Wensleydale inc Hawes and Leyburn

Jonathan’s View

There is no doubting that a visitor to Wensleydale enjoys the true Yorkshire Dales experience.”

The Dale

Wensleydale runs like a dagger through the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. It’s popularity is partly to do with its terrain. It combines the best of Swaledale to the north and Wharfedale and the limestone dales to the south. 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. Agriculture and tourism dominate and there is not the mining remains of some of the other dales. Man’s historical influence can be seen more in the castles and Roman remains rather than mining. 

The mountains are less dramatic than those further south and west, rounded with long wide ridges offering excellent walking. However it is the side valleys I really enjoy exploring. Coverdale and Bishopsdale are empty dales and conjure images of times gone by whilst Cotterdale, further west, is remote and wild. Water is the other major influence in Wensleydale. Aysgarth Falls and the single drop waterfall at Hardraw draw many visitors. However I like the quieter Semer Water, the only natural lake in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Hawes and the Upper Dale


Hawes is the undoubted queen of Wensleydale. It is 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. The main valley road heads off to the wilder, remote moors over Garsdsle and eventually Sedbergh. The mountains that ring Hawes offer an impressive backdrop to the village and there are some excellent full day walks to entertain the hardier walker.

Hawes is one of the most popular centres in the Yorkshire Dales. During summer weekends the village is very busy but its popularity is well deserved. There are some delightful nooks and crannies, some interesting shops and both lively and more traditional eating and drinking places. Gayle Mill, the Dales Countryside Museum and the Wensleydale Creamery are well worth visiting, bringing many non walkers to the village. One suggestion is to stay in one of the lovely little hamlets nearby; Appersett, Burtersett, Gayle, Sedbusk or Hardraw. All are peaceful whatever time of the year. Countersett in Raydale and set beside Semer Water is probably best of the lot.

Askrigg, Aysgarth & the heart of the Dale

Woodhall, Askrigg
Woodhall, Askrigg

Between Hawes and Leyburn lie a number of small and exquisitely lovely villages. The soft rolling landscape offers a beautiful backdrop to the Yorkshire stone buildings. Carperby and Bainbridge are my two favourites but Askrigg is rightly popular whilst West Burton benefits considerably from being away from 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. West Witton is probably best known for the fantastic seafood restaurant, the Wensleydale Heifer.

For those of a certain age this is James Herriott country. We were brought up with this wonderful Sunday night series following some vets in the 1930s and 40s and their trials and tribulations with the local farmers. However it was the images, the haunting music and the comfort of Yorkshire Dales life that lives long in the memory. Much of the filming itself was done in and near Askrigg (there are some old photos in the White Rose) including the veterinary centre where James and his colleagues worked. Although the ‘real’ James Herriott worked further east near Thirsk James and his wife Helen honeymooned in Carperby, walking down to Aysgarth Falls on a daily walk.

Leyburn and the Lower Dale

Horsehouse, Coverdale
Horsehouse, Coverdale

Further down Wensleydale the moors recede and the lands are more tranquil. The walking along the River Ure (the only river not named after its host dale in the Yorkshire Dales) is very pleasant. However it is worth exploring Coverdale and Bishopdale to the south. The villages are unspoilt, still farming communities, and the moors above offer some great walking. Leyburn is the main town in Lower Wensleydale and has a lovely town square. However my favourite place is the smaller village of nearby Middleham.

Middleham has a lot going for it. As well as being a pretty cobbled village with attractive stone houses it has a castle in the middle of it! Middleham Castle has a long history and was the centre of the Yorkist family in the War of the Roses. Richard 111 lived here amongst others grew up here. The castle is derelict but still full of interest, well run by English Heritage. A castle in better condition is across the river. Castle Bolton is one of the best preserved castles in England, most famous for being the prison of Mary Queen of Scots. Its great.

A short history of Wensleydale

Middleham Castle
Middleham Castle

Hill farming has always dominated the history of Wensleydale. However their are reminders throughout the length of the dale of the different communities which have passed through its history.  There are numerous sites of archaeological interest, remains of bronze age forts and Roman roads (and a fort at Bainbridge) are the main symbols of ancient times. More recently the monks and their tenants from Jervaulx Abbey started the clearance of trees from the valley with the introduction of sheep and the use of timber for building and firewood.

Many of the inns were staging posts in the 17th and 18th century and have been beautifully preserved, as have the two castles at Castle Bolton and Middleham.  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. The watermill at Gayle is the main reminder of the dale’s industrial heritage whilst the Wensleydale Creamery is a reminder of how successful some cottage industries can be…and still are. There is so much natural and man made interest in Wensleydale to make any walk interesting as well as exhilarating.

Best Walks in 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.

Bainbridge and beyond. A walk of real variety taking in Askrigg, Worton, a limestone scar, the River Ure and  a Roman fort.

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.

A Wensleydale Highway. A walk along the higher ground between Gayle and Burtersett above Hawes offers spectacular views down Wensleydale.

Red Squirrels at Snaizeholme. Probably the best place to see red squirrels in the Dales in a lovely setting.

Hidden Semer Water. A beautiful side valley with the largest natural lake in the Yorkshire Dales is exceptionally peaceful and tranquil.

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.

Lands of Castle Bolton. The castle stands proud above the lands around which are easy to explore from the small village of Redmire.


Askrigg, Aysgarth Falls and Herriot Country. A classic walk through the heart of Wensleydale.

Exploring Cotterdale. A rarely visited valley near Hawes is easily combined with a walk along the River Ure to the village of Appersett.

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 Gallops of Middleham. Remarkably castles, abbeys, rivers, thoroughbred horses and great views all in a 5 mile walk.


Fells over Hawes. A 10 mile high level traverse over the hills that ring Hawes to the south.

Highlights of Wensleydale. A long walk along the best part of the River Ure and including Castle Bolton & Aysgarth Falls.

Great Shunner Fell & Lovely Seat . An 11 mile walk over some rough moorland to capture 2 Marilyns in 1 day.

Yockenthwaite Moor. A high plateau of peat bogs and tough walking above pretty Raydale.

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.

Weather Forecast


Other Things to do

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.

Places to Stay

Cottages in the Dales
  • Jacky says:

    Thanks for your informative web page, visiting the Yorkshire Dales for our first visit in October- like firward to trying some of your recommendations, thank you

  • lee robinson says:

    hi, i was always at hawes as a child camping, now im fetching my family. the website is really good for us so we can plan. we are there on the 7th of may for a week and cant wait, thanks for the help, lee

  • Sean Graham says:

    Hi, this is a fantastic website and love the design. Hawes has always been our favourite place but there are so any great walks in the area. I’m glad I’ve found a website which is not only informative but looks brilliant too!!!

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