When I woke up, the swelling in my ankle had decreased a bit, but it was still painful enough walking downstairs for breakfast that I knew the smart thing to do would be to take a taxi to Keld, rather than walking the 12 miles. I hung onto Britt's iPad (rather than having him pack it to be transported to Keld Lodge) and bravely told him to enjoy himself on the hike.
To be honest, I was kind of excited about a day to myself, after so much situationally-enforced group togetherness. Plus, it was a cloudy day and it looked like it might start raining any minute. After a couple of lazy hours in the B&B's living room, drinking tea and using their wifi, I was ready to explore Kirkby Stephen.
The first thing I did was head to the pharmacy, to pick up some more ibuprofen - I was almost out of the small supply I'd brought - and some paracetamol with codeine. Then I strolled down to the bridge over the river Eden (the name of the town is thought to be a corruption of 'Kirkby-on-Eden'). I visited the parish church, which has an 8th century carving of the Norse god Loki (one of two known carvings of this type, and the only one in Britain) - it was found among the gravestones that lie against the churchyard wall (which are also quite picturesque, though not as old).
I had a late-morning beer at the King's Arms, and an early-afternoon beer at the White Lion, which had a sign out front:
wifi and cheap
Needless to say, I took advantage of both! I had lunch at a tiny cafe in a gourmet-foods store: a smoked-salmon sandwich, a slice of orange cake and coffee. I talked with the owner of the hiking-gear store, Eden Outdoors, who was sitting by the clever planter he'd designed for the front of his store:
Around two in the afternoon I decided it was time to head for Keld, so I went over to B&D Taxi to arrange a ride. It turned out I was just in time, as they hold the contract for school transport and were gearing up to do the afternoon school run, but one of the drivers gave a quick call to the owner to let her know he was running me over to Keld first, and we were off. I sat up front with the driver and we chatted the whole time; he pointed out various things of interest, waterfalls and stone barns and the place where a snowplow went off the road last winter, and told me about his own long-distance walks (he'd done the coast-to-coast and some other routes as well), and about his family (his father's 80th birthday was that weekend, and his children were coming from around the country for a party). All told, it was a worthwhile expenditure of £25, and I got to see quite a bit of the same scenery I would have on the walk.
Keld is a teeny-tiny collection of about a dozen stone buildings. The Keld Lodge, where we were staying, sits by itself on the road above the town; it used to be a youth hostel but is now a B&B, with a bar in the reception room and a couple of picnic tables outside. The manager, a skinny guy who (at least in my eyes) resembled Tobias Menzies, poured me a pint of Black Sheep Bitter, and I went out to sit in the sun, which was just beginning to peek from behind the clouds. Two older couples soon joined me; they had walked six miles up the Swale to Keld from Gunnerside, and would return on a slightly different route, which they said was their favorite hike, and they did it yearly. We talked until they finished their drinks and went on their way. Shortly afterwards, a coast-to-coast hiker came in for a beer, and to use the nearby pay phone to call his B&B to pick him up; then another arrived, then another. I ended having a wonderful time conversing with other walkers (and drinking quite a bit of delicious ale!) until my own group finally started to drift in.
I was hoping that Britt would play 'guest writer' and give me a blog entry for the actual hike on this day, but he's been really busy getting ready for a business trip. I did, however, put some of his photos up on Flickr, so you can see what I missed