Containing both a National Park and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, The Yorkshire Dales has some of the most spectacular countryside in all of England. Ever popular with walkers and cyclists, the area also has some great tourist attractions including ruined castles, stunning train rides, natural wonders and a world-famous creamery. As well as some selected guides to walking and cycling we’ve put together a guide to some of the best things to do in The Yorkshire Dales.
Places To Visit In The Yorkshire Dales
Without doubt one of my favourite places to visit in the Yorkshire Dales, Bolton Abbey is one of the estates belonging to the Duke of Devonshire. There’s a church and ruined priory, scenic valley, meandering river with stepping stones, woodland walks and plenty of places to grab a cup of tea and a scone. Rather than paying individually for entrance – like at a National Trust or English Heritage property – you just pay for entry of your car into one of the three car parks, making it excellent value if you’ve got kids. A lovely place, families often visit from local towns just to have a BBQ or picnic by the river.
One of England’s most famous cheeses, Wensleydale has been made in the area for hundreds of years. At the Wensleydale Creamery you can see master cheesemakers at work in the factory, watch a forty minute demonstration of the cheese being made from 8 pints of milk and see how the head chef uses Wensleydale in the onsite restaurant. There are also more interactive exhibitions for younger visitors, a well-stocked shop and cafe.
Black Sheep Brewery
Founded by a member of the Theakston brewing dynasty, The Black Sheep Brewery is located in Masham on the edge the Dales. On the brewery tour you’ll find out about the history of the brewery, the science behind the brewing process and how the ingredients are chosen to impart particular flavours and tastes. Best of all at the end of the tour you’ll get three thirds of beer to sample at your leisure. Prices are £9.95 for adults, seniors and students are £6.95, kids are £4.95 and a family ticket is £22.95.
Brimham rocks is a peculiar place – almost like a set from an 60s episode of Star Trek. Various forms of erosion have created an other-worldly landscape of looming boulders and mind-boggling balancing acts. Very popular with families during the school holidays due to the fact that you can scramble over the rocks to your heart’s content – but just beware there are some steep and potentially deadly drops where the edge of the moor falls away. Entry is free but parking is charged for non-National Trust members.
Another Yorkshire natural wonder, Aysgarth Falls in Wensleydale is actually not one but three sets of waterfalls along the River Ure. They are at their most spectacular after heavy rain, so make quite a good place to visit – anorak in hand – if the weather has been poor. The walking in the surrounding woodland is pleasant and you can also head out toward Bolton Castle (see below) on foot. The first set of falls was used in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves – the bit where Kevin Costner takes on Little John at a river crossing.
Stump Cross Caverns
Formed millions of years ago – a time when Yorkshire was under the oceans – Stump Cross Caverns are a network of limestone caves between Wharfdale and Nidderdale. Discovered by miners hunting for lead in the 19th century, the caves were soon opened to the public at a shilling a pop. Inflation has added a bit to the price since then, adult tickets are £7.95 and kids £4.95 – however the under 4s get in free. Very close to Grimwith Reservoir (see below), so you could combine your visit with an afternoon stroll.
White Scar Cave
Another underground gem, White Scar Cave boasts the longest show cave in England. Although in The Yorkshire Dales National Park, the caves are actually in Lancashire right on the far west side. Open all year round, admission costs £9.95 for adults, £6.50 for kids and the under 3s can waltz in for free. The guided tour covers a distance of about a mile and takes around 80 minutes to complete.
Although the name suggests otherwise, Bolton Castle is nowhere near Bolton Abbey. A 14th century castle located in the heart of Wensleydale it is still owned by Lord Bolton – a descendent of the original owner, the wonderfully named Sir Richard Le Scrope. Opening times are 10 till 5pm and kid-focused activities run throughout the day. There’s archery in the courtyard at half eleven, a morning and afternoon birds of prey display, and wild boar feeding at 4pm. Entrance to the castle and grounds costs £8.50 for adults and concessions are £7 (a family ticket is £30) – guided tours are an additional £2. Alternatively you can just pay for access to the grounds which includes the falconry and wild boar park.
Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal
One of the most popular tourist attractions in the Yorkshire Dales, Fountains takes its name from a ruined Cistercian abbey which flourished for 400 years until Henry VIII ordered the dissolution of the monasteries. The estate was later inherited by one John Aislabie who – in the style of times – sought to reshape the landscape. Although begun during his lifetime, the water gardens were completed by his heir William and remain to this day pretty much as they were then. Free for National Trust members, but quite expensive for those who aren’t.
A dramatic, sweeping limestone cliff, Malham Cove was formed by a retreating waterfall thousands of years ago. Today the water finds its way down by other means, however in the wake of Storm Desmond in 2015 it did briefly become the tallest single drop waterfall in England as water once again poured over the edge. A beauty spot popular with visitors to the Dales, Malham Cove was also camped on by one H. Potter in the film Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows.
Also known as Batty Moss Viaduct, Ribblehead Viaduct is still crossed by trains travelling the Settle to Carlisle line. A monument to both the vision and lax safety standards of the Victorians, the viaduct consists of twenty-four arches that at their tallest point carry the railway over thirty metres above the moor below. However, during construction some one hundred navvies were killed – some in work related accidents, others in a smallpox epidemic that swept through their makeshift shanty settlement. I’m not sure too many of Network Rail’s current projects will become Grade II listed – however they can at least claim a better safety record.
Fancy visiting The Yorkshire Dales during your stay in the city? Check out these Guided Day Trips From York
Walking In The Yorkshire Dales
If you’re after a value for money walking guide the AA’s 50 Walks In The Yorkshire Dales is a good place to start. The routes are between 2 and 10 miles – colour-coded according to difficulty – and the maps are annotated with points of interest. There is also information about local history and wildlife, accessibility, parking and public toilets. Collins also produce a good little guidebook Short Walks in The Yorkshire Dales.
For slightly longer routes check out the excellent Day Walks In The Yorkshire Dales by Bernard Newman. Suitable for hill walkers of all abilities these twenty walks are between 6 and 11 miles and pass a number of the beauty spots mentioned at the beginning of this guide.
If you like to combine a walk with some liquid refreshment Neil Coates’s Yorkshire Dales Pub Walks is a good place to start. There are 10 walks and 10 pubs, handy maps, nice pictures and easy to follow instructions. Another alternative guide is CAMRA’s Yorkshire Pub Walks – however, this isn’t focused specifically on the Dales.
Maps Of The Dales
For those who want to plan their own routes, or perhaps explore the countryside in more detail, the main part of the National Park itself is covered by two Ordnance Survey maps OL2 for the Southern and Western parts and OL30 for the Northern and Central. The Nidderdale area to the west of Ripon is covered by OS Explorer number 298.
Three Peaks Challenge
Not to be confused with the National Challenge, The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge is a 24 mile route taking in the peaks of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. With 5,200ft of ascending terrain, the course has to be completed within 12 hours. You can organise this yourself, book a private challenge or sign up to an open event.
Long Distance Routes
There are a number of different long distance walking routes that criss-cross the Dales. Most you’ll probably have heard of before, however there are a few much less famous ones. The Pennine Way – a south to north route that starts in Derbyshire and Northumberland – is a terrifying 267 miles. The 192 mile Coast to Coast cuts across the Dales as it wends its way from Irish to the North Sea. The Herriot Way is a much shorter trail – only some 52 miles – is a shorter route taking in Wensleydale and Swaledale inspired by Yorkshire vet James Herriot.
Less famous are Lady Anne’s Way – a hundred mile route that starts in the Dales and finishes in the Lake District, the Ribble Way – which traces the River Ribble from mouth to source over 73 miles and both the Dales Way (78 miles) and the Dales High Way (90 miles).
Yorkshire Water Reservoir Walks
I was recently surprised to discover that despite its size Yorkshire has only two naturally occurring lakes. However, if you fancy a scenic stroll around a man-made alternative there are several man-made reservoirs courtesy of Yorkshire Water.
Fewston and Swinsty reservoirs – just the other side of Harrogate from York – are probably two of the most popular given their location and the flat accessible route around them. However, two of our favourites are the slightly harder to find Grimwith and Thruscross reservoirs (the image at the top of the page is from Thruscross).
At the end of Thruscross Reservoir there is a giant retaining wall that looms up like a the face of a concrete modernist pyramid. If the reservoir is quite full the water flowing down it makes for an even more spectacular sight.
Cycling In The Yorkshire Dales
After the visit of the Tour De France to the county, road cycling is enjoying something of a resurgence. If you enjoy slipping into some lycra shorts on a Sunday afternoon, the Dales offers some fantastic cycling routes. Harry Dowdell has produced this excellent Cycling in the Yorkshire Dales: 25 Bike Routes on Quiet Lanes in the Dales which not only has detailed maps but plenty of information about cyclist friendly cafes and pubs. As well as the day rides, the guide also includes a six-stage tour of some of Yorkshire’s finest sights and the stage one route from the Yorkshire leg of the Tour de France.
For those who prefer their terrain a little rougher, then there are plenty of opportunities for some off-road two-wheeled action. Enthusiastic cyclist Nick Cotton has produced two excellent guidebooks: Yorkshire Dales Mountain Biking: The South Dales and Yorkshire Dales Mountain Biking: The North Dales. Both books contain over twenty routes of varying lengths and difficulties, and clear, easy to follow directions.
For those adventurers who deliberately stray off the beaten track the Wild Guide to the Lake District and The Yorkshire Dales might be of interest. With this guide in hand you can explore lost ruins and caverns, swim in mountain waterfalls (perhaps leave the book on the bank) and scramble along gorge walks. It also has information about local food producers, farm shops, micro-breweries and places to wild camp. There’s some family friendly stuff included too – this isn’t just one for aspiring Bear Grylls wannabees.
Photo credits: Ken Walton, Paul Allison & Chris Gunns