01 Jun Swaledale
The contrasts could not be greater. 24 hours after walking across the great emptiness up on the Pennines, we spent today following gentle grassy trails through meadows of buttercups and clover along the north bank of the River Swale, following it as it chatters and murmurs its way east through this glorious valley. Undramatic but achingly beautiful, this section of the C2C is a favourite of ours. There is higher route along the hilltops overlooking the river that’s perfect for the adrenalin junkies. Up there you can see the remains of the lead mining industry that once employed the menfolk in this valley. But we’ve never been able to resist the lure of this low route along the river. England’s green and pleasant land was never greener nor more pleasing than here. Trees grow intermittently along the riverbank, hazel, sycamore, birch and oak, their leaves fresh and green, their roots often showing a few feet clear above the ground where the river has swelled and washed away the soil over the years. The Swale flows briny brown over pale golden rocks worked smooth by centuries of its waters.
The trail meanders across meadow and field bounded by more of the mesmerising stone walls, different in style from earlier in our journey, with their own distinctive local character. It passes field barns that may be unique to this area; I’ve certainly never seen them anywhere else. Tall, usually windowless stone barns with slate roofs and small openings high up for ventilation, they offered shelter and storage for winter feed. These beautiful barns are dotted up, down and across the hillsides; some are in perfect condition; others are collapsing; most seem to be unused and many uncared for. I’ve been captivated by them since I saw them on our first C2C. I wondered, today, as I saw them again, if it’s their vulnerability to time and decay, their stony fragility that’s part of what enchants. Built to be solid, enduring and useful, now they are melancholy monuments to a way of life that has all but disappeared. And they are crumbling too.
This afternoon we reached Reeth. We’ve done about 115 miles now and have about 85 left. Loving it.