The Coast to Coast trail provides two alternate routes between Keld and Reeth. One takes the hiker through an area of old lead mines, the other is a walk through a more quaint area, including miners’ cottages and barn ruins, the River Swale, a village side trip and the Yorkshire Dales. We selected the second, the River Swale route, generally considered an easier walk through a beautiful section of the dales.
As we left Keld, the farmers’ field enclosures left a patchwork on the hillsides around the valley.
We entered a lovely wood, complete with waterfalls. At about this point the Coast to Coast Path crossed the often difficult, occasionally bleak, but frequently spectacular Pennine Way, which runs 268 km/166 mi. up the “backbone” of England from the Peak District in central England then north to the Scottish border. Created in 1965, it was the first hiking trail in England’s National Trail system.
Soon the Swaledale Valley opened up before us. Along the trail were ruins of the miners’ cottages which were most likely abandoned in the late 19th-century when the mines closed. The miners and their families lived in the valley, but the mines were up on the moors, high above the valley floor. In order to make the most of their time while walking the miles of the daily commute, miners would knit to produce needed clothing or items for sale.
We did a little exploring around the stone
The peaceful scene below would have been an active view of the mining industry with hundreds of men working, pony carts carrying ingots of lead to Richmond and toxic smoke from the smelting process in the air. These lead mines were most productive during the 18th to 19th-centuries.
We took a short side trip to the village of Muker which was a charming place with tea rooms, craft shops, B&Bs and lots of flowers.
St. Mary’s Church in Muker was built in 1580 and is one of only a few built during the reign of Elizabeth I. As we were touring the church, a couple who detected our American accent said they had a huge favor to ask of us. They wished to contribute $50 to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington as he had been an Army Ranger during that war. They gave us £38, then the equivalent of $50, and asked if we would mail it when we got home. We agreed and did just that. They were helpful in showing us around town, which including a tea shop where we had lunch.
Once again on the C2C, our path took us along the River Swale.
Reaching the hamlet of Ivelet, we passed a high arching bridge over the river. Known as the Ivelet Bridge it was constructed in 1687 and had a coffin stone placed at the north end of the bridge so that pallbearers could rest by placing their burden, often a wicker basket containing the corpse, on the stone slab. The bridge is located on the 16 mile Coffin Way between Muker and Grinton where bodies were taken for burial in the consecrated churchyard.
Upon arriving in Reeth, we were very excited to meet up with friends from Vermont whom I had met on this walk the year before, Deb, Hannah and Kait Miller.
Reeth was mentioned in the Domesday Book. The administration of the local lead industry and substantial local farming were centered here. Interestingly, hand knitting was also an important commodity (probably why the miners were knitting during their commutes). The BBC James Herriot series, All Creatures Great and Small, was filmed here several times as well.
We had a pleasant stay at Hackney House B&B at the foot of town.