Over a very civilised breakfast next morning, the landlord, not David, waxes lyrical about Pennine rain, something he seems to relish. Then just as we are finishing breakfast he tells us about some local art installation thing. It’s a pinfold by Andy Goldsbury, and its “just down the road” beyond where we turn off to rejoin the track. Many people might have found this a bit vague. Certainly John and Trish were not sucked in to the idea of seeing it, but of course it was just the sort of thing we would find irresistibly attractive. Even before we had repassed the crazed dog, still hurling itself against the glass, we both knew we were going to look for it. Not that we knew what we were looking for exactly. Or indeed where we should look exactly. But you sort of feel that you will know art when you see it. Unfortunately we never did see it. Even though we now know that we came quite close, it was not “just down the road”. Whether we would have recognised it had we got there is a question which will remain unanswered, as we turned round and retraced our steps to Knott Lane in order to rejoin the track. In compensation we did locate a stone circle by the side of the lane, and failed to herd up two straying sheep escaped from their field. (Very stubborn creatures, sheep.)
Back on the track, then. In retrospect, the walk from Orton to Kirkby Stephen was a most pleasant one. It begins over soft sheep-cropped grass fields enclosed by stone walls beneath Orton Scar. There are views to Howgill Fells. After a short moorland detour you come to Sunbiggin Tarn “an important bird sanctuary” rather lacking in birds today.
After the Tarn there is a short section of road where Ray spots a rare flower.
Then this very varied day continues over more moorland, then farmland, via a cow blocked gate to “One of the most important prehistoric sites in Britain”, apparently, being the Severals Village Settlement (Unexcavated!!) Whilst it looks no more than a field, you must not walk on it. It is all very pretty hereabouts, however, and we stop for lunch just by it, sitting by flower encrusted limestone pavement with a view down into Smardale Bridge. Across the valley are the ‘Giants Graves’ (Rabbit enclosures? Pillow mounds? No one seems sure.)
Down in the valley there is a bridge across the Scandal Beck, a few ‘hairy cooos’, a disused railway line (Tebay to Kikby Stephen), sunshine, and lots of little fish in the stream. Then its up and up again, alongside that very long wall, to see a view of the distant Smardale Viaduct.
The track continues up over Smardale Fell. Once over the crest we should see views of Kirkby Stephen, but we don’t. We can certainly see the Pennines, however, and they are close now. We descend, join a road, then turn back through fields and cross underneath the Settle to Carlisle Line.
After a diversion around the very muddy yard of Greenriggs Farm we enter the back lanes of Kirkby Stephen. Shortly these same lanes spit us out into the throbbing centre of the town. It is only the B6270, but it feels as though the town straddles the A1. There are lorries aplenty, cars, buses and motorbikes. Women with buggies and schoolkids on bikes throng the pavements. Noise. Confusion. We’ve been countrified for too long evidently. The up side of town life is, of course, the Tea Shop. Words cannot fully express the pleasure which can be enjoyed at this stage of the day from a cup of tea and a piece of lemon drizzle cake!
Ah, Kirkby Stephen, the northern equivalent of Totnes, capital of weird. Opposite the tea shop is Old Croft House, our B&B for the night. It is indeed an old house. A slightly rusty iron gate prefaces the solid front door. Inside, dark wooden panelling and red painted walls; a quirky suit of armour holding white gloves in the hallway.
The landlady hopes we weren’t hoping for an evening meal. Officially we were, but after yesterday our expectations have relaxed somewhat. She’s too busy to cook as she is moving out on Friday. Not going far though. Only to the other end of the village to enjoy a sort of retirement. “Couldn’t leave Kirkby!”
She ushers us upstairs, past an enormous book clad wall. “Weathers not good tomorrow.”
Our room is not so much a bedroom, more a fairy glade. Clashing green and pink walls are surmounted by a fabric covered ceiling gathered together in the centre. It gives the impression of a large tent. The walls are hung with numerous fairy pictures. The small colourful bathroom is crammed with bathing products and includes a foot spa. The bed is old fashioned and high, and it is rather dark in the room. Too dark to read anyway. I suppose that, given the unusual surroundings, it is not surprising that we have our first and only falling out of the walk here. THE BOOK has to take some of the responsibility for this, as it turns out that I am not the only one to be spooked by the description of the way over Nine Standards Rigg… the poor paths, the deep bogs.. especially the deep bogs. I am worried. Instead of keeping this to myself I have to tell Ray, and I have to go on about alternative paths, and what happens if the mist is down, and so on and so forth. I feel better after our discussion, but he does not.
Following a rest we hit the high spots of KS. Namely the Church (Cathedral of the Dales with Viking Loki Stone), the furlong signpost, and the Temperance Hall and Hotel. We even hear and then see one of the flock of large blue Macaws that roam the town by day and home at night. (Quirky? KS?? Nooo)
With the matter of tomorrow not settled between us, and the weather deteriorating, it was a bit of an unquiet night.
(Although not as much as it was for John and Trish sleeping next door who claimed that their room was haunted!)