The Hawes to Keld section marks the start of the only stretch of the Pennine Way that I had previously walked, on a 5-day so-called ‘Pennine Highlights’ walk from Hawes to Alston with my sister Nancy in around 2004. The year we did the walk was the wettest August on record, and my memory of the walk to Keld was a nightmare trek of boggy path, cold and driving rain, and mist which limited visibility to about 20 feet.
In fact the day was incredibly hot and sunny, and as I left Hawes along the fields it was hard to believe that it was the same landscape I remembered. I shared the first part of the path, across the fields to Hardraw, with two very nice women who had met whilst walking the Camino and now do a long-distance walk every year together. I’ve never walked the Camino but from talking to people who have it sounds more like an international walkers’ convention than any kind of pilgrimage; I’m intrigued.
Great Shunner Fell is a fairly stiff climb (716m) and has a series of ‘shoulders’ which I remembered from my previous walk (unable to see any views at all) as a series of soul-destroying false summits. In the sunshine, it was very different; the path rose quickly out of the valley, and there were wonderful views looking back. It was bakingly hot though, and when I encountered Cea and Leonard again (I hope I have spelt their names right) I was pleased to have an excuse to stop and chat. We walked the rest of the stage together and I was glad of their very friendly and pleasant company.
After the summit of Great Shunner Fell the path dips steeply down into Thwaite, where we stopped at the tea room for a cup of tea; I also had an isotonic ‘sports drink’, to which I am becoming seriously addicted on this trip (and yes, I know they are mostly sugar). Rehydrated, we set off again.
The path from Thwaite climbs steeply again, then contours round a valley. I had remembered this as a wet, slippery and stony track that went on for ages through dense mist; in this weather it proved to be a very pleasant walk along the side of a wooded valley. We were treated to an aerial display by two (non-military) planes which flew very low down the valley.
I really enjoyed having company on the walk and during the afternoon we covered all kinds of topics ranging from nationalism to school gym lessons. However, Cea and Leonard were heading onwards to Tan Hill for the night and I was due to be picked up in Keld, so we said goodbye and wished each other well on our onwards journeys.
Keld, in the hot afternoon sunshine, was nothing like the desolate mist-shrouded hamlet of my memory, but instead a very pretty village with a tearoom (grapefruit sorbet recommended) and a very nice pub (it will give you some idea of the horrible weather on the last walk if I say that I hadn’t known there was a pub because I hadn’t been able to see it!). I found Arran at a table outside the pub – he had been waiting for over an hour and there was an ironic round of applause from other people (mostly Coast-to-Coasters well down their pints) when I eventually arrived. We headed back to the caravan for a barbecue and early bed ahead of the tough walk tomorrow.
Highlights: The unexpected pleasure of conversation with strangers; a beautiful and energetic walk which was nothing like my Gothic memories.