Jimmy and myself have always liked cooked English breakfasts. There was a rumour going around before we did the Pennine Way that you couldn't actually stomach twenty consecutive fry-ups. What nonsense we thought, we will rewrite The Rules of the Pennine Way and get those twenty plates of bacon, egg, sausages, fried bread and beans down us on the way to Kirk Yetholm. But, only a few days were necessary to prove that the rumour was correct and that our gutbusting, artery-furring ambitions were no more than unrealistic (greasy) dreams. At Keld, and several of the previous hostels, we were going for the "healthy option" Youth Hostel breakfasts of fruit, yoghurt, croissants and cereal.
We set off from Keld Youth Hostel with both the Pennine Way South and Pennine Way North guidebooks, knowing that we would pass from one to the other later on in the day. The extra few grams of weight was more than compensated for by the radio equipment returning to the carry-on luggage, with no SOTA transmissions scheduled for the next three days. In contrast to the previous three days, the weather looked good, and we were motivated as we walked down through Keld village on a refreshing warm and bright morning. We returned to the footbridge where we left the Way yesterday and weaved between the small waterfalls that were attractive but less spectacular than billed.
I really enjoyed the two hour walk up the hill over Black Moor and Stonesdale Moor. All the way, down to our left was the road from Keld to Tan Hill with the occasional specks of cars visible, but only audible where the road and path almost converged at Stonesdale Bridge. We were keen to make good time up to the Tan Hill Inn, even though it would mean us being there too early to realistically have our lunch break there. The hazy view of the pub was a welcome sight as we came over the hill at 10.45am, especially as the heat of the day was beginning to take hold. Behind the inn appeared a vast sea with speedboats gliding quickly but silently across its horizon. A mental reality check revealed the true identities as Sleightholme Moor and the A66. Outside the Tan Hill Inn was their famous Hagglund BV206 vehicle, that I had to capture on camera for my youngest son Liam, a car and motor sport enthusiast. Despite the early hour, I would have been disappointed to by-pass Britain's highest pub without a respectful pint, so the earlier resolve was discarded and we hit the bar.
Suddenly the bar resounded with Jimmy's belly laughter. There were tears rolling down his cheeks, so something must have been very funny. And there it was. The "No Bloody Swearing" sign that had so tickled him back near Mankinholes on Day 3. Jimmy had recounted that first "No Bloody Swearing" sign to everyone that would listen since then, and it had become a kind of subtitle for our adventure. This in mind, I couldn't afford to miss the photograph opportunity again, so the image was captured for Jimmy's permanent amusement. Much to everyone's amusement, a sheep kept coming into the bar, and had to be ejected each time by the staff. But as soon as a youngster left the door open, it was back! It turned out it was allowed in as a lamb, but now that it was older it was not getting used to the restricted access rights.
The Tan Hill had three different strains of Black Sheep hand-pulled ale available. One of them - the Black Sheep Riggwelter, 5.6% ABV - I could not resist, and enjoyed a pint of it outside in the sunshine. "Might as well have an early lunch" I suggested to Jimmy as we got more comfortable on the benches outside. The sandwiches and sausage rolls went down very well with a pint, as we chatted to various passers by about our journey thus far. We were eventually forced to make a move by the previously mentioned sheep. Having finally given up on getting into the bar, the woolly resident turned his persistence to the task of stealing food from us. Time to go...!
Next up was the notorious crossing of Sleightholme Moor. Ringing around my ears were all the things I had read about this place: "Dirty, disgusting and filthy", "You don't so much as walk on it as walk through it" and "A very dangerous place in bad weather" were amongst the quotations that had become imprinted on my brain during the Pennine Way research period of the past few months. However, it was just the opposite. The long spell of hot dry weather (save for the past three days) meant that the moor was mainly firm underfoot. The colours of the bright blue, pink and yellow wild flowers were stunning in the bright midday sun, especially around Fruming Beck. All the way, we continued to see the traffic on the distant A66. Close enough to see, but too far away to hear.
The Pennine Way merged with the Sleightholme Moor Road track sweeping in from the right, and followed Sleightholme Beck before reaching Trough Heads and splitting into two options, both considered to be part of the official route. Continuing North-East was the Pennine Way "Bowes Loop" for those seeking accommodation in the Roman town of Bowes. We took the left fork, angling North North-West for our destination of Baldersdale Youth Hostel. The next landmark was God's Bridge, a huge slab of limestone over the River Greta. Very soon we had reached the A66, and the stile from where the Pennine Way used to make a precarious crossing of this busy highway.
The Pennine Way now diverts some 200 metres to the left before cutting through the dedicated underpass. We congratulated ourselves on reaching the official halfway point of the Pennine Way by finishing off the fruit from our lunches. We estimated that we were about an hour's walk from the hostel. It was good going up to Race Yate Rigg and over Cotherstone Moor. As we headed down towards Baldersdale, we had a good view over Blackton Reservoir. Our passing of Clove Lodge farm and bunkhouse was disturbed by the defensive barking of two dogs, and that was the last action of the day. We reached the point where the Bowes Loop section rejoined, and immediately we were turning left off the Way to follow the track down to Baldersdale Youth Hostel.
We were pleased to have finished a good 15 mile walk over moorland with nearly two hours to spare before dinner. We were reunited with Bobby and Toke, and Mike and Dan, all staying at the hostel this night. The Lincolnshire Lads told of their "No room at the inn" response from Keld Youth Hostel, and their mood wasn't exactly lifted when Jimmy explained that we were in a four-bedded room - with two empty beds! Unable to find anywhere else, they had "opportunistically" spent a cold damp night in a barn!
The six of us all dined together, and agreed that the food (and service) was superb, despite everything being run single-handedly by a young female Italian warden. We had homemade leek & potato soup, haddock and chips, followed by ice cream. For sale in the hostel were some excellent bottled beers - Darwin Ales. I had a Hop Drop and a Cauldron Snout. Toke and Bobby were similarly enthused as us by passing the halfway point, but not sufficiently enthused to prevent them disappearing off to bed just after 9pm. Jimmy soon followed, leaving Mike, Dan and myself savouring a late beer and chat in the lounge. Well, "late" in the relative - at this stage of the adventure "late" meant anything after 9.30pm. My body refused to stay awake much after 10 o'clock! Learning that I was from Macclesfield sparked Dan into recollective mood. He had known and worked with the notorious "Muttley McLad" and The Macc Lads band back in the 1980s. We recounted various 'legends' of dubious foundation and discussed some of the highly questionable lyrics of the combo that was banned from more venues than it ever actually played.