To Reeth

Muker is a couple of miles from Keld along the low-level route down Swaledale. My next lodging is at Reeth, easily reached by lunchtime.

Alternatively, and much more attractively, I could walk back towards Keld on the north bank of the river. After a climb past the ruins of Crackpot Hall, there’s a high level traverse of the derelict lead-mining country high above the valley. This may sound grim, but to some it’s a highlight of the trip. Having explored similar features above Wharfedale, I can just about comprehend the fascination. Furthermore, the high-level route offers far more extensive views of the moors and dales, and it will fill an otherwise short day.

There is but a single snag: the weather is miserable. The clouds are low on the fells, rain spatters the window pane, the wind is up, and the weather forecast warns of more of the same. If I go onto the tops I shall see nothing. This feels like a repeat of the Grasmere-Patterdale leg, when I stayed low. It’s a no-brainer: I’ll walk in the valley.

The quality of breakfast at the Village Stores and Tea Rooms is superb. For the first time in my memory, I can’t eat everything on the plate, so it goes into the paper napkin. Fuelled to the top of my tank, it’s into the Monday drizzle.

I amble to the footbridge over the Swale and turn east through the meadows. Today’s schedule allows me plenty of time to appreciate the texture and detail of my surroundings: occasional paving in the fields; squeeze stiles and kissing gates; sheep and horses; farms renovated for residential and holiday use; evidence of winter’s fury, where the river has ripped out its banks. This is so easy, so pleasant. Where’s the sun?

The drizzle intensifies. I’m glad I’m not on the tops, but the weather doesn’t encourage dallying, other than sheltering briefly in the lee of a barn when the rain is at its heaviest. Early in the afternoon I saunter into Reeth, and after a circuit of the village green choose a café for a pot of tea and a curd tart. This looks like becoming a feeding afternoon.

So it turns out: the museum is closed; the weather stays dull and damp; the pubs, shops and ice cream parlour are therefore irresistible. I buy a newspaper and complete the crossword. Through the pub window I spot Pauline’s red coat crossing the village green. Another pint of Black Sheep ale takes me through to a decent time for knocking on the door of my digs.

Melvin and Winfield arrive. They go through the motions of disputing who should have first use of the bathroom, and when peace is restored I join them to check out the pubs. We scan the menus and ales, make our selection, and sit with the locals in a smoky bar, warmed by a smoky fire, before moving into a large and almost empty restaurant for three courses. None of us has really earned such a feast: like me, they walked down the valley after a brief foray up the fellside, where the wind proved merciless.

We round the meal off with a couple of drams of malt whisky. Who cares whether we earned it?

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