Surprised on the Dales Way

Surprised on the Dales Way

by Ben Roughton

Before I walked it I had never been a fan of the Dales Way. Call me naïve, but I prefer hills and horizons to low-lying days up a river and down another river – a solid 7 days of this never appealed to me, and one day in particular looked isolated and rather dull.

Regardless, I walked it. I wanted to say I had done the Dales Way, despite my thoughts of it, but I sit here wanting to say something entirely different, and one day sums it all up perfectly.

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After finishing my walk into Oughtershaw on the Dales Way (the dull day in question), my hosts at my B&B asked if I had seen "this", and "that", and also "these" on my day walk from Kettlewell.

"You'll be surprised how many people don't" my host added.

"How many?" I asked out of curiosity. I never really got an answer, but that was probably because a red squirrel had jumped onto the window ledge. I can only assume not many take account of this patch of the Yorkshire Dales when they walk up it from Kettlewell – after all, it is one of the more isolated sections on the route, and it looked rather dull on the map. Nothing like the earlier days passing Bolton Abbey, Barden Tower, or the larger towns and villages.

Later that evening, after the red squirrels had scampered off, I asked my host more about Langstrothdale and the day walk from Kettlewell to here at Oughtershaw. I was trying not to sound like one of these people who didn’t see “this”, “that” or “these”, but it turns out this isolated section of the Dales Way is a lot more than just gentle rivers, green fields and rolling hills.

ben7aIf you have ever seen the 2003 film Calendar Girls with Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, then Kettlewell will be very familiar; this film about a local Women’s Institution raising money for a leukaemia charity by selling (tasteful) nude calendars was largely filmed in the village. The village is also home to the 17th century Blue Bell Inn - one of the oldest hostelries in the area.

Heading up the Dales Way path, it largely follows the River Wharfe upstream through the lush corridor-like valley to Buckden. This is the Yorkshire you see on television; patches of woodland hugging the hills, stone barns sitting in fields of yellow flowers, a long winding river and nothing much in between. At the top of this valley is the tiny parish of Buckden which sits scattered in several hamlets and communities around. The main village is, of course, the centre of the parish (the 18th Century Buck Inn here is certainly a decent stop off - the Wensleydale Gold ale here, which was described to me as “highly quaffable”, was indeed highly quaffable).

ben7aHowever, a short walk around the corner is the hamlet of Hubberholme. I stopped at the 17th century pub here, the George Inn, for a brief respite before heading up the new valley Langstrothdale (still following the River Wharfe). Hubberholme was described as the “smallest, pleasantest place in the world” by writer and playwright J.B. Priestley, and who was I to argue. It’s a delightful little place. The lady behind the bar shared a little history lesson with us about how the local farmers opened their own “parliament” here to bid on farmland, and how the famous craftsman Robert “Mouseman” Thompson carved the pughs in the 12th Century church opposite the river.

I eventually dragged myself away from the George Inn and continued onwards up the Dales Way to where the River Wharfe begins. The landscape was slowly turning from the lush emerald landscape into more of a “Wuthering Heights” wilderness, but as I ventured onwards, the secrets of this isolated valley began to reveal themselves. An old lime kiln, snuggled into the hill beside the path, the horizon dotted with more stone barns, and a rather inconspicuous stone circle sat in plain sight.

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“Bronze age” my host said, as we both stood at the window waiting for another red squirrel. “For burial or rituals… nobody knows for sure”.

I agreed, but I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the history lesson at the George Inn, the quaffable beverage at Buckden, or the tasteful nude calendars at Kettlewell, but I couldn’t remember any stone circles.

It wasn’t until I retraced my steps a couple of kilometres downstream the following morning that I noticed how obviously clear the ancient stone circle was. It was right there, in plain sight.


Then, I was tempted to retrace my steps to Kettlewell. But why? Honestly, I didn’t know until my hosts had told me that Kettlewell was where Calendar Girls was filmed.

I also wanted to head back to Buckden for another pint, but I don’t believe in drinking before noon. Thankfully, there is the Sportsman’s at Cowgill at the end of today’s walk to look forward to.

If there was a point to this article, other than sharing one of my favourite parts of a walk that surprised me, it would be to not take the less interesting sections of a walk for granted. The map may look boring, with a low-lying trek along the valley floor, with hills one side and hills on the other side, and very little ascents/descents along the way; but the Dales Way is full to the brim of beautiful landscapes, stories of history and intrigue, wildlife, and also a stone circle.

And this was just one day of the Dales Way!

Contours Holidays pride ourselves on our expert knowledge of the UK's trails. We regularly set out to check our routes and directions and to make improvements on the holidays we offer. You can find several write-ups of staff expeditions in our Trail Diaries.

Originally published 08/09/15

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