Dales Way

“A fine walk of 81 miles the Dales Way follows the river valleys/dales from Ilkley to Kendal”

(81 miles, 5/7 days)

The Dales Way began life as a challenging couple of days walk along the River Wharfe. Initially the route from Ilkley ended at the Cam Road at the top of Wharfedale/Langstrothdale. It was soon expanded to include a walk down Dentdale and beyond Sedbergh to take in a quiet section of the River Lune.  It now continues through the rarely visited lowlands that fall between the M6 motorway and the real ‘start’ of the Lake District at Bowness/Windermere.


The walk is conveniently divided in to the 3 sections described above. Any of these can be taken in isolation and the walk divided up. A couple I know started walking the section from Ilkley to Buckden and then decided to carry on! They ended up in Windermere. This is not recommended as it is always worth pre-booking your accommodation but anyone who has walked Wharfedale can see why they decided to carry on.

Two Sample Itineraries

Itinerary A Longer

Day 1. Ilkley to Burnsall

13 miles

The River Wharfe is a constant and pleasant companion on an easy but long day. Bolton Abbey is a particularly special diversion but it is the ever changing river which consistently holds the interest.

Day 2. Burnsall to Kettlewell

11 miles

The day starts with some pretty riverside walking before taking to the hills after Grassington (worth stopping in this pleasant small market town). Here the limestone scenery of the area is eye catching and easy to walk through. All too soon the village of Kettlewell appears.

River Wharfe at Addingham
River Wharfe at Addingham

Day 3. Kettlewell to Ribblehead

18 miles

In complete contrast to the previous 2 days the walk enters some much more remote countryside. This is Langstrothdale at the Head of Wharfedale, dotted with farms and pretty views. The track becomes rougher at the head of the valley before climbing to the Cam Road and on to the iconic scenery around Ribblehead.

It is perfectly possible to walk through Kettlewell to Buckden on Day 2 and therefore shortening this day (Day 3).

Day 4. Ribblehead to Dent

13 miles

From Ribblehead the track continues in to Upper Dentdale which has two spectacular viaducts. The famous Settle to Carlisle railway aften carries steam trains and is one of the most scenic in the country. Dentdale is peaceful and quiet, very few people or cars seem to pass through. Dent village has pretty cobbled streets and a good pub and church.


Day 5. Dent to Sedbergh

6 miles

A short day but offering plenty of time to explore Dent in the morning and then Sedbergh, the English Book Town. The walk between the two is pleasant enough, the path crossing the shoulder separating Dentdale and the Rawthey Valley, providing excellent views of the Howgill Fells.

Day 6. Sedbergh to Kendal

14 miles

To compensate for the previous day this is much longer. Initially following the Lune Valley it soon reaches the M6 and in to Lakeland. Farms, fields, country tracks are the order of the day with route finding at its most challenging). 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.

Approaching Windermere
Approaching Windermere

Day 7. Kendal to Bowness/Windermere

11 miles

A fine conclusion to the walk. A pleasant chunk 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 rarely visited and extremely pleasant before the ‘noise’ of Bowness and the lake of Windermere completes the walk.

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


Dales Way map

O/S Maps Required: 1.25,000 Explorer Series 297, OL2, OL30, OL2 (again), OL19 and OL7. Many walkers use Harvey strip maps. 

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  and directly on the Way

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

Personal Journey

The Dales Way (not the Dalesway) runs close to where I live so really was the most obvious long distance walk to tackle. The 84 miles was comfortably manageable in the 5 days that I set aside. I was also inclined to treat it somewhat differently than my previous two walks on the Coast to Coast and the Southern Upland Way.

  • Returning home each night using bus/train or a circular route.
  • I tackled the walk in mid-winter (hoping for some snow but this was not to be)
  • Mist came with me.
  • Aside from the section from Sedbergh to Kendal I was already familiar with the walk.


Aiming to cover 15 to 20 miles a day was fine except I had to throw in a short day between Dent and Sedbergh. The key to the walk is from Buckden 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. Therefore I had no back pains or overly sore feet. Feet preservation is vital on a long distance walk, a harsh lesson I had learned in the past.

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 but as an example finishing at the lakeside of Bowness is unsatisfying. Windermere is fine, the pubs are better and the satisfaction is just as good.

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. This provides some very satisfying days (such as the Upper Wharfedale bus). However the peculiarities and pleasures of a long distance walk largely passed me by.  Finally completing the walk in winter did not showcase the Dales at their best (my photos are largely from other visits). The greenery of grass, trees and fields was missing.


An Easy First Walk?

The Dales Way is a wonderful introduction to long distance walking and a a very good snap shot of 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. In the first 35 miles the banks of the Wharfe are a constant companion. It is a lovely river and to follow a major river to its source is immensely satisfying. Rivers are a continual feature in the second half of the walk; the Dee, the Lune and the Kent. It is a river walk.

Waymarking on the Dales Way is particularly good 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 signpost 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 negotiated over 100 stiles and gates, all with their own unique latches and locks.

Mist completed the full trip off the lead but as ever under control. If your dog is well trained and keeps close when livestock are around that is surely good enough.



There are two alternative, slightly tougher long distance footpaths in the Dales which offer a different challenge.


Day 1. Ilkley to Grassington

16 miles, 6 hours.

New Inn, Appletreewick
New Inn, Appletreewick

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 start 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!

Along the Ribble

The walk changes character after the woods of The Strid. A delightful riverside section passes a few yards to the south of Appletreewick and through to Burnsall. I was becoming a little weary at this stage and took a 10 minute seat to recover. I vowed that the next day I would have more food 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.

Cam Pasture
Cam Pasture

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! This was certainly how it felt with only the last mile or so from the Cam Road to Ribblehead heading down. 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 perfect to walk on.  Very few romantic couples were out which added to the peace and solitude. I only had Mist and the birds and sheep as my companions, it was great. I bypassed Kettlewell and hit the riverside track just beyond. After the airy panorama this section was a little more closed in. However the villages of Starbottom and Buckden are lovely and the riverside walking pleasant enough.


I was already becoming weary as the path left the riverside and joined the quiet tarmac road signifying the start of Langstrothdale, surely one of 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 dotted the bare hillsides, sheep the companions. 

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.

From the watershed

As Ingleborough came in to view so do 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 land.

Cam Houses used to offer somewhere to stay but not now. Therefore I ploughed on past the forestry (skirt it, ignore the recommended path which goes through it) and the short, steep climb to meet the Pennine Way. On arrival to the Cam Road I was completely fed up. My humour not being improved on 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. There are 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

Cowgate, Dentdale
Cowgate, Dentdale

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 walk 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. This is great 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.

Fortunately the path makers have persuaded some landowners further along Dentdale to relent and allow the footpath to cross their land. This 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.

From Dent

I deviated sufficiently from the path to pass through and grab a cup of tea. This sustained me through the endless stiles of the riverside section beyond Dent. On the final slopes there is a glorious spot where Sedbergh is spotted for the first time. The town is set magnificiently under the imposing but lovely Howgill Fells.

Many people love Dentdale and I have often heard that it is their favourite dale. In my opinion the dale lacks personality, the village excepted. The walking is pleasant 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.

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. 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.

School Knotts, Windermere
School Knotts, Windermere

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 now remember very little. I am not a big fan of crossing fields but it is a necessary part of any long distance walk in this country.

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.

The Lake District

All of a sudden the Lake District was all around. The landscape near 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. 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. This is an area perfect for a quiet day walk. 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.

  • Nigel Hunt says:

    My friend and I are hoping to walk the Dalesway in May( restrictions allowing). We currently average about 20 miles a week in our walks probably over 3 seperate days. We are relatively fit but just wondered if we should try to step up our training before the walk, what would you advise us to do to make sure we will be ok to finish the walk? We are hoping to complete the walk over 6 days.

    • Jonathan says:

      To complete the walk over 6 days you will need to be walking between 10 and 15 miles a day n the Dales Way. Probably worth doing some 10 plus miles days. Bear in mind as well they are consecutive so try your 3 days one after another when you are closer to starting.

  • Christine D'Angelo says:

    Thank you! going in June 2016.

  • Mary Hartle says:

    I appreciate your site and the trouble you took to write about the Dalesway. I live in Ontario, Canada, and am heading there on the 31st, with two sisters and a friend. We’re all looking forward to and I’m just getting ‘psyched up’ reading your website(very nicely done). My sister has done numerous walks in England and France, but this is a first for me overseas. We have some lovely trails here, in Ontario, but the difference is… they are totally in the bush and so I’m looking forward to going from town to town, a little reward at the end of the day!
    thank you,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *