Saturday, 29 October 2011

Drenched in Westmorland.

The day started promisingly enough. We picked up supplies in the village shop and headed out across the fields to where a concrete footbridge crosses the furious M6 and onto the next stage of the walk. The path to Kirkby Stephen looks to be fairly straight forward on paper, but soon after we'd past the quiet hamlet of Oddendale the sky turned black.

For a few miles it was bearable. We made our way onto Ravensworth Fell, crossed an old roman road, waded through Lyvennet Beck, where Charles II rested his army en route to the Royalists final defeat at Gloucester and followed a dry stone wall round to an old cairn which reputedly marks the site of Robin Hood's Grave.

It would have been fantastically interesting but all the discovery and wonder was beginning to wear thin as the weather deteriorated and the cold winter rain lashed in, getting underneath our clothes and soaking us to the skin.

Eventually we made our way to the road and cadged a lift in a minibus full of Glaswegian young offenders, having a cracking lager infused jolly in the countryside; their harassed probation officer sulking at the wheel. They dropped us at The George in nearby Orton, where we had lunch thawing out by a roaring fire. Outside the weather seemed to be brightening so we wrung out our socks and set off again.

For the first few miles everything was more or less back on track we followed lanes, skipped stiles and made our way steadily across the peaty fields to Sunbiggin Tarn, a desolate spot, miles from anywhere. It was here, predictably, that the skies opened once more.

Shelter was a good two miles off in Newbiggin, so we gritted our teeth, put our heads down and ploughed onwards across Ravenstonedale Moor. By this stage the weather was so rough that we couldn't even refer to our sodden, pulped guide book and we quickly became lost amongst the sheep. Eleanor helpfully reminded me that Lear, made mad by the storm and the onset of hypothermia, began to take his clothes off in similar circumstances, a new threat that until that point I'd not considered.

Putting safety first we found some farm tracks and followed them over the hill and onto a lane leading down to a solitary farmhouse. The farmer, unfazed by our adventure, was kind enough and pointed us back towards the village, some two miles East of where we'd ended up.

Newbiggin, he promised, owned a public telephone box and with no reception to be had on the Moor there was no alternative but to continue. Wrinkled as prunes we squelched our way along the road, finally arriving just before eight o'clock. A call to a local taxi firm put us out of our misery and so drowned and defeated we arrived less than triumphantly in Kirkby.

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