Dales Way

(81 miles, 5/7 days)

We will also plan, book & transfer your bags on your long distance walk on the Dales Way click here

General Overview

“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  through to its source on Cam Fell. However it was soon expanded to take in Dentdale, Sedbergh and a section of the River Lune. It concludes on the rarely visited lowlands that fall between the M6 motorway and the real ‘start’ of the Lake District at Bowness/Windermere.

  • Lovely riverside walking
  • Attractive villages full of interest
  • Remote countryside & isolated farms
Cam Houses

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.

Ruins of Bolton Abbey

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.

Ribblehead viaduct

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.

Dent Brewery

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.

Windermere

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

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

Personal Journey

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.

  • 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 tackled the walk in mid-winter (hoping for some snow but this was not to be)
  • Mist came with me, my border collie (partly as I was not having to find anywhere to stay over)
  • Aside from the section from Sedbergh to Kendal I was already familiar with the walk.

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. 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 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 because of the weather or underfoot terrain. 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.

An Easy First Walk?

The Dales Way 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. In the first 35 miles the 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 also followed thereafter; the Dee to Dentdale, the Lune after Sedbergh and the Kent after Kendal. 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), aside from a couple of occasions where farmers were watching. If your dog is well trained and keeps close when livestock are around that is surely good enough.

Variations

There are 2 obvious variations to the Dales Way which explores the area.

Dales Highway: An upland walk that runs roughly parallel to the Dales Way taking in the best of the higher lands/mountains. The Dales Highway does this perfectly.

Bracken Way: A 7 day circular walk covering a much bigger area of the Dales, offering a variety of landscape and sites not enjoyed on the Dales Way.

Day-by-day

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.

The walk changes character once the woods of the Strid have been completed. A delightful riverside section passes a few yards below 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 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! 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 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 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. 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

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. 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, and 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 fellside there is a glorious spot where Sedbergh is spotted for the first time 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. 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. 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.

 

Comments

  1. Christine D'Angelo says:

    Thank you! going in June 2016.

  2. Mary Hartle says:

    Hi,
    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,
    Mary

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