Coast to Coast Day 7 – Kirkby Stephen to Keld

Published 6 September 2010

“This bog is nothing – NOTHING! – compared to the Pennine Way.”

Kirkby Stephen is apparently well known for its parrots. A local bird enthusiast keeps them and allows them to fly around town. Apparently they especially like to hang around the chippy. Wandering around the town the previous evening I’d kept my ears open, but every time I leapt around having heard a loud SQUAWK! I saw nothing but sparrows…

And it was certainly not parrots that work me up at 4am with their dawn chorus coming through the hostel window. All the local birds seemed to have camped out just outside making sure I spent the early hours awake and listening to them. Oh and Catherine’s snoring too.

Climbing Hartley Fell on the way out of Kirkby Stephen

At a slightly more reasonable hour of the morning we set off on the relatively easy eleven mile trip to Keld, the first few of which were up a winding tarmac road towards Nine Standards Rigg which gave us fine views back down to the Eden Valley below.

We were part of a merry procession of walkers including an older man out with his dog. The man seemed to spend his time talking non-stop to the small canine, feeding it with historical and local information, almost as if he ran a local history group for pampered pooches. If it could write and talk, no doubt his four legged friend would have done very well in its GCSEs.

Whether said creature cared that the large standing cairns of Nine Standards were rebuilt for the millennium is not recorded, although we sure found the information interesting.

Four of the Nine Standards

The exact reason why there are nine giant cairns on the hill top is not known, although one theory believed plausible is that they were placed there to make it look like an army was camping there should the old “marauding Scots” try to invade, and the shape of the cairns does suggest tents and sentries.

Other theories – perhaps more mundane – include that they were to mark the boundary of the old Westmoorland county but whatever the reason, their secret is very safe now.

The Nine Standards try to hide in the cloud

We arrived at the Nine Standards just in time for the cloud to come down and we spent several hours enjoying its all encompassing company, although thankfully rain didn’t join it. As we left the cloud had sufficiently covered the Nine Standards enough to just make them look like dark shapes in the gloom as we passed out of Cumbria and into North Yorkshire.

Like many a popular long distance path, heavy usage has taken its toll on parts of the Coast to Coast and nowhere more so than the route down to Swaledale.

A very muddy looking signpost on Whitemossy Hill

Such are the erosion problems on the peaty, boggy moorland, that the Yorkshire Dales National Park requests that Coast to Coast walkers go by different routes depending on the time of year, thus helping the land to recover. Although not compulsory by any means, most Coast to Coasters are naturally happy to comply.

It being July we had the privilege of using Wainwright’s original route; a month later and we’d be going somewhere very different.

We were expecting the worst though; horror stories of this section were going round, like the tale of two Americans who had walked in the opposite direction and had had so many problems on the peat bog that they’d just given up at Kirkby Stephen and headed off somewhere else.

However such things are in the eyes – or should that be the feet? – of the beholder and having survived the quagmire that is the Pennine Way in March, it thankfully all seemed rather tame.

Whitsun Dale – place of big views

Even so it wasn’t an easy crossing and life seemed to enjoy making “fun” for me. One of my walking poles broke, the elasticated string on one of my gaiters snapped and I tripped up badly about six times – several of which saw me stuck like a tortoise on its back, unable to right myself without taking my heavy rucksack off.

That aside, the day was relatively straightforward and as we lost height, we lost the cloud too. By the time we passed the 400th Black Hill in the North of England (come on hill namers – show some imagination please!) we were positively on fire dealing with the handful of fords like they were nothing at all.

Emergency Bog Stone

Indeed we soon found ourselves not that far from Keld, as had many others who had clearly decided that they were too early so took the opportunity to take cream tea at a nearby farm. Catherine’s “emergency bog crossing stone” – dutifully carried from near Nine Standards – remained completely unused and eventually found a new home on the hillside.

Whitsundale Beck on the Coast to Coast

Oven Mouth was the next landmark; an amazing ravine looking down on Whitsundale Beck, with farm fields filled with old barns, the upper of which would have held the hay and the lower the animals.

Joining the road to Keld, we slowly came down to Swaledale, stopping only to admire the divine Wain Wath Force Falls. Although Wainwright listed this route as the main walk, he actually recommended a slightly higher route however this would mean missing the falls and frankly they were too good to miss.

The hypnotic treats of Wain Wrath Force

Situated just off the road, most walkers passed them by however it was a little ocean of calm as the water sprayed over and fell a distance that can have been no more than a metre in height. The greenery and the setting made up for it and it was a delight to sit there and soak it all in.

We were now barely half a mile from our destination of Keld Lodge.

Back in 2006 it hadn’t just been Kirkby Stephen hostel that the YHA tried to close. Indeed a huge number fell under their axe and although many have survived as YHA affiliated independents, Keld was not to be one of them.

Given Keld is on the crossing of the Coast to Coast and the Pennine Way, and given the tiny village has very limited accommodation, it’s frankly beyond belief that the YHA couldn’t have made Keld Hostel pay its way.

Instead the place was bought at auction and turned into a most pleasant hotel with restaurant and the first pub licence in the village for nearly 50 years after the original pub was bought by a Temperance campaigning Methodist preacher who turned it into a private house.

Whilst a private bunkhouse has opened since, it had been full when we tried to book and there are only about three B&B rooms in the whole village so it was at the former hostel we were booked into, and whilst the most expensive accommodation (marginally) of our trip, it was a lovely stay. The whole place had been superbly refurbished, and retained an excellent drying room.

Keld Lodge, in Keld (funnily enough.)

Its three handpulled ales and excellent food went down so well that we had three courses once more and several pints whilst watching some young 20 somethings from Surrey play a card game called San Juan and argue about Victory Points. You know it’s a good game when you have Victory Points.

Keld was also our half way point both in miles and days. We’d gone seven days and had seven more to go. I’d like to say we were getting leaner and meaner, but well that’s fried breakfasts and beers for you. Still, that San Juan game didn’t half look good.



15 February 2015 at 10:12 pm

Well I just came thru Kirkby Stephen this afternoon and yes 2 macaws above the chippy thought I was seeing things but my husband seen them too

jane scott

7 June 2018 at 9:17 am

Love your blog.Really helpful on routes and accomodation.Funny too!!

Brothers in Boots

17 July 2018 at 10:14 pm

Wether its on the PW or C2C Keld is a lovely place to set camp…great showers on the farm.

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