“When you get over the Nine Standards, don’t forget to stop for a cream tea at the farmhouse,” our landlady reminded us as we left Kirby Stephens, happily full of kipper and eggs.
“Okay,” we nodded and slipped out the door. The day was growing cloudy and damp, the first sign of rain on the trip. After checking the map one more time (we had a rep for being unable to get out of town without getting lost), we headed up hill. Trundle, trundle, trundle—the fog came down quickly.
“I don’t think we should take the high trail,” Mark grumbled at the first turn off. “The book says not to go high if you cannot see the Nine Standards from here.”
“I think we’ll be fine,” I insisted, turning uphill into the clouds.
“The book says you may get lost,” he muttered.
“We’ll be fine,” I sighed as a cairn emerged from the mist. “Do you see them?’
“Nope.” And we climbed, moving peacefully through the silent fog, up the washed out trail, until ten feet away, the Nine Standards formed, shrouded in heavy clouds. Nine huge rock cairns along the ridgeline, built originally no one knows when or why—a common phenomenon in the Yorkshire Dales—but rebuilt in 2004 by a local artist. You can tell the original constructions from the rebuilt, but they still loom, mysterious and wild, in the fog.. We settled into the lee of the largest while Mark worried the maps for the route down. An older man and his dog climbed up, smiled at us, settled into the next cairn, and opened his thermos of tea. The spot felt both homey and wild.
When the next passel of hikers appeared, we headed down, over the hill into the Ravenseat Valley, a remote spot with one old farmhouse and some outbuildings, the reputed source of the cream teas. From above, we could see familiar figures seated on picnic benches, clearly eating…we picked up the pace just in time to observe a Volvo station wagon pull up to the gate and two middle aged plump ladies emerge, clutching books.
“Do you know where you are?” one asked me. It seemed an odd question, given our hiking gear and map.
“Yeah,” I replied, eying the book—clearly a memoir of some sort.
“They are closed,” she sighed, climbing back into the car with a sad sigh.
The trail headed downward, so we trundled on and fellow hikers confirmed the rumor—the cream teas were not happening today, but we could eat lunch at the table. When I asked about the significance of the spot, one of the British women nodded wisely.
“Yeah, Julia had tea here on her way through and it was on the BBC, so now there’s a book.”
“The one they were clutching?” Of course.
“It was an impressive looking scone,” she added.
An hour later, we walked into Keld, a tiny cluster of grey stone houses around a crooked road, a herd of sheep, two inns—the Butt House (ours) and Park Lodge—an old church, and a tiny museum, as well as a field for camping and a small swarm of older folks on tour. Small outbuildings are tucked into the patchwork of walled fields surround the village. After dropping our packs and walking sticks, we head downhill to explore. In the center of it all, people are strolling into an attached house and emerging with mugs and trays. Mark looks at me and we head inside. The space is tiny—two shelves holding the usual weird assortment of stuff you find in any campground store, one wobbly table with two metal chairs, and a counter. When I step up, I spot a huge red and gold bag on the floor. “1,500 Yorkshire Tea Bags” it reads. The women in front of us order cream teas, no butter. “Have to watch my weight,” one chuckles. Five minutes later, we find a picnic table, clutching an old metal tea tray, balancing two floral mugs of Yorkshire tea, a huge scone, a pot of clotted cream, a jar of raspberry jam, a pitcher of milk, and some sugar cubes. Heaven.