A Tale of Two Waterfalls: Whitfield Force and Mill Gill

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that Wensleydale is a veritable treasure trove of waterfalls. Some, like Aysgarth Falls and Hardraw Force, can be relied on to draw a steady stream of visitors. Others are tucked away in secluded corners of the national park and are only to be discovered by more intrepid wanderers. This walk is a bit of both: Whitfield Force is pretty inaccessible as far as the waterfalls of Wensleydale go, while Mill Gill is high reward for little effort, and so is understandably popular with both visitors and residents of the national park. This easy walk takes in both, and makes for a very enjoyable ramble, with fantastic views over the hills for hardly any effort.

This walk starts from the tourist honeypot of Askrigg, home of James Herriot, which is well connected by footpaths and the start of many possible walks. It was actually pretty quiet when we did this walk but that was probably due to the temperature (-4)! Lots of the paths which would have been really easy to walk along due to being flat and well surfaced had turned into ice rinks – in the photos where the paths look wet, this is actually just a thick layer of ice reflecting the light!

There is very limited parking in Askrigg, and to avoid being a nuisance to locals, it’s best to park in the small honesty box operated car park a short stroll from the centre of the village.

It was just a tad icy…

The route we followed was a 3.5 mile circular (although it felt longer due to a few unplanned detours!) from the Cicerone Yorkshire Dales: North and East guidebook. If you don’t own this book, a similar route is available on the Walking Englishman website.

The path is generally level and well surfaced for the majority of the walk, with some sections along unmarked paths in fields, and with no seriously steep ascents/descents. The way down to Whitfield Force was borderline impassable when we did this walk: after spending 20 minutes slogging up a steep bank, which was so waterlogged we sank back half a step for every step taken, we realised we were going the wrong way and dropped back down to follow the river to the falls. This stretch was a bit like a part of the Tombraider video game, and saw us shimmy-ing over huge boulders, clambering across fallen trees and inadvertently splashing into hidden puddles. The falls were worth the effort though and the difficulty getting down there meant we didn’t see another soul while we were there.

Whitfield Force

Once we’d hauled ourselves back over the obstacle course which doubled as a path, we continued on to Mill Gill. Whitfield Force was a shimmering veil of water which made me think of fairy glades and spring: Mill Gill was a tumbling rush of water which called to mind the wilder reaches of our county. Getting from one to the other was relatively easy, and made easier when finger posts started to include ‘Mill Gill’ – knowing that you’re definitely going in the right direction is something I always find very reassuring!

Mill Gill can be reached from Askrigg in less than a mile, via a well defined and sign posted path, so it was obviously much, much busier than Whitfield Force. Don’t let this put you off though as the waterfall is still impressive and worth a visit – just don’t expect to have it to yourself.

Mill Gill Force

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. Like most of the walks in the Yorkshire Dales, expect to see livestock in any of the fields you cross, and keep dogs under close control or on a lead. This walk did however have long stretches on enclosed lanes or in woodland where we could let the dogs off, as well as being able to let the dogs have a drink and a swim at Whitfield Force, which automatically bumps any walk up the dog friendly scale! There were quite a few stiles on this walk but they were all the kind which are built into dry stone walls and easily managed by the dogs on their own, so this didn’t pose a problem for us. There is a very short stretch of road as you leave/return to Askrigg, but traffic is not fast moving here and there are pavements you can walk along.

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Easedale Tarn

The walk up to Easedale Tarn is a lovely short stroll from the chocolate box village of Grasmere, famous for its association with the Romantic poet William Wordsworth. We found this walk on a trip to the Lakes about four years ago on a rainy Saturday in November – despite a fairly continuous stream of drizzle it was a beautiful walk with quintessential Lakeland scenery. And of course, finished off by hot chocolate and cake to warm up at the end…

We followed this very easy five mile linear walk on Walk Lakes, which starts from Grasmere, following Sour Milk Gill gradually uphill from the village to reach Easedale Tarn. This walk has a difficulty rating of 1/5 on Walk Lakes and this is fair, although the path is uneven in places and slippy in wet weather (I twisted my ankle after hanging onto the lead when Merry lunged after an interesting smell – I made sure I’d laced my boots up properly before our next walk!)

If you aren’t staying in Grasmere, there are a few car parks available (details on the Lake District National Park website), although given how popular Grasmere is these fill up very quickly. This is one for an early start! There is plenty to do in Grasmere so once you’ve finished your walk why not make a day of it and visit Wordsworth’s grave or the famous Grasmere Gingerbread.

My favourite stop in Grasmere is Heidi’s Grasmere Lodge, which as well as being a self-catering accommodation unit, also has a bustling cafe on the ground floor. I’ve been here quite a few times now and the cake is amazing, the customer service is great and the hot chocolate is proper hot chocolate rather than the watery rubbish you get elsewhere! The cafe is also dog friendly and if you have a photogenic pooch they have a ‘dog of the day’ feature wall – if you call in see if you can spot Merry among the previous dogs of the day!

Dog friendly rating – 3/5. Like nearly all walks in the Lake District there are sheep throughout, so dogs need to be under close control, preferably on a lead. Merry loved this walk as there were so many opportunities for swimming (you follow the gill for a while before arriving at the tarn itself). This walk was pretty busy – we saw quite a lot of people walking along the path, probably as it’s such an easy walk with incredible views. Therefore, if your dog isn’t a big fan of strangers, this might be an area to avoid (Grasmere in particular is never anything short of heaving).

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The Breamish Hillfort Trail

Nestled in the heart of the Northumberland National Park, the Breamish Valley is nothing less than delightful. The eponymous river flows gently through the valley, making this a prime choice for picnicking families, and the more adventurous can wander further to discover the ethereal waterfall Linhope Spout. For me though, the main temptation was the cluster of hillforts dotted along the valley. I was desperate to get up there and see what was left of these impressive structures, and to take in the view that must be relatively unchanged from the time when the hillforts were inhabited, over two thousand years ago.

The Breamish Hillfort Trail can be found online on the Northumberland National Park website, but we discovered it in my trusty Pocket Mountains guide to Northumberland. Of the two routes available online, we did the shorter route, as we were stopping off on our way home from a week in the area – you can read all about it on my blog Northumberland: North of the Wall.

This walk is an absolutely wonderful way to spend a morning or an afternoon. The initial climb up Brough Law gets your heart pumping, but from here on it is a gentle stroll along grassy paths, with very little steep ascent or descent. Parking was free in Bulby’s Wood Car Park (prepare to be confused and lost trying to find it if you don’t know where it is already), where there is space for a small number of cars, as well as a mini National Park centre with public toilers.

This is a fantastic walk for any history geeks. On several of the hillforts you can see the outlines on the ground where timber roundhouses used to be. The structures were originally built around 2,300 years ago – pretty mind blowing. You can also see some surviving cultivation terraces, which I was delighted by, having never seen one apart from in photos. I spent quite a long time perched on the boundary wall of Brough Law trying to imagine what it must have been like to live in a hillfort in the Iron Age – it was pretty impossible to even try wrapping my head around it, but I think I got closer than I ever have reading about it in a text book.

Northumberland is a secret treasure trove of interesting historical landscape – the concentration of hillforts in the Breamish Valley is just the tip of the iceberg. During the week we spent in Northumberland we also visited the hillforts at Yeavering Bell and Doddington, the ancient Anglo-Saxon settlements of Ad Gefrin and Bamburgh and the fascinating prehistoric cup and ring marks on Doddington Moor. Doddington in particular is a fantastic day out if you love historic landscapes, with the hillforts and cup and ring marks already mentioned, as well as the remains of a prehistoric stone circle.

The light isn’t brilliant, but you can clearly see the remains of cultivation terraces on the hillside.

Dog friendly rating – 3/5. There are sheep throughout so we kept our dogs on the lead for the whole walk – better to be safe than sorry! The is also no water once you leave the car park, so carry some extra for your dog, especially if it’s hot and sunny. We got blue skies but we did do this walk at the start of November so it wasn’t quite as warm as it might look in these photos!

A big plus on this walk is the total absence of any kind of stile or object that would require you to lift your dog over – something we appreciate a lot more since we got Coal! Make sure you head down to the river when you get back to the car park to give water loving dogs the opportunity for a paddle.

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Redmire & Bolton Castle

There is no better way to welcome in the New Year than to go for a crisp winter walk. We get out early every year, while the sun is still low in the sky, and the majority of the world is still sleeping off the night before! This year people obviously couldn’t go out celebrating so we opted for a quieter walk in a less-frequented part of Wensleydale – just in case more people joined the early morning New Year’s Day brigade!

This is a lovely short walk if you don’t have the time or inclination for a longer walk, but still want the views and sense of solitude of a longer or more remote walk. Starting from the quiet Wensleydale village of Redmire (free roadside parking), this gentle walk rambles across mostly flat fields, to reach the impressive medieval fortress of Bolton Castle.

When we did this walk there had been a fair bit of snow on the hills, but not much along the route, which made for the perfect combination of easy walking for magical snowy views. The effort:view ratio on this walk is outstanding (although in fairness a dusting of snow makes any view Christmas card worthy).

We followed this very easy route on Where2Walk, which is a great place for walk inspiration in North Yorkshire and the Lakes. While the walk is nearly completely flat the terrain is often pathless, and you need to rely on landmarks and your own navigation skills to find the way. This isn’t too hard as you are generally walking from one stile or gate to the next! There had been a prolonged period of wet weather just before we did this walk and the fields were completely saturated – it was how I imagine walking through a paddy field would be – but the views were stunning and at least the water didn’t go over our boots! Apart from the river crossing where the stepping stones were completely submerged…

Getting across here without getting wet feet was somewhat challenging…

Bolton Castle was built in the fourteenth century by the wealthy Scrope family and is today a popular Yorkshire Dales tourist attraction. The castle and gardens are open to the public (admissions charges apply, details on the castle website) and there is a gallery, shop, tea room and falconry centre. Due to the birds dogs are not permitted on the site, so we just had a walk around the field by the car park, and then carried on with our walk.

I have to say this is one of the most photogenic castles in the area – it’s a lot more intact than nearby Middleham and gives off a similar kind of medieval vibe! Although sadly there aren’t as many racehorses knocking about as there are in Middleham.

Dog friendly rating – 3.5/5. Much of this walk passes through grazing land, where you’ll need to keep your dog on a lead if there’s livestock about. We were lucky and there were a few empty fields without sheep in, but otherwise there are a few short enclosed lanes where you can also let your dog off if you like. The majority of this walk is off-road but there are a few short stretches along quiet roads. Merry’s favourite part, of course, was having the opportunity to paddle in the river! There were a few stiles along the way but these were all the ‘easy’ kind that the dogs could clamber over which are definitely our favourite kind!

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Inverlael Forest

During our trip to Assynt in September I got a slow puncture in one of my tyres. This required a trip to the nearest garage in Ullapool (Loch Broom garage, which I highly recommend) and while we were waiting for them to be able to fit us in we had a quick trip over to Inverlael Forest. Inverlael is managed by Forestry and Land Scotland, and is about a 15 minute drive from Ullapool, in Ross-shire. Although we were only an hour or so from Lochinver the countryside seemed different: less open, with new views to be discovered around every bend. We only had an hour or two to explore Inverlael but there is definitely more waiting to be discovered – Ross-shire is on our list for a future trip so I’m sure we’ll be back sooner or later…

Inverlael is an energy forest, one of six such sites across Scotland, where burning one tree could produce enough energy to power a house for ten days. Inverlael is also a hydro-electric forest, using the natural flow of the river to generate enough power for 1,500 homes (roughly the population of Ullapool), all without disrupting the flow of the river – water is out of circulation for around eight minutes before being returned to the river.

There was an impressive array of plant life at Inverlael including some bright and beautiful toadstools! There was also some heather lingering along the edges of the path which provided a lovely contrast with the surrounding trees.

We found Inverlael in our Northern Highlands walk book, but didn’t have time to do the full walk it details, which takes in two Munros. There are a few sign posted trails around the forest itself which we planned on following but we couldn’t find the start of either of them! So in the end we free-styled and followed the path through the forest towards Beinn Dearg for a while before turning around and heading back to the car in time for our appointment in Ullapool.

There is free parking in a small car park just off the main road. This was quite busy but despite this we barely saw anyone in two and a half hours – just one empty wild camping tent and a fell runner with his border collie!

The paths around the forest were mostly level and well surfaced, with a few sections climbing moderately as you head for the hills. A few of the connecting paths were a bit more slippery and uneven but these were a minority. Once we left the forest and started along the path to Beinn Dearg it wasn’t quite as even, but the path was still clearly identifiable, always a bonus! This path does take you through a deer stalking area but it is fine to walk through here, just make sure you stick to the path, and keep dogs under close control.

When you’ve finished your walk you can get to Ullapool in a quarter of an hour’s drive. It’s one of the larger towns on the NC500 and has a bustling high street and plenty of places to eat. Two of our favourites are North West Outdoors, who stock most of our favourite outdoor brands, and the deliciously tasty Seafood Shack. If you don’t spot the Seafood Shack with your eyes you will be led there by your noise – the amazing smells drifting down the main street are irresistable and are how we found it in the first place! They have outdoor seating and we saw quite a few dogs chilling out under tables, so if you have a canine companion, this might be a good place for you to stop and have lunch.

There are a few lovely walks you can start from Ullapool itself. We did the walk along the river while we were waiting for the car to be sorted, but there are a number of other walks detailed on the Travel Scotland website. You don’t have to go far to get a lovely view – we sat on the bench overlooking the harbour and enjoyed waving off the ferry on it’s way to Lewis & Harris!

Dog friendly rating – 5/5. This rating is based purely on the forest itself rather than the hill path up towards Beinn Dearg. The trees were perfect for being able to let the dogs off the lead without having to worry about livestock, and you can get to the river if your dog needs a drink. There are no awkward stiles to lift your dog over (hurrah!). If you do choose to head towards Beinn Dearg, the path is accessed via a deer proof fence with a gate, please make sure you shut this securely behind you. We chose to keep our dogs on the lead on the hillside, as it was in the middle of the deer stalking season, and we never like to take any chances with the dogs. There are no bins on site so please take any poos away with you (there are plenty of public litter bins in Ullapool).

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Flodden Battlefield

Last year we did quite a few day trips up to Northumberland while Sam was training for a run in the Cheviots. I would drop him off at the start of the run, drive somewhere for a short-ish walk with the dogs, and then go and pick Sam up at the other end of his run. Being a total history geek, I tend to bore Sam to death when we visit historical sites, as I spend ages reading every last detail on the information boards! I therefore took the opportunity to make a quick trip to the site of the Battle of Flodden on the border with Scotland. It was a fascinating and moving experience on a crisp autumn day and I would definitely recommend it to anyone in the area – read on to see why…

The Battle of Flodden was fought in 1513 and was part of a complicated series of political events in which both England and Scotland were embroiled. To cut a very long story short, Britain was allied with Italy and the Papal States (amongst others) against France, who were invading Italy. Scotland, who was allied with France as part of the Auld Alliance, broke the Treaty of Perpetual Peace (signed by England and Scotland in 1502) to invade England and distract them from campaigning against the French. So much for perpetual peace if it couldn’t last longer than 11 years…

James IV of Scotland march south and captured several English castles on the border, before settling down at Flodden to await the arrival of the English army, led by the Earl of Surrey. The Scots occupied the advantageous position at the top of the hill, forcing the English to make a circuitous detour to reach the rear of the Scottish encampment. The Scottish army responded to this manoeuvring by shifting their position to the top of Branxton Hill.

After an initial exchange of artillery fire, the Scottish army charged down the hill to meet their English opponents. Unbeknownst to the Scots, they needed to cross a marshy, boggy stretch of ground to reach the English. The Scots, armed with long pikes which were not easily manoeuvrable in close combat, were slaughtered by the English, who were better equipped for this type of fighting with bill hooks.

The death count at Flodden was astonishingly high. An estimated fourteen thousand Scots lost their lives – according to the information boards on the site, the death rate for the first four hours of fighting was as high as the Battle of the Somme. The English reputedly were under orders to give no quarter, and this perhaps accounts for the total decimation of the Scottish nobility, including the King himself.

Today, the battle is commemorated by a stone cross on the battlefield, as well as the world’s smallest information centre in a phone box in the village of Branxton. The battlefield is easily navigated by following the sign posted battlefield trail, and illustrated information boards tell the story of the battle as it unfolded. The information boards were very, very good, as even I understood them and could imagine the battle vividly, despite being absolutely naff at military history!

The trail starts from a smallish car park just outside of the village of Branxton. While the trail is sign posted, I found this walk in my Pocket Mountains guide to Northumberland, which provides a slightly more descriptive version of the route for those who miss signs if they don’t know they’re looking for them (like I do!). The car park is free but there is an honesty box for donations towards the upkeep of the site which is maintained by a group of volunteers – who do a fantastic job!

Apart from a few steps out of the car park, the whole trail is along grassy paths, with a short section on a quiet road. There are no steep sections of ascent or descent except a short stretch up the hill to reach the area where the Scottish army was camped out.

I enjoyed this walk so much more than I expected to. It was a beautiful day with the kind of fluffy clouds and blue sky I used to draw when I was at school. The battlefield was so quiet – after our visit to Towton I expected it to be a popular local walk, and I did see a few local dog walkers, but for the majority of my visit I had the place to myself! It was a wonderfully peaceful way to pass a few hours and it was actually quite a moving experience. The information boards explain the battle so well that it’s really not difficult at all to imagine the chaos and violence of the fighting.

Dog friendly rating – 5/5. This is an excellent dog walk! There were no live stock in any of these fields so I was able to let them have a good run off the lead. Coal loved jumping in and out of the ditch at the heart of the battle site! It is worth bearing in mind that these fields are used to grow crops so please don’t let your dog trample across them and make sure they stick to the paths. The paths are nice and wide so this isn’t too difficult! Another big plus was the total absence of any stiles. It was lovely to have the place to myself as it meant that Coal really got to have fun and chill out without being scared of any other dogs too. It’s definitely a great place to walk your dog if you’re looking for somewhere slightly off the beaten track!

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East Witton & Jervaulx Abbey

There is nothing better than a crisp winter walk with blue skies and a carpet of frost cloaking the grass underfoot. Add in a dash of local history and you can’t get much better for a Sunday afternoon stroll! Jervaulx Abbey in Wensleydale is one of many ruined abbeys in North Yorkshire, harking back to a time before Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, when the Church was a dominant local land owner. On this walk you can choose to detour into the abbey itself or just incorporate it as a landmark you pass on your way – possibly depending on whether you want to spend any spare time in the abbey or the ice cream parlour down the road!

The route we followed was a 7.5 mile circular that we found on the Ordnance Survey app, however, having a quick scan for an equivalent route online has unearthed this slightly longer 9 mile walk on the Walking Englishman website. I think if we were to do this walk again we’d probably use this route, as the OS walk took us through quite a few farmyards, something which I’m never a fan of as I always worry about accidentally ending up somewhere I shouldn’t be!

If you’re driving you can park for free in the small-ish car park opposite the Cover Bridge Inn. This is a lovely pub (and also dog friendly) so I would definitely recommend a stop off here after your walk to warm up with some hot food!

The walk starts by following the river for a stretch before eventually coming to the grounds of Jervaulx Abbey. The abbey, probably built in the 12th century and now a ruin, is privately owned. The site is open to the public and also has its own tea rooms. Entry is a donation into the honesty box and this is used to contribute towards the upkeep of the building. We didn’t stop off at the abbey but did walk close enough to get a good look – I’m a shocking history graduate in that I don’t find ruined abbeys that interesting unless they are really impressive like Fountains! I was much more interested in the Brymor Ice Cream Parlour, which we walked past soon after leaving the abbey grounds, but it was very sadly closed. Sob. Who doesn’t want ice cream in January?!

After leaving Jervaulx we walked across fields to reach the tiny village of Ellingstring. The paths here were at times invisible so I’d definitely advise you to take a map or GPS. This is the section that I think differs to the Walking Englishman route and it was my least favourite part of the walk – I’d definitely rather walk a bit further and not have to traipse through as many farmyards! One farm did have some arrows signing an alternative permissive footpath for you to follow, which we took gladly, although it did mean getting the dogs across a cattle grid. Soon enough though we reached the very pretty village of East Witton before cutting across some more fields to reach the start again.

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. I was going to give this 3.75/5, and then realised it’s ridiculous to use two decimal places, so I’ve rounded up to 4. The first stretch of the walk along the river is perfect for dogs – they can run and swim to their hearts content (please pick up poos, there are bins in East Witton). There are also a few enclosed lanes along the way where they’ll be able to have a run off lead too. The abbey and grounds are dog friendly (although they do ask for dogs to be kept on a lead, which is fair enough) and seemed to be a popular outing for local dog walkers. There are a few fields with livestock in (we saw both sheep and horses, including a rather fiesty flock of sheep who corralled us out of their field sharpish!). There were a few stiles on the stretch from East Witton to Cover Bridge, but these were either the easy kind built into walls, or had a dog gate for dogs to slip through. The only awkward one was a ladder stile on the Jervaulx/Ellingstring leg – we spent 15 minutes manoeuvring Coal over and getting covered in mud before we saw that we could’ve just walked around a corner and used a gate! Never mind, it’s all good practice…

Getting a labrador over a ladder stile is NOT our favourite way to spend a Sunday afternoon…

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Hardraw Force

I mentioned in my blog about Wensleydale a few weeks ago that nowhere in the Yorkshire Dales is more abundant with waterfalls (or that’s how it feels to me at least!). My original intention was to write a blog post featuring some of the most impressive, however, having had a few weeks to think about it I feel that Hardraw Force deserves a post all of its own. It is perhaps one of the most famous of the waterfalls of Wensleydale, and if you haven’t heard the name, you’ve probably still seen it on the screen in the 1991 film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. Yes, it is the waterfall where Robin takes a bath, but today there are (thankfully) no skinny dippers to be seen. In fact, the whole site was remarkably quiet when we visited, although this may have been more to do with the fact that it was December and about minus two…

Hardraw Force is somewhere I’d wanted to visit for absolutely ages and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Rather than parking in the village of Hardraw and just popping down to the waterfall, we incorporated a stop off at the falls on a circular walk from Hawes. This walk was from my much loved Pocket Mountains guide to the Yorkshire Dales and also includes a detour to the much less well known Shaw Ghyll: sadly we missed this part out due to a navigational error! This little guidebook is wonderful, but if you don’t own it or don’t want to buy it, there is a similar route online on Walks in Yorkshire (although this route doesn’t include Shaw Ghyll). Parking for the walk is in a Pay & Display car park in Hawes where there are plenty of spaces, or free if you have a national parks parking permit.

The walk itself it pretty easy to navigate (if you refer to the instructions correctly). The path is often indistinct but there are plenty of landmarks such as dry stone walls and gates to keep you on track. There is only one section of steep descent as you drop down into Hardraw, but this is short and stepped to help you keep your footing. Note that entry to the waterfall site is via the information centre, which is situated behind the Green Dragon pub (you will walk across the pub car park to reach the building), and there is an entry fee of £4 per person. The path down to the falls is well maintained and there are plenty of picnic benches dotted around, so this is the perfect place to stop for lunch if you’ve brought something to eat along! I was shocked that we ended up having the waterfall completely to ourselves, as I’d expected it to be packed, but I suppose that a) It was December and very very cold and b) It’s £4 each to enter and not many Yorkshire folk are willing to stretch that far! (Including me, my entry was subsidised by my mum).

Dog friendly rating – 3/5. Like the majority of walks in the Dales, this walk passes through fields with livestock, so dogs should be on a lead or under close control for these sections. A big plus for this walk is the lack of stiles – there was only one which I would deem ‘awkward’ with the rest being the easily manageable kind built into dry stone walls. There are sections along water which water loving dogs will enjoy, although I didn’t let ours in by the falls as the waterfall was in spate. There are also a couple of short sections along a relatively busy road as you leave/return to Hawes – although we just walked fast and these sections took no time at all!

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The Old Man of Coniston

On Christmas Eve we thought there was no way better to get into the festive spirit than ticking a few more Wainwrights off our list. We therefore jumped in the car and decided to do a circular walk to bag another four or five summits – no better way to earn a guilt free Christmas binge-eating session! The fells were picture perfect with a festive sprinkling of snow and blue skies stretching as far as the eye could see. We set off from the car park thinking we’d have an easy enough six mile stroll over some of the most stunning peaks in Lakeland, however, we ended up having slightly more of an adventure than we anticipated…

We parked at Walna Scar car park just outside of Coniston to start the walk. Pay and display machines have recently been installed here, but these were out of order, so we got free parking which was lovely! There are a few Wainwrights in the vicinity of Walna Scar, and the idea was to head across to Dow Crag after summiting the Old Man of Coniston, but we decided to abandon this after reaching the summit of the Old Man of Coniston and experiencing some pretty wild weather!

Despite being very mild nearly all of the way up, with little to no wind, as soon as we reached the snowline the wind started to pick up and conditions were increasingly treacherous. Despite the sun and panoramic views it was brutal up there, with compacted snow forming icy slides across the entire path, and a wind chill of minus thirteen!

Looking across to Brim Fell from the Old Man of Coniston

It would be impossible for me to overestimate how cold it was on the summit. Luckily I was wrapped up warm in my many, many layers, and my water resistant pants kept me dry every time the wind blew me into a snow drift! However I did end up pretty thirsty after an hour or so as my water actually froze in my reservoir.

Not long after crossing over to Brim Fell we decided to turn around and head back down the way we’d come up rather than continuing on to Dow Crag. The wind was battering us all over the place and it was impossible to stay upright at times – definitely time to call it a day and head down to safety. Winter walking can be unpredictable and sometimes you have to recognise that the mountains will still be there another day!

The route up the Old Man of Coniston from Walna Scar is very easy to follow, without being very steep until you start the final ascent just after Low Water. It was here that the snow and slipping over started for us, and where we saw a lot of the ‘less well prepared’ walkers without proper boots or coats giving up and turning back! It was reasonably busy considering the time of year, but given that the Old Man of Coniston is one of the most popular fells in the Lake District I don’t think you can ever expect to have the fell to yourself, and at least it wasn’t swarming like I imagine it gets in summer.

The walk up is stunning with exceptional views right from the start. You pass the remnants of old slate mines, which seemed to be a popular exploration stop for families with kids, but be careful as we did see a few kids in tears after tripping over the scattered detritus! Starting at Walna Scar also cuts out a lot of the uphill as you start practically half way up (yes, I know it’s lazy, no, I don’t care).

Dog friendly rating – 2/5. Dogs need to be on a lead or under closed control for the entirety of this walk, as like many places in the Lakes, there are plenty of sheep knocking about. I’m going to have a little rant here so please skip to the end if you’re a non-dog owner/not interested – but if you are a dog owner, your dog should be on a lead around livestock unless it’s recall is 100% solid (and I mean 100%). Merry was on a lead for the entirety of this walk (I’ve photoshopped the lead out of this photo) as even though he’s never shown the slightest interest in sheep, I’m not sure that he wouldn’t ever go over and investigate. If you’re not sure – don’t risk it. On our way back down to Walna Scar we saw a group of three people with a collie, off the lead, approach a band of sheep. The collie raced after the sheep as soon as it set eyes on them and of course all the owners could do was screech ineffectually at their dog (ironically named Lucifer) to leave the sheep alone. Thankfully the dog gave up before it caught one, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less traumatic for the sheep, and could potentially cause any pregnant ewes to miscarry. Sheep are the livelihood of many Lakeland Farmers and they are well within their rights to shoot your dog if it’s caught worrying livestock – are you prepared to take that risk?

Now that I’ve got that off my chest… back to my dog friendly rating. I think maybe I’m being a bit mean and knocking off half a point due to my ire at the irresponsible dog walkers mentioned above – but even with the extra half a point dogs won’t perhaps enjoy this as much as a run around Grizedale Forest (which you can read about in my blog 5 Undiscovered Lake District Walks). Low Water did look incredibly inviting (if you’re a dog) and I had to bodily drag Merry past (no way I was letting him have a dip in sub zero temperatures and snow!), but I imagine this would be a lovely place to stop and let your dog have a drink and a paddle in summer. Also, by starting at Walna Scar, you cut out all road walking which in my mind is always a bonus.

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Dufton Pike – Discovering the Eden Valley

“To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring – it was peace.”

Milan Kundera

Nowhere is this more true than in the aptly named Eden Valley. Skirting the Lake District National Park, the Eden Valley is home to a glorious abundance of countryside, and is somewhere I’d been dying to explore for months. We finally headed over for a walk up Dufton Pike just before Christmas and my very high expectations were massively exceeded by this outstanding short walk up a small but very impressive hill. The dusting of snow across the tops made for a wonderful adventure in our own winter wonderland.

The walk starts from the charming village of Dufton, not far from Appleby-in-Westmorland. The circular route we followed was from our Cicerone guide to the Eden valley, which is excellent, but you can find a similar walk online on Walking Britain. The walk is about 5 miles, and while the hill may look imposing from the village green at the start, there’s not that much effort required to get to the top!

There is a small car park with facilities in Dufton. And I do mean small (at least in comparison to the national park car parks you come across in the Yorkshire Dales and Northumberland). This car park was full when we arrived so we parked on the village green opposite the Stag Inn. There was plenty of free parking here, and it afforded us our first glance of our target, rising majestically behind the pub!

As I mentioned earlier, this walk is not particularly difficult, either navigationally or in terms or elevation. The only steep sections are relatively short sections as you near the summit and again on your descent. Or maybe it just felt steeper as the compacted snow had frozen and turned the path into a ski slope!

The paths generally didn’t seem too bad, although once we got past a certain point they were invisible under the snow. There was one horrendously muddy section of the Pennine way near the start which made us very glad we had sturdy waterproof boots on! That being said the rest of the tracks were pretty level and well surfaced – as much as you can expect in the countryside anyway!

One thing I learned very early on in my hiking days is that a small hill doesn’t necessarily mean small views. The views on this walk were absolutely unparalleled, and while a blanket of fog on the summit meant we didn’t get the full shebang panorama the book promised, we managed to glimpse all of the different aspects on different sections of the walk.

At the start of the walk, the views are mainly focussed on the surrounding countryside and neighbouring Murton Pike. As your ascent steepens, you get views across the Eden Valley to the Lakeland fells, before cresting the summit ridge to see the Pennine chain continuing into the distance. Not to forget my favourite view of the whole walk, the glimpse of a snowy Great Rundale, gained by a simple glance over your shoulder on the descent of Dufton Pike.

Looking down into Great Rundale

I really, really enjoyed this walk, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to grab a few hours of peace and tranquility in a stunning part of the world. I was surprised by how few walkers we encountered – Dufton itself was pretty busy when we set off, however, there are quite a few walks (including High Cup Nick) which start from here, which possibly accounts for how empty the slopes of Dufton Pike were. That being said even in Dufton itself it was nowhere near as busy as hotpots like the Lakes and certain places in the Dales can get!

Dog friendly rating – 3.5/5. I was a bit unsure of the dog friendly rating to give this one. There are enclosed tracks where you can let your dog off, but you also pass through fields with livestock (we saw sheep and horses) where your dog should be under close control, preferably on a lead. On the hill itself we didn’t see any livestock but this can’t be taken for granted. This walk was blissfully stile free, with only one stile crossing required, and this was the type inset into a dry stone wall which is easier to manage with dogs. There are bins in Dufton where you can dispose of any poos. You also pass through a farmyard near the beginning of the walk so make sure your dog is on a lead here – you wouldn’t like it if people let their dogs run around your garden!

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