The Dales Way

Mr K over at Gardening at the Edge thought me quite mad to go walking at this time of year.  Harsh, I thought but I see his point.  I would have preferred to have gone in late March as I did last year (see – ‘And Back Again’): it’s generally warmer, early flowers are out and spring is upon us.  But I didn’t have that option this year and besides, walking in January and February definitely has its benefits.

Bolton Priory on the River Wharfe

I had no problems, for example, in booking accommodation and three hotels upgraded me, free of charge, from single rooms to larger en-suite doubles.   In addition, the paths and wild places were emptier (I met no-one ‘doing’ the Dales Way), it is much easier carrying a thirty pound rucksack in the cold than in, say, June and surprisingly often I have been blessed with some beautifully bright, sunny days.

Perfect walking weather – along the River Lune

The Dales Way is primarily a river-side path and on its first two days it doesn’t stray far from the banks of the River Wharfe.

But on those two days the path – for long stretches – was icy and treacherous.  Walkers had flattened days’ old snow (this stretch is very popular with day-trippers) leaving it frozen, smooth and glistening.  Like this:

In places it was impossible to walk on and I saw several people fall over like first-time skaters – despite wearing good walking boots.  Thankfully, deep in my rucksack,  I had my – drumroll

Yaktrax – a simple lattice of springs, pulled over the sole, gives superb grip.

Yaktrax!  They were a Christmas present and quite honestly, I don’t know what I would have done without them.  Gone home probably.  But with my YT’s I was able to stroll past careering, wind-milling figures and wave cheerfully at people as they slid past.

On the second day, the path left the Wharfe and climbed the limestone country between Grassington and Kettlewell.

The snow here was less trodden and the going easier.

The scenery was glorious and exhilarating but too soon, after a few miles,  I returned to the river (and a rather excellent pub lunch), where I saw more dippers in a couple of hours than I have seen in my lifetime.

I spent ages watching their watery antics and though they are shy, I was able to creep up quite close and get some snaps.  And if I did scare one off, another quickly appeared.

On finally leaving the Wharfe behind, I started the long climb to the highest point of the ‘Way.  Wheezing through snow …

Cam Houses Farm

… I staggered past remote Cam Houses farm.

Cam Houses Farm

Just past Cam Houses (at Cam High Road – 520m),  the Dales Way coincides with the Pennine Way (Britain’s first long distance footpath).

Despite the snow being several days old, there were virtually no footprints – I had the glory all to myself.

Me, having the glory to myself.

I’ve added the 270 mile Pennine Way to my ‘to do’ list.

The Ribbleshead Viaduct, built in 1895 and still in use.

Not all the beauty of the Dales Way is natural:

The bridge at Burnsall.

there were many beautiful bridges,

The tiny village of Hubberholme – “one of the smallest and pleasantest places in the world” – JB Priestley

villages, churches and

An isolated farm in Langstrothdale

farms.  Though the living eked out on some of the lonelier farms must  be a harsh, unremitting struggle.  EU grants or no.

The snow-dusted Kentmere fells

Eventually on my fifth day, I got my first glimpse of the Lakeland Fells and a sad sign that the ‘Way was coming to an end.  Frankly, I found the 80 miles of the Dales Way just too damn short.  Just as I was getting into my stride, enjoying the sense of freedom and immersed in the simple pleasures of walking from one hot bath to the next, the walk was almost over.  Thankfully, I had added another four days of walking through the Lake District.

The Band – a path leading to Bowfell.

My first day in the Lakes involved a walk from Langdale to Wasdale and, with the weather better than expected, I eschewed the straightforward climb up Rhosset’s Gyhll for the more exciting climb up ‘The Band’ to Three Tarns and two mountains summits:  Bowfell and Esk Pike.

Pike o’ Stickle – the most distinctive of the Langdale Pikes

As I climbed up out of Langdale (with my heavy rucksack) the unmistakable peak of Pike o’ Stickle kept me company  to my right, while behind me …

… Langdale coyly widened.  Puffing up on high, the weather deteriorated; cloud and mist obscured visibility sharply; it rained; the wind got up and I found myself wading through knee-deep snow and across wind-burnished ice.  The higher I got, the worse it was but I am a wimp and extraordinarily careful (I’ve read too many mountain rescue ‘sites to be anything but).  With no views to enjoy from the summits, I hurried down to Sty Head Tarn and, eventually, singing Disney songs, descended ALIVE into Wasdale.  I met only one couple that  day. They had climbed to a relatively low ridge and were anxious to scurry back down.

Grains Gill – nearby is the better named Sourmilk Gill.

The fells of the Lake District are, in my opinion, beyond compare.  Sure, they are not as majestic as the Alps, nor as rugged as the Rockies but the combination of  verdant valleys, lofty rugged peaks, lakes, innumerable becks, tarns and waterfalls I think they know no equal.  As Alfred Wainwright said ““Surely there is no other place in this whole wonderful world quite like Lakeland…no other so exquisitely lovely, no other so charming, no other that calls so insistently across a gulf of distance. All who truly love Lakeland are exiles when away from it.”

My final day dawned better than I could have hoped.  I had expected low scudding, squalling rain-clouds and a long tedious squelch into Keswick.  But no, the Lakes played its ace card.  A winter’s day, that is almost a hindrance to walking.  So beautiful that you can’t  help but stop and gaze about you.  And then stop and gaze again.

I climbed slowly out of pretty Borrowdale and

High Seat from Bull Crag

joined the path along the eastern arm of a favourite walk of mine: the Newlands Round.

Surrounded by stunning views and the great fells of Lakeland (Helvellyn, Great Gable, Scafell Pike, Blencathra, Skiddaw, Bowfell),  I fairly bounced along.

The Helvellyn Range from Bull Crag

The closer I got to Keswick (and the end of my walk) the sadder I got.  Also, it was a Sunday and so I no longer had the fells wholly to myself.  Intruders!

The end is nigh. Skiddaw (on the skyline left) Blencathra (right), Catsbells centre with Keswick beyond on the banks of Derwent Water.

And then, finally.  There it was: Keswick.  The end of my walk.  Sob.  But hey, I had a marvellous walk and I’ve already started planning next year’s trip and I certainly won’t be a “Lakeland Exile” for long.


This post won The Dales Way Association’s best blog competition.  There is a more detailed account of my walk on my other blog – ‘The Walking Gardener.’

31 thoughts on “The Dales Way

  1. Pingback: Day 5: Shap to Kirkby Stephen | The Walking Gardener

  2. Great blog – can i post it on the Dales Way facebook page? Most of us think of distance walks as being a summer activity. This is a real inspiration to get out there in the winter months.


    • Hi Chris, thank you. I would be only too happy to be on the DW Facebook page – thanks. I’m currently up in the Lake District but will check it out when I get home. But please, don’t encourage too many people onto the hills in winter. I want them to myself!! Dave


  3. Just stunning countryside and such great photographs. Just make me realise how beautiful this country is and how sad it is that I have seen so little of it. Best work to change that this year!


  4. thanks for sharing , really beautiful pics , would love to be able to get out there and just ‘be’ in the open spaces 🙂 maybe when kids are older


  5. Wow! Sorry to be so inarticulate but wow! We’re great fans of Wainwright and his walks and these wonderful evocative names like Helvellyn. Yes we have the complete boxed set and explore them often with Julia (Bradbury).
    Such spectacular scenery. Brilliant post, Dave. Back to normal now and raring to go!
    BTW we have these crampon things too…wouldn’t be without them!


    • The names are fantastic aren’t they, many of them Norse in origin, of course. Some better than others; the farm sitting at the base of the Band is called Stool End! I do feel like I’ve had a massive injection in the arm, Janet and have been whizzing about the Priory like a demented one. Due to a cancellation of our annual Lakes trip last November, I am, oddly, going straight back up to Keswick on Friday – so I feel that I’ve not properly returned to work yet. I’m having to delay seed sowing until I get back – which will make me rather late! Getting a little worried about how much there is to do.


  6. Yes, well, rather you than me….though I must say I loved the photographs, so it’s as well some people are prepared to suffer hardship for the sake of the rest of us. And what happened to the crampons? Wouldn’t they have been a bit more ‘rugged’ than those rubbery things? I think I might take issue over the joys of the Lake District. Very pretty – but just a bit packaged for my taste. I like a bit more wild in my wilderness. Can you not be tempted further north? The West Highland Way or – for winter/spring the St Cuthbert’s way – both worthy of your attention, I’d say.


    • I’m all heart, Mr K, that’s my problem; suffering for the sake of others. I used crampons on the ascent of Bowfell but they would have been overkill on riverside paths that might be ice for hundreds of yards, but then follow an ice free road or cross a cobbled farmyard, or meet a ‘honey-pot’ site, such as Bolton Priory, where the old snow had been worn or swept away. I would’ve been constantly taking them off and putting them back on again. With the yt’s I could walk on ordinary surfaces as well.
      Not sure that the Lakes are packaged. They are a surprisingly small area, compared say, to the Highlands and so can get crowded. I’ve only ever been once in August and frankly, never again – Ambleside was like Blackpool!. Though even then you can climb lesser known peaks and escape the crowds. Going out of season, which I always now do, means it is much quieter and it’s surprising how few people you see. My last day’s walk did get busy towards the end, but then it was a glorious Sunday and Catsbells, though a stiff climb, is very near Keswick and so was smothered in goretex (and worse, children!).
      Thanks for the tips: The West Highland Way is on my list to walk with my partner one April/May and funnily enough, I have been looking at St Cuthbert’s Way and somehow combining it with the Hadrian’s Wall path to form a longer walk. Sorry for the long reply, Dave


    • I’ve already decided Faisal, that I should like to re-do the Dales Way – in spring or summer. The scenery, with leaves on the trees and wild flowers, would make it a very different walk and one that I would happily see again. I’ll do it with friends though as I still have many other solo walks to do! D


  7. Ah, Dave, what spectacular scenery! Landscapes and skyscapes both. Wow. You’ll set a new fad for winter walking tours, I wouldn’t be surprised. Is this mostly cairn-to-cairn walking, or are there “set” paths? My associations with the Peak District are mostly from mystery novels and are pretty exclusively linked with dangerous weather and “did she fall or was she pushed” scenarios. Glad you didn’t run afoul of that other couple, who, if mystery novels are anything to go by, were clearly up to no good. I can see why people would wax passionate about the fells, though. All your photos are wonderful, but I have been looking and looking and looking at that waterfall…

    Whoever gave you the Yaktrax deserves a big high five (at least).


    • Hmm, hope not Stacy. Last thing I want are the winter fells filled with other walkers! I was surprised, when I came to research it, how old the Dales Way is – it was first planned in the late 60’s – and so, have being around for a while, it is really well signposted – though I still needed my guide book. It’s mostly a stitching together of existing rights of way. I don’t know if you have these in the States but England is criss-crossed with thousands of these, many of them hundreds of years old,
      Hehe, the couple were actually very nice indeed (and very, very posh!) and had a huge cold-looking dog with them. They were asking me whether they should go up Esk Pike; with my heart still yammering away I stressed to them that no they should not. Absolutely not. Jim gave me the YT’s – but then you guessed that. High five administered.



  8. I’m turning a deep shade of green!!! Wow what a great walk you enjoyed such a beautiful part of the world, love all the names like Kettlewell and Borrowdale. Great Xmas present (hope you reciprocated) i don’t think your too crazy walking in winter just imagine what you would of missed if you diddn’t. ( i don’t mean watching people slip and slide) Photos just magical……………thanks for sharing.


    • HI Andrea, thanks. I just worry that one year, if I continue to walk at this time of year, I will just be completely defeated by bad weather – or more likely have ten days of solid, ceaseless rain! Some of the names are magical aren’t they? And I didn’t even mention: Appletreewick, Beckermonds, Oughtershaw and Crook of Lune! Dave


  9. When I first read that you were going for this long walk on your own I just thought ‘how sulky!’ but seeing these beautiful places you’ve visited I understood why you did it. It must be an amazing experience and you nearly tempted me to leave for a long walk too… I guess the furthest I’ll go it’ll be to buy cigarettes on foot…


    • Pretty sulky as well Alberto! I do go walking with my partner too but I have more annual leave than him (though unpaid of course) which is why I started the solo walks. Go on do it – a long walk that is, not just popping out for cigarttes. I promise you’ll have an amazing time.



  10. Looks like a great walk, if somewhat tricky in parts! Reminds me that our once regular weekends of walking in Snowdonia/Peak District/Lake District have been rather scarce since we started work on the house and garden. Hmm, surely with things finally beginning to settle, this might be the year to get out there again! I’m certainly hoping for a warm-up tramp up Pen-Y-Fan in the not too distant future.


    • I go away once a year with my partner and a friend and do some walking. Mostly the Lakes though we went to Sicily a couple of years ago. I don’t really know Wales terribly well and keep on meaning to do some mountain walking there – though I have been up Snowdon. Tried Tryfan once but the weather was so atrocious we had to give up. Don’t know Pen-Y-Fan – will google it.


  11. Thoroughly enjoyed your post this morning, so well written and stunning photos as usual. Its just as rewarding going for a walk when you did as there were much less people and those views with the snow and ice are spectacular. A mini adventure there when you got snowed in on your descent. Those pub lunches and hot baths after each day of walking sounds good too! Stunning part of the world, no wonder you’re going back so soon!


    • It did make it rather more special not having coachloads of people about. Thankfully, the pubs were generally busy enough for me to find some poor soul to corner and talk to. I always get a huge kick out of my solo walks and come back invigorated (if a little footsore!).


  12. Well I just knew you would not fail us! You have provided us with some fabulous photos, although I felt the chill just looking at them and nearly had to put my coat on :-). What a wonderful week you had. Thank you for sharing it.


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