Anyone who has read my blog Super Swaledale will know that Swaledale is by far my favourite of the Dales. There’s a sense of remoteness that you just don’t get anywhere else: not just on the hills and fells of the dale, but also in the tiny communities which are scattered in the far reaches of Swaledale past Reeth. Two such communities are Muker and Keld, which are both visited on this walk. Walking through the centre of these villages you really get the sense that, apart from the introduction of cars, barely anything has changed in the last two hundred years. Many of the villages in Swaledale, including Keld, Muker and Thwaite, have names that are even older and which originate in Old Norse: I imagine that the Vikings who came and settled them felt very at home in these wild uplands.
I was shuffling through my trusty Pocket Mountains guide for the Yorkshire Dales, looking for a walk to do at the weekend, and came across a walk entitled ‘Keld and Kisdon Hill’ (similar route online at Walking in the Yorkshire Dales). I immediately decided that this was the walk we had to do – I have previously walked along the side and bottom of Kisdon Hill but never over the top. In my excitement, I didn’t read the instructions properly and drove us to Keld to start the walk, when actually it starts from Muker (whoops!). In my defence it probably worked out slightly better to start in Keld – the car park is a bit bigger than the one in Muker and it meant that we got most of the climbing out of the way at the start of the walk! There is a reasonably sized car park in Keld which operates on an honesty box system (£2 short day, £3 all day) which also has a block of clean toilets.
The walk is a circular route of around 9km and easily navigable if you have a map and compass. The paths are largely pretty obvious, although traversing the summit of Kisdon Hill it does disappear in places, which I imagine would be worse in poor weather. Note that obvious does not mean level! On the descent from Kisdon Hill into Muker the path is very rocky and care is required so as not to end up flat on your face (try not to get distracted by the lovely view of the village). The climb up Kisdon Hill itself is short but reasonably steep, but should be manageable for anyone with a decent level of fitness, my gauge for this being how many times I needed to stop and ‘admire the view’ (once). Once you leave Muker to follow the river back to Keld the path is well surfaced and generally flat, with a few sections of gradual ascent.
Muker is one of the best places in the Dales to see wildflowers in the hay meadows. We were a little early this time, but come June the fields will be ablaze and people will be flocking to see the flowers. To protect the meadows many of the fields have narrow paths: please respect the signs, stick to the paved areas and walk in single file.
Muker also has the highest density of stone barns in the Dales. These now mostly tumble-down structures were once used to store the hay from the meadow they stand in over winter, to save the farmer having to carry heavy bales of hay long distances to store it. The stock would then over winter in the barn with the hay – to save having to carry it all back to feed the animals!
One of the unmissable features of this walk is the waterfall at Kisdon Force. You pass it on your way into Keld and it’s almost so close to the path that you don’t realise what an impressive falls it is! There is a bench at the top of the falls which is a lovely place to sit and have lunch (although the sound of the water might make you need a wee – never fear, there are toilets in Keld). We were planning to extend the walk and continue on to Currack Force, however, by the end of the walk the glorious sunshine we started in had turned into on and off snow flurries! I’m not sure ‘flurry’ is really the right word – it was on and off, true, but it was sideways and heavy enough to make vision deteriorate significantly. It just goes to show you should always be prepared for all eventualities – we put our sunglasses away and whipped our waterproofs out of our bags, which we hadn’t really thought we’d need but had taken just in case!
Dog friendly rating – 3/5. Apart from a very short section at the start of the ascent of Kisdon Hill, which is along an enclosed lane, we kept ours on the lead the whole way around this walk. While there were no sheep on Kisdon Hill there were plenty of ground nesting birds which for Merry would definitely be a hundred times more tempting than a sheep. Along the river we did see a few dogs off the lead but we thought that the likelihood of coming across livestock or birds was too high so kept ours on lead. Through Muker you will almost certainly pass through fields with sheep in – please keep your dog on a lead. The second half of this walk had a few opportunities for the dogs to have a drink, which were missing on the first half of the walk. The two big bonuses on this walk are that it is nearly 100% off-road (just one short stretch along the road coming out of Keld) and that dogs should be able to manage all of the stiles without needing to be lifted, as they are all the kind of stile built into dry stone walls. For dogs who don’t like busy places this is also a good walk: we didn’t see another soul on Kisdon Hill, and while it was busier along the river, the path was more than wide enough for us to walk to the side and give other people a wide berth.
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