Kirkby Stephen – A Life Journey

I’ve been thinking of writing this for a while but have never been able to figure out how to put it into words … maybe it’s time to just make the leap and write it.

Before I first came to Kirkby Stephen I knew of my family’s links to the area. My grandparents, Margery & Henry Bayfield (known as Harry to all but his immediate family), lived in Nateby for a number of years after living in the home counties, I’m guessing it would be the mid 50’s. It was certainly before Westmorland disappeared and became part of Cumbria … my Nana & Grandad never let me forget that!

An old postcard of Nateby. I was always told the car in the picture belonged to my Grandad but I never managed to confirm whether that was true or not.
That’s my Grandad in the middle, giving it plenty on a roll-up by the look of it! I left it too late to find out who the other two people were unfortunately.

My Mother (Elaine) was born in Middlesex I believe, but she went to school at Kirkby Stephen Grammar School and did plenty of growing up in and around the area. I remember stories of her visits to Stenkrith and even of how one of her school friends fell to her death from the bridge (again, I have no idea if this is true, who knows?).

The road bridge at Stenkrith is probably another 10ft higher than the walkway in front, falling from either would not end happily!
It’s a beautiful place to visit though, and the opportunities for photography are plentiful.

Travel forward another 20 years or so and we come to my first visit. I’d guess it was the early 70’s so I’d be somewhere between 6 & 8 years old. I was brought by my Nana and we stayed with an Auntie who was most definitely not my Auntie, in fact I’m pretty sure she wasn’t even family … she was a lovely lady though. I have never found out who she was but I know she lived in one of the 3 story stone houses in Victoria Square. I have no way of knowing which house it was now but I’m going for number 3 …

Victoria Square, Kirkby Stephen
Victoria Square
My Nana & Grandad c. 1978
My Nana & Grandad c. 1978

I remember well, taking frequent journeys from the house, along Mellbecks, down to Frank’s Bridge over the River Eden where I took my little plastic bucket & net and went fishing for tiddlers, paddling in the river with my shoes & socks off (no need to roll up my trouser legs as it was shorts all the way back then!). Over on the nearby slopes I made my first attempt at flying a kite and failed quite miserably … though it didn’t feel like a failure back then.

There was the big house on Mellbecks, owned by a single, elderly woman at the time I think, that would have the window of the top right bedroom permanently left open allowing bats to roost … I saw them flying in and out so I lie not!

The house where bats roosted!
I’m assuming this is a boarding house, or B&B of some kind now … it’s still a lovely house whatever it’s current use and it now appears to be bat free!

One of the most enduring images is of the River Eden bursting its banks over night. One day I’m paddling and fishing for tiddlers … the next the clear waters have been churned to a muddy brown and the arches beneath Frank’s Bridge are barely visible. Cameras weren’t as prevalent back then, not in our family at least, so the following (modern) images will hopefully suffice to illustrate the extremes of nature …

Frank's Bridge on a normal day
The River Eden on your average day, courtesy of the Yorkshire Walks website
Frank's Bridge flooding 2015
The River Eden bursts its banks in 2015, image courtesy of the Cumberland & Westmorland Herald

I guess I visited on 2, maybe 3, occasions and they soon paled into insignificance as I moved into my double digit years and on into my teens. Until, that is, my mid 20’s when I was working as a service engineer and making site visits throughout England & Wales. I didn’t realise before my first journey to the North East but to travel from Cheshire, where I live, to the North East of the country involved the A66 and Scotch Corner. More importantly, to get to the A66 from the M6 necessitated travelling the A685 … and guess what? The A685 just happens to be the main road through Kirkby Stephen … starting as South Road, becoming Victoria Square (remember that?) then Market Street through the town’s heart until finally North Road on it’s way out to Brough Sowerby & Church Brough before reaching its junction with the A66. I remember my first drive through Kirkby Stephen … my brain was making the links to my childhood as I reached the town centre. I recognised the houses on Victoria Square, the Market Square with it’s red sandstone portico entrance to the church and the side streets that I knew at a gut level led down to the river and Frank’s Bridge. And then it was gone … I’d driven straight through a part of my history in little more than a blink of an eye. I made myself a promise in that moment, that I would return and revisit what had been a glorious moment in my childhood.

And so we come up to date! As an aside, yet also an integral part of this story, I’ve a history of mental health issues dating back to my late teens, with anxiety and depression being the main ‘black dogs’ in my life. I can cope quite well with both for most of the year but the period between end of year and early the following year are difficult ones for me. One of my go to pastimes to help me keep an even keel all year round (as well as being good for physical health, handy for practising photography and bloody enjoyable to boot!) is hiking and in 2017 I decided a long weekend away in November, with opportunities for walks, would be a good way to keep my mental health strong … and where better to visit than Kirkby Stephen?

I was going to keep this info under my hat for fear of losing my secret getaway but I though what the hell (not that it’s that secret … see a little later!). After a few hours of Googling I came across Black Bull Barn which has become my base for the last 3 years and will hopefully be the same for a good few years to come. Rented out by Gillian & Steve it’s got every comfort you need and is a fantastic base for walking in the area. The visitors are truly international (should you ever stay see the visitor’s book for proof, European, American, Canadian, et al) and many stop over whilst walking in Wainwright’s footsteps along the Coast to Coast walk. Gillian and Steve also provide B&B accommodation at Fletcher House. One last name check, should it even be needed after all the images I’ve posted in my Kirkby Stephen based walking posts, is for the Black Bull Hotel … I can’t comment on their accommodation but their bar has become my Kirkby Stephen local.

So there you have it, around 45 years of my life in a single blog post! Thanks for sticking with it and hopefully I’ve conveyed why Kirkby Stephen has become an important part of my life. May you all find your own, personal Kirkby Stephen x

P.S. Scroll back to the top of the post… the banner that’s on every page is another of my Stenkrith photographs. I can brag as I own the rights 😀

Kirkby Stephen – Nov 2019

And so dear friends, a brief farewell to Kirkby Stephen for another year with a few more images taken during the weekend. Including a little stroll down by the River Eden shortly after arriving, Kirkby Stephen railway station after my first walk on Sunday and no visit would be complete without a couple of visits to the Black Bull Hotel bar.

For anybody who fancies learning a bit more about the Settle & Carlisle line there is a full route map here and a nice Wikipedia article here … go on, you know you want to.

Until next year …

Balderhead & Blackton reservoirs – Nov 2019

And so to the second, and much wetter, half of this year’s Kirkby Stephen visit. The weather forecast didn’t look too bad until later on in the day so I thought an early start and only some drizzle … sorted.

A ‘little’ rain, but look at that wind!

The plan was to do another walk from Visorando, but a shorter one. The only down side was the travelling time as this particular walk was over the border in County Durham. Add to that the fact the A66 was blocked in both directions near to my route which forced articulated lorries onto roads that were barely suitable for them and the drive became very interesting to say the least!

route description and reference
Despite the description saying the walk didn’t return to the starting point, it did!

The eagle eyed amongst you may notice that the Visorando route name doesn’t match up with the title of this post. There’s a one word reason for that, if you haven’t already guessed … weather. The full walk is shown below with the walk I managed to do underneath it, minus the first section as I forgot to turn on GPS on my Galaxy watch … happens a lot with me (links to Google Earth Pro kmz files can be found in the description underneath each image).

The planned route in all its glory, kmz file can be downloaded here
Google Earth - my walk
My ‘home-brew’ walk! Again, kmz file for Google Earth can be downloaded here

Just before I present the images and bonus videos, two small points about this particular outing:

  • The roads were fantastic to drive, plenty of concentration required but boy was it worth it.
  • The full walk has been added to my walks bucket list, I will definitely be going back when the weather is better and completing the full route.

Without further a do … “Get on with it Merv” … I am doing!

For those that made it thus far … bonus videos!

I avoided the rain for some time here, listen to it falling on the bird hide roof … plus the wind!
This gives a better idea of how the reservoir overflow works … and an idea of how windy it was
Teletubbies or not, in the middle of nowhere, totally alone & surrounded by sheep staring at you … this is freakin’ unnerving!
Unfortunately I only had small capacity SD cards in my dash cams so I was limited by how much was overwritten before I got back to base, however I think this gives a pretty good idea of how challenging (aka fun!) some of the roads were … albeit a view from the rear. By the way, the guy in the van must be pretty local as he saw me from a long way off and waited patiently. And finally, I edited the video with the NextBase app that comes with the camera (bad move!) hence all the NextBase ‘propaganda’ … apologies for that.

In conclusion, the best was made of what was a pretty crappy day for walking me thinks. Hopefully there’s enough here to pique your interest of the full route that was originally planned.

Balderdale & The Calf – Nov 2019

This year’s visit to Kirkby Stephen was definitely one of two halves … one good, one not quite so! The walk detailed here fell into the former category, even if it was hard going on my poor feet.

The route directions came from one of my favourite sites, Visorando as can be seen below:

The weather forecast looked very good for a long walk … and indeed this was to be a long walk (download the Google Earth Pro kmz file here).

MetOffice weather forecast
Google Earth Pro route

So time to let the images speak for themselves …

Plus a bonus video for all you lucky people! …

One of many gills running down into Balderdale Beck, it was most tranquil (as Bill once said!)

And there you have it … very nice it was too! If you bear with, until I post details of my second walk of the weekend, I’ll let you see the damage this walk (and my ageing boots) did to my feet … beware those of a squeamish nature!