Yorkshire Dales Walk - Littondale
PUBLISHED: 10:33 21 August 2018 | UPDATED: 18:49 17 February 2020
Follow ancient tracks used by monks for a traditional Yorkshire Dales experience
This walk was published in August 2018, so the details of the route may no longer be accurate, we do advise these articles should only be used as a guideline for any potential route you take and you should double check an up to date map before you set off.
Littondale may just be the perfect valley, hemmed in by steep fells, carpeted with broad haymeadows and served by a single, sinuous road that keeps traffic and visitor numbers to manageable levels. If it did not exist cheek by jowl with Wharfedale and the honeypots of Grassington and Kettlewell it would probably be packed every weekend. Thankfully it retains its tranquillity and is a magnet for those who prefer a more traditional Yorkshire Dales experience.
And if this is the perfect dale, Arncliffe may just be the perfect village with stone-built houses clustered around a long village green that is always attractive but never twee. A solid, unpretentious church is tucked away just behind it and one of the national park's most characterful pubs, where you can still get ale poured from the jug, overlooks it. Arncliffe makes the perfect starting point for this long walk over the tops on soft turf paths through huge pastures that are the haunt of curlew, skylarks, oystercatchers and lapwings.
The walk makes use of two ancient trackways, both with monastic links to Fountain's Abbey. The first one encountered is the Monks Road, which climbs out of Arncliffe and onto the tops to cross over to Malham Tarn. Despite its name it was probably in use for centuries before the Cistercians set up home on the banks of the Skell, near Ripon. The second is the green track to Arncliffe Cote, in Littondale. It was used by the same monks to reach an outlying farm at Hawkswick beside the River Skirfare. A third, and even more famous green way, Mastiles Lanes, though not used on this walk, was their link to another outlying grange at Kilnsey in Wharfedale. So almost wherever you tread on this outing you are following in centuries-old footsteps.
1. From the village green take the enclosed broad track, signed to Malham, beside the pub and follow it past cottages. This is the start of the Monks Road. When the walled track begins to climb look out for a signed gate on the right and go through this following the narrow path as it climbs diagonally up the slope. After a steady pull of 20 minutes or so, which is compensated for by ever-widening views over the dale, the track levels out and the walking becomes easier as it traverses across the fellside following a fence line. Along the way the path enters the National Trust's Malham Tarn Estate, weaving its way through knolls and gleaming limestone craglets.
2. After an hour of nigh perfect walking on turf paths studded with limestone the path reaches the lonely stone buildings of Middle House almost hidden in a small clump of trees. Pass to the right of the buildings, staying on the main track and follow it as it curls leftwards down the hill with a glimpse of Malham Tarn away to the right. Below the newer buildings of Middle House Farm itself appear. Drop down the slope to a stile which leads to the farm access road, marked to Street Gate. Turn right along it.
3. When the track reaches the tarmac road on a 90 degree bend immediately take a gate on the left. Ignore the broad track going straight ahead. This is Mastiles Lane, one of the Dales' most famous green lanes and leads to Kilnsey.
Instead head off leftwards at 45 degrees on the barely-discernible bridleway marked to Arncliffe Cote. The track crosses the bald fell before dropping down to a gate and ford. (If you stray too far rightwards on this sketchy initial section simply follow the line of Gordale Beck leftwards to a gate). Go through the gate and paddle through the ford immediately beyond it, taking the now clearer track beside the left hand wall.
4. However, after a couple of hundred yards this is abandoned to take a much fainter track heading away rightwards from the wall aiming for another wall ahead. The path now presses on shadowing the wall a few yards to its left. The path becomes clearer as it goes and it followed for the next three and a half miles (5.5km) all the way across the felltop and down to the main Littondale valley road at Arncliffe Cote.
5. Turn right along the road and round a couple of bends to take the lane on the left to Hawkswick. As it drops downhill and levels out look for a footpath sign on the left marked to Hawkswick and Arncliffe. Follow it down to the footbridge over the river but do not cross it. Instead climb a stile on the left and follow the riverside path all the way back to Arncliffe.
Distance: 10 miles/16km
Terrain: Turf paths, green lanes and farm roads
Time: 5 hours
Parking: Lay-bys over the bridge at the western end of Arncliffe avoid spoiling the green
Refreshment: Pub in Arncliffe, cafés and pubs in Kettlewell and Grassington
Map: OS OL2 Yorkshire Dales Southern and Western Areas