Mallerstang, a locals view

Andy North moved from the flatlands of Lincolnshire to the beautiful surroundings of Mallerstang in 2016. Living just outside Nateby with his wife Debbie, he has had the opportunity to get to know the area and spends much of his time exploring his many charms.

On August 1st 2016, Mallerstang became a part of the Yorkshire Dales when the National Park was extended.  This means it’s really one of the lesser known dales which is both a plus and a minus.  Actually, now I come to think of it… it’s a plus.  A total and complete plus.  A dale packed full of interest and beauty, it’s been missed by ‘National Park seekers’ courtesy of the fact it wasn’t in a National Park.  It ticked no box for the box tickers.

It’s a ‘forgotten’ place. 

Maybe another reason is that it does take a bit more effort to get to than some of the other, more popular places in the National Park, especially if you’re wanting to do a circular walk.

That said… I have a great affinity with the place.  I have memories from far too many years ago and driving past things such as Pendragon Castle without ever really appreciating them.  After all, it wasn’t in the Yorkshire Dales.  Or the Lake District.  It was just a beautiful place unrecognised and, dare I say it, unloved. 

Now I live just a five-minute drive away and it’s a dale I love.  With that in mind, here’s just 10 things to entice you to visit.

  1. Wild Boar Fell
Summit of Wild Boar Fell

Wild Boar Fell dominates the western side of Mallerstang.  If you’re travelling south to north from Garsdale Head, it fills the views to the west in a most impressive kind of way.  Once you reach Aisgill, it has a kind of jaw-dropping allure to it. 

There are stories that claim it was named after the killing of the last wild boar in England by Sir Richard Musgrave.  It’s said that when the parish church was being renovated in the 19th century, a boar’s tusk was found in his tomb and is now displayed in a glass case.

            The hill – technically a mountain featured in ‘The Dales 30’ – comes in at a height of 708m and offers a fine walk.  It can be approached from Mallerstang or Ravenstonedale.  One route is the short sharp shock up to High Dolphinsty from Mallerstang, passing beneath the Settle-Carlisle railway line as you rise up the valley side.

            You may prefer a longer walk and approach – again from Mallerstang – this time coming in via Swarth Fell.  It strikes me that this would be a more arduous route with more time spent climbing as the land has a habit of rising and falling away on this section.  Maybe that’s just tired legs talking. 

Or you could climb the fell from Ravenstonedale.

Whichever route you choose, you’ll not be disappointed.  The views on a clear day are stunning.  Over to the Howgills and the Lake District to the west.  To the north, there’s the Eden Valley, the Northern Pennines and even a hint of Scotland.

To the east, Mallerstang Edge dominates the show.  If you’re climbing from High Dolphinsty, keep your eyes peeled eastwards as well for a glimpse of Nine Standards Rigg.

  • Swarth Fell

Swarth Fell probably fails to get the recognition it deserves simply because it’s neighboured by the loftier – and more impressive – Wild Boar Fell.  That said, the views you get from the summit, particularly down into Mallerstang are well worth the effort.

  • Mallerstang Edge

On the opposite side of the valley to Wild Boar Fell, Mallerstang Edge offers a little bit of drama that the smoother, more rounded fells of the dales don’t usually bring to the conversation.  In some ways, it has a sort of ‘Pen-y-Ghent feel’ to it, with rugged sections of rock towering above you as you trek upwards towards the Water Cut.  It’s on open access land and there are ways to explore it, but bear in mind it has contours crowded very closely together and is very steep in places with vertical faces of rock ready to catch the unwary out.

  • Lady Anne’s Way

Lady Anne’s Way is not the sole preserve of Mallerstang but it does make its way through here.  Starting from Skipton, it takes a scenic journey of 100 miles through the Yorkshire Dales and up to Penrith.

This long distance trail was inspired by the 17th Century figure, Lady Anne Clifford.  During this time, Lady Anne owned vast estates around Westmorland and make use of the castles as she travelled around her land.

The Mallerstang section of the trek comes in from Cotter End and keeps to some of the higher ground before descending into the tiny hamlet of Outhgill.  Once again, the views are stunning – Swarth Fell, Wild Boar Fell and up to the North Pennines.

You’ll also happen upon Pendragon Castle, which is sadly in ruins, but itself occupies an enviable position in the valley.  I like to think with a few sheets of MDF and the odd brick or two thrown into the mix, it would make a perfect bed and breakfast location.

In conclusion – if you want a walk with a historical perspective then this might just be the walk for you.  The added bonus, naturally, being Mallerstang.

  • Watercut
Water Cut

This is worth a visit.  And it’s worth a visit for a few reasons.  The views both up and down Mallerstang and beyond are worthy of the time and effort needed to get it – although it’s not really difficult! 

The ‘Water Cut’ itself is a sculpture which can be found on Lady Anne Clifford’s Way.  It’s one of ten stone sculptures that can be found around the criminally underrated landscape in East Cumbria.

The sculpture is by Mary Bourne who studied fine art at Edinburgh College of Art.  It  is meant to represent both the River Eden “our own human journeys through the rural landscape and through life.” 

If you take time to examine, you’ll also see the shapes of both stiles and gate posts found in the drystone walls which offer a patchwork effect to the valley in places.  To complete the symbolism –  the sculpture’s outer is more than a nod and a wink to the arches of the viaduct close by on the Settle-Carlisle railway

If you’re travelling south down Mallerstang and look up to its eastern flanks the chances are you’ll spot the sculpture on the horizon.  The good news is it’s easily reached.  Both The Thrang or parking at Garsdale Head offer the easiest routes in.

  • Pendragon Castle

So if your first bragging right is that you were probably built by Uther Pendragon, father of Arthur, then you’ve already got people interested.  Legend says that Pendragon lost one hundred men here when Saxon invaders poisoned the well.  There are also claims that the Romans built a fort here.  Alas, there’s little evidence to support either claim, although being of a romantic persuasion, I always fall on Pendragon’s side of the story.  Apart from the one hundred dead man.  That could make the place a little creepy at sunset.

It’s worth noting also that the castle is on private land but access is permitted.  There’s a sign asking people not to climb all over the ruins and it’s a sign that needs heeding.  One, because something may fall on someone.  Two, because it’s just the right thing to do.

  • River Eden

With its source in Mallerstang, the River Eden is an entirely Cumbrian river.

It’s also one of the few large rivers in England that flows northwards.

It rises in the limestone fells close to the Cumbria/North Yorkshire boundary.

Red Gill and Little Grain join forces some 670m above sea level to become Hell Gill Beck.  The water then flows down over Hell Gill Force.

Once its flowed over the falls and under the railway line, the Eden then takes a more sedate and meandering route up Mallerstang, heading for its final destination at Bowness-on-Solway.

  • Settle-Carlisle Railway
Dandrymire Viaduct

The Settle-Carlisle railway is iconic.  The reasons being it is one of the most scenic and impressive railways around.

The last great mainline built, the railway was completed in 1876 and six long years.  Over its length of 72 miles, it boasts 21 viaducts and 14 tunnels.  Some of these can be found in Mallerstang.

But beyond the engineering marvel that it is, the line gives you the perfect opportunity to explore Mallerstang without the car.  Your two options are the stations at Garsdale or Kirkby Stephen. 

  • Water Gate
Water Gate

At the northern end of Mallerstang, you’ll find a large piece of common land –

Water Gate.  Locally, it’s pronounce watter yat.  Not dissimilar to Chop Gate near the Coast To Coast route by the Cleveland Hills, which is pronounced Chop Yat. 

            In so many ways, if you’re in the car, this is an ideal place to pull over and enjoy a break.  Or even a place to abandon the car and take in a walk to some of the surrounding attractions.

            One word of caution – on the map, there is a ford marked crossing the River Eden.  Don’t be tempted.  You’ll end up going viral.

            Also worthy of your attention is the fact that in the run up to the Appleby Horse Fair, Water Gate is a very popular spot with the travelling community, becoming very crowded with caravans, horses and people for a couple of weeks or so. 

  1. Hell Gill Force

With such a dramatic name, it comes almost as a bit of an anti-climax that this particular waterfall is easily reached from the road.  There’s a little roadside parking available at Aisgill cottages, replete with a big dog that barked a lot when I was last there.  If you’re eagle-eyed, you can also spot the fall when you’re on the train, but it is a rather swift and fleeting moment and not to be recommended if you’re wanting a good look at the place.  As far as waterfalls go though, it is small, perfectly formed and worth a visit as part of a longer day’s walking with maybe a trek on the higher tracks on the Lady Ann Way.

Some resources worth checking out

Mallerstang and The Eden Valley

The Ancient Castles Of Mallerstang

Welcome To The Settle Carlisle Railway

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is Mallerstang?

You’ll find the valley of Mallerstang to the south of the market town of Kirkby Stephen on the B6259.

Can I Walk There From Kirkby Stephen?

Absolutely you can although you may wish to consider that it’s a good couple of miles from the town into the head of Mallerstang.  You might wish to consider approaching the valley from Kirkby Stephen railway station.

Is Pendragon Castle Easy To Get To?

In a word, ‘yes.’  It’s set back just off the road and there’s a small rough layby opposite it if you’re in the car.

Is There Parking In Mallerstang?

It’s not an easy place to park up although there are laybys tucked away here and there.  Outhgill is a small village and I suspect parking roadside here would be problematic at best.  If you’re wanting simply to explore the Water Cut then The Thrang offers probably the best parking in the valley although you can also park up at Garsdale just opposite the pub and also across from Pendragon Castle.

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