Coast to Coast Day 8 – Keld to Reeth

Published 6 October 2010

“Let’s see what the old Wainster has to say about that one then…”

It might not look much but Keld is a crossing point for two great journeys. Travelling west to east is the Coast to Coast, and going south to north is the granddaddy of UK long distance paths: The Pennine Way. The two cross at the picturesque Kisdon Force – a series of gorgeous falls just outside the village which we’d last seen some years before whilst doing a long trek up to the Tan Hill Inn on the Pennine Way. It feels like there should be some monument to them both here, but the Coast to Coast isn’t even signposted. But then perhaps the waterfalls are enough to celebrate them both.

For both walks Keld is an obvious stopping over point, yet almost everyone staying in this tiny village that night seemed to be doing Wainwright’s walk. Where were the Pennine Way walkers I wondered? Perhaps most had pushed on the extra four miles to bunk down at the wonderful Tan Hill Inn where there’s always a fire lit, and where ducks and sheep have a habit of popping in for a pint. Or maybe some are down the road at the tiny village of Thwaite. Either way they weren’t here.

It wasn’t until a few months later whilst doing the last two days on that route that we found out that actually there just aren’t that many Pennine Way walkers out at any one time; even on an August bank holiday weekend we saw just four people walking it. Why, who knows? Maybe everyone was put off by constant talk of dismal weather, of difficulty and of bog. Maybe it was even Wainwright’s moaning and whinging about the thing. But at the time all we could do was dutifully wonder at the absence of any Pennine Way walkers, note it down and head off on a fine day towards the capital of upper Swaledale: Reeth.

Wainwright gives two routes from Keld. There’s a low level route which provides a lovely and gentle amble along the mighty River Swale, and there’s a high level version which takes in something quite different – the ruins of old lead mines; the legacy of an industrial past.

For whilst now the hills around Swaledale may look peaceful and tranquil, the area was once teeming with activity and Swaledale’s lead was used to roof a variety of important buildings including the Tower of London.

The lead industry reached its peak in the area in the mid 18th century as workers hacked out the ore and smelt mills choked the sky with black smoke. It only ended when the industrial revolution saw alternative and more efficient lead extraction techniques developed and eventually the mines closed, the miners left for other parts and the whole area fell quiet bar the grazing of the sheep and, now at least, a steady stream of walkers.

Although he offered and praised the river route, Wainwright recommended the industrial one and after pulling open the curtains that morning and finding the glorious sight of bright blue skies and a very healthy dosage of sunshine, it was this we decided to take and headed off up the hill.

Looking down the valley from Beldi Hill

Pausing near the falls to take in a fine view back to Keld and down Kisdon Gorge we stopped to chat to a man in his late 60s who was admiring the view. He’d finished the Coast to Coast a few weeks before, camping all the way, and was now back walking selected highlights with his wife.

The weight of my fully laden pack was bad enough sometimes, and the thought of adding in a tent, sleeping bag, food and cooking equipment filled me with dread! That said, when others who were having their bags transported said the same thing to me I’d always point out that by the third day of the walk you barely notice it. And hey if a man in his 60s could do it… Well there’s a lesson there.

The ruins of Crackpot Hall

Slightly further, Crackpot Hall gave the first opportunity to poke around ruins of an industrial past although it wasn’t initially built with mining in mind. Built in the 17th Century for the red deer keeper of Lord Wharton, it was later owned by farmers and gamekeepers before passing to officials of the burgeoning mining enterprises. It was mining that lead to its demise; subsidence lead to it finally being abandoned in the 1950s, although signs of its previous life (such as a rusting tin bath) remained on the hill side.

From there the path arched round to the Swinner Gill Lead Mines accessed via a tricky, rocky and narrow path with a sharp drop to the valley floor just near by. Passing by the ruins of the lead mine buildings the path got progressively narrower, muddier and rockier, throwing in some interesting clambering on the rocks, although nowhere near the evil treks the Lakes provided a few days before! And a bad ford before joining an extremely well made and wide path was celebrated by my boot going down nicely into a huge pile of mud.

Walking along the moor tops, we pulled off the nice road and headed down a rather hidden path to the ruins of the third mine: Blackethwaite Mine. Sat in a picturesque valley near Gunnerside Beck, the ruins of an old peat store had an almost cloister like look and feel, giving the impression that the walker had stumbled across the ruins of some long gone church, cathedral or monastery.

It was an idyllic and peaceful spot and the ideal one to heave the rucksacks to the floor and celebrate the passing of luncheon before appreciating that what goes down really must come up, with the very steep climb up to Melbecks Moor and yet another substantial track over the top on a rather bleak and lifeless top that showed the scars of centuries of exploitation. That said there’s still activity up there and we passed a JCB and two land rovers before moving to perhaps the mightiest ruins of the day at The Old Gang Smelting Mills

Remains of Old Gang Smelting Mill

A preserved historical monument with its chimney standing tall and proud, Old Gang offered rusting machinery and rubble strewn buildings. Old Gang managed to hold out until the 1880s and is surrounded by other remnants of its past in the form of numerous spoil heaps.

Further down at Surrender Bridge came our final remnant of the past; the former buildings of the Surrender Mining Company, after which the route reverted mostly to grazed heather moorland, via a ravine with a name that could make Noel Edmonds smirk – Cringley Bottom. Our guide book made it sound like it would subject us to a terror and torment unknown to man outside the Lake District, but in reality it was all rather easy to get down and back up again. We also found a lost walking pole – extracted from just by the beck at the bottom.

From there it was just us and the sheep as we strolled through farmland and farmyards to the outskirts of Reeth. A lovely village sat around a large green, it was filled with tourists visiting its craft shops and tea shops although by the early evening it quietened down and felt all the better for it. After depositing our extra pole in the tourist information centre we turned up at our lodgings at the Old Temperance which must be the world’s only combined B&B and Christian Bookshop.

The village green and buildings of central Reeth

We’d passed several old temperance hotels on our route, all dating back to a period of our history often forgotten now when social campaigners saw ridding the working classes of alcohol as a way of improving society. The movement grew so strong that it looked at one point that the country would follow the United States of America down the road of prohibition.

The actions of the government during World War I were a prime example – pub opening hours were forcibly slashed, beer severely weakened in strength and nearly rationed in order to stop the workers from not doing their best in the factories. In Cumbria such was the fear of alcohol-related disruption to the munitions factories that all the region’s pubs and breweries were nationalised; a grand experiment that wasn’t ended until 1973.

In contrast it was World War II that finally buried the temperance movement. Always a bit of a drinker himself, Churchill declared that beer wouldn’t be rationed and that pubs would remain open. Indeed pubs were compelled to open their normal hours, hence bombed pubs in London would open the next day with little more than a few barrels on their doorstep if needs be. Churchill recognised the motivational benefits of people being able to go to the pub and relax. In the cities after a night of heavy bombing, one of the first sights people would see as they picked through the rubble was the beer dray delivering to the pubs of the area – even if they didn’t need to. It was a sight that showed to the population that life was carrying on as normal.

Pubs became the great social leveller in a way not seen for years. Men and women, working and middle class all mixed in the pub and the temperance movement never recovered. Only one temperance bar remains, in Rawtenstall, Lancashire whilst in Cumbria the National Trust own a temperance hotel. Most had found new uses as homes, as farms or even as B&B-cum-Christian bookshops.

And after a lovely shower and a much deserved cup of tea, we took the temperance message to heart and popped to the pub for a pint. Or two. Well maybe three…


victor huth

3 June 2017 at 6:15 am

eeee I can remember doing this many years ago as part of the c t c,what a delightful part of our country this area is and certainly not over shadowed by whats gone before (the lakes).
will be doing a two day stint Keld to Richmond for a charity for a young lady who died on her wedding day of cancer.

Andy Dawson

9 February 2018 at 3:09 pm

I did the C2C two summers back, solo – I camped just below the Swinnergill ruins, on a small flat area surround on both sides by the beck.

At the time I couldn’t imagine a better wild camping site (the fun only mildly reduced by finding out I’d bought a gas cannister with the wrong fitting for by stove – at which point I proved that with only a little effort, it’s possible to turn a trangia into a wood burner…).

And then, the following morning I continued past the Blakethwaite ruins, and realised there was an even better spot. So, the following April I was back with my 13 year daughter for her first wild camp.

Bl**dy cold – but still the perfect spot, and with not too long a walk out the following day for a novice walker.

So, now I’ve told you – promise if any of you use either site, leave it pristine.

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