The history of the Yorkshire Dales and Swaledale in particular can be best seen in Gunnerside Gill. The old workings are prominent on the walk and characterise each step. It is a walk with a difference.
I was looking forward to this walk as I was told that you do not truly understand the Dales, and particularly Swaledale, until you have walked Gunnerside Gill. The valley is certainly striking and unique. There are great scars of valley sides ripped out from the valley sides revealing its very soul. Ugly in so many ways but fascinating none the less.
The valley puts into perspective how different life was in years gone past when industry rather than tourism and sheep farming was dominant. Hundreds of workers lived in Swaledale and trekked up Gunnerside Gill to work in the lead mines. On arrival they dug out the lead ore which was then crushed in the buildings within the valley. Finally the ore was transported to the local factories for smelting. Peat was cut for burning in the kilns. Nearby reservoirs were built and burst in order to blast areas of hillside to reveal the naked ore. In addition there are buildings for storage and supervisors and mines, originally just dug out and from the late 19th century hewed by compressed air drills.
All of these are laid out on the walk as if it was a history lesson. I could clearly visualise the workers in action as I walked the valley. Additionally the walk took me through a lovely area of regenerated woodland just out of Gunnerside village which gives no clue of what is yet to come. I took an adventurous and for half a mile trackless return over the moors to the east. I enjoyed it, particularly the views over Swaledale and the mining remains before crossing the moor. However it is possible to head on to western rim of the valley for an easy return.
Rogan’s Seat (one of the Dales 30) can be reached by Gunnerside Gill but is hard graft. I have recently climbed the mountain from Keld and it is an absolute pleasure…compared to this way.
The history of Gunnerside Gill walk is one of the best 20 walks in the Yorkshire Dales.
The return route over the moors may be confusing. I headed up the bridlepath signposted to Surrender Bridge. The path soon flattens but after half a mile leave the path and head south to a gap in the wall. A signpost at the wall signifies you are entering a grouse moor. The public right of way starts off just east of south but you must leave it after 200 metres and head just west of south. This is trackless. Even if there is a path the ‘management’ of the moors have removed any sign. Ensure in bad weather you are heading just west of south and before long you will drop back towards Swaledale.
Hi, please may i use that first photo of the tailings as part of my thesis?
Yes fine, thanks for asking.
I camped in Gunnerside in 1972 with the 4th Hartlepool Boys Brigade, we walked Gunnerside Gill and got as far as Kisdale Force near Keld. We spent a few hours jumping off the lower waterfall. It’s lovely to see it again, doing it all again is top of my bucket list.
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