We were on the Coast to Coast Walk and had just left Kirkby Stephen.
Occasionally, we glimpsed a group of tall cairns known as the Nine Standards. No-one really knows who built them or for what reason, but one story is that they were placed on this Pennine ridge to give the marauding Scots the impression that here were able folk, always ready to defend their lands from unwelcome
interlopers. Another theory held that the cairns were associated with the Norse usage of the numeral nine, which was significant in their mythology.
The Nine Standards were certainly old, being recorded on maps dating from the 18th century when detailed charts of the area we re being produced .
We kept climbing through the sparse clumps of heather interspersed with peat soil. Thin wisps of clouds streaked the blue sky. Just after a particularly steep climb, the Nine Standards appeared in all their glory.
Their construction was clearer to see as we approached them. Thousands of thick sheets of slate and granite pieces had been painstakingly placed together to form tall cairns. Originally nine had been built, but over time people had added extra ones. There was even a comfortable bench, constructed to lessen the ferocity of the wind, on which to have lunch. We were indeed lucky to be here on such a fine day.
This was the northern most summit of the Pennine Dales, the range that formed the spine of Northern England. From here water flowed westwards to the Irish Sea and eastwards to the North Sea. At this junction, the Coast to Coast walk and the Pennine Way met and crossed. Wainwright had walked the Pennines and compared them with the Coast to Coast walk in his personal notes; “I finished the Pennine Way with relief, the Coast to Coast Walk with regret. That’s the difference .”
Down below was the Eden Valley and all around were magnificent views that stretched tow a rds the far off horizon. The Eden River snaked lazily along the valley floor. Wordsworth had discovered the Eden Valley late in life, and was inspired to pen, “ For things far off we toil, while many a good, Not sought because too near, is never gained.”
The air was fresh and clean and so invigorating to suck up through one’s nostrils and exhale heavily through the mouth. From the top of England, we began a gradual descent along White Mossy Hill.