This beautiful 80 km / 50 mile circular walk threads its way around the valleys of Wensleydale and Swaledale and over the mountains and moorlands between these two emerald dales. A walk designed to take in some of the countryside beloved by James Alfred Wight, the vet who wrote about his experiences in the Yorkshire Dales as James Herriot. These books became popular in the 1970s and 80s and spawned a film and a very popular television series 'All Creatures Great and Small'. Besides walking through the countryside, the attractiveness and variety of the route is such that it could be easily classed the best short walk in England. The Yorkshire Dales have often been coined as 'Gods Own Country' and with good reason, with a little bit of luck with the weather, you are treated to a beautiful landscape bursting with colour and light. The land encompasses the sleepy rivers punctuated by cascading water off of the limestone escarpments, the fields stocked with multiple sheep, the high moors, bristling with sedge, bracken and bilberry. Then of course there are the attractive local villages, small but bustling with farm and estate workers, walkers and tourists. Firstly there is Aysgarth a village by the multi cascading Aysgarth Falls, Hawes the main town in Wensleydale which has a market and is a centre for rope and cheese making. Keld is the quietest place, tucked into a hilly fold in remote upper Swaledale. Its buildings a welcome sight after a long day in the hills. Reeth a village edged with tea shops and pubs reflects the time when lead mining was the economic key to the area. Most of the trails are easily followed and follow parts of both the Pennine Way and The Coast to Coast. It is an excellent introduction to long distance walking on these longer trails.
Some long days and steep climbs and descents. Generally however undulating. Mixed weather can be expected. Note that often the trails in the Lake District especially are steep and rocky at times. For reasonably fit walkers, with some experience of map reading in case the weather is poor. The trails are however generally straight forward to follow, involving a lot of farm and field tracks. Days cannot be shortened.
Make your own way to Aysgarth in beautiful Wensleydale, the quintessential Yorkshire Dale. You may have time to visit the National Trust Centre and visit the famous stepped Aysgarth Falls - a series of cascades on the River Ure. Although you will be coming this way on your last day, if the weather is gorgeous you may want to spend some time now before you depart. Beautiful pictures are possible, but at weekends this is a popular place. The village church is also very attractive, bustling with daffodils in spring and bluebells in April-May.
Accommodation: Several places may be used including the traditional coaching Inn dating from the 1600s, it has a great character and restaurant. Otherwise there are a couple of pleasant guest houses that we may use in the village. An upgrade is possible to a hotel nearer the falls.
Total Ascents: 400m / Descents: 381m. 4 hours walking time, allow 5.5 hours.
The first day is the easiest walk of the route, a jaunt down from Aysgarth passing the 'Edwardian Rock Garden' to join the sleepy River Ure which meanders around in its grassy dale, some little bridges and stepping stones aid progress before crossing the route of the defunct railway line and into Askrigg for lunch. This is a really pretty village which was used for some of the filming on the James Herriot series. There are a couple of pubs for lunch or teashops if you want something lighter. It is the only day where a village lunch is possible. From Askrigg the walk gets a bit hillier as you climb through the woods to examine the beautiful Mill Beck Falls, which may appear like a milk chocolate fountain due to the tannins in the peat off the moorlands. From here the route climbs through the fields of Helm, before gradually descending to the hamlet of Litherskew and village of Sedbusk before dropping steeply down to rejoin and cross the River Ure and past the National Parks Centre and into the small town of Hawes which has a series of fine shops as well as an equally fine selection of pubs.
Accommodation: We use comfortable small hotel / guesthouses in Hawes. All have historical character and good rooms. A slight upgrade may also be possible into a hotel dating from an original 1600s building, which was then used as a Quaker meeting hall.
Total ascents: 869m / Total descents: 789m Time walking approx. 5 1/2 hours, allow 7 hours.
Possibly the hardest day. Leaving Hawes the trail climbs up the side of Great Shunner Fell following the famous Pennine Way, at 716 metres, the third highest mountain in Yorkshire. The dominating rock type in the area is limestone, but there are millstone grit outcrops and coal seams have also been worked on its slopes. In clear weather the summit affords spectacular views of Wensleydale to the south, Ribblesdale to the south west and Swaledale to the north, as well as views into Cumbria and County Durham beyond the A66. The once boggy walk has been much improved with the laying of flagstones along the trail in 1996. From the cross walled summit wind break there is a steep walk down into the sleepy village of Thwaite. This is a good place to have a cream tea before continuing across Kisdon hillside. You can also visit the very pretty little village of Muker with its traditional pub and wool knit centre. After the long ascent and descent from Hawes, one cannot rest on ones laurels, the path is steep and rocky, but gets you high above the deep ‘u’ shaped valley of Swaledale, one of the most picturesque sights in England. The path skirts the lower slopes of Kisdon Hill and then drops down again into the tiny settlement of Keld, sitting in a fold of Upper Swaledale and is the smallest and remotest place that we stay in during the walk.
Accommodation: There are only a couple of places to stay in the tiny village of Keld. One is the old youth hostel, now coverted into a great small hotel with cozy rooms and a lounge with panoramic windows overlooking the fields down towards the village. The place is noted for its good restaurant. The other place is a guesthouse tucked onto the hillside a couple of hundred metres below it and has great rooms and a warm friendly atmosphere.
Total Ascents: 697m / Descents: 808m. 5 hours walking time Allow 6-7 hours.
After leaving Keld the path drops steeply to cross the footbridge over the River Swale and then leaves the Pennine Way to join the Coast to Coast for the day. From the old mining house at Crackpot Hall overlooking the wide 'u' valley of Swaledale, the path passes the waterfalls of Swinner Gill Lead Mines, before steeply ascending to cross the Lownathwaite and Gunnerside Moors, then a steep descent through the 'hushings' (water scoured slopes where minerals were collected) to the ex lead mine workings at Gunnerside Gill. A steep climb up through Buntons Hush, brings you over the top of Melbecks Moor full of mining reminders with giggling grouse fluttering away from you into the heather. The track improves and you pass the Old Gang Smelting Mines, where the best preserved relics of the lead mining industry are preserved. This leads down past 'Surrender Bridge' where the opening sequence of the first couple of series of 'All Creatures Great and Small' were filmed. Finally the trail heads up into the countryside above Healaugh and then Reeth with gorgeous potential views across the ever-widening Swaledale. Finally a nice easy descent off the moors into Reeth for some well earned refreshment.
Accommodation: Several places may be used including an old fashioned pub or a couple of B&Bs around the Green or a guesthouse just to the north of the town. The pubs on the green offer a good variety of evening meals.
Total Ascents: 739m / Descents: 739m. 5 hours 45 minutes walking time, allow 6 - 7 hours. The longest day, but the beauty doesn't let up. Passing out of Reeth the way crosses the Arkle Beck before crossing fields of happy sheep to the old stone Grinton Bridge and finally leaving the River Swale. The church here was the 'Cathedral of the Dales' and people had to carry their dead miles across the moorlands to have them buried in the consecrated ground. A steep climb out of Grinton is followed by a good bridleway trail up and over High Harker Hill (466m) offering Fantastic views across Swaledale. The trail winds around grouse shooting estates and moors changing direction as you drop into remote Apedale, passing Dent's House, a shooting estate lodge which is a particularly welcoming spot is the weather is poor. A final climb out of Apedale and then a descent back again into Wensleydale, hitting the well preserved bastions of Bolton Castle - cafe in the castle. The final section of the walk connects farm trails to the mixed woodland, festooned with bluebells in late spring, before finally hitting the Aysgarth Waterfalls then returning to Aysgarth to complete the circuit.
Accommodation: We will try to confirm the same accommodation however we may have to use alternatives.
After breakfast, you could spend more time visiting the falls, or depart for your ownward journey.
Per Person, Twin Share