It rained much of the way, we got lost once or twice and my boot got stuck in the mud. But none of this mattered. We were walking through some of England’s most beautiful countryside, following rivers, dales and moorland. Apart from the sheep we had the place to ourselves.
Along the River Wharfe
The Dales Way is a 78 mile walk through the Yorkshire Dales National Park from Ilkley to Bowness-on-Windermere. It starts by following the course of the River Wharfe, a fast flowing river that creates frequent weirs, waterfalls and eddies.
Although narrow, the speed of the water can make it treacherous; we opted for bridges rather than stepping stones and noted the signs on the narrowest point that warned people of the perils of trying to jump from one side of the river to the other!
My camera was kept busy on this part of the walk, with pictures at every turn, from the swirling water made russet brown by the peat in the soil below, to the ever changing landscape. We walked through woodland, across fields, and over the open moor. And the towering limestone hills of the Pennines followed us all the way.
Walking Through History
It is not just the scenery that is varied: the walk covers numerous periods of English history. On our first day we passed a disused Quaker meeting house (some of the earliest Quakers came from this area) before arriving at the ruins of Bolton Priory, a once wealthy monastery. And there was more: medieval earthworks, an old Roman road and grand viaducts from the Victorian railway era.
Look out for local traditions too. We saw a man mending a dry stone wall, a distinctive form of building that dates back to the Iron Age but still prevails in the area today. And in Kettlewell the village was full of scarecrows, part of one of the many scarecrow festivals that dot the English countryside during the summer months.
Into the Lake District
Although this is the Dales Way, the trail eventually leaves Yorkshire and comes into Cumbria. We stopped for a rest day in Sedbergh, which bills itself as “England’s Book Town” as just about every shop (including the Tourist Information Office) sells secondhand books. I had limited luggage space so couldn’t indulge too much – I was planning the return visit before we left!
On the last day we arrived in the Lake District. It had stopped raining, the sun had come out and we walked over a hill to catch our first glimpse of Lake Windermere. The end was in sight.
The Dales Way: A Few Practicalities
- A small stretch of the trail near Burnsall is wheelchair friendly. However elsewhere the trail may not be suitable for people with restricted mobility. Although the walk is not difficult, there are frequent high stiles and narrow gates, and the path can be muddy and uneven, with marshy patches.
- Some parts of the route can be accessed by bus or train, making day hikes possible. Alternatively there are a number of companies that will arrange accommodation and baggage transfers – there is a list on the Dales Way website.
- Some sections of the trail pass through villages where you can purchase refreshments, but on some sections you will need to carry your own food and water; it is advisable to check before you set out.
- There is limited Internet and mobile phone coverage on the route. Be prepared to be out of contact while you walk!