Upper Wharfedale inc Kettlewell

Jonathan’s View

“A walkers paradise – rugged villages and fast flowing streams tucked into the prettiest of landscapes.”

The Dale

Beyond the town of Grassington there is a distinctive change to the character of the landscape, a classical U shaped valley. The hills close in and the villages become smaller and increasingly dominated by farms and their lands. However this is proper Yorkshire Dales and Upper Wharfedale is one of the prettiest examples of upland England to be found. Limestone scars and drystone walls litter the hillside and the Wharfe becomes faster flowing and more dramatic as it enters Langstrothdale or its tributaries join from the side valleys of Upper Wharfedale and in particular Littondale. This dale is a personal favourite of mine; if I was to live in a remote area Littondale would compete with Arkegarthdale in Swaledale as a personal favourite.

Kettlewell is the main village in Upper Wharfedale, lying under the bulk of Great Whernside but Buckden and Starbottom further up the Dale win out on the quaintness factor – perfect minatures of what a Yorkshire Dales village should look like. Kilnsey and Conistone are hamlets between Grassington and Kettlewell whilst Arncliffe and Linton itself are the main villages in Littondale – all are lovely surrounded by some of the best walking around.

Kettlewell and the Upper Dale

Buckden Pike above Cray
Buckden Pike above Cray

Kettlewell is an attractive village in Upper Wahrfedale, typical of the Yorkshire Dales with its light stone houses full of character. It is situated on the river which adds to its attraction, as do the 3 pubs, campsite, cafes and interesting village shop (try their sandwiches). The ‘Scarecrow Festival, is held in August and is particularly appealing for young families and getting them introduced to walking. The walking from the door either up the nearby mountains or along the river is not bettered anywhere in the Dales.

A few miles north are Buckden and Starbottom. These villages are smaller than Kettlewell but have the same characteristics. Beyond Buckden the vale splits, a short hop through Cray (good pub and waterfalls) taking you directly in to Bishopdale and the village of West Burton is one option. Of more interest though is to head left (west) in to Langstrothdale. This is a lovely dale, dotted with small farms and hamlets and set next to the embryonic River Wharfe. It is the best section of the Dales Way long distance footpath by a mile!

Kilnsey Crag

Enjoying lovely limestone walking
Enjoying lovely limestone walking

South of Kettlewell Kilnsey Crag is a dramatic out crop of rock (an excellent example of a truncated spur for those liking their geography). It is a mecca for rock climbers, who are often seen scaling the overhang throughout the year. The small hamlets of Kilnsey itself and Conistone (off the main road) lie nearby. There an excellent craft centre with a farm and trout fishing lake at Kilnsey, a great example of successful diversification and showcasing the future development of the area with the decline of traditional hill farming.

East of the River Wharfe at Kilnsey is one of my favourite areas to walk in. A dry valley (known as the Conistone Dib), leads on to the limestone plateau above. Here is a landscape of scars, pavements, the unmistakeable Conistone Pie and some of the easiest walking in the Dales.


Near Halton Gill
Near Halton Gill

I often say that the quieter side dales offer the best Yorkshire Dales experience. Never is this more true than Littondale, a side valley off  Wharfedale. It is a classically shaped U shaped valley, complete with moraines and spurs ad glacial debris. As you travel up the valley the villages become progressively smaller. Arncliffe is large than Litton and at its head is the little hamlet of Halton Gill. My favourite Dales walk passes through Halton Gill which has the added advantage of a kettle, mug and honesty box for a quick cuppa. It is fantastic.

Littondale is for walkers and I am not one to advocate driving if you can walk. However the drive from Littondale towards Malham Tarn is superb, the best drive in the Dales!

History of the area

Local collie
Local collie

The History of Upper Wharfedale is dominated by agriculture. Terraces (lynchets) were built in the 14th century on the steep hillsides but soon cattle became the staple on the flat valley floor. Crop farming on the hillside became unsustainable due to the weather and was finally finished by the coming f the Black Death. Sheep farming joined cattle and soon became the staple agricultural practice of the area.

The stone barns (laithes) which characterize the lower slopes are the result of improved farming techniques. The cattle could now be wintered in safety.  Meanwhile the spreading of lime as a fertilizer in the 18th and 19th century improved the soil with sheep and cattle dominating the landscape.

Mining only played a small part in the history of the Upper dale although Kettlewell did become the centre of a lead mine in the 19th century. It was not a great success but the remains can still be seen on any climb of Great Whernside. Tourism now shares centre stage with farming but to be honest not many find their way this far up the valley. They are missing out.

The Best Walks

My favourite walks in the area are listed below – just click on the link for further details.


Lovely Littondale. A riverside walk between Litton and Arncliffe in this beautiful dale.

Riverside walking in Upper Wharfedale. Visiting 5 perfect Yorkshire villages lying alongside the Upper Wharfe.

Explore Kilnsey Crag. A short walk from Conistone with great views of Kilnsey Crag and mid Wharfedale.


Head of Wharfedale. Cray Waterfalls, great views and Yockenthwaite Farm on an 8 mile walk from Buckden

A Kettlewell Circular. Heading up Top Mere and then through Starbotton on to the shoulder of Birks.

Limestone Walking over Littondale. Over the moors towards Malham Tarn with far reaching views.

Arncliffe Circular. Discovering the 2 valleys of Littondale and Upper Wharfedale with tremendous views throughout.

Limestone Scenery from Conistone. To the east of Conistone is some lovely limestone scenery just waiting to be explored.


Wharfedale 3 Peaks. A competitor to the normal 3 Peaks – much less crowded.

Great Whernside. An 8 mile circuit of this classical Dales mountain overlooking Kettlewell.

Birks Fell, Upper Wharfedale. A rarely visited Marilyn with great all round views.

Buckden Pike & Upper Wharfedale. As well as climbing the fell the walk explores the upper end of Wharfedale.

Plover Hill from Halton Gill. A remote walk to a rarely visited mountain, one of the “Dales 30”.

Hidden Valleys of Wharfedale. Littondale and Langstrothdale on a single walk from Halton Gill. The very best of the Dales.


Weather Forecast



Other Things to do

Kilnsey Park An outdoor centre, trout farm, a cafe, play area and a farm shop combine with a short Kilnsey Trail ideal for children.

Kilnsey Riding. Stables offering a variety of horse riding for beginners and experts in the beautiful countryside.

Places to Stay

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