There are two roads to Reeth. One goes along the river Swale, sweeping down to celebrate the rural and domestic history of the dale; the other trudges and scrambles up the valleys to where the miners for two millenia extracted lead from the narrow seems in sides of the becks and rills. The Romans exploited it and the pioneers of industrial Britain worked it until nothing was left but eroded valleys and an extraordinary architecture deep and inaccessible in the moors.



How they go up to these high places to mine and smelt I will never know. The whole economy tramped up stony paths and along pony tracks that are barely wide enough for two people; and the remains of the path we took out of Keld — ignoring the incoming Pennine Way — was a difficult and challenging scramble up one side of the valley, down into a deep vale with the ruins of a mine and a smelter, then up the other side, to the moor some 200 metres above us.

The technology used was ingenious, even if primitive. The ore was mined by damming and releasing water into the streams to wash away the soil and expose the seams, although later, adit and drives were used. Smelting was done using flues that were a combination of tubes, tunnels and chimneys running up the hillside, to cheat a draft to drive the smelters. Kids are sent into the flues when cold to collect condensates of lead and other minerals that were valuable to the companies — more valuable than the kids and the miners, because life expectancy in the area in the early nineteenth century was only 41 years, twenty less than in the rest of Britain at the time.


We walked up to the crest of the moor, where lead mining followed by gravel crushing had left the area looking like a cold climate Lightning Ridge. It will take years if not centuries for the area to recover, so we kept going downhill, glad the scrambling was behind us. We picnicked beside the road once the grass started to thicken— our packed lunches have been great — and the sun started to break through at just the right time.

We walked past more of those incredible ruins and beautiful stone bridges and started to see the country change. No wonder, for we were leaving industrial Britain and entering James Herriot country, the land that Alf White made famous in his books (All Creatures Great and Small. First, however, we had to cross the grouse moors, and one had the feeling of being watched all the time — little heads with beady eyes sticking out of the heather and sedge, watching carefully until you got a bit close, and then exploding up with that amazing cry and scaring the bejesus out of us. Taking a slash was like and invasion of privacy. As for the ones that sat on the drystone walls and inspected us as we walked past, one wondered what would happen the next time the silly bird popped over to the area near the butts.

So down into Reeth, a long but lovely ramble along the river, past the four pubs around the village green, and down to our B and B. Becca’s family have lived in it for three generations and, like all our lovely hosts, offered us a cup of tea or a cold drink when we got in. England must be growing back on me, because I now say yes to tea — in fact, I enjoy it in the morning before walking, in preference to coffee, but I’m sure that I will get a hit of espresso in Richmond!