Wensleydale inc Hawes and Leyburn
“There is no doubting that a visitor to Wensleydale has the true Yorkshire Dales experience.”
Wensleydale runs like a dagger through the centre of the Yorkshire Dales and succeeds in combining many of the best bits from the other areas which circle it. Some of the moors have the wildness found in Swaledale to the north but the towns and villages have more in common to the south. Mining is not really a big issue in Wensleydale but agriculture is; the flatter valley floor offering big opportunities for cattle as well as sheep. The hills around are less dramatic than those further south and west, rounded with long wide ridges which offer some excellent walks. However I enjoy the side valleys best of all; Coverdale and Bishopsdale are worthy of exploration as is Cotterdale, a wilder valley to the west. Water is the other major theme in Wensleydale; Aysgarth Falls and the high waterfall at Hardraw drawing many visitors but I do like the quieter Semer Water, the only natural lake in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
Hawes is the undoubted queen of Wensleydale, the largest village in the upper valley and a focus for the area. Roads converge in Hawes from Swaledale in the north and Ribblehead to the south whilst the main valley road carries on to the wilder lands above Sedbergh and Kirkby Stephen. Leyburn marks the eastern end of the dale but in between there is a multitude of delightful little villages, many featuring as classics within James Herriott’s famous series. Askrigg was where much was filmed but other villageswhich I think are just as attractive and worthy are West Burton, Carperby (JH honeymooned here), Bainbridge and West Witton. All have great walks from the doorstep!
Hawes is one of the most popular centres in the Yorkshire Dales and it would be remiss of me not to say that summer weekends can become too busy with people and cars flowing out of the shops and lanes creating a bit of a bottle neck. However away from the crowds it still has some delightful nooks and crannies, some interesting shops and both lively (v unusual for the Yorkshire Dales) and more traditional eating and drinking places. Maybe the best bet in the summer months is to stay in one of the lovely little hamlets within easy walking distance of the centre of Hawes; Appersett, Burtersett, Gayle, Sedbusk or Hardraw – all peaceful whatever time of the year.
Between Hawes and Leyburn but within the main valley lie a number of small and typically Yorkshire villages. Probably they have one or two traditional inns, maybe a shop but are set beautifully in to the landscape. Carperby and Bainbridge are my two favourites but Askrigg is genuinely lovely whilst West Burton benefits considerably from being off the main valley with its own waterfall and perfect village green. The village of Aysgarth is set a mile or so from the famous falls so does not suffer from the crowds whilst West Witton is probably best known for the fantastic seafood restaurant in the Wensleydale Heifer.
The side valleys are what makes Wensleydale special to me. Many of the walks I have described in this section are in the dales which branch off the main thoroughfare. The long valley of Coverdale in particular has a special feel to it, a quietness and melancholy found whether taking to the hills, keeping to the River Cover or exploring the hamlets of West Scrafton, Horsehouse or Carlton. Some of the other dales though have no through road and are all the better for it; Semer Water lying below Countersett is full of intrigue and mystery whilst Cotterdale and Whalton offer some of the most pleasant walks around. Simply follow the paths and in particular the old drover’s roads for a truly lovely experience.
As with all the Yorkshire Dales the history of Wensleydale is governed by its situation and the ideal landscape for hill farming. History though touched the valley in a number of differing ways leaving legacies which can be visited today; Castle Bolton is a splendidly preserved medieval castle with a good history, Gayle Mill was one of a number water powered mills and is still a visual link with past and potentially the future if all goes to plan, there are numerous sites of archaeological interest as the valley was settled at least in bronze age times, many of the inns were staging posts in the 17th and 18th century and still have some of the memorabilia from that time whilst Wensleydale Cheese was first produced in the valley in the 19th century and is now famous world over. All of these sites can and should be combined with walks in this excellent area to reveal the true history of Wensleydale.
My favourite walks in Wensleydale are listed below, just click the link for further details on each.
Waterfalls above Askrigg. A short walk through the woods and past the waterfalls of Mill Gill.
Fells over Hawes. A 10 mile high level traverse over the hills that ring Hawes to the south
Aysgarth Falls. A walk along the most famous waterfalls in the Yorkshire Dales taking in the village of Carperby where James Herriott honeymooned.
Hardraw Force from Hawes. The highest single fall in England can be visited from Hawes and is easily coupled with a lovely stroll along the River Ure.
Exploring Cotterdale. A rarely visited valley near Hawes is easily combined with a yomp along the River Ure to the village of Appersett.
A Wensleydale Highway. A walk along the higher ground between Gayle and Burtersett above Hawes offers spectacular views down Wensleydale (or up!)
Hidden Semer Water. A beautiful side valley with the largest natural lake in the Yorkshire Dales is exceptionally peaceful and tranquil.
The Gallops of Middleham. Remarkably castles, abbeys, rivers, thoroughbred horses and great views all in a 5 mile walk
Addleborough. A familiar site to all those staying at Hawes, a hill with a fascinating summit area full of character and intrigue.
Penhill Beacon from West Witton. The moors to the south include one of the famous beacons lit as a warning to England that the Spanish Armada was on the move.
The prettiest village in the Dales?. A pleasant walk up this quiet dale from West Burton including sections of woodland, riverside and open moors.
Villages of Coverdale. This peaceful dale characterises how the Yorkshire Dales must have looked 100 years ago.
West Scrafton, Caldbergh & Colsterdale . A high and remote moorland links these two typical unspoilt Dales near Leyburn
The Moors above Carlton. Excellent bridleways link the twin valleys of Coverdale and Whalton in this hauntingly lovely 8 1/2 mile walk.
Lands of Castle Bolton. The castle stands proud above the lands around which are easy to explore from the small village of Redmire.
Other Things to do in Wensleydale
Wensleydale Cheese. World famous cheese that is still made and produced in Hawes. The visitor centre attracts 200,000 visitors a year and will explain all about cheese!
Castle Bolton. Does all that a castle does – looks good, has an interesting history and is priced ok at £6.50 per adult. Closed through winter.
Gayle Mill. A restored 19th century sawmill in a beautiful situation above Hawes. Check the site for opening times – may be worth calling.
Middleham Castle. The ruins of Middleham Castle offer a great contrast to Castle Bolton – a real medieval castle but check the interesting history.
Forbidden Corner. An exceptional experience for the family with a labyrinth of shocks and surprises within this 4 acre site. Probably need to pre-book.
Jervaulx Abbey. Near Masham the remains if an a Cistercian Abbey are complemented by the River Ure and some lovely tea rooms
Dales Countryside museum. Experience the way the Dales was in this museum of exhibits and slide shows in the centre of Hawes.
Wensleydale Railway. An alternative way of seeing the dale on this rail line that mirrors the 60s and 70s. Worth dipping in and out with stops enroute.
Aysgarth Tea & Bar. Start or finish a walk along Aysgarth Falls & Bolton Castle with a visit to the tea rooms in the woods.
Updated Weather Forecast
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