(81 miles, 5/7 days)
“A fine walk of 81 miles following the river valleys/dales from Ilkley to Kendal”
The Dales Way began life as a challenging couple of days walk along the River Wharfe, following it from the lovely town of Ilkley (some start in Leeds but I do not really see the point) through to its source on Cam Fell. However it was soon expanded to take in the lovely valley of Dentdale, following the River Dee, joining up with the Lune after Sedbergh and finishing on the rarely visited lowlands that fall between the M6 motorway and the real ‘start’ of the Lake District at Bowness/Windermere.
There is an awful lot of riverside walking but this actually adds to the variety of the walk; each riverside section is different, the views always good and the paths usually (but not always) in good condition. There is something immensely satisfying in following a river to its source with the resulting land use changing as you travel; big open fields and the rich lands around Ilkley passes through the heart of the Dales to the remote hamlets of Beckermonds and Upper Dentdale. Further north (and west) the Lake District hoves in to view and excites the mind. It is just a shame the Dales way does not link to the Cumbrian Way and travel through the heart of the Lakes as well.
One of the greatest attractions on the Dales Way are the beautiful villages that are passed, the character and history for any visitor to see. There is plenty of accommodation although it is fair to say that some of the sections may be a little long. Certainly from Buckden to Dent there is not a lot aside from some isolated farms!
If you want us to tailor make your itinerary do contact us; there are 2 differing itineraries below which we believe are suitable for the walk but they may not be suitable for you. Simply contact us and we will help. The main problem is the crossing to Dent from Wharfedale, it is a long, quite remote day unless broken up by staying at Ribblehead.
Two Sample Itineraries
Suggested Itinerary A Longer
Day 1. Ilkley to Burnsall. 13 miles
The River Wharfe is a constant and dramatic companion on an easy but quite long day. Bolton Abbey is another highlight but it is the evr changing river which holds the attention
Day 2. Burnsall to Kettlewell. 11 miles
The day starts with a few miles pleasant river walking before taking to the hills after Grassington (stop here for a quick cup of tea and explore). Here the limestone scenery of the area is eye catching and great to walk through but soon drops in to the pleasant village of Kettlewell.
Day 3. Kettlewell to Ribblehead. 14 miles
A complete contrast to the previous 2 days as the walk enters an increasingly remote landscape. Upper Wharfedale is a peaceful spot and great walking terrain before the path enters the watershed of a number of dales. Soon the Cam Road (bridleway) is met and the 3 Peaks spring in to view and the spectacular Ribblehead viaduct
Day 4. Ribblehead to Dent. 13 miles
From Ribblehead the track soon passes in to Upper Dentdale which has two more spectacular viaducts providing transport for the Settle Carlisle railway. Dentdale is peaceful and quiet, very few people or cars ever pass through. This forgotten valley culminates in Dent Village, a pretty cobbled village.
Day 5. Dent to Sedbergh. 6 miles
A short day but offering plenty of time to explore Sedbergh, one of the famous Book Towns of England. The walk between the two is pleasant enough but soon over, the path passes over the shoulder separating Dentdale and the Rawthey Valley providing excellent views of the Howgill Fells.
Day 6. Sedbergh to Kendal. 14 miles
In contrast to the previous day this is much longer. However the terrain is generally good and it is full of interest as the route passes from the Dales to the Lakes. Farms, fields, country tracks are the order of the day with route finding at its most challenging (no river to follow!). Burneside is the usual stop which is on the Way but there is limited accommodation and most take the additional mile or so and drop in to Kendal.
Day 7. Kendal to Bowness/Windermere. 11 miles
A fine conclusion to the walk. A pleasant bit of Lakeland riverside brings you to Staveley where the path heads off in to the rolling foothills of the Lake District. This part of the Lakes is unexplored and extremely pleasant before the ‘noise’ of Bowness and the lake of Windermere stops any further progress.
Suggested Itinerary B Shorter
Day 1. Ilkley to Grassington. 16 miles
Day 2. Grassington to Hubberholme. 12 miles
Day 3. Hubberholme to Dent. 22 miles
Day 4. Dent to Burneside. 19 miles
Day 5. Burneside to Bowness. 9 miles
Maps: O/S 1.25,000 Explorer Series 297, OL2, OL30, OL2 (again), OL19 and OL7 going south to north west.
Places to Stay
We have listed some of the best places to stay on the Dales Way:
Ilkley. Wheatley Arms . Treat yourself at the start or finish to the walk
Langstrothdale . Low Raisgill is recently refurbished (2016) and directly on the Way
Grassington. Grassington Lodge is a lovely little guest house near the centre of Grassington
Dent. The George & Dragon is in the centre of Dent and has good food & excellent beer
Sedbergh. Summerhill Guest House offers a cosy home and excellent, locally sourced breakfast
Windermere Chestnuts Guest House is a fine place to spend your final (or first) night
Bowness Blenheim Lodge is a comfortable AA 4* B & B with splendid views over Windermere
The Dales Way (or Dalesway, I am still unsure) runs near my home so really was the most obvious long distance walk (trail?) to tackle. The 84 miles was comfortably manageable in the 5 days that I set aside and as a result I was inclined to treat it somewhat differently than my previous two walks on the Coast to Coast and the Southern Upland Way.
- I would return home each night either via my amenable wife or returning to my start point via the bus/train at the end of the day.
- I would tackle the walk in mid-winter (hoping for some snow but this was not to be)
- I would take Mist, my border collie (partly as I was not having to find anywhere to stay over)
- I was very familiar with the walk aside from the section from Sedbergh to Kendal
Planning the route was therefore an issue in taking in bite sized chunks of roughly 20 miles each. However the practicalities of this proved difficult, particularly in the second section of the walk and I ended up doing a short day out of Sedbergh. The key to the walk is from Buckden in Wharfedale over to Dentdale, a 25 mile section which may well be too much for many, necessitating a stop either further up Langstrothdale or at Ribblehead (which is a mile or so off route). It is a better 6 or 7 day walk than 5 and I would urge anyone doing this to spend a little more time than I did.
In splitting the walk up in to day walks the big advantage I had was that the weight I carried was minimal compared to normal so I had no back pains or overly sore feet that I had experienced before. The feet was a particular relief but the more of these you do the more you learn the lesson – comfortable footwear is vital if the walk is to be fully enjoyed.
Finally I also wished to vary the official route in parts because I simply believe that it can be better that way, I have detailed this a little more in the Day by Day section later on but as an example finishing at the lakeside of Bowness is just rubbish; Windermere is fine, the pubs are better and the satisfaction is just as great.
Random Thoughts on my Return:
Due to how I tackled the walk I must admit it felt less like a long distance walk and more like a series of day walks. In fact there were some very good day walks on the route which can be easily linked to public transport for some very satisfying days (example: Bus from Skipton to Grassington, return via train at Ribblehead). However the peculiarities of a long distance walk, the sense of really leaving the real world and becoming engrossed on the details of the miles of paths and tracks did not happen for me on the Dalesway. I also made an error completing the walk so early in the year, not so much because of the weather or underfoot terrain, but simply because the leafless trees and landscape was flat and at times a little dull. Having seen the route in the summer it is visually so much more enjoyable.
The Dales Way however is a wonderful introduction to long distance walking and a great show piece for the Yorkshire Dales. There are plenty of places to stay and as this is a low level route there is never too much isolation and remoteness to worry the inexperienced mind. The character of the walk is set by the rivers it follows, particularly in the first 35 miles when banks of the Wharfe are a constant companion. This can be a little wearing at times but it is a lovely river and following a major river to its source has its own satisfaction. Rivers are variously followed thereafter, the Dee followed down Dentdale and the Kent after Kendal but there is more variety, personally I am a particular fan of the area to the east of Windermere, lovely country and well worth a closer exploration.
The waymarking is particularly good on the Dales Way and it is only at rare points (usually on farmland, where the route is not straightforward and clear. Use common sense when there is no obvious waymarked route and you will soon get used to spotting the next obvious gate/style or fence opening. It is certainly accurate to say that by the end of the Way you will have climbe or negotiated many 100,s of stiles and gates, all with their own unique opening style (keeps the mind alert. You will also encounter nearly as many warnings about dogs which always irritates me but Mist completed the full trip off the lead, aside from a couple of occasions where farmers were too close for comfort. If your dog is well trained and keeps close when livestock are around that is surely good enough.
I do wonder if there should be an upland version of the Dales Way taking in the heights of Simon’s Seat, Great Whernside, Whernside itself and maybe even a chunk of Howgills – longer, harder graft but adding more variety. However what I have done is create a separate 7 day walk that passes through the heart of the Dales which I have named the Bracken Way (find it here) which certainly gives, in my humble opinion, visitors a better overall feel to the Yorkshire Dales.
Day 1. Ilkley to Grassington
16 miles, 6 hours, set off 10am
The Dales Way officially starts in Leeds but 95% of walkers start at Ilkley. I was one of the 95%. Walking through the park at Ilkley is a slightly surreal kick off for an 84 mile walk but gradually the houses are left behind, the Wharfe is joined and the walk really starts. The path rarely leaves the banks of the Wharfe all day and after rain it is certainly a powerful looking river. Addingham is soon passed and the Dales themselves start to dominate the horizons. The weather was sadly cloudy (as it was for the entire walk, not raining but grey cloud with a nagging wind from the north west. However it is safe to say what is lacking in colour in the landscape was fully made up by numerous visitors and walkers clogging up the area, particularly near Bolton Abbey. What added to the problem was that today was February 14th and various couples appeared to have sneaked away from work to become entangled next to some large oak tree (or similar).
The walk changes character once the woods of the Strid have been completed and a delightful riverside section passes a few yards below Appletreewick and through to Burnsall. I was becoming a little weary at this stage(unlike Mist who appeared to be living up) and took a 10 minute seat to recover and vow next day I would have some sweets to keep me going. Next day I of course forgot! Helen was meeting me in Grassington but I got there early and was able to pop down to Linton Locks for a viewing as the river was in full spate and very impressive.
Day 2 Grassington to Ribblehead
21 miles. 7 ½ hours. Set off at 9.30
This was the longest day in terms of hours taken on the Dales Way. The problem of following a walk to its source is that it tends to be uphill and this was certainly how it felt with only the last mile or so from the Pennine Way above Ribblehead being below the watershed. However the first 6 miles to Kettlewell are lovely with the path leaving the river and striking like an arrow across the limestone hillside above Conistone. This is my favourite type of walking, the fast draining limestone often leaving dry, short grass when elsewhere there is bog. Very few romantic couples were out which added to the peace and solitude with only Mist as a companion over the many hours. I bypassed Kettlewell and hit the riverside track just beyond. After the airy panorama this section was a bit gloomy and although I like the villages of Starbottom and Buckden there is not a lot to the riverside section.
I was already becoming weary as the path left the riverside and joined the quiet tarmac road signifying the start of Langstrothdale, surely one f the unspoilt gems of the Yorkshire Dales. To me it is places like here, Littondale, Arkegarthdale which make the Dales what it is; isolated farms and derelict barns dotting the bare hillsides, visitors who get no further than Grassington or Settle, Leyburn or Richmond never really understand what the Yorkshire Dales is all about. However after 2 hours of pleasant walking through the beautifully named settlements of Hubberholme, Yockenthwaite, Beckermonds and Outershaw all was about to change. As Ingleborough hoved in to view so does the bogs of Cam Houses and the watershed of the Wharfe. Swarthgill farmhouse marks the end of civilisation and for 2 miles there is simply clart, peat hags and unpleasant terrain. Having already completed over 15 miles this was not welcome and I grumbled and groaned up the hillside towards the buildings of Cam Houses. Mist did not seem to mind though and roamed far and wide trying to find the dirtiest and dirty places.
Cam Houses used to offer somewhere to stay but not now so I ploughed on past the forestry (skirt it, ignore the recommended path which goes through it) and the steep climb to meet the Pennine Way and relative civilisation. Being honest I was completely fed up, my humour not being improved by entering mobile phone reception and receiving a text saying Helen’s routine car service was going to cost upwards of £700. However the views were good to end the day and I enjoyed the downhill stretch which led to Ribblehead with its splendid views of Ingleborough and Whernside. A real genuine long distance day, many miles, completely different terrain and a real weariness at the end of the day.
Day 3 Ribblehead to Sedbergh
19 miles 6 ½ hours. Set off 10am
Helen dropped me off at Ribblehead at 10 and I planned to meet her at the book shop in Sedbergh 6 or so hours later. The first stage of the day involves a moorland frollick for 2 miles towards the road at the head of Dentdale. Sadly the road is too close for the moors to offer a really remote experience and the section soon turns in to a long section of tarmac, good for covering the ground quickly but a bit tedious on the eye and hard on the feet. This is particularly so when your dog insists on lying sheepdog style at the side of the road whenever a car is passing – thankfully not too many on this road, at least in winter. Fortunately the path makers have persuaded some landowners further along Dentdale to relent and allow the footpath to cross their land which improves the walk no end and a few miles short of Dent the path starts to follow the line of the River Dee. Dent is a wonderful traditional village, the highlight for any visit to Dentdale, and I deviated sufficiently from the path to pass through and grab a cup of tea. This sustained me through the endless styles of the riverside section beyond Dent and over the hillside to a glorious spot where Sedbergh is sited for the first time under the imposing but lovely Howgill Fells.
Many people love Dentdale and I have often heard that it is peoples favourite but to me, away from the village itself, the valley lacks personality and real differentiating character. The walking is pleasnt but a bit repetitive, I cannot help thinking that this section would have been improved by cutting across the slopes of Whernside from Ribblehead and entering Dentdale much closer to the village.
Day 4 Sedbergh to Grayrigg
8 miles 2 ½ hours. Set off 10am
Low cloud and drizzly rain greeted me on this section of which I knew very little about. I had already decided not to try for the full crossing to Bowness and to be honest 8 miles through some fairly muddy terrain was enough for me. Mist was black after the first 20 minutes of riverside walking along the River Lune although to be fair this is an attractive area, or it would have been if the weather had been half decent. The sounds of the M6 accompanied me as I criss crossed the fields towards the bridge but by this time I had really had enough and bailed out just short of Grayrigg.
Day 5 Grayrigg to Bowness/Windermere
17 miles 6 hours. Set off at 10.30.
Surprisingly enough the day was cloudy and a nagging north westerly wind battered me during the day, I am convinced that I must have covered many more miles in effort as each day the wind was in my face. Go the other way to avoid it! The day started with a visit to a number of farms and across farmer’s fields in an undulating landscape of which I know absolutely nothing about. I am not a big fan of crossing fields but it is a necessary part of any long distance walk min this country and to be fair there was an air of peace and tranquillity that was pleasant enough. At Burneside the path joined the river Kent and we followed it down to Staveley.
All of a sudden the Lake District sprung upon us, the landscape around the river changed with rocky, slate outcrops roughening the landscape up, fells appeared and there was even a sign to Longsleddale. The walk improved for me immeasurably at this stage and despite the steep climb outside Staveley and the undulating terrain thereafter this piece of Lakeland is one of it’s hidden delights. I did not have great views but still thoroughly enjoyed the excellent paths and lanes though the low fells and would recommend a walk here to anyone out for the day. I must admit I cheated at the end of the walk heading for Windermere rather than continuing for the extra mile to Bowness, to me a more appropriate end to the walk. At Windermere I simply hopped on the bus back to Grayrigg and the Dales Way was completed.