Sunday, 23 September 2012

Smardale Gill Circular

Smardalegill Circular 

12 miles

A relatively low level ramble; we walked this circular at the end of July. 

We started from the market place in Kirkby Stephen and headed north before turning into Silver Street and Christian Head. Just past the entrance to Kirkby Stephen Grammar School, we turned left into Bloody Bones Lane, leaving the tarmac behind. Our gently climbing route followed a field boundary in an westerly direction. We had a choice of paths at a field gate. Seeing cows and their young, we avoided them by taking a footpath along a farm track and through the farmyard at Sandwath. Our presence prompted a chorus of barking from the residents of kennels there. We were pleased to reach the quiet of a minor road and set off down it for some 500 metres or so until we reached the second of two bridges over railway cuttings.
Waitby Nature Reserve

Steps down gave access to Waitby nature reserve (a dismantled railway). Walking west, we followed the curve of the former line. It was a peaceful walk along a permissive path, brightened by all manner of wild flowers just reaching perfection.

The nature reserve path came out at Smardale Hall. We followed Beck Lane for 100 metres before turning south into a car park which served the start of the Smardale Gill National Nature Reserve. 
Signage in the car park

Car parks often signal popularity. Along this stretch of our walk we met several people out for a stroll through the wooded Demesne Wood.  Before long, we were heading south and enjoying a light shower. Eventually, the rain ceased and we came to the impressive curve of Smardalegill Viaduct. We could have continued over the viaduct, but we wanted to be able to see the product of Victorian engineering and toil.

We left broad way, taking a small footpath which contoured the hillside. We left the strollers, who preferred to cross the viaduct. Our picnic spot had an unrivalled view of the viaduct and Scandal Beck far below. As we munched, thoughts inevitably turned to the hundreds and maybe thousands who must have laboured in difficult conditions, without the benefit of 'health and safety', to make the transport of raw materials and eventually passengers possible in the nineteenth century. The beauty of the structure was not in question. It was only spoilt by the late twentieth century addition of railing to protect foot traffic.
Smardalegill Viaduct

Onwards and upwards. Our footpath took us to a stile, which we crossed, before heading down a little until we joined up with the bridleway that forms part of Wainwright's Coast to Coast route. Down to the right was the old Smardale Bridge. Our route, however, turned east up over the access land on Smardale Fell. It was a steady up as we followed a wall boundary. Here, once again, we noticed that the drystone walls were a mixture of grey and the red of sandstone. We had noticed the change in land colour some two years previously when we walked the Coast to Coast route. We had been amazed at the vibrant earth that had characterised the west coast of England near to St. Bees. From now on we would be following the route taken by 'coasters' on their approach to Kirkby Stephen.

Looking back to Smardalegill Viaduct from near Smardale Bridge
The bridleway ran alongside two closely parallel walls which reminded me of a gallops. Behind us, the Howgills were being threatened by ominous looking clouds which were following us. Would we be pulling our wet weather clothes from our rucksacks? Ahead, high on the skyline, were the tiny cairns guarding Nine Standards Rigg. We headed downhill to a minor road. We turned south west along it for 150 metres and took another small road off to the left. After another 150 metres, we were heading off across the fields along a clearly visible footpath. We passed underneath the Settle-Carlisle railway line and continued through fields of photogenic sheep to Greenriggs Farm. Skirting the farm buildings, we joined up with Croglam Lane which eventually runs parallel with the main road through Kirkby Stephen.

Croglam Lane
We continued along the lane until we came to a small children's playground. Turning right onto a narrow tarmac road, we joined Kirkby Stephen High Street. A left turn took us back in the direction of the market place.

It had been a lovely walk of varied terrain. As we had walked over Smardale Fell we were treated to wonderful views of the Pennines. Until the last, Kirkby Stephen had stubbornly refused to reveal itself as we approached. 

Oh... and we managed to stay dry!

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