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Discover the Southern and Western Yorkshire Dales with a Cicerone guidebook - Introduction

Cover of Walking in the Yorkshire Dales: South and West
13 Apr 2017
17.2 x 11.6 x 1.4cm
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Walking in the Yorkshire Dales: South and West

Wharfedale, Littondale, Malhamdale, Dentdale and Ribblesdale

by Dennis Kelsall, Jan Kelsall
Book published by Cicerone Press

Part of a 2-book set, this guidebook describes 44 walks in the southern and western Yorkshire Dales, including the famous 23 mile Three Peaks circuit over Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. The other, mostly circular routes of 3½ to 13 miles cover the scenic region between Sedbergh, Kirkby Lonsdale, Settle, Skipton and Grassington.

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The Yorkshire Dales need little introduction: their picturesque scenery and hundreds of miles of footpaths, tracks and bridleways have been attracting walkers for decades. Part of a two-volume set, this guidebook presents over 40 routes in the south and west of the National Park, with bases including Sedburgh, Malham, Grassington, Skipton, Settle and Kirkby Lonsdale. The walks cover the valleys of Wharfedale, Littondale, Malhamdale, Ribblesdale and Dentdale – each with its own distinctive landscape and character. Also included is the Yorkshire Three Peaks, a 23 mile (37km) challenge to bag three iconic summits – Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough.


Mostly circular and ranging from 3.5 to 13 miles (6–21km), the routes showcase Yorkshire's diverse landscapes, beautiful views and rich heritage and celebrate the 'ups, downs and endless in-betweens' of the Dales. With the exception of the Three Peaks walk, they are designed to suit most abilities: steeper sections are rare and usually short-lived. Detailed route description and 1:50,000 OS mapping are provided for each route, along with information on nearby points of interest and facilities. In addition, an introduction presents an overview of the region's plants and wildlife, geology and history and offers an insight into iconic local industries such as farming and quarrying.

From bucolic pastureland to wild moors, the Dales have it all. Highlights include delightful riverside walking in Wharfedale, spectacular views of the distant Howgills and Lake District Fells, and the arresting limestone cliffs of Malham Cove. Charming villages and cosy pubs offer a warm welcome, but it is also possible to find tranquility and seclusion. The walks in this guide take in rolling hills, sweeping valleys and dancing streams, providing a wonderful introduction to this magnificent area.

  • Activities
  • Seasons
    Year round walking in the Yorkshire Dales, but be properly kitted out on the tops in winter.
  • Centres
    Skipton, Settle, Grassington, Kirkby Lonsdale, Sedbergh, Dent, Grassington, Clapham, Malham
  • Difficulty
    From gentle two-mile walks to more strenuous day-long routes
  • Must See
    The individual character of each dale, wild fells, cosy villages, the traditional farming landscape, the Yorkshire Three Peaks route, Malham cove
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Evolution of the landscape
Geological history
Human settlement
Industry and enterprise
Farming in the Dales
Plants and wildlife
The Southern and Western Dales
The Yorkshire Dales National Park
Navigation and maps
Careful planning
Clothing and footwear
Food and drink
Taking your car
Leaving your car behind
Using this guide
1 Lower Wharfedale and Barden Moor
Walk 1 Bolton Abbey
Walk 2 Barden Moor
Walk 3 Simon’s Seat
Walk 4 Burnsall and Trollers Gill
Walk 5 Grassington and Grass Wood
Walk 6 Conistone
2 Upper Wharfedale
Walk 7 Great Whernside
Walk 8 Kettlewell and Arncliffe
Walk 9 Buckden Pike
Walk 10 Old Cote Moor Top from Buckden
Walk 11 Buckden and Yockenthwaite
Walk 12 Horse Head and Langstrothdale
Walk 13 Oughtershaw Side
3 Littondale
Walk 14 Arncliffe and High Cote Moor
Walk 15 Old Cote Moor Top from Arncliffe
Walk 16 Pen-y-ghent Gill from Litton
Walk 17 Litton and the River Skirfare
4 Malhamdale
Walk 18 Airedale and Weets Top
Walk 19 Gordale, Malham Tarn and the Cove
Walk 20 Malham Cove and Pikedaw Hill
Walk 21 Mastiles Lane
Walk 22 Fountains Fell
Walk 23 Winterburn Reservoir
Walk 24 Cracoe Fell
5 Dentdale and the Western Outliers
Walk 25 Great Knoutberry Hill
Walk 26 Wold Fell
Walk 27 A Walk into Deepdale
Walk 28 Great Coum
Walk 29 Dentdale
Walk 30 Calf Top and Middleton Fell
Walk 31 Barbon Low Fell
Walk 32 Gragareth and Great Coum
6 Around Ribblesdale
Walk 33 Attermire Scar and Victoria Cave
Walk 34 Langcliffe and Catrigg Force
Walk 35 Plover Hill and Pen-y-ghent
Walk 36 Upper Ribblesdale along the Ribble Way
Walk 37 Ingleborough from Ribblehead
Walk 38 Whernside from Ribblehead
Walk 39 Gayle Moor and the Source of the Ribble
Walk 40 Clapham and the Norber Boulders
Walk 41 Ingleborough from Clapham
Walk 42 Ingleton Falls
Walk 43 Kingsdale
Walk 44 The Yorkshire Three Peaks
Appendix 1 Route summaries and suggestions for longer routes
Appendix 2 Where to find out more


The Yorkshire Dales is like nowhere else in England, a place of intrinsic and striking beauty that owes its scenic qualities both to Nature and to Man. Bestriding the central Pennines, that broad range of hills erupting along the middle of the country and known to generations of schoolchildren as the ‘backbone of England’, it boasts a diversity of landscape and character that is hard to beat. Walkers trudging up the Pennine Way from the south into Craven leave the sombre mill valleys fragmenting the desolate, weather-beaten moors of West Yorkshire and East Lancashire to be greeted by a brighter, more intimate scene of interwoven horizons. Rolling green hills, broken here and there by rugged scars of white limestone, rise to a distant, higher ground dissected by deepening valleys. Further east and to the north, the wild moors dominate, but even here a varied geology of underlying rock breaks up their melancholic uniformity.

It is perhaps perverse that, as an upland region, the Yorkshire Dales is named after its most low-lying elements. But, like the neighbouring Lake District, it is this complementary feature that determines its endearing uniqueness. Just as the Cumbrian mountains would be the less without scintillating tarns and lakes to reflect their awesome ruggedness, the character of the Dales hills relies on the gentle beauty that rises up from the long, deep and twisting valleys emanating from the core. Devoid of the dramatic impact of soaring peaks, knife edge ridges and great hanging valleys, the mountains here might otherwise be regarded as unremarkable with little to distinguish them from the other hills of the Pennine range, but their intimacy with the gentle valleys that they enclose is what truly sets them apart.

A feeling of remoteness in the Valley of Desolation (Walk 3)

Despite the steep gradients that act as boundaries between the upper moors and the lowlands, it is often hard to define where the one begins and the other ends. Stroll in rich water-meadows beside a serpentine river flowing in a flat-bottomed valley or stride upon an airy plateau beneath vast, open skies and there is little doubt where you are. But walk from one to the other and the transition is often quite subtle. In many places, the neatly walled grazing pastures of the lower valleys climb high up the slope, sometimes intermingled with variegated woodlands that soften the craggy steps. In their higher reaches, the valley bottoms can often feel utterly remote from the rest of the world and have an untamed complexion that is more akin to the uplands. On the wildest of the tops, great morasses of peat hag and bog might stretch for miles, but even here the tendrils of ubiquitous stone walls are never far away, encompassing bleak tracts of land and signifying a belonging to some farm settlement in the valley far below.

Ancient trackways and paths ignore these geographical divisions and connect this dale to that or lead up to small mines and quarries that were often as integral to a farming income as the cows’ milk and ewes’ wool. Although the contours of the land mean that summits are rarely visible from the valley floor and vice-versa, for much of the way in between, the wider views encompass them both. And it is from this perspective that the two really do come together to be appreciated as a single entity – The Yorkshire Dales.

Set between the Stainmoor and Aire gaps north and south, the Lune Valley in the west and running out onto the great expanse of the Yorkshire Vale to the east, the Dales cover a relatively compact area of upland plateau fragmented by a number of main valley systems. The tumbling rivers of the Swale, Ure, Nidd, Wharfe and Aire all unite in the River Ouse, which, meeting the Trent, becomes the Humber as it runs into the North Sea. The Ribble, together with those streams gathered by the peripheral Lune, find their freedom to the west in the Irish Sea, while Mallerstang alone drains northward along the Eden Valley to Carlisle and the Solway Firth. Feeding them is a multitude of lesser rivers that gnaw deep into the heartland, creating a maze of smaller valleys and dales each proclaiming its own subtly different character. This variance is rooted in underlying geology, positional geography and the product of elemental forces, but important too is the way man has settled and exploited them over millennia. Farming, husbandry, woodland management, quarrying and mining have all left their mark upon the slopes; and, here at least, it can be said that the accumulative effort of successive generations has unconsciously helped in the creation of one of the loveliest landscapes in the country.

The River Wharfe above Grassington at Ghaistrill’s Strid (Walk 5)

Although numerous lanes and tracks wind deep into the heart of the Dales, it is only the leisurely freedom of pedestrian exploration that truly enables an appreciation of its unique charm. This, the first of two volumes, is a wanderer’s guide to the southern and western parts of the area, savouring its ups, downs and endless in-betweens. The various walks seek out spectacular viewpoints, dramatic landforms, curious natural features and attractive hamlets and villages, but more than that, simply delight in the subtly changing scenery. There is something for everyone, from gentle valley and hillside walks to more demanding upland romps that take in the high hills and remote moors of the hinterland. For the newcomer, this is an invaluable companion. In addition to the route descriptions there is background information to many of the features encountered along the way. While some routes are inevitably popular, many others take you off the beaten track to less oft-visited spots, and even those who know the Dales well may find new corners.

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