The Yorkshire Dales is part barren glory, high peaks and part human history that has shaped and worked the land for Millennia.
The hardcore walkers who eat and breathe summits and red-faced exertion have something, as do those who like a decent walk but don’t always like the sound of their heart beating in their ears.
Much of the human history that scars the landscape is lead mining, that has at various stages been done for more than 2000 years when the Romans ruled over us.
The Industrial Revolution as ever, took a cottage industry and made it huge, so much of the landscape will forever be marked by it.
Today much of the land has been given over to grouse shooting with the grouse moors as well as sheep farming that keeps the moorland bare and barren.
With the world famous drystone walls that crisscross this sometimes overwhelming landscape, paints a picture of a land lived in and worked on as far back as written history allows – possibly a lot longer.
The James Herriot Way
For someone wondering what these fabled lands are like, this is a must-do walk!
The All Creatures Great and Small series’ main character James Herriot was a fictional Yorkshire vet based on the real man, Alf Wright who really did take his son on this four day adventure around the Dales.
Every day you will walk around 13 miles on the route, on a moderately challenging walk around Hawes, Keld and Reeth.
If you’re toying with a multi-day walking holiday and are a newbie to it then the James Herriot Way will be a nice taster of what it’s like to hit the hill day in, day out.
If you’re a hardcore adventurer who likes nothing less than a steep, three mile climb then this might be a season opening leg stretcher for the season – but this probably isn’t your bag unless you really want to appreciate the raw beauty of the Dales.
You will stroll along rivers and climb high on the fells, including a hard climb up Great Shunner.
Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge
Unlike the long distance stroll of the James Herriot Way, the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge is something for the seriously fit.
You will climb Pen-y-ghent (694m), Whernside (736m) and Ingleborough (723m), the three highest fells on the Dales – a seriously hard day on the hill!
If you can manage it in under 12 hours you can get a badge for your efforts.
The climbs are tough and at times unrelenting – be prepared for a challenging and epic day.
If you’re a ‘Southern softie’ then you’ll get a real taste of what makes a true Northerner on this walk.
Equally, even if you are a Northerner and built of sterner stuff, with the weather and nature of the Dales being as they are, you should be equipped to spend the night on the hill, or certainly be ready for those things that aren’t fun on the mountain.
Pen-y-ghent & Littondale
More popular walks are desecrated by the masses who do them.
Here is a terrific if challenging one that you can do where you and your friend might only see 2-3 people for the whole day.
Nearby Wharfdale is one of those towns full of tourists you ‘accidentally’ avoid on the walk, heading up the lesser known but equally beautiful Littondale instead.
They say the narrow country lanes puts off the mad crowd – that’s not always a bad thing is it?
You will climb one of the three highest peaks in the Yorkshire Dales as part of this walk, Pen-y-ghent, that will hurt your legs and get your heart pumping like a jackhammer.
As a final note, you shouldn’t park at the Red Lion and there is no public car park in Litton, so you’ll have to find a spot to park that doesn’t irritate the locals – as with good manners on the hill, be nice to the villagers who live there!
Whernside & Ingleborough short circuit
The Three Peaks Challenge is a good ten miles longer than this and is a bit on the brutal side.
You will still climb a leg killing thousand metres as part of this walk, and this isn’t for the fainthearted – even if the added extra peak and ten miles wins you a badge.
For many the accomplishment of this walk is enough of a badge of honour without winning a ‘trophy’ for it!
If nothing else, Whernside and Ingleborough are both higher than Pen-y-ghent so this is going to be quite a challenge in its own right.
The start and finish of this route is at the 400 metre long, 100 metre high Ribblehead railway viaduct, an astounding piece of civil engineering that is a Scheduled Ancient Monument it its own right.
Between climbing Whernside and Ingleborough, you’ll pass the worryingly named Braithwite Wife Hole, a natural, deep depression in the ground – it must have been given that name for a reason but sometimes best not to learn these things!
Aysgarth & Castle Bolton From Askrigg
Askrigg is the village used in the TV series All Creatures Great and Small as the fictional village of Darrowby.
If you’re under 35 you might not remember the TV series but the books behind it are timeless classics.
Another tough but rewarding walk through the Yorkshire Dales, in reward you will get to see the stunning Aysgarth waterfalls as well as the ancient ruins of Castle Bolton.
Where waterfalls are concerned it often pays to go after a little rain but given the 2019 floods in the area there are limits to this.
Even in summer you’ll get enough rain for the waterfalls to be nice to see – they can be downright torrents after what the locals may call ‘a bit of a shower’ where us Southerners start thinking of building an Ark…
Castle Bolton is steeped in history and is well worth a longer pause on this walk, perhaps giving it an hour to take in in full.
The return leg is over open moorland of Carperby Moor where you will find solitude and can take in the views as you plod along.
A final note? The church car park where the walk starts and ends is best left on Sundays to worshippers – and where there are other services on – be good to the locals as always!
The Calf from Sedbergh
If you’ve blasted up the M6 it’s almost inevitable you’ve seen the Howgills from your car – another wilderness in the Yorkshire Dales that is as stunning as the higher Dales but hardly anyone goes there.
You’ll recognise them from the M6 between Kendal and Penrith, with their rounded, ‘hippo-like’ rounded summits.
For those who enjoy seeing the world in a semblance of solitude you’re in for a treat here as it is an almost forgotten land – you may just see one or two other people as you stride your way around this walk.
The Howgills sit on the western edge of the Dales and are in fact in Cumbria, not that far from the Lake District.
To that extent if you’re stressed from sharing Lake District fells with too many people this walk could be the one that rebalances your mind.
The high point is The Calf where you can rest awhile and enjoy the views.
The Gragareth, Great Coum and Crag Hill Horseshoe from Leck Fell House
You will thoroughly appreciate the wild, barren landscape of the area as you walk over moorland and fell.
The Three Men of Gragereth are three cairns stood in a line that guard the climb up the Gragereth fell – a must-see for those who want to get to know this wild land with its great views of the Kent Estuary.
You also get to climb Great Coum with its great views of the Howgills and Lakeland Fells.
On a sunny day this is a walk with some of the best views to be had in the Dales.
Some of the route follows the famous dry-stone walls that crisscross the landscape.
That said, should the weather turn, and let’s face it this isn’t San Tropez, then good navigation skills will be necessary to stay on the route.
Remember, people frequently get lost on the moors up this way and that isn’t much fun.
Gunnerside & Surrender Bridge
Lead mining and coal mining are deeply intertwined with the human history of the Dales.
Up Swaledale you will see remains of this industrial heritage that dates back to Roman times when the valuable ore was first discovered.
As ever the Industrial Revolution mechanised and organised the industry and you will see remnants of where the land has been changed forever to seek the lead ore veins.
Blakethwaite Smelt Mill is one of the interesting points on the walk, as is the nearby lead mine that still scars the land nearly two centuries after it was in operation.
Another element you will see are the old lime kilns used for fertiliser production as agriculture demanded improved soil.
Surrender Bridge is a quaint little stone bridge high in the Dales.
How it came to its name is down to some debate – another mystery to ponder as you walk along.
The walk takes in open cast mining scars, a stretch of river walking and then a spell in high moorland, providing an excellent mix of terrains you will really appreciate as you stroll this somewhat challenging walk.
Discover Wuthering Heights
You can’t visit the Yorkshire Dales without touching on the Bronte sisters can you?
Wuthering Heights is a Victorian era classic, and this walk is designed to take you through the world of the author with some of the lands she so eloquently described.
It starts and finishes at the Parsonage Museum where the Bronte sisters lived and wrote their timeless classics.
Bronte aficionados suggest you do this walk twice to understand the Brontes’ world – once in bright sunshine and a second time in rain or mist.
We don’t usually recommend walking in adverse conditions on the moors but as a Wuthering Heights fan you will feel the atmosphere unchanged from the time it was written.
If nothing else a bracing walk on a wet moor will give you a great insight into what inspired these young ladies to write!
Levisham Moor and the Hole of Horcum
The Hole of Horcum, also known as the Devil’s Punchbowl is a natural amphitheatre created by a meteorite strike long ago.
It’s amazing what a rock can do, and this is of a size that would make life a bit difficult for life nearby with a whopping explosion as it hit the deck.
This walk starts with a stretch on Levisham Moor, that in full bloom is a bright pink, and quite photogenic for it.
Even though this is by far the shortest route we describe it is worth your time thanks to the quaint beauty of the area, and is worth a nice little bimble to appreciate the ancient history of the Yorkshire Dales.
With walks bordering on the psychotic to the polar opposite of gentle strolls, we do hope you’re inspired to have a walk or three in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
It’s one of those places in Britain that makes us as a nation who we are… well if we’re as tough as the Yorkshiremen and women who call it home!
Richard is a keen day-distance walker and lives close to the South Dorset Ridgeway and South West Coast Path.
Bucket list walks include: