Kirkby Stephen to Keld-Tuesday 25

Man, it is good to be back on the road again. Over the Pennines and into the Dales. I remember the Pennines.

On the way up, we hide in the gorse to let a flock of sheep pass. Wayne waits too long before diving into the gorse. They see him first, and veer off the road. Three following sheepdogs soon put them right again. The sheep thunder quietly past. They sound like they have rubber hooves. The shepherd is on a quad, a four-wheeled motorbike. Two more sheepdogs (old ones?) lie sleeping on the back.

And the Pennines prove to be much the same way as I remember them from my teenage hike: peat bog. This soggy sponge is slow walking--always looking for a way to avoid the worst of the mud, one is constantly veering from the path and back again. Half of us put a foot into holes that sink us up to our thighs. We spend ten minutes crossing a stream where the water course is narrow enough to step over, but the muddy banks are 30 feet wide on either side, so finding a reasonably dry passage is a serious challenge. Wayne's stick, which he's gradually turning from a cast-off bough into a beautifully hand-carved souvenir, is put to great service as we all use it to pole-vault over the widest of the problems.

Nine Standards Rigg is an important milestone: it marks the watershed. Until now, the water drained into the Irish Sea, from now on, it will drain into the North Sea. No one knows what the Standards are really for: one theory is that it was to fool the Scots into thinking there was an English encampment there. Need I add that the weather, as usual, is blustery, very cool, and spotting with rain. Only a Scotsman could imagine someone camping here.

Half an hour later we cross from Cumbria to North Yorkshire (the second of the two counties we're traveling through), and at days end in Keld, the biggest milestone of all: HALF WAY!! 95 miles down, 95 to go.

We pass a sheep in obvious trouble. It's kessing. (New word: it means a sheep lying on it's back. If they cannot right themselves they'll die in 12 hours. One is supposed to help them onto their feet.) One does, but it won't stand. At this bridge at the bottom of the valley there's a farm, and I stop to report the incident. It is one of theirs.

12 miles today, we didn't set off until 9:30, and we were done by 4:00. Furthermore, no one complained about the distance. Except Adam, who complains about everything: his feet; his back; his boots; his pack; his coat; the weather; the distance; the slope; the mud; the rocks; the streams. It is two days until we go to collect his exam results. He says he's not too worried, but I suspect that the weight is more of a strain than he realizes or at least admits.

Keld is the older folks' favorite hostel. The wardens are friendly, they open the door more than an hour earlier than the advertised time, there's a fire in the lounge, they bring the meals out, and take the dishes away. Yet it is a small hostel.

After dinner, Wayne and I set off to visit Tan Hill, the highest pub in England. It's dark, it's raining. The pub is in the middle of a moor, several miles from anywhere. True to tradition, its lights appear out of the gloom--as they have done on a continuous basis for 1000 years. A fire burns in the grate 365 days a year. And it is open all of them. The stone walls are two feet thick, the beams in the ceiling are little more than 6 feet above the flagstone floor. It's a small fortress, as it needs to be, and it's always warm, as it needs to be. It probably goes without saying that the pub is on the Pennine way and although I haven't returned in 25 years, I remember it distinctly. The landlady looks like another dragon, (which somehow fits) but is merely acerbic. The pint ought to be something very special, and it is. Far and away my favorite of the whole trip. We find the brewery represented again, but never this particular brew.