5 Wanders in Wensleydale

Wensleydale is without a doubt one of the most popular dales. Crammed full of tumbling waterfalls, lush meadows and of course the famous Wensleydale Creamery, people flock from far and wide to experience all that Wensleydale has to offer. The waterfalls deserve a blog entirely of their own, so today I’m going to focus on five walks that sample the rolling pastures and wilder uplands of one of the most easterly of the dales.

5. Constable Burton and Finghall

This walk is a bit of a wild card. Constable Burton itself isn’t quite in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, being situated in Lower Wensleydale on the A684 between Bedale and Leyburn, but it’s close enough and this lovely short walk merits inclusion on this list. Constable Burton has it’s own website and this is where we found the three and a half mile circular walk which starts in the village.

Parking in Constable Burton is free on the roadside but please park considerately. This walk is pretty easy with no steep inclines or descents, and the path is pretty level throughout, either on levelled lanes or grass.

For such a small walk the landscape is wonderfully varied. You will pass through copses of woodland, through fields and wander for a short stretch along the river. You will also pass the 12th century church of Saint Andrews which is surrounded by the earthworks of medieval villages which no longer exist. There are pubs in both Constable Burton and Finghall if you want to incorporate a pub stop on your way!

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. This is a lovely dog walk with many sections where your dog can be let off the lead – and Merry loves any walk where he can take a dip in any kind of water! There are some sections through fields with livestock and a short stretch along the road in Finghall where your dog will need to be on a lead, but over all, this is a lovely place to walk your dog. There is also a wonderful shortage of stiles on this walk which owners of larger dogs will no doubt be thrilled to hear!

4. West Burton to Aysgarth Falls

This is another walk from a Burton, but this time, the walk starts in the pretty village of West Burton. Most people visiting West Burton head straight to Cauldron Falls, however, that’s a feature for a future blog. Many of Wensleydale’s beauty features are connected by footpaths and this walk makes use of them to trek from West Burton to Aysgarth Falls, of Robin Hood fame.

The walk we followed was a four mile circular from the AA 50 Walks in the Yorkshire Dales, but if you don’t have this book, you can find a similar route on the Walking Englishman website. Parking in West Burton is free along the village green, there is however an honesty box, so make sure you take some pennies with you for this purpose.

The walk is pretty easy to navigate, again with no steep climbs, and the paths are pretty even throughout apart from some rocky sections at Aysgarth Falls. We did this walk in summer when the hay was being cut and I don’t think I’ve ever seen more bucolic scenes!

Dog friendly rating – 2/5. This isn’t the best walk for dogs being completely honest. It wasn’t so bad with Merry as he is an agile little goat and flies over stiles on his own, however, owners of larger dogs may struggle as there are a whopping 35 stiles on this walk. Most are inset into dry stone walls, so not too bad, but still not great if your dog is not a natural climber! There is livestock throughout and a few short sections along roads so leads are a must. Merry did however love the stop at Aysgarth Falls – as you can see in the photo he was dying to get in the water!

3. Middleham Castle and Gallops

Middleham is one of my favourite places in the dales, and somewhere I would definitely recommend to people looking for somewhere to stay in North Yorkshire. For a small town it is bursting at the seams with history and has a wonderful bustling vibe – largely centred on the many racing stables which are located in the town. The stables have an open day every year, where you can visit the stables and meet the horses, which is a great family day out. Every time we go for a walk in Middleham we encounter a string of race horses somewhere along the walk – either on the gallops or on their way up there!

Middleham is also home to Middleham Castle, the boyhood home of Richard III, an imposing ruin which is open to the public (managed by English Heritage, entry fees apply). If you’re not fancying a walk I would definitely recommend a visit to the castle – the history is fascinating and there is a view point where you get wonderful views across Wensleydale towards Coverdale. The castle is also dog friendly so you don’t need to leave your four legged friends at home!

The walk we like to do from Middleham is from the Pocket Mountains Yorkshire Dales guide and is about 3 miles, however, the AA book has a longer version. You can also find a similar route online on Where2Walk. Parking in the centre of Middleham is a few pounds which you can pop into the honesty box for parking.

The walk itself is nice and gentle with only one steeper climb as you pass Pinkers Pond (this is pretty short and not too bad). You pass the castle on your way out of Middleham and immediately find yourself in the middle of fields, which you will pass through for the majority of this walk until you climb up to the gallops. The views of Wensleydale and Coverdale are lovely considering the amount of effort (almost zero) you are required to put in. The paths are mostly grassy and level throughout, with a short section on a metalled track by the gallops, and a stretch along the pavement to descend back into Middleham.

Dog friendly rating – 3/5. The first half of this walk passes over stiles and through fields which may all have livestock in (both sheep and horses) so dogs need to be under close control. Water loving dogs will enjoy the opportunity to splash in the river Cover, although the river is largely blocked by a fence so you will need to make a short detour to give them the opportunity to have a swim. We do quite often see dogs off the lead on the gallops, but make sure your dog will re-call and not get in the way or chase any racehorses you may see.

2. Cotterdale

Cotterdale is a small village in the heart of Wensleydale. The walk we did is from the Cicerone book for the North and East Dales, however, a similar route is available on Where2Walk (which includes a detour to Cotter Force, definitely the most underrated of Wensleydale’s waterfalls!).

The walk starts from the village of Hardraw (home of another waterfall). Parking is free in a lay-by on the western side of the village (there is an honesty box where you can leave a few pounds). The walk then starts off by following a track to join the Pennine Way, taking you to a wilder side of Wensleydale, before dropping down into the pretty village of Cotterdale. Keep your eyes peeled for red squirrels here – we saw three all in the same tree!

Can you spot the red squirrel scampering up the tree?

Dog friendly rating – 3/5. We were walking behind another couple for most of this walk and their dog was off the lead on the upland sections and was fine. We’d have had no chance with Merry as the amount of rabbits was insane. There isn’t much water on this route unless you follow the Where2Walk route which detours to Cotter Force, so take some extra water for your dog. There is a short section through trees where we were able to let ours off for a sniff but they were mostly on leads for this walk. There are also a few stiles so be prepared to get muddy lifting your dog over!

1. Pen Hill

Pen Hill was always going to top any list of walks in Wensleydale for me. It’s distinctive shape is one of the local landmarks that I see everyday silhouetted against the horizon. After years of seeing the hill every day we finally got across to walk up to the top last year – we followed this circular walk from the Happy Hiker website which includes an optional detour to the top of Pen Hill.

Parking is free on the roadside in the village of Carlton-in-Coverdale. You very quickly enter a more rugged landscape than you might expect to find in Wensleydale – in my mind Wensleydale is all green pasture and less wild upland!

The walk is around 10 miles if you include the trip up to the summit – this is definitely worth it as the views over the surrounding countryside are wonderful! You can also make the walk longer if you choose to by following optional detours to West Witton or West Burton as you pass the footpaths connecting to these villages.

The path was a little boggy in places but generally pretty even underfoot. The climb up Pen Hill is steep in places but feels surprisingly short – so don’t give up, you’ll get to the top sooner than you think! The worst climb is the one at the end of the walk which feels never ending. I’d like to say I did it without whinging but I’d be lying!

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. While there are fields with livestock to cross (sheep and cows), there are also a few sections free of livestock where you’ll be able to let your dog off the lead. This is a lovely long walk so you’ll have a nice and tired pup by the end! Like most walks in the dales you will come across a few stiles but there’s nowhere near as many as the 35 on the West Burton walk. As always carry some extra water for your dog and pick up any poos.

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