Foreword: This walk could be all things to all walkers. The ability to park a vehicle at any one of the stations, walk to the next station and then take the train back to collect said vehicle, or belongings, means that there is no requirement for a bag-carrying service or support. It is even possible to base yourself in one location, catch the train, walk, then catch the train back to the originating station. There are eight trains each way Monday to Saturday with a reduced service on Sundays.
I took with me the guidebook by Vivienne Crow and the Harvey map of the route. Even with these, a compass and many years of experience things still were not plain-sailing, as you will see.
DAY 1. Settle to Ribblehead. (15 miles).
Leaving from Settle station at 7.55 am, in light rain, I followed the guide book passed the chemists until I came to Mill Lane (shown as Kings Mill Lane). Lost in the first 5 minutes!! Picked the route up again by the river. Here I made one big mistake. I trusted to the guide book and left the Harvey map in my rucksack. Everything went well proceeding by Stainforth Falls, Helwith Bridge and on to Horton-in-Ribblesdale. The rain had turned lighter and the sky was clearing. Problems arose at Sell Gill Holes. Firstly this doesn't appear on the Harvey map. Having done as instructed, and ignored the obvious path, I made my way up a pathless hill before having to climb out of a drystone-walled field and access a track. I ended up on the Pennine Way. I could see Ribblehead Viaduct, my first nights' destination, from here, so just kept walking towards it. Eventually checking the Harvey map indicated that I had to carry on to join the Dales Way before I could descend in to Ribblehead and join up with my son-in-law at the Station Inn. I had intended to catch the 1445 train back to Settle to pick up my car but, as it was now 4 o'clock, this was long gone. I had walked an extra 5 or 6 miles on top of the planned 15 miles for the day
. Fortunately my son-in-law had come this far by car and gave me a lift to collect mine before returning to Ribblehead. I had originally hoped to use the bunkbarn here but was told that, owing to a large folk festival, all accommodation was booked. I had packed a tent for just such an opportunity and there is a wild camp site behind the pub. A cold and uncomfortable night followed.
DAY 2. Ribblehead to Kirkby Stephen. (24 miles).
In the guide book this is shown as a two-day journey, and probably rightly so! 11 miles before lunch and 13 miles after is a tall order, made even harder by the 3 ascents to over 500 metres, 2 in the morning and 1 in the afternoon. Added together this is the equivalent of climbing Ben Nevis, and some!!!
Awake and up at 0530. Preparing properly in a tent, in the dark and from the boot of a car is not recommended. Then having to dismantle said tent and pack it away prior to setting off is not ideal. Started walking at first light, 0715. The day was bright and dry, surprise, surprise, and it remained so. The walk alongside Ribblehead Viaduct is awe-inspiring. The climb over Blea Moor less so. The guide says this is slow-going. An understatement. A short downhill stretch later and we are climbing again, this time alongside Arten Gill Viaduct. Equally arduous! There followed a quiet and reasonably level stretch till we met a road and descended to Garsdale Station where sustenance was taken on board. One o'clock.
Fifteen minutes later and we were walking again. 1 mile in and we pass the Moorcock pub, the halfway point of the day. Very tempting but declined. Shortly afterwards and we are again climbing steeply over rough ground, all the way to Lady Anne's Way. A long, level and grassy stroll follows, beset by millions of sheep and their droppings
. Arriving at the Water Cut sculpture we take a short break for liquid intake prior to descending gently to the road. Shortly after this all footpath signage disappears. No amount of compass work can put us back on the route. We can see Pendragon Castle but all is just fields and stiles underfoot. Eventually locating a track that appeared to be more used than others, we came to the road that leads to Kirkby Stephen. 2 miles too soon
. This leaves us with a four-mile road walk into the town (village), which we enter at 6.45pm, as dusk is just gathering. Our accommodation, the bunkhouse, in an old church in the centre of town, is deserted, when we arrive at 7 o'clock, but we have been left the access code and everything is on tap for us. Warm and very inviting. An early and cosy night.
DAY 3. Kirkby Stephen to Appleby-in-Westmoreland. (13 miles.)
What a start to the new day!! Blowing a gale and raining heavens hard. Prior to leaving we meet the female warden who was unaware of the Settle to Carlisle Way. Departed at 9am from the Market Square in appalling weather. Waterproof covers on rucksacks keep being blown off. The route today is easy to follow and reasonably level. The rain continues as the morning progresses but the wind is abating. We take a break at Great Ormside. Even more stiles to cross today than there had been in the first 2 days. Really taking it out of us. One of the stiles has been fenced over, forcing us to climb a gate to access a road
. Fortunately Appleby comes up in pretty quick time. Why is there always a steep climb up to railway stations? Arrive at 3.45pm. Decide to catch the 5pm train from Appleby to Ribblehead to collect cars. As the pub next to the station is closed on Mondays we satisfy ourselves by getting out of our wet togs and enjoying a hot cup of coffee facilitated by the station booking clerk. The train ride is undertaken in bright sunshine. This is the end for my son-in-law, as work dictates. He drives off from Ribblehead to go home, whilst I return to Appleby to join a former work colleague and friend at the Bongate House B&B in the town. He has driven up from North Wales to keep me company for the last three days. Excellent accommodation.
DAY 4. Appleby to Temple Sowerby. (10 miles.)
A leisurely start today, not walking till 10am. Dropped my car off at the station to make return easier tomorrow. The walk began dry and easily enough until we were confronted by a miniature lake in front of a gate through which our path was to go. Lost half-an-hour here navigating a way around. Plain sailing then until Kirkby Thore where we stopped at a bench for food and drink, which we were carrying. Had a chat to one of the locals who was very interesting. Continuing on we are still beset by a myriad of stiles of all kinds of construction. The route is still quite easy to follow until we seek a half-hidden gate in a field, which was actually completely hidden
. Whilst walking along the riverbank approaching Skygarth Farm we notice that the clouds are gathering and rain is imminent. A quick chat with the water bailiff and we continue on, spotting what we believe to be the farm. Wrong. We have been guided to the wrong gate and are now looking around an old station building apparently being used as a fishing lodge. Lose another half-hour here locating the correct gate and the farm entrance. Arrive at 3.30pm. By 3.35 the heavens had opened again but we were inside, safe and dry. The farmer's wife kindly offered to take us by car to the village pub later that evening and pick us up afterwards. This offer we did not decline
. A great nights' sleep.
DAY 5. Temple Sowerby to Kirkoswald. (15 miles.)
Up at 6am, well breakfasted, and walking at 8. Fine and dry. Made our way to the big house where all signs for the 'Wild Garden' has disappeared. Lost half-an-hour here trying to get back on track. Lots of trackless fields and thick, clumpy, sodden grass and, of course, stiles
. No real issues after this as we passed Culgaith and Little Salkeld. We opted for the route past Lacy's Caves, as this follows the railway line and the river. Perhaps not the best decision! The route through the woods is beset with tree roots, mud, steps, stiles and, worst of all, a length of 'boardwalk' approximately a quarter of a mile of slippery wooden slats over soggy ground. Absolutely lethal, especially in muddy boots. After the final stretch to cross the river we made our way to Lazonby Station, where we caught the 5 o'clock train back to Appleby to be reunited with our cars. Then drove up to Mains Farm at Kirkoswald to stay at the bunkhouse there. Raining cats and dogs now but we had cheated the weather. A comfortable night inside my sleeping bag once more.
DAY 6. Kirkoswald to Carlisle. (20 miles.)
Up at 6am and breakfasted and away by 8.15. Long final day today. Took the cars back to Lazonby Station before walking back through Kirkoswald. Rain and showers predominantly today but at least it was not windy. Stopped at Armathwaite for a bite to eat and a cup of tea at the village shop, as the rain set in again. Another climb up to the station. The footpath approaching the mast alongside the railway has been planted with sweetcorn, which was growing over our heads. The tall stems and leaves made sure that if we weren't wet before we were now
. Route presented few problems today, just loads more riverside paths, stiles, mud and grass. Once we had crossed the M6, on the outskirts of Carlisle, the rain set in again, heavier now. This led to a miserable final stretch in to the Citadel Station, where we arrived at 1705 hours, soaked. This gave us just over an hour to sort ourselves out before catching the 6.14 train back to Lazonby. A 20 minute train ride later and we were in our cars and on our way home
I WALKED THE LINE!!!
There is not much publicity for this walk. This could and should be rectified by way-marking the entire route. Most of the posts are already in situ but the number of footpaths available becomes confusing. There are a frightening number of stiles throughout the entire length of the walk. To pass through 20 to 30 stiles a day was the norm. If stiles are not for you avoid this walk. These include step-stiles, gated stiles, timber stiles, stone stiles and kissing gates. During day 1 there are some stiles which are impossible to pass whilst wearing a rucksack of any size. This is also true of some kissing gates later on the route. The levels of accommodation en route are excellent. 6 days is probably a challenge and 8 would be preferable. The scenery is magnificent throughout but I would certainly not undertake this walk if I were anything less than reasonably fit.