Lower Wharfedale inc Skipton & Grassington
“A landscape created and managed over the millennia by the journey of the River Wharfe.”
The River Wharfe flows serenely through some of the prettiest but also the busiest villages in the Yorkshire Dales. It dominates the landscape and frames the area – the peat from the higher moors creating a dark earthy colour to the water which I have not seen anywhere else. The villages come thick and fast along its banks, attractive and full of interest whilst above the moors (rather than hills of which there are few) offer some great walking and open views. There is history as well, the ruins of Bolton Abbey justifiably famous but there are other famous old houses and castles to explore. Skipton itself does not stand on the Wharfe but is the gateway to the Yorkshire Dales and Wharfedale is its major honeypot – yes they go together.
Away from the large market town of Skipton there are a number of notable villages in Lower Wharfedale. Grassington is almost a town itself and marks the boundary with the more remote upper end of the dale but both pretty Burnsall and the fantastically named Appletreewick lie on the river whilst the villages of Cracoe and Linton are a little way away. There are hamlets too but most visitors stay either in Grassington/Threshfield or Skipton itself.
Skipton is widely known as the Gateway to the Yorkshire Dales for very good reasons. Most visitors driving from the south will pass either through or round Skipton before entering the Dales proper. It is a busy market town and during the summer months (and in particular on market days) it can become intolerable. However once the day trippers have gone or you visit out of season Skipton improves considerably. There is so much to do in and around Skipton that a stay here is definitely recommended and for those who are visiting the Dales for the first time it offers the opportunity to pick and choose your favourite village for your next visit. I have worked in Skipton and find the centre and the shops somewhat disappointing and a little drab but then I am the classic local, too many people when I am after a sandwich at lunchtime gives me a totally different perspective from what the visitor gets.
It is certainly rare for a large town to have such great walks from the doorstep, staying in Skipton without a car gives you this opportunity. There are also some good walks within the town, such as Skipton Woods, but there are a number of other things that I would recommend visiting in Skipton. A trip on the canal costs £6.50 an hour which maybe a little over what I would pay but a trip on the Steam Train from Embsay to Bolton Abbey is a must for anyone with a young family. The fish and chip shop at Bizzie Lizzie’s is a bit of a local institution but the Woolly Sheep is my choice for a pint in town. Finally I would make time to visit the Copper Dragon brewery and the ‘free’ craven museum which is voluntarily funded but genuinely interesting.
Grassington is deservedly popular; its main street is full of family run shops selling food, crafts and gifts whilst its attractive location above the River Wharfe gives it a distinction that makes it the most popular place to stay within the Yorkshire Dales. It is probably a small town rather than a large village as it has become attached to neighbouring Threshfield and is a bit of a sprawl towards the river to the west. Walking north, south and east though is lovely and it is easy to forget the unattractive side, so good that the area was chosen to film some notable blockbusters such as the Calendar Girls and the final part of Harry Potter. The town really comes to life though through the festivals and events that take place throughout the year. They are so good and worthwhile I have named a few:
- Festival of Music and Arts – last 2 weeks of June
- Grassington Pantaloons perform their pantomime during February
- Farmers Market on the 3rd Sunday of each month
- Grassington Players in April and October perform plays or musicals
- Dickensian Festival in December when the population goes back in time
Burnsall is supremely situated in the bend of the River Wharfe a few miles downstream of Grassington and is a renowned beauty spot. In the summer thousands come and pitch for the day by the river, many also enjoy the comforts of the tea shops and Red Lion pub. It is a great venue as is Appletreewick a few miles further downstream. A’wick is much smaller and less popular than Burnsall but still very attractive and therefore much sought after with the stretch of riverbank unsurpassed in my opinion. Other villages of note in Lower Wharfedale are Linton and its village green, Cracoe and its access to Embsay Moor and Hetton with the most famous inn in the Yorkshire Dales, the Angel.
Skipton has enjoyed a long and interesting history which has been dominated by the impressive Skipton Castle. Skipton is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1085 but really came to prominence when the Norman Baron Robert de Romille built a castle on the steeper land to the north of the present centre. The original wood building was soon replaced by a stone keep constructed specifically to keep the marauding Scots at bay. In 1310 Skipton Castle was granted to the Clifford family with royal approval and the family owned it for the next 350 years, Lady Anne Clifford being the last benefactor. Its following claim to fame happened in 1645 when it became the last stronghold of the Royalist army, holding out in seige for 3 years against Cromwell’s Cavaliers. Today the castle offers an interesting 2 hours, there is no interior as such, just a walk on stone as the castle was, no pretensions but a true castle experience. The lone Yew Tree at the entrance is certainly a sign of things to come. However for an entrance fee of just £6 (£3.50 for children) is in my opinion good value but I would also encourage a walk in the woods along Eller Beck at the back of the castle to gain a full feeling.
Away from the castle the history of Skipton has alternated between sheep farming, cotton mills and more latterly tourism. Main Street which is now a general traders market used to be a traditional sheep market with sheep being brought in from miles around. Sheep Day has been celebrated for years but this was extended in 2010 to a Flock to Sheep Festival with a set of present and historical Dales celebrations. The construction of the Leeds to Liverpool canal, completed in 1816 , transformed the landscape of Skipton during the 19th century. Ten large cotton mills dominated the life of the folk living near Skipton and it was not until later in the 20th century when tourism came to prominence that Skipton became (relatively) prosperous again.
Grassington and the moors nearby are of notable archaeologically importance, 2 celtic villages and other bronze age settlements litter the landscape and signify a long history unusual in the Yorkshire Dales. Lead mining on the moors above Grassington was developed in the 15th C but it was not until 300 years later that a smelting mill was built and the industry professionalised. The opening of a side wharfe from the Leeds Liverpool canal up to Grassington was the catalyst. By the 1870s lead mining was dying in the valley and leisure took over, the railway came and encouraged an era of commuting (to Bradford usually/sometimes as far as Leeds) and finally it became a centre of tourism.
It would be wrong not to mention the greatest influence in this area of the Yorkshire Dales of Bolton Abbey. The Augustine monks established the abbey in 1120 and went on to dominate the lives and economy of the area until the Dissolution in1539. Now things are different but the Abbey’s popularity has not diminished and the ruins are a big draw today.
However the Wharfe does not finish at Bolton Abbey and soon passes through the attractive village of Addingham and the Victorian spa town of Ilkley. The town of Ilkley was made famous by the beautiful upland moorland that lies to its soth and the folk song and legend it spurned ‘on Ilkley Moor Bhat’at’. The town itself is well sought after as a permanent place to live but it also makes an excellent base to explore the southern Dales whilst enjoying a good choice of excellent restaurants. It is also the start of the increasingly popular Dales Way which meanders through the heart of the Dales before ending up at Bowness on the shores of Windermere.
My favourite walks in Lower Wharfedale and around Skipton are detailed below – just click on the link for further details.
Grimwith Reservoir via Hebden Beck. A fascinating circuit including lovely Hebden Beck and Grimshaw Reservoir
The Villages of Wharfedale. A riverside walk along the Dales way taking in 5 villages, all of character and some distimction.
In Sight of Simon’s Seat. Appletreewick is often passed by on the way to Grassington but moors above offer a lovely and varied walk.
Bordley under Malham Moor. A quiet walk through some nice limestone scenery and isolated farmsteads
Cracoe & Rylstone Cross. Explore the lovely escarpment which was made famous by the film, the Calendar Girls.
Grass Wood near Grassington. A short walk through the broadleaf woods above Grassington.
Simon’s Seat via the Valley of Desolation. The moorland hill of Simon’s Seat dominates the estates of the Duke of Devonshire
Cataracts at the Strid. The River Wharfe flows powerfully through the countryside above Bolton Abbey
Addingham to Bolton Abbey. An unusual walk to Bolton Abbey following the Wharfe on its way to Ilkley.
Ilkley Moor Baht’at. Myths and legends cloak this moorland scene in a popular walk via the Cow & Calf.
Embsay Moor Circular. Rylstone Cross and Cracoe monument interrupt this vast area of heather moorland.
Sharp How from near Skipton. A Marilyn to the north of Skipton provides a pleasant walk and return through the forest.
Discover Skipton Moor. An easy walk from the east side of Skipton on to the hills with great views back over the town.
Other Things to do in Lower Wharfedale
Embsay Steam Railway. A short but lovely stretch of steam rail through the countryside to Bolton Abbey.
Canal Trips. Hour, day or longer trips available from Skipton on the Leeds Liverpool canal.
Craven Museum. Learn all about the history of Skipton and the craven area at this excellent museum and gallery.
Cavendish Pavilion. An excellent place to grab a drink or have a long leisurely meal on the banks of the River Wharfe.
Cruck Barn Appletreewick. A totally unique barn conversion as part of the Craven Arms which advertises Yorkshire’s best pint – some accolade!
Hesketh Farm Park. A great day out for the family on this 600 acre working farm near Bolton Abbey.
Updated Weather Forecast
Click here to go to the Met Office website for the 5 day forecast for Lower Wharfedale.