Yorkshire Dales National Park
A unique feature of the Yorkshire Dales is the intimate relationship of a wild natural landscape and human habitation developed over millennia. The peat rich high fells are the preserve of sheep grazing, with only old drover’s tracks and green lanes traversing these lonely tops. But if you begin a descent from the dale heads the landscape soon takes on the familiar domestic Dales landscape of scattered farms and a patchwork of small fields enclosed with dry stone walls, often with small stone field barns snuggled in the corners. Further descent, following the course of a stream maturing into a river you will come to villages and water meadows as the green valley widens and eventually perhaps you may even encounter a grand Abbey such as Richmond on the Swale or Bolton Priory on the Wharfe. It is the interaction of people with nature through history that has produced this landscape of remarkable beauty and distinctive character. Including the delightful smaller side dales there are more than twenty named dales each of which offers its own distinctive character and atmosphere for you to savour as you walk the Dales.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park was established in 1954, and covers an area of 1,762 square kilometres (680 square miles) and straddles the central Pennines, the backbone of England, in the counties of North Yorkshire and Cumbria. The landscape comprises large areas of upland including the well-known Three Peaks, two of whose Millstone Grit summits rise to just above 700 metres. The many small watershed streams of these upland fells converge to form the rivers which, combined with glacial action, have carved out the valleys we see today and which give the park its name of Yorkshire Dales. Geology, water, ice and other natural processes have been the fundamental forces behind the creation of this wonderful and varied landscape and their work can be seen in the numerous dramatic and impressive features such as the Karst limestone pavements, spectacular waterfalls and the majestic escarpment of Malham Cove. Within the National Park, there are 1,458km of footpaths, 625km of bridleways which enables walkers to access and experience all of this magnificent scenery.
The River Swale is the most northerly of the Yorkshire Dales Rivers, flowing east to leave the National Park near Richmond and on to its eventual confluence with the River Ure. Swaledale is perhaps the most remote and dramatic of the dales, with a steep sided valley for most of its length from the dale head near Keld most of the way to Richmond. Although remote and unspoilt it is easy to walk as there are good riverside paths including Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk which follows the length of the dale. There are delightful waterfalls, such as Kisdon Force and numerous deep side valleys to explore, the most impressive of which is Arkengarthdale. Lovely peaceful villages include Keld, Muker, Gunnerside and Reeth, all of which offer good walks.
Keld provides the start for a walk exploring the dale head waterfalls of East Gill Force, Wainwath Force and Currack Force. Another worthwhile excursion from Keld is to visit the Swinner Gill ravine which leads off the Swale gorge.
Muker, which is probably Swaledale’s most picturesque village offers walks on Muker Side to the village of Thwaite and on Ivelet Side to Arn Gill where there are old lead workings. Gunnerside provides a lovely riverside walk through typical Swaledale meadows to visit the charming high arched Ivelet Bridge across the Swale. You can also visit Gunnerside Gill, the confined and deep valley of Gunnerside Beck, where there are remains of the lead mining industry.
Reeth, which is the main Swaledale village is the base for a walk by riverbank and moorland to the Iron Age hill fort of Maiden Castle. Another riverbank walk from Reeth takes you to the lovely village of Healaugh, while a dramatic moorland walk along Fremington Edge offers extensive views of Arkengarthdale and a return along Arkle Beck.
Unlike most of the Yorkshire Dales Wensleydale does not carry the name of the river flowing through it. The source of its river, the Ure, is near to Garsdale Head, but its journey through Wensleydale is shadowed by the A684 main road and the broad green Dale has considerably more human development than its northern neighbour Swaledale. Wensleydale has some of the most spectacular waterfalls of the Dales, although with the exception of Aysgarth Falls most of these are on side dales with tributaries cascading down the Dale sides.
Travelling down Wensleydale the first town of any consequence is Hawes a bustling little village which is the epitome of a Dales village and a base for a number of good walks. To the south of Hawes is Wether Fell which at 614 metres provides a stiff climb up to the Roman road which crosses the Fell, and from where there are fine views over the wild countryside. An easier walk is into peaceful Sleddale, the valley of Gayle Beck, and to the impressive Aysgill Force. A walk north from Hawes crossing the Ure will take you to the even more impressive Hardraw Force, although access to this waterfall is via the pub who charge a fee for the privilege.
Continuing a journey through Wensleydale the next village encountered is Bainbridge which has a quaint charm being set around a large village green featuring stocks and a quoits pitch. A pleasant walk can be had exploring the River Bain’s side valley up to Semerwater. Another option is a route via Askrigg to visit Whitfield Gill Force which can be impressive in early spring.As the River Ure wends its way along Wensleydale its tranquillity is shattered at Aysgarth where it cascades over a series of waterfalls in a spectacular setting which have made the Aysgarth Falls the most popular in Wensleydale. The falls can be explored in a walk from Aysgarth village.
photo 1 Swaledale credit: jtweed via photopin
photo 2 Upper Swaledale from Kisdon credit: walkinguphills via photopin cc
photo 3 Aysgarth Falls, Wensleydale credit: crunchy_with_ketchup via photopin cc
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