Coast to Coast Day 9 – Reeth to Brompton-on-Swale via Richmond

Published 8 October 2010

No Way!

“Aye, we get quite a few walkers in here in various states of distress.”

Unless you do them camping, one of the problems with doing long distance walks in Britain is food.

The cause is also one of the benefits of walking in Britain – the fact that you can pretty much guarantee you’ll be able to pop to the pub in the evening. However that leaves you with the vagaries of “pub grub” night after night after night.

Each region has its own quirks. In the South East of England you may get a pretty varied menu often with rather strange names and lots of “jus” whilst in Scotland everything seems to be heavily deep fried and come with chips. If the majority of the menu isn’t burgers and steaks then you’re not sure you’re in the right place. And then there’s the North of England where almost every pub seems to be given a standard menu template to work with, and follows it rigidly.

Without fail the starters will include soup (home-made if you’re lucky), that 70s staple prawn cocktail and, for some reason, garlic mushrooms. Meanwhile the main courses will always have an option of some sort of steak pie, fish and chips, steak (sirloin, never rump) and lasagne, preferably served completely swamped in bechamel sauce. They’ll probably all come with chips (new potatoes as an option if you’re lucky) even if the dish involves a heavy dose of pasta or rice.

And without fail there will be one rather curious omission. An item almost ubiquitous in general cuisine that its absence is almost shocking. For, some reason, the humble beef burger will almost without fail be completely absent without leave. A few weeks after our trip I read an article by beer writer Pete Brown who proclaimed that most pub menus had barely changed since he’d started visiting pubs in the 1980s. Looking at many of the menus on the Coast to Coast, it felt more like the 1970s…

Breakfasts in B&Bs weren’t much better. You start the trip going “Fantastic! A full English! Brilliant!” but give it eight of the confounded things in a row and you’re suddenly feel your arteries beginning to harden and you begin to wish the place you’re staying in would at least offer something different – kippers, a continental style breakfast, salmon and eggs… hey, frankly even just a poached egg instead of fried. Anything but another plate of deeply fried pork products where the only differences are whether you’ll get black pudding or beans.

Oh and then there’s packed lunches… When we’d walked in France a few years earlier packed lunches were a delight. Every morning we’d be given these wonderful bags containing all manner of stuff. Little tubs of salad, a big hunk of cheese, a little ham, a pile of fruit and a nice little yoghurty thing. And without fail there would be a great big whacking piece of delicious French baguette. It was a culinary triumph of walking food.

Pity the poor French walkers who arrive in Britain and get a round of sandwiches made on dodgy bread with a choice of cheese, ham or egg mayo, coupled with a packet of crisps (never a flavour you like) and a piece of fruit, usually a banana (which I hate). If you’re lucky – and I mean really lucky – you might get a cereal bar or some chocolate.

And so the long distance walker in the UK enjoys, nay revels, in variations when they come along. At Bampton we lapped up the delicious bistro style food of the Crown and Mitre. In Kirkby Stephen we happily scoffed down a great curry, and the morning after rushed out to the Co-op opposite the hostel for a breakfast of bread and cheese. And at Keld Lodge we had the option of adding in a portion of home made cake into our lunch.

The Buck Hotel, Reeth

Reeth too had offered a culinary change at the Buck Inn with the inclusion of braised rabbit on the menu which the landlord proudly proclaimed had been running round the hills just a few days before. Meanwhile at the Farmers Arms in Brompton-on-Swale – our destination for this days walking – the special was pan fried mackerel with horseradish crushed potatoes and a tomato salsa.

But that meal was a long way ahead of us – about sixteen miles, including a visit to the largest settlement on the whole route – the town of Richmond.


Reeth wasn’t just full of walkers as we left that Sunday morning, as bike after bike after bike passed us by on some sort of motorcross route, and our path took us right through their makeshift caravan park where grown men pootled around on very small bikes, revving their engines with glee.

Marrick Priory

We were beginning to leave the hills behind and our day’s route was mostly through farmland and grassy tracks. We passed by Marrick Priory, an old home of Benedictine nuns until Henry VIII got into his strop with the Pope and shut the place down. Some of the old priory buildings remained in place, more recently supplanted with more modern creations with somehow managed to blend in with the old stonework despite being pebble-dashed.

The building now houses an outdoor activity centre and we passed a few minutes idly watching a small child climb up a tall tree then go down a zip wire. A respectful hush kept the kids on the ground in awe as he weaved his way to the top before coming zooming down again. All of a sudden there was a mad clamber to be the next one up.

Our route was slightly easier even with a steep ascent up the “Nun’s Stairs”: stone slabs placed in a wood to allow the nuns to get up to the hamlet of Marrick above their priory. Wainwright totalled the steps as 375 and who were we to argue. Marrick itself was quiet and deserted. Passing by a converted chapel and then a converted church, it was hard not to ponder on the former religious zeal of the place.

Marrick

The only zeal we saw was a bird desperately trying to get out of a phone box that it was stuck in. Flapping its wings and banging on to the glass, I naturally attempted a rescue by opening the door only for the bird to suddenly discover the route it got in by dropping to the floor and strolling out under the gap, thus making me feel rather useless to the endeavour.

Leaving the hamlet a sign proclaimed we could get refreshments at a nearby farm. This happens quite a bit on the Coast to Coast where farmers have set up facilities to rake a little extra money in from the passing walkers, many of whom are more than happy to stop off for a refreshing cup of tea and a slab of home made cake. We met two walkers who spent their day planning where to eat cake next – be it at a pub, a cafe or a farm. It was their way of breaking up the walking.

Elaine's Farmhouse Kitchen

Normally we didn’t stop, usually making use of ample provisions carried on our backs, but we’d had heard good things about “Elaine’s Country Kitchen” and indeed the sign near the farm proclaimed it sold an award winning apple pie. It was also supplanted by a slightly smaller sign proclaiming the place was closed. A double whammy followed as we entered the village of Marske a few miles one where we found out that the local tea rooms were bizarrely closed for refurbishment at the height of the walking season.

I walked through Marske looking out for the “Temperance Farm”. It was significant due to formerly being yet another Temperance Hotel that was so popular that it was soon out of business.

The hotel itself was formerly the Dormouse, the village pub, until some point a few years before World War I when one rowdy night in early November a group of carters got drunk and made a huge bonfire of all the wood and wooden objects they could find in the village. The local landowners got the pub licence revoked and the village’s new alcohol free future was created. Like Keld, the village had been dry ever since.


After all these days of walking, going up hill seemed to have got no easier, even the relatively gentle climb up to Applegarth Scar which at least rewarded us for a fine view of the valley for our efforts.

Heading to Applegarth Scar

After a slightly dull looking morning the sun had come out and it was baking hot and, after walking along more fields, it was with delight that we popped into a nice and cool wood, and with sadness when we popped out again. Still, leaving the forest meant we got a fine view overlooking the town of Richmond, by far the largest settlement on the Coast to Coast, with its dramatically positioned castle sitting above the banks of the River Swale.

Wainwright kept the Coast to Coast away from big towns, but with Richmond he couldn’t resist the lure of its history. However on a busy Saturday afternoon with the town market in full swing, it all came as a bit of a shock to the system, with the place just being full of people. Most of them seemed to be shovelling their faces with chips as if they’d just come out of some sort of Northern England cliché.

The streets of Richmond

With our huge rucksacks on our backs we were like ducks out of water and when a man asked out of the blue if we were doing the Coast to Coast, my first presumption was that he thought we’d lost the path and couldn’t work out where to go. Instead it turned out he was a fellow walker having a rest day in the town and clearly the busyness was as much as a shock to his system as to ours, even if he had had 24 hours to acclimatise.

It’s so easy to get out of the real world whilst walking. Having spent the last week and a bit walking through quiet fields and small villages, we’d got used to mainly seeing fellow walkers and few other people. And here we were suddenly thrust back in to civilisation and finding ourselves wanting to get out of it very quickly even if it did mean skipping Richmond’s many fine tourist attractions.


Like our fellow walker, most people stop at Richmond to take in the history, see the sights and eat somewhere other than a pub. However that usually results in a 23 mile trek to Ingleby Cross the next day and even though it’s on flat land, it wasn’t something we were keen on doing. So when we found out we could stay at a pub five miles along at Brompton-on-Swale, we jumped at the chance and booked the room as fast as we could. (We later found out there’s a very good bus service between Brompton and Richmond meaning you could stay in a big town and reduce the 23 miles if you wanted to.)

Richmond Castle overlooking the River Swale

First we had to get there, but escaping Richmond seemed to take an age as the route took us on a winding tour of the river banks around the town. Eventually we left the bustling parks and paths which teemed with both people and rabbits. Oh the rabbits! The landlord at the Buck Inn at Reeth could have had a field day filling his larder for a year at least from the fields near Richmond. It was like some rabbit paradise and added to the diversity of the walk which also included going through fields of crops; the first fields sans sheep or cows that we’d seen on the walk.

However for our weary feet the sight of the A1 was more welcoming as it meant we’d nearly reached our accommodation for the evening, and had now traversed about two thirds of the Coast to Coast.

Sheep watch the busy A1

Being so close to the busy A1 made me worried that the Farmers Arms wouldn’t be a great stop – that it would be some bustling motel type place and that the food would be of the kind best described as “ping and dine” – microwaved plastic rubbish. I had worries that it would be the worst stop of the whole trip and it was with relief to find that the food was home made, absolutely excellent and very well done.

It was also a change to be away from other walkers for the night. On the Coast to Coast you end up in some sort of loose collective of people who happen to be doing the route in the same number of days as you. You can spend your day trying to work out which of the people you’d see in your B&B that night, and where there were multiple pubs, who would choose the same as you.

The Farmers Arms, Brompton-on-Swale

The Farmers Arms seemed completely devoid of walkers – most no doubt staying in Richmond instead – and we saw just two women who we’d passed a few times and seemed to be walking whilst their husbands (who met them in the evenings) did goodness knows what during the day.

The pub may have been heaving and in full swing on this Saturday night however, another early night was calling for us. Sunday would see us finish off the remaining 18 miles of the Vale of Mowbray; mostly a “link path” in Wainwright’s grand vision, taking us gently between the Dales and the North York Moors. But whilst it might be a long link, the walking would be flat and relatively easy. Hopefully…

One Coast To Another: Following Wainwright from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay

The whole Coast to Coast adventure is available to read now in paperback, and for Kindle, iOS, Kobo, and Google Play or other e-readers.

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Your Comments

Tasha

20 March 2017 at 10:12 am

Hi just discovered these blog. Great reading! Did you not have rest days anywhere?

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

20 March 2017 at 11:10 am

Hello Tasha – we didn’t have a rest day, although we had a shortish day near the end so we could go on the North York Moors Railway. I would say it’s good to schedule one in though.

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