a little while...  Keld itself was deserted.  We wandered around a bit, hoping for a place to get a warm drink, but even the visitor's center was closed.  There wasn't really a place we could sit for a rest either.  Chuck suggested we duck into a small shed on the edge of a property on the edge of town. But even on the edge of an edge, I was nervous.  I've never been a rule breaker.  The door didn't move easily, and this was even more proof to me that we weren't meant to enter.  Chuck persevered and finally opened it.  I stepped anxiously inside while he explored the shed and took off his pack.  I couldn't handle more than a couple of minutes standing there before I felt like I should leave.  Any minute I expected some angry farmer with pitchfork in hand would come barreling in the door and start yelling at us. "And what then?" my rational mind asked.  My law-abiding brain said something silly like "you could be in trouble!!!"  Nothing more specific than that... just "trouble."

Chuck said he wanted to leave his pack in the shed and go further into the village to see a place called the Butt House.  Funny as the name was (and is), it wasn't so amusing that I wanted to go trudging along in the rain and leave our packs behind in somebody's shed.  Strangely, I was now willing to stay by the shed where Chuck's pack was now trespassing.  So, I "stood guard" and huddled in the doorway, hoping the door frame would provide a small amount of shelter.  It really didn't. How quickly had my mood changed once again! Now the rain was a nuisance again, and the day was no longer quite as marvelous.

When Chuck returned, we headed back to the trail and had a few minutes of relative rain-less-ness as we passed a small waterfall called East Gill Force.

As with much of the water we had encountered so far on our journey, there were patches of brown in the Force.  We'd found that despite the color, if you filtered it, the water was drinkable. At least for now though, we were in no need of MORE water.

The trail quickly turned back into marching through grassy, mucky, muddy pastures far above the valley. Unfortunately, at that point, Mother Nature decided we really did need more water. And more wind.  The rain was falling in slanted sheets, and the wind was frigid.  At first, I didn't think it was much worse than any other day on the Pennine Way.  But, slowly, my fingers were starting to go numb.  This was a first for me.  Chuck had problems with cold hands on most days, but I was generally fine. I hadn't yet needed to tuck my fingers (inside my gloves) against my palms for warmth, but I did now! It must have been the combination we faced. You could wring water from my jacket, my wind pants, my hat, .... maybe even from me.  And then, the cold wind quickly chilled to the bone.

I now decided this was worse than our day on Great Shunner Fell, and I had absolutely no sense of how much further we had to go.  The Tan Hill Inn was definitely not in sight. The landscape was pretty much deserted.  No animals, no people, few buildings. Chuck suggested we use one of the few buildings, a barn, to seek refuge for a bit. This time, I had considerably fewer qualms about "trespassing." Note, however that I said "considerably fewer qualms" - that's not "no qualms."

Back into the wind and the rain!  I got to the point where I was slamming my hiking poles into the ground as hard as I could with every step.  I was hoping that the jolt would stimulate some circulation (and thus warmth) for my poor hands. Chuck was generally about 20 - 30 yards behind me most of the time, but now he caught up and said we should make for the road below us as soon as we could.  The road had been paralleling us from Keld, and our guidebook showed that it went all the way to the Tan Hill Inn. So, when we got within about 300 yards of the road, we stumbled our way off the path, down the hill, and through the shrubs and long grasses to the road. Phew!

Although road walking was never really intended to be part of this day's trek, it made such a huge difference.  We were down in the valley, and so we had some shelter from the fiercer winds. It felt warmer, and we didn't have to fight with the ground for every step.  Not a single car passed us.  Our moods improved once again.  

When we finally reached the Tan Hill Inn, we had a moment of panic wondering if it would be closed until later in the day (like many of the other pubs we'd seen). But,we were in luck.  They were not only open, they had a room still available for the night. The entryway and the front room of the pub had stone floors, and so we didn't even have to worry about dripping all over their carpets.  Best of all, there was already a fire in the fireplace.  We had to share it with one of the dogs that lived there, but we didn't mind that too much, as long as he didn't complain about our dripping.
Two wet & weary travelers & one content dog!
I will save our Tan Hill Inn experience for the next post, as I'm sure that you, my readers, are as exhausted now as I was then...  I'll leave you with this. We were safe, we were warm, and we were happy!

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