The Yorkshire Dales
Craig Roberts seeks out the attractions on this camping tour.
I often choose a place to tour on recommendation from friends and relatives. On almost every occasion, the county that was mentioned first when asked is Yorkshire. On this basis, I visited the county last year and did a tour of the moors and in particular the east coast, which is, as you would imagine absolutely stunning. I promised myself a return trip and therefore this year, naturally had to take in the Dales.
Starting point was Bolton Abbey and it’s the perfect place to stretch your legs if you arrive in Yorkshire after a long drive. There’s 30,000 acres of countryside here on the banks of the River Wharfe and with 80 miles of footpath it should satisfy even the most hardened walkers out there.
The ruins of a 12th century priory are the main attraction, but the countryside extends into Strid wood and here the River Wharfe narrows and creates a rush of water. It is so named as it is meant to be a stride wide, though I didn’t try to test this out and I wouldn’t recommend you do either. Let some other fool prove the guide book wrong!
A short drive from here following the River Whafe, is the village of Burnsall. This lovely picturesque village has an ancient packhorse bridge that crosses a bend in the river. They have the annual fell race here in August and run up the step hill south west of the village and then return with a heart stopping descent as well. They’ve apparently been doing it since 1870 and anyone can apply to compete. What a shame I missed it, I could just see myself tumbling head over heels on the way down, if I ever managed to get up to the top in the first place of course!
Malham is one of the key attractions of the Dales, but it is also one of the hardest to get to, as the route is quite narrow at times, so more suited to smaller motorhomes. I tried to do this whole trip using the wider B-roads and avoid the unmarked roads if possible. There is no B road to Malham however, but if you do make the drive, then it is well worth it. Park in the main village or book into the basic site at Town Head Farm, which is perfectly located for the cove and take a walk along Malham Beck.
It’s a steep climb to the top, but here you will discover the limestone pavement on top of the cove, which is a trademark of the dales and its like stepping across giant stepping stones and will take you right to the edge of the top of the cove for a grand view for those with a good head for heights.The National Park Centre in the village, is a good place to buy maps and pick up leaflets about the surrounding area.
I took the route out to Settle, stopping off at the stunning Scalebor Force waterfall to get back on the main track. If you come off the B6479 and follow the brown campsite signs you find the pretty site at Stainforth, beside Stainforth Bridge. Word of warning though, don’t approach via the lane from the main B road as this lane is incredibly narrow and you can barely get a car over Stainforth Bridge, let alone a large motorhome. The location is very picturesque though and the River Ribble drops here about 20ft.
More limestone pavements scatter the landscape around Ingleton beneath the plateau of Ingleborough, one of Yorkshire’s famous Three Peaks, this being the highest. The other two are Pen-y-ghent and Whernside. With caves, waterfalls and mountains in this area, you could find yourself staying for a few days here. The village itself is a little too modern to be called pretty, but pleasant nonetheless.
Just north of the village is the underground world of White Scar Cave, Britain's longest show caves. The subterranean landscape is beautifully lit, with gushing streams and waterfalls, exotic cave formations, and a huge ice-age cavern adorned with thousands of stalactites. I describe this as if from personal experience, sadly its from the guide book as I’m a little claustrophobic so was too much of a wimp to discover it myself. I’m alright climbing a steep hillside, but draw the line of going inside it. I’m sure its spectacular though if you want to try it yourself. Perhaps you can let me know! Instead, I decide to follow the Waterfalls Walk that takes in the famous Thornton Force falls. Its four and a half miles in total, so allow a couple of hours to do the route. The weather was beautiful on the mile walk to the falls, but as I travelled on the long route back, it chucked it down and by the time I got back to the car park, I was absolutely soaked. Typical of the dales I suppose, and wouldn’t expect anything else. Better than getting stuck in a cave anyway!
The Settle and Carlisle Railway runs though the countryside, crossing three major viaducts. Ribbleshead Viaduct is undoubtedly the most impressive and also provides a good spot for wild camping, if that’s your thing and I spotted a couple of campervans parked up opposite the Station Inn on the main road north of Ingleton, as well as at the bottom of the dirt track that leads under the viaduct itself. Chance to get your walking boots on again and follow the route along the Dales and Ribble Ways up the other two fells I already mentioned.
I continued north into Wensleydale, passing briefly though Gayle to arrive at Hawes. Think of Wensleydale and you probably think of cheese and if you have a love of the yellow stuff, you can’t afford not to visit the Wensleydale Creamery Visitors Centre. With a museum, viewing gallery, specialist cheese shop and restaurant and ‘Cheese Experience’ tour, theres everything you could want to satisfy your passion
The village is also nice with three pubs along the main street. The Penny Garth Café is packed with bikers on weekends and if you don’t see them here, then you certainly will in your wing mirrors, as they whiz pass you a dozen at a time, on the surrounding roads.
Wensleydale is also waterfall country, and as seems to be the trend of this trip, I decided to take in a few. If the weather’s not too good, then waterfalls are a great way to spend a wet day and of course the falls themselves look all the more impressive after a few days of rainfall. Near to Hawes are Cotter Force and Hardraw Force, the latter England’s highest waterfall. This one is accessed through the local Green Dragon Inn and if that isn’t tempting you in for a pint, nothing is. Anyway, didn’t you know waterfalls look better after sampling the local bitter!
You can follow the A684 east from Hawes, or alternatively head up over the Buttertubs Pass to Swaledale. It’s a well known high mountain pass, though not as daunting as it may sound and will only test your vans low-end torque as you watch the spectacular views.
Swaledale is famous for its stone barns, another Yorkshire trademark and here they are generously scattered over the prevailing countryside. If you have time, follow the B6270 north through Keld, to the Wain Wath Falls, which are conveniently visible from the roadside, so you don’t even have to get out to see them. I drove through the delightfully named Thwaite and Muker, and then through Gunnerside, where there is another classic view of the stone barns.
I then headed down to Askrigg along the unclassified road between Muker and Gunnerside. Again, this road is narrow at times, but easily passable and there is a fantastic view of Addleborough on the way into Askrigg village. Askrigg is another classic Yorkshire village, with a large open green and those that remember the TV series, All Creatures Great and Small, will no doubt recognise this village from the show.
Aysgarth is the next town and nearby, but not actually in the village are the famous Aysgarth falls. Yep, we’re back to waterfalls again, but these are quite different to the other falls on the route, as the river falls gently on a long stretch, separated into the Upper, Middle and Lower falls. There is another National Park Centre in the main falls car park, which has an interesting display about the area and environmental issues as well as a small café and shop. I also learnt that the Upper Falls were one of the locations for the Kevin Costner film, Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.
I took a brief break from waterfalls and visited some heritage instead, in the form of Bolton Castle. Built in the 14th Century as an impressive residence rather than for defensive purposes, but was once used to imprison Mary, Queen of Scots. The exterior of the castle looks quite complete, but the interior is mainly an empty shell, with only the west range and south-west tower still intact. Climb to the top of this for some fantastic views of the Yorkshire countryside.
There’s one more waterfall worth seeing in the area (honest, it is the last!) at West Burton. It’s hidden behind some houses off the main drive through the village, but it’s worth finding as it’s a complete gem.
The final choice of route from here is more diverse. You can either head east to Leyburn and then drive down the main A6108 that runs down the entire east side of the Dales. Along this route are some major attractions including Jervaulx Abbey, Fountains Abbey and the lovely village of West Tanfield. This road then carries onto Ripon, famous for its magnificent cathedral and then the A61 takes you into Harrogate.
My intention was to end up in Harrogate to visit relatives, but I wanted to stay in the centre of the dales and head back down through Wharfedale. This is one of Yorkshires longest and most beautiful valleys and there are some really lovely villages through here, all worth stopping at including, Hubberholme, Starbotton and Kettlewell. Great names as well and Kettlewell was where the film Calendar Girls was filmed. Just like Hollywood around here!
Kilnsey Crag is a nice spot to stop for a bit to eat and even catch your own lunch. The Crag leans right out above the road with two lakes in front of it. In these you’ll find Rainbow Trout and you can hire a rod for yourself to do a spot of fishing. If you’d rather just let someone else do the hard work, then the café does its own unique battered trout, a fish not supposedly suitable to being served in this way, but they’ve done it, and very nice it is too. There’s also a farm shop and the Kilnsey Trail, where you can see Red Squirrels and the chance to feed the trout at the farm, presumably to fatten them up before you catch one!
I was now back at Burnsall, where I started the tour. Before heading over to Harrogate I drove round to Embsay Reservoir and then over to Brimham Rocks. The curious rock formations scattered here over some 50 acres on Brimham Moor provide a great variety of weird and wonderful shapes. You can make up your own shapes out of the formations, but official names for some include Dancing Bear, Balancing Stones, Idol Rock, Turtle and Druids Desk. Climb are few of the rocks and you are rewarded with wonderful views to the south.
So there we have it, the Yorkshire Dales. There’s still a lot that I missed out and if you have already been here yourself, you’ll probably have your own favourite location. There really is so much to see it definitely deserves a return trip sometime instead of trying to cram too much in on one go. Do I prefer the dales or the moors. They are so different that I think they each hold their own and deserve a visit each to see their variety. Places I would like to see on another visit include, How Stean Gorge, Kirkby Lonsdale, Reeth, the aforementioned Fountains Abbey, in fact too many to mention. I don’t think it will be too long before I’m back for a third time.
All images and text copyright © Craig Roberts 2008