Yorkshire Dales Walk - Wensleydale and Aysgarth Falls
PUBLISHED: 18:03 08 May 2012 | UPDATED: 17:09 19 January 2016
It's time to rediscover Wensleydale's dramatic waterfalls. Words and photographs by Terry Fletcher
Wensleydale is one of those rarest of places that are actually at their very best in – or at least immediately after – bad weather. With a string of waterfalls from the 100ft high showstopper of Hardraw Force to the spectacular triple cataracts of Aysgarth it is at its most dramatic after heavy rain. This walk starts and finishes at Aysgarth and takes in another of the valley’s highlights, the stern fortress of Bolton Castle as its turning point.
Save the falls for the end of the walk and instead of following the crowds down to the riverside turn right up the road out of the car park and go under the railway bridge. Pass the entrance to the old station to take a narrow gate on the right into Freeholders’ Wood, signed to Carperby.
This delightful wood is now coppiced and full of birdlife. At the top of the slope by the edge of the wood look out for a gate with a yellow marker dot in the top wall. Go through this and follow the path across fields and a succession of gap stiles and a lane to emerge in Carperby opposite the Wheatsheaf Inn when a young vet Alf Wight, later to become world famous as James Herriot thanks to a series of best-selling books, films and television series, spent his honeymoon in 1943.
Turn right along the main street and after 100 yards or so turn left into Hargill Lane and follow it uphill out of the village where it becomes a farm track. About 150 yards beyond a pair of barns, take a right fork up the hillside signed Castle Bolton 2 miles.
The path continues to climb past a lone tree to a gate.
Go through this and at a fork shortly afterwards take the left hand branch, marked by a small footpath sign. The clear track curls away across the rough grassland to eventually reach a gate. Go through this, still following the Castle Bolton signs, the path bridges a beck and curls through pasture and recently-planted woods before passing a farm to emerge beneath the impressive walls of Bolton Castle. This is one of England’s best-preserved mediaeval castles, built by Richard le Scrope, Chancellor to Richard II, and is well worth a visit. It has a rich history having served as the prison of Mary Queen of Scots and being besieged in the Civil War. To fool the unwary the citadel is Bolton Castle but the adjoining village is Castle Bolton.
As you pass the castle look out for a rare Victorian postbox set in the wall opposite and still bearing the initials VR.
Go round the castle and then turn immediately right downhill. After 250 yards take a bridleway on the right by a barn and follow the Tarmac track down to a pair of houses. Here the path seems to end in someone’s garden but press on around the second house to cross the old railway line and onto a sunken path which leads to a road.
Turn left as far as the Castle Bolton junction and there take a stile on the right signed to Low Thoresby. When it reaches a lane turn right and pass the farm to take the enclosed track of Thoresby Lane, signed to Aysgarth Falls. This charming narrow green lane weaves between hedgerows and then beside a new plantation protected by a deer fence before heading straight on at an often-wet crossroads of tracks. When the track emerges in a field go straight on but halfway across the pasture a finger post directs you half left across the field to Aysgarth Falls.
Take this path and continue along it as it approaches Hollins House Farm. The route curves past the house and then below the main buildings before dropping diagonally downhill.
Cross fields to a gate marked Freeholders’ Wood and Riddings Field Nature Reserve.
After 200 yards or so, keep an eye out for a green path leading down the slope towards the river and a stile. If there has been rain recently the falls can be heard up ahead. Cross the stile to reach the river bank and follow the clear reinforced track upstream past the viewpoints for Aysgarth’s Lower and Middle Falls to emerge on the road opposite the car park.
The Upper Falls, arguably the most picturesque of the three and used in the Kevin Costner film, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, are just beyond the car park and amply repay the few extra yards’ effort needed to visit them.
Start/finish: National Park pay and display car park at Aysgarth Falls
Distance: 7 Miles/11km
Time: About 4 hours, plus time to visit the fall and Bolton Castle if desired
Terrain: Field path and rough pasture
Map: OS OL 30 Yorkshire Dales Northern and Central Areas
Refreshments: Pubs at Carperby and Aysgarth. Cafés at Aysgarth and Castle Bolton