We took it up a level today and whilst still not climbing any hills we increased the distance of the walk quite substantially from 4 miles to 10. I had found this loop from Kirkby Stephen on OS Maps online and thought lets try this one.
Rich had the pleasure of driving there when Google Maps sent us onto country lanes the whole way including a road closure literally in spitting distance from the car park in Kirkby Stephen. The diversion route had us driving on a “not for wide vehicles” road. This meant anything wider than a Ford Fiesta was basically clipping the hedge left and right. This does include my Merc estate. Great….
Arrived in Kirkby Stephen half 10 a bit grumpy. Coffee sorted us out quickly before we started our big loop. Merlin still seemed a bit tired from yesterday’s running around, but soon sparked up as we headed along a path under trees with the river on our right.
We soon found ourselves on a narrow track between fields with trees and shrub and neither rain nor wind (Is this still England?!) so we zipped off our trouser legs for some relief from the thick heat. Great to see some lush green all around on rolling hills and fields after all that burnt yellow and brown lately.
Crossed a road in a little hamlet and found ourselves on a very overgrown path on the other side. Trouser legs back on thanks to abundant nettles and thistle. Great…
Luckily this didn’t last long, but instead of zipping off again we rolled them up this time, just in case. Fields with sheep or their poo followed with great views ahead all the way to Wild Boar Fell. What a varied walk so far.
The next gate opened to a jungle. But not after letting a group of people out first who had just visually fought their way through the thick seemingly impenetrable seven feet high bracken thicket using their walking poles to help them make any progress. Wow, I’d never seen anything like it.
Of course I had to ask how long this section was only to hear something along the lines of “takes forever”. Great…
In we went, me at the front, Merlin in the middle, then Rich. I tried my best to move stems out of my way and step onto others to find a way through. A machete would’ve been massively handy here, without it the going was incredibly slow treading carefully not to trip or lose the path as faint as it was.
After… well, forever we finally made it out. More fields and sheep poo followed before we crossed another minor road and then another couple of fields finally reaching our halfway and turn-around point in Pendragon Castle nicely situated in a bend of the river Eden with Wild Boar Fell in the back.
Legend has it that it was built by Uther Pendragon, King Arthurs father who may actually have been a 5th century chieftain fighting against the invading Anglo-Saxons… if ever was a real person. The castle is rather the ruin of a Norman keep from the 12th century which has changed owners quite a few times. You can visit it today and within the surroundings it really is quite impressive.
We had a short break nearby before heading back to Kirkby Stephen. The forecast rain hadn’t come yet. In fact, we had had dark cloud behind us and a smidge of blue sky ahead of us, now turning back this also changed so we still had the darker clouds behind us. Huh. Timed it right it seemed.
A bridleway led around 352m high Birkett Common with more nice views all around, green fields, trees, brown hills as we now walked back on the other side of Mallerstang Dale. The next ruin was that of Lammerside Castle also from the 12th century and just like Pendragon Castle raided by Scots invaders at some point.
A few fields later we passed Wharton Hall, the last of the impressive fortified buildings in Mallerstand Dale. This one – now a working farm – was built between the 14th and 17th century with an impressive gatehouse tower and a wall fully enclosing the internal courtyard. Shame it’s privately owned, would’ve loved to have a peek around.
The next fields challenged Merlin with the presence of lots of sheep and a handful of proper stiles. We do want to teach him to just climb over on his own and in theory he should be able to easily do it, he just needs to find the confidence to. With all the gates today we’d only had one stile and had to lift him over eventually, but at least he had made it to the second wooden step. The next two stiles he got better at getting up and not panicking on the top step, the last one he made it over with the least help and jumped down from the the top step. He’s slowly getting the hand of it.
On the outskirts of Kirkby Stephen we took one last detour through Stenkrith park where the Eden river rushes through a gorges and over some boulders and rocks before calming down again. It was rather lovely and although we were quite knackered now a well worth detour, much better than walking along the road. Much. Better!
Back in town we changed into trainers at the car, gave Merlin some proper munch and then settled in to The Taggy Man pub with a couple of cold drinks and pie and chips. Well earned after a 5.5 hour loop. Very nice local pub with friendly staff, good selection of beers and both our pies where excellent. What a finish to the day!
We really had everything today. A nice little town, riverside walks, a gorge, green fields, rolling hills, sheep, beautiful views, sunshine and two castle ruins. I’d say the only thing missing was rain, but we didn’t really miss it, haha. Great day and nice warm up for some hill action tomorrow.