Coast to Coast – Kirkby Stephen

We were the only ones at the B & B when we arrived yesterday, although over tea and home-made cake the proprietor told us that another couple of people were en route, and she seemed a bit concerned that she hadn’t heard from them. “People don’t always give themselves enough time” she said. We wondered if it could be the young women who’d been shadowing us, and sure enough at around 10.30 last night they arrived. We met them briefly this morning at breakfast and felt simultaneously smug and ashamed that they had done the whole walk in the heat, while we had cabbed the long flat bit. They’d slowly run out of water, sun cream and enthusiasm over the course of a very hard day. Both were striped scarlet from the sun. One of them cheerfully admitted was a fairly boring walk. “I’m glad we did it though” she said, as they laced their boots and headed back out for the next stage of the route. There was a small voice whispering “cop-out” in my ear. I told it to shut up and had some more toast.

Having achieved the staggering feat of walking for three whole days in a row, Kirkby Stephen offered a welcome rest day and we didn’t do a whole lot. The three of us sat in the back yard of the B&B for a bit; reading, writing and blogging as clouds moved across the sun. We were watched all the while by a nosy horse.

Kirkby Stephen is a comfortable sort of place, neither showy nor dull and it has accepted small changes to its general demeanor over the years – fresh paint on old plaster, tarmac, street lights – but it’s still the old market town with its roots in the fourteenth century and a substantial parish church known as the “Cathedral of the Dales” (used by both Protestants and Roman Catholics). I discovered later that it also contains a large and elaborate “Loki” stone carved by a Viking. No, we didn’t see that. Always read the guide book at the time is the lesson there.

The Loki stone. Which we didn’t see.

As the market became less important, Kirkby Stephen used its location close to the main north-south and east-west roads to reach out to travellers heading to Carlisle, or to the beach at Blackpool. Tourists still stop for the pretty Market Square overlooked by stone buildings which have seen it all before. In one of them is the pinkly-decorated Mango Tree, an Indian restaurant whose reputation is such that it was hard to get a table even a month before. On a warm evening, it was as packed to the gills as these Covid times allow. Sweating waiters brought endless bhajis, biryanis, beers and many things beginning with other letters too. It was a welcome change from the usual pub-grub menu which can get repetitive in these here parts. Being surrounded by such spicy, colourful platefuls felt positively exotic and only our feet told us that we were still less than half the way from one coast to the next.

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