The Dales Way is a long-distance footpath that stretches almost 130 kilometres across the north of England from Ilkley in West Yorkshire to Bowness-on-Windermere in Cumbria.
Originally devised by the West Riding Ramblers’ Association in1968, the path mostly follows riverside paths and crosses through the heart of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the foothills of southern Lakeland, ending at the shore of England’s grandest lake – Lake Windemere.
There are also three Link Routes, leading from the centre of the major cities of Bradford and Leeds and from Harrogate to the start of the Dales Way at Ilkley.
A key attraction of The Dales Way is that it passes through two of England’s best National Parks – the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Lake District National Park. The Yorkshire Dales is postcard-like English countryside with rolling hills, drystone walls, vast green fields and picturesque villages.
The Lake District has fells that tower above you with impressive peaks and glistening lakes below.
When completed in its entirety, the first half of the walk follows the River Wharfe upstream with the second half following several river valleys (Dentdale, River Mint, River Kent) back down to the shores of Windermere.
Typically, a self-guided six-day/five-night Dales Way hike would cost around £400 per person for food and accommodation.
- One of the easiest long-distance paths in the UK, without compromising on beauty and views.
- Well-signposted and without many hills to climb.
Public transport to and from the route is fairly easy to plan, regardless of your chosen method. Both Ilkley and Bowness are on various main roads with plenty of parking available in town, but plan ahead how you will get back to your car if hiking the route one way.
Tricky but doable by public transport, you’ll need to change two or three times, taking around three hours.
Trains to Ilkley are regular, taking three hours from London or 1.5 from Manchester – both with a change in Leeds. Leeds also has train links to around the country and an international airport. From Bowness you can take a short bus or taxi ride to Windermere station and take a two-hour train to Manchester or 3.5 hours to London.
Although it’s possible to complete the walk the route in around four days, most walkers take six or seven, dividing the route into sections of around 25-30 kilometres and taking a rest day (or two).
Grade and difficulty of the walk
Many people opt for the Dales Way as it is shorter and less strenuous than nearby routes such as the Pennine Way and Coast to Coast Walk, mostly following river valleys rather than climbing up and over mountains.
The section from upper Wharfedale over the watershed at Cam Houses and down into Ribblesdale is steep (going up and down) but otherwise it is fairly easy walking with low technicality and a mix of soil and gravel paths underfoot.
It’s worth noting that because it follows riverside paths in upland areas, parts of the route are prone to flooding and become impassable – so always check online for up-to-date information on flooding and other hazards and suggested route alternatives.
Many people treat the Dales Way as an introductory training ground for more “serious” walks elsewhere in the country. Apart from a basic level of fitness, no real experience is needed.
Less experienced walkers should take care when crossing the central section (over the watershed) which encompasses the greatest ascent and descent, and is fairly remote with no alternative route.
For anyone not confident in their fitness or ability, it’s worth breaking this section up into two days with an overnight stay.
As with most of England’s best trails, there is luckily no need for a permit to complete the route.
Guided or Self-Guided
The Dales Way is generally well signposted, but if completing it by yourself it is worth having a map on hand for the more confusing sections, or a navigation app that still works when signal drops out.
The Dales Way is clearly marked on OS maps and is easy to follow. Having said this, doing the route with a guide or group can take stress out of planning your itinerary or figuring out alternative routes if flooding does occur.
The walking season along the route mainly runs from April to October, after which daylight saving kicks and the days are too short with colder/wetter weather and some B&Bs closing due to lowered demand. July and August offer the best weather but are also the busiest due to school holidays.
Because it’s England, it pays to be prepared for rain at any time of year.
You can walk the Dales Way in either direction, but most people go from Ilkley to Bowness.
Ilkley to Burnsall – 22.9km
Burnsall to Hubberholme – 24.5km
Hubberholme to Winshaw – 18.4km
Winshaw to Sedbergh – 24.7km
Sedbergh to Burneside – 26.6km
Burneside to Bowness – 16.8km
As mentioned above, the Dales Way can be extended by also walking one of three Link Routes – outlined below.
Starts at the gates of Bradford Cathedral in Bradford Forster Square – approximately 20 kilometres.
The official Link Route commences at Woodhouse Moor and leads by the Meanwood Valley, Eccup Reservoir and over the Otley Chevin – 27.4 kilometres.running
Starts at the River Wharfe at Linton and runs by Haverah Park, the Washburn Valley, Timble, Lippersley Ridge and Middleton into Ilkley – 26.5 kilometres.
The popularity of the walk and its location (running through the always-popular Lake District and Yorkshire Dales) means that there is many choices of accommodation to suit all budgets.
However it does mean that these B&Bs, bunkhouses, hostels, hotels and campsites are in constant demand. In holiday periods it is necessary to book at least a month in advance.
For those on a tight budget, camping is a good option but again will require planning as sites are not spaced at regular intervals and can book up.
For anyone looking to have baggage transfers between accommodation points, there are two main companies on the Dales Way, charging £8.50 a bag per day.
If walking according to the above itinerary, four out of six days will pass through towns with pubs and cafes but the other two would require packed lunches and snacks.
These can be shop-bought or prepared by most B&Bs. Shops can be found in Burnsall, Grassington, Kettlewell, Sedbergh, and Burneside. There is however a long stretch between Kettlewell and Dent without any shops so be sure to stock up.
The start and finish towns are the two largest towns on the route. Windermere has plenty of activities that would make tagging on an extra day or two worthwhile.
Take a boat ride with Windermere Lake Cruises, cruise the lake and enjoy the mountain views.
Hop off to catch a steam train, walk the lakeside track or head into the cute town of Ambleside for a classic English tea at Mr H’s Tea Room.
The town of Ilkley is famous for its moor and great countryside walks (if you’re not walked out) and one of the largest cycling clubs in the country.
Alternatively,if you are looking for some R&R, Ilkley is the ideal place to relax and treat yourself with some great restaurants, tea rooms and hotels.
A short train ride away is the booming city of Leeds with every amenity and activity you could think of, including great shopping, dining, a cinema complex and cool bars on every corner.
|Skills Required||Hiking, Walking|
|Starts at||Ilkley, UK|
|Finishes at||Bowness-on-Windermere, Windermere LA23, UK|
|Length of route||129 Km|
|Average time to complete||5 - 6 Days|
|Possible to complete sub-sections||Yes|
|Highest point||490 metres|
|Equipment needed||Trekking gear, walking boots, Water Supplies|