• Start: Muker
  • End: Swaledale
  • Country: England
  • County: SouthYorkshire
  • Type: Country
  • Nearest pub:
  • Ordnance Survey:
  • Difficulty: Medium
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This must be one of the finest walks in the Yorkshire Dales simply because of its sweeping views. Words and photographs by Terry Fletcher

With the long, dark winter behind us this is a full days outing to welcome the lengthening days of spring. Delightful paths beside the dancing River Swale bracket a high moorland crossing and a glimpse into Swaledales industrial past when this now peaceful valley was a hive of mining activity. Lead was a valuable commodity and was mined here as long ago as Roman times and probably even before that.

The Venerable Bede, writing in 672, talks of Swaledales miners. For centuries they were part-timers, working smallholdings and farms alongside their delving but in the 18th century the industry boomed. When it collapsed in Victorian times the area was devastated and villages were stripped of their populations, families forced to head for the booming textile mills and even the mines of South America.

The walk starts among the grey stone cottages of Muker near the head of the dale. With your back to the Farmers Arms pub turn left down the main road for a few yards before turning left again uphill past the distinctive Literary Institute into the heart of the village. After 50 yards or so the road seems to end in a cluster of houses but a discreet yellow arrow on a telegraph pole in the corner points the public footpath between the houses.

This leads into fields where a farm track, which quickly becomes a stone flagged path, leads across a succession of handkerchief-sized meadows to the Swale. Turn right downstream and almost immediately cross over Ramps Holme Bridge and then turn right to follow the river downstream.

The track passes barns and farmhouses, the way marked by small wooden gates in the drystone walls. After crossing numerous fields the path climbs a stile for a brief wooded section before more fields to reach the graceful sweep of Ivelet Bridge. Do not cross this but instead carry on up the Tarmac lane to the hamlet.

The road climbs steeply through the houses, including one with an eye-catching fisherman window to the imposing Gunnerside Lodge. On reaching this turn right along a lane to cross a bridge and then climb uphill.

The moorland road levels out with wide views of the dale and the tiny haymeadows, each with its solitary barn. When the path begins to descend by the farm buildings of Dyke Heads an old mine road begins to climb off to the left. Although guarded by a discouraging Private Road sign this is a bridleway with access for walkers.

As it climbs the road swings northwards into the confines of Gunnerside Gill. It carries on for more than a mile before curving into Botcher Gill.

The track passes through a gate and then curls uphill across a solid stone bridge followed by a steep zigzag and on to an area of spoil heaps. Where it crests the brow of the hill ignore a road branching of to the right but carry on straight ahead following a C to C sign.

The track soon begins a gentle descent of about half a mile with wide panoramas that confirm Swaledale as the grandest of all the dales. Where it begins to drop more steeply and curl to the left keep an eye out for a double armed signpost off to the left of the track about 200 yards further on. Here take the signed path rightwards, jumping across the stream. After a brief level section it drops steeply down over broken ground and boulders keeping company with a stream to eventually reach some ruined mine buildings. Pass between these to cross a sturdy bridge to reach a signpost.

A shorter return route is to follow the way marked to Muker, which drops steeply down rough ground to the bed of the gill where it is necessary to clamber across boulders. This is best avoided after heavy rain when the crossing could prove problematic or even impossible.

A much easier and only slightly longer alternative is to follow the path marked to Keld. This takes a flatter track high above the gill and eventually passes through a gate before curling westwards, apparently heading in the wrong direction, but once past the ruins of the wonderfully-named Crackpot Hall another track heads steeply down to the left. A footbridge spanning the foot of the gill gives a much simpler crossing than the Muker track with the bonus of fine views of the lower waterfalls.

The way back to Muker is now unmissable, following the broad track downstream beside the Swale to Ramps Holme Bridge, which is crossed once again and the outward route across the meadows is retraced to Muker.

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