…in which I grumpily tramp over boggy ground, I’m unfunnily dampened by soggy hounds and my tummy cramps up a foggy mound.
Race Yate to Great Shunner Fell, 19 miles.
At Deep Dale (about 948 148, NTG p. 109, I.) there is a useful shelter at the southeast end of the shooters’ hut. One could even sleep in there although the door leaks a little.
The Tan Hill Inn, obviously, was the highlight of this day’s agenda. Upon squelching up to the doorway like a drowned rat I immediately had a mug of complimentary coffee pressed into my hand and was encouraged to dry my sleeping bag before the legendary fire that never goes out (except when it explodes the chimney as it did in June). I’d hoped to be here by eleven for just coffee and buns but Sleightholme Moor had turned out to be such a sopping, filthy drag I was behind plan and succumbed to the lure of a hot lunch at twelve. The sausage and mash in a Yorkshire pudding was fabulous, the beer delicious and the staff as endearingly forthright and quirky as ever; what a great place.
The equally friendly (in a quieter way) Kearton tearoom at Thwaite would have been an alternative for a late lunch as they do a full range of hot meals until 4 o’clock (check online out of season). Even when I squeaked in at 4.20 there were still hot drinks and hot crumpets on offer; much appreciated on what had by then set into a dour day of relentless drizzle. They had a BnB vacancy too, at a very reasonable price. Believe me, I was torn.
Great Shunner Fell is an awful campsite and not recommended other than in mid summer. It’s high, bleak, absurdly windy and only suitable for experienced summit campers with bombproof gear and a Plan B. The shelter is small and ineffective and the ground uniformly sodden. Unless the forecast unambiguously promises dusk and dawn views, I’d camp lower down if I were you.
The route down from Ravock to the A66 is vague and not helped by other trails confusingly signed. You need to find a gap in the wall at the top of the slope then head downhill to meet the road at the right hand end of the cottages at Pasture End. In fact you meet a roadside fence, with a stile that you’re advised by all (including me) against using; walk instead to the right and pass under the underpass.
From the north Intake Bridge is invisible until you’re almost on top of it. Don’t head down to Sleightholme Beck too early, the path is fairly obvious, just a bit further along than you might think. After Sleightholme Farm at about 941 093 the track forks and you need to make a decision. The Way goes straight on, past the line of unusually angular grouse butts, then down to the green bridge and onto the moor. The left fork (signed Tan Hill Vehicles) is a longer but much drier alternative route. The track across Sleightholme Moor starts out reasonably enough but becomes exhaustingly boggy about halfway to Tan Hill. If conditions are poor or it’s late in the day I’d give the dry alternative serious thought.
Keld can be confusing. Approaching the river, The Way turns sharply down to the right then left over a bridge. At the T-junction at the top of the opposite bank the right turn takes you into Keld village, whereas the Pennine Way turns left onwards to Thwaite. This next section is very rocky and can’t be rushed. Southbound I found getting through Thwaite straightforward even though I’d previously got bafflingly lost there northbound (see Pennine Way 1 Day 8). In both directions I found I could more or less follow my nose up Great Shunner Fell.
Despite the cattle lowing I’d slept like a baby in a mangey manger until some time after dawn and was already behind plan when I shambled off into the drizzle. There wasn’t a soul about and the cloud was down, so the sudden roar and the terrifying momentum of the trucks on the A66 were a shock to the system. I’d really struggled with my bearings over these featureless moors so with the A66 as a known known directionwise, and nervously eyeing the thick fog on Wytham Moor ahead, I forced myself to sit down and do some compass practice.
After a while I finally twigged my problem. In June it had been too warm to walk in all but a skinny base layer and so I’d carried my phone in a compartment on top of my rucksack (resulting in the screen cracking when said compartment had been over-enthusiastically strapped). My new lightweight pack had no such compartment and, it being October and cooler, I was wearing a mid-layer with a breast pocket. Ha ha – the phone in my breast pocket had been confusing my compass, by up to thirty degrees – what a schoolboy error!
With newfound navigational confidence I splodged, squelched and ultimately just paddled across Sleightholme Moor. The drizzle turned to rain and said rain had turned somewhat horizontal by the time I arrived accurately but aquatically at Tan Hill, an hour after plan but handily just in time for lunch.
Here I drip-dried, drank free coffee and excellent Theakstons, ate succulent, perfectly-grilled sausages and healthy pea shoots, had my slightly dehumidified gear re-dampened by two massive, boisterous and soaking dogs, became embroiled in animated discussion with a hostel warden about YHA policy and was treated to an amusing discourse on the perils of eating salad by a young lady who considered a Mars Bar one of her five a day. A lot can happen in a short time at Tan Hill.
Dropping down from Shot Lathe I could tell I’d arrived at Keld by the strong whiff of patchouli on the breeze. No, seriously. The charms of the falls, of the autumn colours and of the loaded Rowans were somewhat attenuated by the continuing heavy rain. The only flowers remaining along the rocky path towards Thwaite, so richly floriferous in June, were some stunted Herbs Robert.
I was down in the dumps by the time I got to the Kearton and sorely tempted by their Bnb vacancy. To get me out of there took a pot of tea, a double helping of hot crumpets and a double espresso; that and the fact that, against the run of the weather, the sun came out.
The initial hike up Great Shunner Fell was deceptively pleasant and in unexpectedly interesting light. My head told me to stop and get the tent up, before the clouds once again closed overhead like the devil’s dirty duvet. My heart whispered that I might just make it to the top in time for a view. Never listen to your heart in the hills.
I’d picked up a spot of tummy trouble somewhere and halfway up I came over a bit feak and weeble. By the time I reached the summit it was virtually dark and the King Of The Hoolies had already sent ambassadors. I quickly concluded that camping on the completely exposed top would be borderline insane and dropped somewhat into its lee. The ground everywhere was unfeasibly boggy but by a fence to the southwest it was at least a little grassier. I slung the Stealth up, blessing its impermeable bathtub groundsheet, stuck my headphones in and chatted on Facebook to sensible people in warm, dry houses. My guts rumbled uncomfortably but unproductively, thank goodness. Every so often the Hoolieking ambled back over his summit to give me another playful kicking.