DALES WAY - The 50 Greatest Walks of the World - Barry Stone

The 50 Greatest Walks of the World - Barry Stone (2016)


West Yorkshire and Cumbria, England

Distance: 135 km

Grade: Easy

Time: 6-8 days

It has been described as ‘Britain’s gentlest long distance path’. Tracing a southeast/northwest line through the Yorkshire and Cumbrian countryside, the Dales Way is a long distance footpath carved out of the landscape by volunteers in 1991. It requires neither the amount of time nor the stamina to complete that is needed of other long distance footpaths such as the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast, and so makes a more agreeable introduction to multi-day hikes for the novice walker. Taking advantage of river valleys the elevation gain/loss is minimal, and it can be completed in as little as four days, although the fact that virtually every pub you pass - and there are many - also has rooms, means you might want to factor in a couple of well-earned ‘rest days’.

The Dales Way runs from Ilkley in West Yorkshire to Bowness-on-Windermere in Cumbria, paralleling river banks wherever possible. It is a trail of two halves: the first takes you upstream along the River Wharfe through Wharfedale, considered by many to be the prettiest of all the Yorkshire Dales, and on through the Yorkshire Dales National Park then over the roof of England on the Pennine watershed at Ribblehead; the second half takes you through a series of river valleys - the Dentdale, the Mint and the Kent - and ends surrounded by the beauty of the Lake District on the shores of Lake Windermere.



Photo: Mtaylor 848


Photo: John S Turner

Starting at Ilkley you walk through the scenery of Lower Wharfedale to the day’s unquestioned highlight - the Augustinian priory of Bolton Abbey. Founded in 1154 on the banks of the River Wharfe it still had not been completed four centuries later when the Dissolution of the Monasteries brought an end to religious life at the priory in 1540. From the abbey you then enter one of Britain’s most tranquil stretches of woodland riverside walking along the Strid, a remarkable section of the River Wharfe that narrows to only 60 cm in width, though what it lacks in width it makes up for in depth as it becomes a rushing ‘vertical’ torrent that has undercut its banks and is extremely dangerous.

From Burnsall to Hubberholme the trail runs mostly on the valley floor, except for a section of high ground at the half-way point that takes you up on to an impressive expanse of limestone paving, the so-called ‘grykes’ - individual slabs called ‘clints’ each separated from the other by vertical gaps up to a metre deep. Leaving Hubberholme a section of dark, peaty hollows can make the going tough as you climb to the highest point on the trail over bleak, open moorlands. Keep in mind there are no shops on the coming 37-km section between Buckden and Dent village.

The next day you follow the River Dee into the picturesque valley of Dentdale and then on to the even more charming village of Dent, the valley’s only village full of whitewashed cottages and cobblestoned streets. Leaving Dent the trail tenaciously hugs a series of riverbanks as you begin to leave behind all of those typically ‘Dales’ landscapes before arriving in Sedbergh, with its lovely views out over the Howgill Fells, one of England’s ‘forgotten’ walking areas with its domed fells once described by acclaimed fell-walker Alfred Wainwright as ‘looking like a herd of sleeping elephants’. A day’s walking will then take you into Burneside, and from there it’s just a half-day’s walk to the end of the trail at Bowness-on-Windermere.

The trail is never far away from points of man-made interest that include Roman roads, manor houses and suspension bridges, and because of its modest elevation is a doable walk in spring and autumn. Nicely waymarked and easy on the feet, the Dales Way is a perfect introduction to the joys of the long distance footpath.