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Upper Nidderdale / 2 days / 32 miles (52km)

OS Route Map → Map GPX Route file →

Date: 30 Jun 2006
Start / Finish: Kettlewell. Park Authority car park (fee).
Maps: Explorer OL30 Yorkshire Dales North & Central and Explorer OL2 South & West.

Day 1Great & Little Whernside and Lofthouse Moor14.6 miles / 2650 feet (23.5km / 807m)
Day 2Stean Moor & Mossdale17.2 miles / 1900 feet (27.7km / 579m)

A circuit of the moors of Upper Nidderdale from Kettlewell, taking in the Great / Little Whernside ridge and returning via Stean Moor, Mossdale and the Dales way. We saw only one pair of walkers on the first day and none on the second until the Dales Way.

The section from Little Whernside to Dale Edge is more typical of the wild North Pennines than the Dales but is nowhere difficult, at least in these dry summer conditions. On the rest of the rough moorland comprising Lofthouse Moor, Fountains Earth Moor and Stean Moor, the route makes use of excellent shooters tracks which give very easy walking, and there is very little untamed wilderness to negotiate. These moors, now generally Open Access, are managed for grouse shooting and dogs are not allowed except on public rights of way.

Day 1 - Great & Little Whernside and Lofthouse Moor

The lane E from the village leads to the footpath that climbs above Dowber Gill Beck to the Hag Dyke building. Just before the final climb to the trig point on Great Whernside, we located the tiny flow of the spring that feeds the boggy area below. We drank copiously and filled our water bottles - it was a hot day in a dry spell and we anticipated possible difficulties with water later - how right we were. Fortunately there was a cooling breeze on the high ground, though the views were thick and hazy.

Great Whernside
Great Whernside (30 Jun 2006__10:03:19)

The plateau edge leads northwards to Black Dike End and the ridge curves around to Little Whernside, a typical North-Pennine top with a summit by the fence that suddenly asserts itself as the highest point in the sea of peat groughs and cotton grass. Angram and Scar House reservoirs could be seen hazily below. The thin path crosses a flat depression to the edge of Dead Man's Hill and fades further along the fence NE to Woogill Tarn, lying in a peaty hollow and looking rather desolate with broken grouse butts on the shore. Just beyond is Coverdale Tarn which also lies in a bleak disadvantageous setting.

Scar House & Angram reservoirs
Scar House & Angram reservoirs (30 Jun 2006__11:12:03)
Approaching Little Whernside
Approaching Little Whernside (30 Jun 2006__11:16:35)
Peat groughs & cotton grass on Little Whernside
Peat groughs & cotton grass on Little Whernside (30 Jun 2006__12:25:53)

The fence marches on over the minor top of Great Haw and on to Little Haw, where our water plan was put into action. We dropped our packs and followed the bridleway NE to Steel House Gill, where several long tributaries combined to form the main stream. To our amazement, all of them were virtually bone dry leaving just tiny puddles of stagnant water in the main stream bed. The terrain lower down was dreadful and we reluctantly returned to Little Haw and rationed the remaining water.

Continuing SE along the fence, the head of Thorny Grane Gill was no better and at the second boundary stone, we dropped down to the Dale Edge track. This gives a grand prospect up Nidderdale but the view was now very hazy indeed. Just past a shooting lodge the track turns L to the pass road and the head of Backstone Gill - this was dry too. It was getting quite late and this was only the second time we have ever failed to find water, but we decided that we could manage the night on what we had left. Following the shooters track SE and forking R at the junction, we made an excellent grassy pitch on Cockle Hill.

Day 2 - Stean Moor & Mossdale

The night was warm and the water was almost exhausted by morning, but a short way down the track we heard the sound of running water in the deep ditch alongside - the spring above was draining into it in a telltale stripe of emerald green leaves and liverworts. We thankfully replenished our bottles with cold clear water and filled our Platypus container too for the hot hazy day ahead. The track crosses Lul Beck at a large stone bridge and descends to Ramsgill, where we jettisoned our rubbish in the litter bin and took the Nidderdale Way northwards in the mounting heat.

Sypeland Crags
Sypeland Crags (01 Jul 2006__07:11:30)

An unsigned footpath climbs SW around High Blayshaw Farm and contours around to a ford of Blayshaw Gill, easy with the plentiful boulders and low water level. On the far side, it is easiest to walk roughly alongside the gill to the arched 'bridge' spanning the valley. The map shows the path on the N side of the bridge but there is no way through, instead we passed beneath the arches and climbed R on a path of chippings to a metal gate. Through the gate, the mapped line again leads to a dead end, so we returned to the gate and stayed on the L of the wall to a farm gate. Through this, we turned L across the field to join the mapped shooters track onto Stean Moor, a very easy ascent through the deserted wilderness passing a shooting cabin and weaving upwards alongside Green Grooves Gill. The water and rocks here are deeply stained with orange and yellow by the minerals, unusually colourful but totally undrinkable - we had been wise to carry the water supplies.

Bridge over Blayshaw Gill
Bridge over Blayshaw Gill (01 Jul 2006__10:09:12)
View over West Gill
View over West Gill (01 Jul 2006__11:20:09)
Head of Backstean Gill
Head of Backstean Gill (01 Jul 2006__12:13:42)
Meugher Dike
Meugher Dike (01 Jul 2006__12:30:44)
Meugher from Friar Hood
Meugher from Friar Hood (01 Jul 2006__13:17:32)

The track climbs on to another shooting lodge near Acoras Scar where it divides into three and the trig point on Meugher can be seen. The centre track ascends SW and descends to cross the head of Backstean Gill in the folds of the moor. The map shows the track as ending here but it continued SW and took us to within 100m of the boundary fence, leaving only a very short rough section. There is a faint path alongside the fence northwards over the rough moor and the going is quite easy. Near Sandy Gate, a stile marks the bridleway path SW, which does not follow the mapped line but contours the slopes before dropping down to the stone shelter on the hillside. Lower down it crosses a small stream which had good water, and arrives at the site of the old mine by a stone building.

Mossdale Scar & stone building
Mossdale Scar & stone building (01 Jul 2006__14:57:01)

Fording Mossdale Beck, we joined the prominent track that weaves along by Mossdale Scar and enters a lovely deserted open area where limestone outcrops become predominant. The track ascends to Kelber Gate and descends to the Dales Way, where we saw the first people of the day, and which gives an attractive and easy return to Kettlewell.