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Reeth to Keld

Saturday 8th April 2006

13 miles

We woke to a lovely sunny morning though it was obvious that there had been a sharp frost. The sunshine lasted while we talked to Leslie Caygill and Sandra Cook, the proprietors of Cambridge House (Leslie had owned a bicycle manufacture company previously). However, by the time we were in Reeth buying sandwiches it had started to rain and we had some heavy showers of hail and snow during the day.

We left Reeth by a path to the river that was to the left of Hudson House (not Barclays Bank as referred in the guidebook) and followed the River Swale along to Healaugh, with a rainbow
visible in front of us for much of the time. Then we climbed up past Thiernswood Hall and at the edge of the wood there was a second change in the instructions - we went through a stile in the wall just before a gate and then climbed through a field, keeping the wall to our left. Around 1km further on, we made the mistake of interpreting a fairly ordinary style as the 'unusual niche' in the wall and our progress through the woodland on the 'wrong' side of the wall was slow. The woodland was very pretty though. We emerged from the wood and stopped for a drink in the shelter of a wall, then we crossed Bleaberry Gill and shortly afterwards we crossed the metalled road at Surrender Bridge.

We climbed steadily up the track past the Old Gang Smelting Mills
and stopped to put on over-trousers at an old smelt mill now converted to a shooting box. Eventually we reached Level House Bridge, meeting several groups of walkers going the other way, presumably because the route was now shared with the Coast to Coast path. The weather deteriorated quite markedly at this point and we climbed up to the summit of the moor walking into very strong wind and heavy snow. We sheltered for lunch by a ruined building.

We continued round the track high above Gunnerside Gill and we came to a shooting hut with superb views of the waterfall at the head of the valley.
We descended steeply to the gill (there was no path) and walked alongside it through a gorge. At just about the point where the guidebook recommends a 'spot of bathing' it started to snow even more heavily, so we took shelter in the ruin where we were meant to cross to the other side of the stream. It proved impossible to cross the stream at this point, presumably because of the high volume of water, and we thought we might have to retrace our steps by quite a long way. However we found a good path back to the stream and crossed it by the 'picturesque stone slab bridge'.

We climbed up to a modern track and followed this track for quite some distance, as it climbed steadily and then levelled out. We turned left onto a rather boggy path, crossing the new track that we'd left previously, then descending more steeply on a stony path.
Progress was slow because of the steepness of the descent, but there were some attractive waterfalls. Eventually we got views ahead to the River Swale and Keld, passed the ruins of Crackpot Hall (a former shooting lodge) and came down into Keld by way of East Gill Force, a very pretty waterfall.

Butt House was very easy to find and Mr and Mrs Whitehead were very welcoming.
We had tea and scones then a very welcome bath, then an evening meal of mushrooms in cheese sauce, salmon and cheese and biscuits -and finally, coffee in the lounge with a blazing fire whilst hearing all about Mrs Whitehead's family. Keld Youth Hostel has closed so there's going to be a real shortage of accommodation in Keld (which is on both the Coast to Coast and the Pennine Way) when Mrs Whitehead eventually retires - and there will be the loss of an institution too. Note: later, I discovered that Keld Youth Hostel has reopened as a hotel under its former name, Keld Lodge, and that Doreen and Ernest Whitehead have indeed retired but that Butt House is still operating as a B&B, under new ownership.

Following day