One epic Dales breakfast later and I was out in the sunshine, enjoying a quick turn of the village green before heading off into the heart of Swaledale. I had to take a quick shot of one particular bench on the edge of the green. It was here that Alfred Wainwright once sat with TV presenter and Chairman of the Wainwright Society, Eric Robson, during a programme they'd made together about the Coast to Coast Walk. I remember AW had commented how much he liked Reeth and I had to agree. It's a lovely little place. There was no time to hang around though as we had a long day's walking ahead of us, with over ten miles to cover and lots to see along the way.
From Reeth it was just a short drive of six miles to the village of Gunnerside which, like Arkengarthdale, is very obviously Viking in origin, its name quite simply translating to "the farm belonging to Gunnar". Our route out of Gunnerside took us immediately up a hill. As we climbed I looked back over the village and the valley beyond. Almost as soon as we'd got out of our car the clouds had gathered but the remaining hazy light still picked out the patterns of the distinctive Swaledale walls and barns. It's a sight that truly epitomises the Yorkshire Dales.
At the top of the hill we joined a track which ran alongside the top edge of Gunnerside Gill, a deep-sided valley to the north of the village. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries this area was the site of intensive lead mining and the hillside and valley below is scattered with evidence of its industrial past. As we walked along the road the sun came out for a while, but ominous clouds were gathering to the north of Gunnerside Gill. This just happened to be in the direction we were heading.
The opposite side of the valley was dotted with farms and the remains of old buildings and I was eager to get a good photograph of them in decent light, so I slowed my pace, waiting for the wind to move the clouds, even if only for a short while. I just needed that one perfect window of light to illuminate the hillside for me. Eventually the clouds parted a little and I realised that this was as good as it was going to get. Not exactly what I wanted, but at least it picked out some of the land's interesting contours.
I'd been so distracted waiting for the sun that I had almost missed the action going on in the ditch at the other side of the track. Closer inspection revealed the largest amount of frogspawn I have ever seen in my life. And not only that, but dozens of frogs all knotted and locked together in the act of...well... let's just say creating frogspawn. It was a froggy orgy. The ditch in question ran for almost the entire length of the track (at least a mile and a half I'd say) and it all seemed to contain frogspawn. If my calculations are correct, in the summer Swaledale may be hit by a plague of frogs of biblical proportions. I suppose I'll have to go back and check it out. I do rather like frogs.
The track continued to climb steadily uphill before we left it to turn eastwards in the direction of an area known as Swinner Gill. Before leaving the track though I looked across Gunnerside Gill for the last time and was struck by the beauty of the land's contours in what turned out to be the last of the sunlight we'd see for a while. There was so much to read from this one section of landscape, with signs of quarrying, mining, watercourses and moorland. It enthralled me for a while, before we had to turn eastwards and head into the cloud.
All the while since leaving Gunnerside we'd been climbing steadily but now the route seemed to have reached a plateau as we found ourselves on the course of the Coast to Coast Walk. And just to confirm this, looming out of the mist and surrounded by scorched and blackened earth, was a direction sign on what must surely be one of the bleakest parts of the Coast to Coast's 192 miles.
It was very blustery at the top and the low cloud swirled and thickened making visibility quite poor for a time, until we began to descend and could see another group of people ahead of us on the winding track.
We exchanged greetings as we passed them by after which they immediately turned off the path to walk down into a gully. This was fortunate as it made me stop to check the map and the GPS, quickly realising that we needed to be following the same route. One of them shouted across to us "Where you going?" to which I replied "Crackpot!". I wasn't insulting him and luckily he responded with "So are we. It's this way". Because our route was now heading for the quirkily named Crackpot Hall. First though we had to negotiate the rather precarious path down the side of a stream known as East Grain.
As the path levelled out and became less hazardous I paused for a while to watch the East Grain cascading into Swinner Gill. Ahead of me was the first sight of the ruins of the old lead smelt mill buildings.
Not much remains of this building which somehow blends itself aesthetically with the surrounding landscape. Dating from the late 18th century, it is believed to have been built by Thomas Hopper & Co. who leased adjoining mines in the area in 1804. It didn't have a very long period of use though, and had closed by 1819.
After crossing a bridge over the gill, the path skirted round the hillside giving us a wonderful view of the River Swale. Beneath the low cloud we could see a patch of watery sunlight shining on the village of Muker. Eventually we'd be following the river down to Muker but now it was time to visit Crackpot Hall.
The strangely named Crackpot Hall is a ruined farmhouse dating from the mid eighteenth century. Abandoned in the 1950s due to subsidence, it's situated in the most wild and beautiful of places and, if it wasn't for the fact that the ground beneath it is so unstable, it would be a wonderful location to live. The view is spectacular. Although there are tales of a wild and strange four year old child living here in the 1930s, the name "crackpot" has nothing to do with craziness or eccentricity. It's actually thought to be a Viking word meaning "a deep hole or chasm where there are many crows".
We had a short break at Crackpot Hall, savouring the view. Remarkably we had the place to ourselves although I can imagine that in the summer it can get quite busy up there. I was hoping that if we hung around a while the cloud may lift, providing me with better light for some photography. When I realised this wasn't going to happen any time soon though, we continued on to our next point of interest. A beautiful series of waterfalls called Kisdon Force.
Located a short distance from the village of Keld, this is one of several waterfalls along the this section of the River Swale. Kisdon Force drops a total of 10 metres over two cascades and although on our visit the light was subdued the lack of foliage on the surrounding trees and bushes certainly gave me a better view.
Another distinct advantage of this kind of soft and subtle light is that it enables a long exposure to be taken, which blurs the water's movement into a pleasing misty and milky effect. Normally I'd want to use a tripod for this kind of shot, but on this occasion a rock did a pretty reasonable job of keeping the camera steady.
There was a choice of routes from Kisdon Force down to the village of Muker. We decided to take the lower path which led us along the banks of the Swale. Looking back towards Swinner Gill I could see that the cloud cover was descending even further. It was rather dramatic and moody.
Our path back to Gunnerside was now almost entirely on lower ground, beside the River Swale. We decided to bypass the village of Muker, although it would only have necessitated a detour of half a mile or so should we have decided to call in there. Again, this is a place name of Viking origin, Muker being derived from the old Norse word "Mjor-aker", meaning "narrow acre". All the while we had been on the higher ground it had appeared as if Muker had been under a break in the clouds, lit by weak sunshine. Typically, that wasn't the case by the time we got there, although the light was a little better as we tramped along the side of the Swale.
The weather forecast for the day had predicted rain by 3 p.m. That time had now passed but , as we climbed the last small incline of the day, the sky was darkening and a full rainbow appeared ahead of us. It didn't last for long, so I managed a quick shot looking uphill towards a barn.
Before we descended to cross the last couple of fields to take us back to Gunnerside the sun broke through one last time, just before the rain came, and I captured my favourite image of the day. The beautiful River Swale, hills, fields barns, walls....Swaledale in all its glory.
As if I really need much of an excuse to return!
Directions for this walk:
Look for a public footpath sign on a bank behind buildings in the centre of Gunnerside. This leads straight uphill and joins a stony track which can be followed all the way along the upper edge of Gunnerside Gill until just after a bend by a waterfall. Here the path to the left joins the Coast to Coast Walk above the high ground until descending to the top end of a gully. At this point the path to Swinner Gill runs above the East Grain and (when we were there) care is needed in places where the path is steep and precarious where sections have fallen away due to erosion. This path soon levels off as it reaches the smelt house ruin at Swinner Gill. Follow the signposts for Keld which will pass by Crackpot Hall before leading downhill to Kisdon Force.
From Kisdon Force climb some stone steps to the right of the bridge and at the top turn left. A short distance from here there's a choice whether to take the uppermost path directly to Muker, or to follow the lower path by the banks of the Swale. Just before Muker there's a footbridge over the Swale. Cross the bridge turning immediately right and following the public footpaths by the banks of the Swale all the way to the hamlet of Ivelet where a public footpath sign clearly points the way back to Gunnerside. Total distance 10.5 miles.