Friday, 17 May 2013

Thwaite to Bowes

The first priority after breakfast was to dubbin my boots. They had dried out overnight, and looked in need of re-waterproofing. Liberal quantities were duly applied.

Looking back at Thwaite
Then it was across a couple of fields to cross Snow Beck, followed by a steady climb to the shoulder of the apparently nameless round hill to the North of Thwaite. Initially it’s heather, at relatively low levels, and then grassland. The Pennine Way goes almost half way round this hill on its way to Keld. It pretty well hugs the 420m contour for more than two miles, affording splendid views over the upper part of Swaledale and the streams that cut deep clefts in the far side of the valley. The first part was grassy, but the latter parts are rocky, often crossing the lower parts of great fields of scree. 

Upper Swaledale
Finally it descends through woodland to the valley just below the village of Keld. This is where I had originally hoped to stay, but as Keld is on both the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast path the limited accommodation was fully booked before I tried to get somewhere to stay – not that, in the event, I was displeased with my stay in Thwaite.

The path then crosses the Swale on a footbridge, with a magical little glade on the far side. There is a beautiful waterfall where a beck tumbles into the Swale, a finely sited brand new bench to admire the view where I observed the suggestion to rest a while. There was even a little clump of perfect daffodils to enhance the experience.

The waterfall after crossing the Swale - a magical spot
Then it was the boring bit. A fairly stiff climb up to moorland, and a long haul up to Tan Hill. Much of it is level, but the last half mile or so involves another 100m climb. There’s no blue jug on the map, but the Tan Hill Inn is marked, and despite rumours that it’s for sale it’s still in operation, and claims to be the highest pub in the UK. It was a good excuse of a longer rest and a pint (plus a generous half) to celebrate reaching the highest point for the day at 526m and a little more just beforehand. The map shows the rest of the way to Bowes as a long, steady descent, which the notice board stated was eight miles distant.

After losing the first 50m the next two miles were almost completely level. This is a grouse moor: more than half heather, with obvious areas where it had been burnt to get rid of the old woody plants. In between it was incredibly wet – drowned mosses, very little grass, and many places where it was almost impossible to find a path through watery patches. This resulted in me going over the top of a boot, though I managed to extract my foot before it got really wet, and I was somewhat surprised and relieved that it happened only once. I put up several red grouse, and hear many more making that strange cackling call. There were also several curlews, and occasional oystercatchers and lapwings.

Tough going across Bowes Moor
After two miles or so the going got easier: the path was mainly grassy, but runnels of draining water every 50m or so. Only when I crossed the growing beck that drained the area, and reached the track on the far side, did the going get easier. Thereafter it was a track and then a metalled road for the next three miles or so. The only problem was that I missed the point where the Pennine Way branched off the road to re-cross the growing beck and follow it for much of the rest of the way into Bowes. I think it was simply because the only sign I recollect seeing was marked “footpath” without the acorn sign or any reference to the Pennine Way. At any rate, that’s my excuse.

In fact this was a blessing. This is the only place where there are two alternative Pennine Ways – one that crosses the A66 two miles West of Bowes, and the other which goes into Bowes itself. I followed the road which paralleled the latter version of the Pennine Way but at a much higher level on eh edge of the moors, and only descended when I was almost in Bowes. This was just after seeing what I thought was a black grouse, though I can’t be sure, as some of the red grouse I saw were quite dark in colour. I also saw my first golden plovers, which I had been surprised not to see earlier on the higher moors.

Bowes Castle
The final footpath dropped down across a stretch of moor, and then a couple of fields beside the River Greta which flows just to the South of Bowes itself. Then it does a series of small switchbacks across three or four fields before passing Bowes castle – an impressive ruin with a well-finished Southern wall – before reaching the High (snd only) street in town.

Bowes is a one-horse town, now comprehensively bypassed by the A66, and despite the number of relatively new cars it feels in decline. Several houses seem deserted and becoming rather dilapidated; more are for sale. And my stop for the night – the Ancient Unicorn – has seen better days. The cobbled courtyard is sprouting grass and weeds, everything looks in need of a good few coats of paint if not more drastic treatment, and doors jam or just won’t close. There seemed to be no other guests despite ample accommodation (though a couple of exhausted cyclists arrived some time later). All rather sad.

But at least my room was warm, my (almost solitary) meal very acceptable, and the bed was comfortable.

A fine day – sunny intervals all day long, even if they were often brief. Warmer, at 11 to 16C. 27.98km, 547m of ascents, 554m descents. Mainly cross-country. Very rocky early on the stretch to Keld, often cross scree slopes. Open grassy moorland up to Tan Hill, then very wet for four miles down through Bowes Moor, where each stretch of grassy going was a real relief from the boggy ground that predominated. Largely road work for the final stretch into Bowes, as I missed the point where the Pennine Way struck off from the tarmac.

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