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Wensleydale & Swaledale / 2 days / 36 miles (58km)

OS Route Map → Map GPX Route file →

Date: 02 Apr 2008
Start / Finish: Hawes. Plentiful roadside parking. Public toilets.
Maps: Explorer OL30: Yorkshire Dales Northern & Central areas.

Day 1Wensleydale: Mill Gill, Aysgarth Falls & High Carl17.3 miles (27.9km)
Day 2Swaledale & Great Shunner Fell18.2 miles (29.3km)

A varied backpack combining valleys and hills, visiting the waterfalls of Wensleydale, the little frequented mine-scarred high moors above Castle Bolton and returning along Swaledale to finish with a traverse of Great Shunner Fell.

The murkiest weather had been predicted for the western strip of the country, and an overdue trip further east in the Yorkshire Dales seemed a sound choice.

Day 1 - Wensleydale: Mill Gill, Aysgarth Falls & High Carl

On arriving in Hawes the local hills were still shrouded in mist, and we decided to do the circuit anti-clockwise to leave Great Shunner Fell for the afternoon of the second day. Climbing NE to Sedbusk accompanied by the song of oystercatchers, we took the footpath E to Litherskew and Skell Gill while the mist cleared to leave a hazy view of Drumaldrace and Dodd Fell Hill across the valley with the prominent shape of Addlebrough further along.

Hazy view of Drumaldrace & Dodd Fell Hill
Hazy view of Drumaldrace & Dodd Fell Hill (02 Apr 2008__10:59:23)

This was our first visit to the waterfalls of Wensleydale and the first objective was Mill Gill, plunging down through a gap in the cliff face and rather more imposing than expected, accessed via a side path through the trees.

Mill Gill waterfall
Mill Gill waterfall (02 Apr 2008__11:19:42)

Passing through Askrigg, the footpath line marches on to Nappa Mill and roughly follows the old dismantled railway for a while, sometimes on it and sometimes alongside it, then follows the banks of the Ure to 995890 just before Turn Hole.

View of the Ure
View of the Ure (02 Apr 2008__12:56:17)

A footpath returns briefly to the dismantled railway and leaves it to encircle the buildings of Bear Park and descend to Aysgarth High Force falls, the first of three falls and the widest span. The National Park Visitor Centre is just above here and the easy footpaths are well signposted for the Middle and Lower falls, ensuring their constant popularity.

The Middle Force falls are viewable only from a constructed platform accessed via steps, while the Lower Force falls allow more intimate acquaintance. A notice warns against attempting to cross the river because the land on the far side is private:- oh right, I'm sure lots of people would try crossing otherwise!.

Aysgarth High Force falls
Aysgarth High Force falls (02 Apr 2008__14:12:41)
Aysgarth Middle Force falls
Aysgarth Middle Force falls (02 Apr 2008__14:28:57)
Aysgarth Lower Force falls
Aysgarth Lower Force falls (02 Apr 2008__14:40:15)

Returning up the steps from the Lower Force falls, we continued on the footpath signed for Castle Bolton. At 024898 the fingerpost directs the path ENE along the byway and into the walled path of Thoresby Lane, and another footpath continues N to the minor road below Castle Bolton. Near the castle, which is home to a colony of jackdaws, a bridleway between two buildings heads NNW and soon becomes an indistinct wet reedy line that climbs NNW to Black Hill then descends on a good track to the shooter's cabin at Dent's Houses. At this track junction our line was the Apedale Road heading north westwards. One wonders about the names seen on this moorland: Apedale Road ascending the flanks Gibbon Hill...

This rough and boggy heather moorland is liberally sprinkled with the sites of old mines, and the partly recolonised spoil is constantly in evidence near the old mine tracks. Nowadays these are used as shooter's tracks which make the walking easy, and heather burning was in progress higher up on Gibbon Hill. At Apedale Head we made a pitch on a good grassy patch in the rough wet heather near some old mine workings and water filled shake holes, which were teeming with frogs and a huge amount of spawn accompanied by loud croaking.

Apedale Beck & Cat Scar
Apedale Beck & Cat Scar (02 Apr 2008__17:08:59)

Day 2 - Swaledale & Great Shunner Fell

Considering the forecast it was no surprise when we opened the tent door to thick mist, pierced by the frequent calling and cackling of the abundant grouse and an occasional trilling of the curlew. The descent north westwards through more mine workings looks confusing on the map, but all that is needed is faith in the main track which leads unerringly down the bleak Whitaside Moor to the continuation footpath sign on the minor road.

The footpath descends High Whitaside to Isles Bridge, and the sun was making headway on the mist mantle leaving a striking cloud layer above Swaledale with blue sky above.

Dense cloud layer in Swaledale
Dense cloud layer in Swaledale (03 Apr 2008__08:48:50)

Immediately over the Swale a footpath roughly follows the river westwards, briefly forced onto the B6270 at one point. At the second major bend in the river we took the footpath directly across the fields to Gunnerside (public toilets). The sky was clearing nicely and we took the access road W towards Ivelet that climbs gently and gives great views over the valley and across to the ridge of Lovely Seat, while the prospect ahead to Muker and Great Shunner Fell comes into view at Calvert Houses.

View from Ivelet access road
View from Ivelet access road (03 Apr 2008__11:02:51)
Muker & Great Shunner Fell from Ivelet access road
Muker & Great Shunner Fell from Ivelet access road (03 Apr 2008__11:34:54)

The access road becomes a track that descends to the footbridge over the Swale and footpaths to Muker and Thwaite. From the ascent of Great Shunner Fell there was a good retrospective view of Swaledale, with High Carl looking a long way away now but we could just see the smoke from the heather burning that had resumed today.

Fog had already started forming now on the hills to the north, and at the summit of Great Shunner Fell it was very hazy with mist coming and going. The boggy bits on the Pennine Way traverse of this huge hill are all paved now, but it retains its feeling of wilderness well, and like the shake holes on High Carl its deep peaty pools had a huge number of frogs. Near the summit a small information board briefly describes a black grouse recovery project covering the Abbotside area, but as expected we saw many red grouse and none of the black variety.

View down Swaledale
View down Swaledale (03 Apr 2008__13:16:25)