The day started in Reeth where we got in a taxi which took us to Keld. So we could walk back to Reeth. While the arrangement may have slightly deflated the concept of walking from one coast to the other, it did ensure that we had beds for the night which Keld, sadly, had been unable to.
We left the taxi at Keld Lodge where the sign informed us that we’d reached the halfway point. As halfway marker-points go, Keld is rather good. A snug stone village in the wild heart of the Dales, hidden from the main road, with an excellent two-room museum and a farm offering snacks from a side door. We liked Keld, but now we were leaving it behind for a section of the walk described in the Cicerone guide as “Fascinating but grim”. Hmmm.
“Grim” may be a bit unfair to be honest, I mean look at that photo. It’s not exactly an industrial wasteland is it. Well not any more anyway. It used to be exactly that and for quite a long time too. Lead mining began here before the Romans arrived, but they embraced it with typical Roman gusto and left “pigs” of lead stamped with the heads of Roman emperors for later archeologists to find. Which was good of them. The mining reached its peak in the 18th and 19th centuries leaving the landscape scarred, poisoned, cratered, built-over and generally exhausted; as were most of the miners who lived there. The mining was pretty much finished by 1880 and a newspaper report at the time said “miners are starving on half wages; lost-looking men, in ragged clothes…roaming about for employment”. Today some of the wreckage of that era is still there – old chimney flues and stone ruins – but for whatever reason none of us took any photos of it. So you will just have to believe me.
We followed miner’s tracks for much of the day, but agriculture has now taken over from industry and the stone barns and walls have softened the landscape again.
Occasionally we’d startle red grouse which would wait, completely invisible on the ground until we were almost on them, when they would bolt in alarm, making all of us jump.
As walks go, it was a fairly unmemorable one and I wish we’d spent a bit longer digging into the industrial history before we’d left. But we didn’t, so lesson learned.
18K and a few hours later, we were back in Keld. Described as a “city of the dead” in the wake of the mining collapse, it is now doing OK thanks. Handsome stone buildings surround a generous village green and there are pubs, tea-shops and a fair bit of tourist knick-knackery. Ruddy-faced visitors sat in the last of the sunshine with pints and there was a general buzz of contentment as we manoeuvred ourselves and our packs back into the Kings Arms.