03 Jun On flows the Swale….
Here we are on Day 11 and for four of those days we’ve had the burbling company of the River Swale. As we came down off the bleak Pennine ridge, we picked up this sublime river at Keld and we have meandered on or near its banks ever since. Overnighting at Muker, Grinton, Richmond and now near Bolton-on-Swale, the river has been doing that thing rivers do. Maybe walking day after day addles the brain, but you do find yourself thinking about these kinds of things. You know, the incredible fact that the rivers do keep flowing, replenished, drained and replenished in a cycle of nature that I mostly take for granted but that’s just miraculous when you really stop and think about it – as clearly I have done!
The Swale is graced with gorgeous trees and hedgerows full of wild flowers. Buttercups and campion abound along the footpaths. Cow parsley grows more than 6ft high, higher than seems either reasonable or necessary – from what we’ve seen, the cows are just normal size! You ooh and aah at the humble hawthorn. This time of year it’s showing off its blousy best, smothered in white blossom and draped across the hillsides and all along the edges of fields. Yesterday, we walked up through dense woods above Marrick Priory, following the most exquisite path. Massive, randomly-shaped stones paved our way, fixed in place and smoothed to a satiny patina by ancient footsteps. This was an old, old path, trodden for centuries. Wild garlic grows thick along its edges, those delicate white flowers looking lavish and innocent and somehow at odds with the pungent, sensual aroma.
Villages of stone cottages, surrounded with gardens brimful of spring flowers dot the trail – Muker, Marrick, Marske – and villages that begin with other letters too…. Himself has been busy sketching the enchanting landscape with such ease of line. He’s got into his stride – or should that be his stroke – as the days progress.
At Richmond yesterday, we reconnected with urban life for a brief and unsettling few hours. Amazing how disconnected you become and how noisy and busy a town feels. We were glad to get back to the country trails today. We’re moving across the low-lying country between the Pennines and the North York moors. There are subtle shifts. Pasture starts to yield ground to crops. There are still plenty of sheep and cattle but great swathes of wheat in pleasing rows colour the landscape with a different hue. Slate roofs have given way to terracotta and stone-built houses are of a more honeyed shade after the amazing greys further west. Fences are doing the work of stone walls as the scale and type of farming changes with the nature of land and climate. The story keeps unfolding and it still fascinates.
We had an absurdly easy day’s walking today – a mere 19,597 paces – a snip at 8 miles. Tomorrow, it’s an 18 miler so we’re off to fuel up at the Farmers Arms in Scorton, before lights out about 10, a good kip and up at the crack in the morning.