Swaledale, Reeth & Richmond

Jonathan’s View

“History and agriculture clash in a scene of haunting loveliness.”

The Dale

Swaledale is a lovely dale, particularly towards the upper end where a combination of pretty villages, lovely waterfalls, isolated stone barns (or laithes) and beautiful hay meadows are enclosed by a vast upland moorland. The history of Swaledale as much as the natural environment has affected it today; man the provider rather than God. Unusually though this has created a dale full of interest and a wilderness that contrasts Swaledale with the other Yorkshire Dales. It may not be typical but it is very good!

Thwaite, Muker and Keld are small hamlets/villages which characterise the Upper Swale and are simply delightful. Further east Reeth is an attractive ‘larger’ village set around a large village green whilst Richmond itself is a market town dominating the entrance to Swaledale and marking where attractiveness starts and finishes! Just get a room facing west.

Upper Swaledale

Farmers Arms. Muker
Farmers Arms. Muker

Muker, Thwaite & Keld. These 3 villages epitomise all that is good about the Dales. They are set at a two mile intervals around the steep sided Kisdon Hill, a splendid mountain in anyone’s book. The River Swale links them and a circuit of the 3 that passes over Kisdon Hill and along the Swale is one of the best walks in the Dales.

I have no favourite but enjoy visiting them all. Keld is probably least busy (a relative term)as it is further up the valley. It is in fact more of a walkers cross roads with our 2 most popular long distance walks meeting here; The Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast.  However staying in Thwaite or Muker is just as satisfying. Muker has a traditional pub and tea shop, St Mary’s Church has great views and probably the best Hay Meadows in the country whilst Thwaite is the start of the Corpse Road, an excellent base for Kilsdon Fell and a pleasant pub hotel.


Bridge at Whaw
Bridge at Whaw

Reeth is situated in the heart of Swaledale mid-way between Upper Swaledale and Richmond. Previously the centre of the vast lead mining industry in Swaledale., Reeth is now a popular (but rarely over busy) tourism centre. Reeth has a large sloping village green with the main shops and houses situated on its fringes. The green gives Reeth its character as does the range and variety of craft shops and places to drink and eat. However I like taking time to explore the little lanes and alleys which lead off the main square. The Folk Museum up one as is the pretty children’s playground and school. From these lanes spring walks for all energies and abilities. Secret valleys, and pretty villages greet those who venture away from the main valley.

Outside Reeth

Half a mile down the road is the pretty little village of Grinton. Grinton would be a Dales classic if it was not split by the main Swaledale road. The Norman church is rightly hailed a model of its type. Just outside the village the youth hostel at Grinton Hall and the Old Smelting Works are also worth visiting.

Gunnerside and Low Row are midway between Muker and Reeth and both rank amongst my personal favourites. The lovely stone buildings grab at the steep hillside in a dramatic and beautiful way.

North from Reeth is Arkengarthdale. This is a stunning valley in which the Arkle Beck winds its way up passing the twin settlements of Arkle Town and the infinitely better Langthwaite. The small tributaries hide some even smaller hamlets including one with the splendid name of Booze. A walk up here on a summer’s day really is a walk in paradise. The lonely road (much beloved by the makers of James Herriott) passing through the dale breaks out in to the wild moorlands of the Pennines and the lonely outpost which is the Tan Inn.



Richmond is a fine Georgian town which has changed little through the centuries. It is one of the gateways to the Yorkshire Dales and a fine place to stay if a more detailed exploration of Swaledale is sought. The castle and the Church of St Trinity are the dominant features of the town. The church is surrounded by what surely must be one of the biggest town squares in the north of England. I do enjoy exploring the cobbled streets around the square. There are plenty of interesting shops and quirky artisan industries to fill in a good day. The river is never far away but Richmond is a castle town with the old Keep (built originally in Norman times) dominating the surroundings and providing a focus for the visitor.

Nearby, Easby Abbey is definitely worth the short walk along the River Swale.

Some Historical Facts


The history of Swaledale is unusual, dominated as it is by historical mining activity. Agriculture remains important through the ages but typical of every part of the Dales. Vikings appear first on the records naming the villages on an agricultural theme. Keld means spring, Thwaite a clearing, Muker an acre and Reeth ‘the place by the stream’.

The first lead mines are over 1000 years old but the Kingdom of the Upper Swale remained dominated by agricultural. The land away from the villages was wooded, offering excellent hunting for a succession of lords and landowners until it was finally cleared roughly 300 years ago  with the arrival of sheep in large numbers. It is always worth remembering that what we see today is not the natural landscape of the Dales.

Lead Mining

Industry really started to leave its mark 150 years ago when lead was discovered across the hillside. The remains of this large industry can be seen with the scarred slopes, remains of buildings and distinctive look that the often bare slopes of the hills provide. Gunnerside Gill is the best. Walking really brings the history to life, particularly up the gills and on the hillsides to the north. The remains of the mines and the settlements that worked them are plain for all to see and long may they be so.

Finally cheap foreign imports (as ever) killed the industry. Some smaller artisans survived and can still be found in Reeth although more for the tourists than any practical use. Sheep farming and tourism now predominate around the villages, the hardy, black faced Swaledale sheep are now world renowned and scatter the landscape just like the individual stone barns which dot the hillside.

The Best Walks

My favourite walks in Swaledale are detailed below, simply click the link for further details.

Easy Walks

Hay Meadows at Muker. A short stroll through some of the most spectacular Hay Meadows in England. May and June are best months.

Riverside at Reeth. The banks of the Swale to the west of Reeth offer the best riverside walking in this part of the Dales.

Easby Abbey from Richmond. A short walk along the fast flowing River Swale to the ruins of Easby Abbey.

Moderate Walks

Kisdon Fell Circular. A 7 1/2 mile walk through Upper Swaledale taking in Kisdon Fell and a beautiful riverside stretch of the Upper Swale.

Rogan’s Seat from Keld. A rarely visited hill in rough moorland but fantastic in its lower levels.

History in Gunnerside Gill No better example of the unique history of Swaledale than a walk up Gunnerside Gill and over the moors.

Swaledale Moors from Reeth. An interesting walk on the lesser known southern slopes of Swaledale taking in the pretty village of Grinton.

Fremington Edge . From Reeth climb on to the edge then enjoy the superb views across Arkegarthdale and beyond.

Discovering Arkengarthdale. A picturesque dale that is best explored from Reeth, return over the moors.

Mining on Great Pinseat. Another great example of walking through the history of Swaledale over Great Pinseat hill.

From Richmond to Marske. Part of the Coast to Coast this section of Swaledale is greener and more open with wide ranging views.

Weather Forecast


Other Things to do

Swaledale Festival. Taking place at the beginning of June this is a 2 week extravaganza of talks, concerts, visits and general revelry which is always well received.

History of Swaledale Museum. Set in an old methodist school room in Reeth the Swaledale Museum chronicles the history of mining in the valley with some excellent old photography and manuscripts.

Swaledale Woolens. Learn all about the traditional cottage industry of knitting at this shop in Muker where this ancient art is still being carried out. Learn also about the local Swaledale sheep.

Easby Abbey. The ancient ruins of Easby Abbey reveal a story typical of the age; a thriving and rich Benedictine community shorn of all wealth when HenryVIII dissolved the monasteries in 1536.

Richmond Castle. Supremely dominant in this Georgian market town the castle dates back to Norman times and is extremely well preserved.

Books and Walking Festival. Walks, talks and inspiration from a set of local volunteers. They must be desperate they asked me to speak!

  • Susan Atkinson says:

    Could you tell me if the Reerh, Grindon and Low Fremington and Fremington Edge walks are well signposted?

    Thank you

    • Jonathan says:

      There will always be a signpost where a footpath starts and leaves the road. There is no guarantee the rest of the walks are signposted. You would be best taking a map with you to be sure.

  • Justin says:

    Hi. We have recently bought a lodge at swale view caravan park on reeth road. It’s approx 3 miles from Richmond. I was hoping of a route to walk into town without needing to walk along main road? Any ideas how as we’ve looked once and came to dead ends each time we went across the fields close to the site.

    • Jonathan says:

      There are a few paths that head from Hudswell in to Richmond, particularly one sticking next to the river but from the park you will need to walk a few hundred metres along the road to the end of Hag Wood to join the path

  • Kevin says:

    What a great little site! We are just off for a weekend at Grinton YHA and I have been searching for a while for some useful local information. The bland marketing blurb you get from cottage rental websites and even tourist information sites is not very helpful but you have provided a really useful overview of the area and some excellent tips for walking, which is one of our main purposes in coming to the area. I love websites like these – created by enthusiasts and free to all – keep up the good work!

  • Jonathan says:

    There is no doubt this would be a great mountain biking area – the high tracks on the wild moors would particularly appeal but you are right – I am focusing on walking at the moment although I am sure that both activities have plenty in common.

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