Anyone who knows me will tell you that I bang on about Swaledale all the time. I am 100% guilty and completely unapologetic! Swaledale is my absolute favourite part of the Dales. It is more rugged than the ever-so-slightly manicured Wensleydale to the South, and much quieter than the tourist hotspots of Malhamdale and Ribblesdale. The famous logo of the Yorkshire Dales National Park is a Swaledale ram – as far as I’m concerned, that’s an official declaration that Swaledale is the best of the Dales! Many of the place names are handovers from when the Vikings lived in the area, and in more recent history, the crumbling remains of lead mines can be discovered on many of the walks I will share below. We are lucky enough to have Swaledale pretty much on our doorstep, so I thought I would share some of my favourite walks – prepare to become a Swaledale convert! You’ll have to read all the way to the end to find out my favourite!
6. Richmond and Easby Abbey
Richmond is a beautiful historic town right on the edge of Swaledale. In addition to its bustling market square and independent shops, the town is also home to one of the oldest stone castles in England, which started construction in 1071. Richmond Castle is a ruin these days but can still be visited by the public, and is easily accessed in the centre of town.
This very easy circular walk passes close by the castle as you leave Richmond, before following the river Swale to Easby Abbey, returning along a clear and flat path. There are a few places that you can park in Richmond, we usually end up using a Pay and Display as roadside parking is very limited. Easby Abbey is another ruin in the hands of English Heritage and is both free to visit and dog friendly – it’s the perfect place to stop and have lunch before walking back to Richmond. On warm days keep an eye out for the ice cream van as you arrive back into Richmond!
Dog friendly rating – 4.5/5. It would be very easy to give this walk full marks in terms of dog friendliness! The sections of the River Swale that you walk along are generally very calm and perfect for dogs to have a swim and a splash around. This walk is 99% off road with plenty of sections where you can let your dog off the lead (check there are no livestock in fields before letting your dog off). There are poo bins on this walk so no excuses for not picking up! The only reason I have knocked off half a point is because this walk does get busy, especially in Summer and at weekends, and it is very popular with dog walkers. If your dog prefers quieter walks this probably isn’t for you, but read on, as once you get away from the (relative) hustle and bustle of Richmond there is a whole Dale waiting to be explored…
5. Reeth and Marrick Priory
Most people heading to Reeth go to walk Fremington Edge and then go home. And what a missed opportunity! Reeth is my favourite town in the Dales and there are so many places to walk around here that you will see it pop up twice more later on in this list. There is parking on the the village green in Reeth, and if you park here, please put some money in the honesty box.
This walk from Reeth to Marrick Priory is from the AA 50 Walks in the Yorkshire Dales book (which I would definitely recommend to both visitors and locals looking to discover more of the countryside!), but if you don’t own this book, a similar route is available on Walk4Life. This route is shorter than the one in the book, only goes to Marrick Priory as a detour, and doesn’t give you the option to extend the walk over Fremington Edge. Therefore if you want to get the most out of this walk I would definitely recommend buying the book or using a map to connect up the footpaths from Marrick to High Fremington.
Dog friendly rating – 3/5. This is a lovely walk which is pretty much all off road apart from one short section. You will however need to keep your dog under close control as most of the fields you will pass through have livestock in them. There are poo bins in Reeth to dispose of any dog waste so make sure you leave the countryside as you find it!
4. Gunnerside Gill
Gunnerside Gill is the first walk on this list where you’ll get a chance to see some of Swaledale’s industrial heritage. There are remains of 19th century lead mines scattered across Swaledale, in places where it’s hard to imagine the landscape swarming with workers, and Gunnerside Gill is no exception.
One of the other things that I love about Swaledale is the way that walls appear on landscapes that look like no wall would ever stay up on them due to the undulations and ripples – prime example pictured on the right!
We did the Gunnerside Gill walk in the Yorkshire Dales Pocket Mountains book, but if you don’t have this book, there is a similar route available on the Swaledale Museum website. This is a pretty easy walk following the river. The views are typical of Swaledale all the way, although you do pass through a small wooded section at the start of the walk.
Dog friendly rating – 3.5/5. Similarly to the previous walk, there could be livestock throughout this walk. There is however the opportunity to splash in the water for a section of this walk which water loving pups like Merry will love!
3. Grinton and Maiden Castle
Grinton is the next village along from Reeth, and therefore we overlooked it for ages, carrying on to Reeth for all of our walks. We rectified that earlier this year with a walk up to Maiden Castle – a similar route to the one we followed (albeit slightly longer) is available on Yorkshire Walks. There is free roadside parking in Grinton but please park sensibly. When we walked this route it was slightly drizzly, and the higher up we got the wetter it got, but this didn’t dampen our spirits too much as the views were wonderful! I especially loved the view of Calver Hill on the walk out of Grinton (pictured).
The walk hugs the edge of High Harker Hill until you reach Maiden Castle – not the famous one in Dorset! – but still a scheduled monument which possibly dates from the Iron Age. You get lovely views over Reeth and drop down to return to Grinton along the river.
Dog friendly rating – 4/5. There are plenty of the famous Swaledale sheep on the first half of this walk, so keep your dog under close control, especially at lambing time. The second half of this walk follows the river Swale back to Grinton and there are some sections where you will be able to let your dog off the lead as well as jumping into the river for a swim!
2. Keld to Muker
This is perhaps the most famous walk in Swaledale. Muker is home of some of the most beautiful hay meadows in the Dales, and if you are visiting in June when the wildflowers are in bloom, this walk is unmissable. In fact I would argue that it’s unmissable no matter what time of the year you visit! The walk follows the Pennine Way from Keld to Muker, offering amazing views into the valley for very little effort climbing, before descending into the hay meadows in Muker. The return on the opposite side of the valley follows the river to Keld, and you will come across the impressive Kisdon Force waterfall on your return to Keld.
For a short section of this walk you will pick up the Swaledale Corpse Way, so named, if you can’t guess, as it was the track villagers used to carry their dead from Keld to the consecrated ground in Grinton 16 miles away! This was quite obviously a very long way to carry a coffin and so large flat stones were laid along the path to enable the bearers to have a rest – see if you can spot any. Also keep your eyes peeled for the headless black dog which is said to haunt the way…
This walk is full of all the things that draw people to the Dales: spectacular views, tumble down barns, lush meadows, a winding river and a fairytale waterfall… need I go on? This is another route from the AA 50 walks in the Yorkshire Dales book, but a route starting along the river and returning on the Pennine Way is available on the Northern Echo website. There is a small-ish car park in Keld (which includes toilets) but get there early as it can fill up.
Dog friendly rating – 3.5/5. There could be livestock throughout this walk apart from a few short sections, and you will need to keep in single file with dogs on leads when passing through the hay meadows. However, Merry absolutely ADORED the section along the river, and I literally had to drag him away from the water all of the way back! He also had an extended swim in the pool in front of Kisdon Force which was perfect for cooling him down at the end of the walk.
1. Surrender Bridge
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You prize is the knowledge of our favourite local walk, which is up at Surrender Bridge, near Reeth. There are so many walks you can do from here that I could probably write an entire blog post just about Surrender Bridge! The landscape up here is littered with the ruins of the 19th century lead mines so strongly associated with Swaledale, and the heather in bloom is absolutely stunning. You can follow the footpath from the road up to the Coast to Coast path on its way to Reeth, follow a circular walk, or invent your own walk – the footpaths up here span for miles in all directions!
The area is popular with mountain bikers but we never see more than one or two cyclists, and hardly ever any other walkers. You will instead see countless grouse and tiny birds along the river which a better twitcher than I could probably identify! The area is part of a SSSI and there is so much to explore if you know what to look for!
We tend to just wander aimlessly for a few hours, but if you want to follow a particular route, Walking Britain has a circular route which starts from Surrender Bridge (free roadside parking) and heads up to Great Pinseat. You will see plenty of lead mines up here and there are a few information boards dotted about with information about the area’s industrial heritage.
The distinctive landscape up here was formed by ‘hushing’ – torrents of water were released over the topsoil, removing the top layer, and revealing the lead veins beneath. There are so many old mining ruins that it almost seems like one day they just finished work and forgot to come back.
Dog friendly rating – 3/5. This area is part of a SSSI so dogs absolutely must be on a lead to avoid disturbing the local ecosystem (CCTV in operation). Despite this Merry absolutely loves coming up here – and a dip in the river is always a bonus! Please remember to pick up poos and dispose of them responsibly (bins in nearby villages).
Did you know..?
The Yorkshire Dales are famous for their tumble down stone barns, and nowhere are they more prevalent than in Swaledale. Muker has the highest density of these barns in the Dales with about 60 within 800m of the village centre!
The barns were constructed to store the hay cut and gathered in the meadows immediately surrounding them, avoiding a long walk carrying heavy bales of hay to a distant location. The hay would then be used to feed the animals which sheltered in the barn over the winter. I only found this out recently – until then I had just admired the barns and wondered why they had largely fallen into ruin. Now I know their original purpose and have realised how many there are, it makes sense that they aren’t all still in tip top condition!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Swaledale today – let me know in the comments if you’ve given any of these walks a try! If you’ve enjoyed reading this today make sure you subscribe below: