The Herriot Way is a circular route that runs through some of the most beautiful scenery in the Yorkshire Dales. Stretching 84 kilometres, walkers start and finish in Aysgarth but are treated to impressive valleys, high, open fells and heather-clad moorland along the way.
The route also skirts waterfalls, traditional villages and passes through Swaledale, with its wildflower meadows and landscape of limestone dry stone walls and barns.
The trail is named after James Herriot (a fictional name given to the real-life veterinary surgeon Alf Wight) and is based on a walking holiday he took with his son Jimmy.
It visits his favourite locations in the Dales, including places where he lived and worked that were made famous in his books “James Herriot’s Yorkshire” and “All Creatures Great and Small”.
Many people choose it as an introduction to long-distance walking due to its manageable length and (mostly) easy gradients.
Because it is a circular route you can choose to start in any location, though most people abide by the guidebook’s traditional route and start in Aysgarth, moving in a clockwise direction.
- Relatively gentle, straightforward and pleasing
- Delight in the Northern Yorkshire Dales, in particular Wensleydale and Swaledale
- Walk along old lead miners’ tracks, with breathtaking views of Swaledale before strolling over heather moors and looking out over pretty hamlets
- Visit England’s highest single-drop waterfall and the spectacular triple-drop waterfalls at Aysgarth
Due to the fact that this circular route starts and finishes in Aysgarth, it is easy enough to drive and leave your car at one of the long-term car parks or at accommodation if they will allow.
For anyone preferring to take public transport, the most convenient stations are either Northallerton (on the London to Edinburgh line) or Garsdale (on the Leeds Carlisle line). From Northallerton Station there are regular onward buses to Aysgarth but this will require two changes. Alternatively, a taxi can be pre-booked and takes under an hour.
From Garsdale Station you can take a bus to Aysgarth, again needing one change at Hawes, or a taxi would take around half an hour.
For anyone coming from further afield, the nearest airports are Manchester International and Leeds Bradford.
This 84-kilometre walk is broken down into either four or five manageable sections, depending on how many days you choose to do it over.
Fast walkers would be able to complete it in three days but most people choose to stagger it over four or even five.
Grade and difficulty of the walk
As with so many long-distance walks, the difficulty of this trail lies mainly in the fact that you need to walk reasonable distances over consecutive days.
The individual day walks are not particularly strenuous and much of the route is on well-defined paths, tracks and country lanes.
However, because it’s in the Dales there is a variety of terrain, with riverside paths, meadows, open fells and moorland, so some sections can be muddy, wet, rough, and steep.
There is an overall height gain of around 2,350 metres and the most difficult section is the ascent of Great Shunner Fell, between Hawes & Keld. The good news is that it is not horrendously steep and does have a good path.
This walk should be well within the limitations of anyone with a good level of fitness or who walks regularly. The mix of easy strolling with an occasional strenuous ascent makes it the perfect walk for a first-time long distance walker.
The route is broken into four approximately equal days, each ending in villages with plenty of local amenities.
No permits are needed to walk the Herriot Way, meaning it is accessible for all.
Guided or Self-Guided
Although the route is not waymarked (as it is an unofficial route), it is easy enough to follow with either the help of the guidebook or maps that can be downloaded online.
It also follows established Rights of Way along its whole length, for example on sections of the Pennine Way, with signposted footpaths or bridleways.
If you are not confident in navigating your way, some companies organise four and five-day walking tours.
The challenge is best undertaken during the spring/summer months of May to September as there are longer days and generally better weather.
The Herriot Way can be walked in either direction and starting at any point you choose. However, the guide book describes the walk in a clockwise direction, following the path of the original walk by James Herriot that starts and finishes at Aysgarth.
As this is the most popular option it is also the direction offered by walking-holiday providers and baggage transfer services.
Based on this, below is a typical four-day walking itinerary. Many people choose to arrive the night prior to their walk in Aysgarth and tag on a rest day around the halfway mark to explore the beautiful Yorkshire Dales.
Aysgarth to Hawes – 21km
Hawes to Keld – 21km
Keld to Reeth – 21km
Reeth to Aysgarth – 21km
A longer itinerary of five walking days splits the Aysgarth to Hawes leg at Askrigg to make two shorter days.
For novice walkers, this is a good way to ease yourself in gradually, and also allows extra time to explore the market town of Hawes.
There is plenty of accommodation available at the end of each section and most days also have villages or hamlets positioned perfectly for a pub lunch.
There are various B&Bs, guest houses, inns and hotels located close to the route that span a range of prices. When booking be careful to check that your choices are within walking distance or there is transport available between your accommodation and the trail.
Most lodgings will provide breakfast each morning but rarely lunch and dinner. Aside from stopping in at a pub, lunches can usually be bought along the route but depending how you break it up, some days this may not be possible and can be provided by your accommodation or bought in town before setting off.
The route could also be wild-camped or walkers can make use of camp sites along the way. Campsites are available in (or just outside and within walking distance) Aysgarth, Hawes, Hardraw, Keld and Reeth.
Note that wild camping is technically illegal without the landowners permission, but is generally tolerated if done without leaving a trace and typically on the hill tops rather than in the valleys.
This hike is one of the best ways to see the best of the Yorkshire Dales and the best part is that you don’t even have to divert too far to get the best of the area.
The trail takes you through beautiful Dales villages and towns such as Thwaite, Reeth, Askrigg and Hawes – the home of Wensleydale Cheese. Alongside its world-famous cheese production, Hawes is a bustling market town with craft workshops, antique shops and plenty of restaurants on offer. Of all the stop-off points, this is probably the best place to tag on a rest day.
In the final stretch of your walk you reach Hardraw Force, the highest single-drop waterfall in England at almost 30 metres high.
Access to the waterfall is granted for a small fee payable at the Green Dragon Inn. The waterfall has been visited by many poets and notable figures over the years, and more recently by Kevin Costner during the filming of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
Just slightly further down the path is Aysgarth Falls, the equally impressive triple-drop waterfall. Once you’ve got your fill of nature, treat yourself to one final hearty dinner and drinks at one of the cosy pubs in town before heading back home.
|Skills Required||Hiking, Walking|
|Starts at||Aysgarth, Leyburn DL8, UK|
|Finishes at||Aysgarth, Leyburn DL8, UK|
|Length of route||84 Km|
|Average time to complete||4 - 3 Days|
|Possible to complete sub-sections||No|
|Highest point||716 metres|
|Equipment needed||Poles if preferred, Trekking gear, walking boots|
|Countries visited||England, UK|