TRAVEL NORTH - 2: SWALEDALE CIRCUIT - Catterick Village to Tan Hill Inn, back by Arkengarthdale
Catterick Village, the Green and Crossroads
Near the A1(M) is a village that straddles the B6136 feeder road:
A nice start to your tour westward from the A1(M) after motoring from outside the region, Catterick Village has a choice of small cafes, village shops - a chip shop even! - and a trio of friendly public houses (two of them on the Green). I've usually stayed a few nights at Rose Cottage Guest House, run by Carol Archer (01748 811164) and had a wander round the area.
Across the High Street from Rose Cottage is The Angel, a friendly and popular village pub. Round the corner on Low Green, set back from the roadside is the Bay Horse, and tucked away on the opposite side of the beck is The Oak Tree. Each of these watering holes was well frequented when I visited in the evening during one of my stays in the village.
On the morning after - hopefully with no ill effects from drinking - a good Full English Breakfast will set you up for the first part of the day. Carol has a number of her water colours on the walls of the breakfast/dining room that faces out onto the High Street, mainly of scenes from the Dales over to the west. Set out along the street going northward to Catterick Bridge Racecourse and follow the A6136 road around the racecourse but keep straight on and take the turn under the Ai for the B6271 to Brompton on Swale. This road takes you to a turn-off for the ruins of Easby Abbey close by the River Swale. Across the road from Easby Abbey is what was once the abbey grange. It is possibly also the inspiration for Ronald Searles's St Trinian's School books. You have Catterick Racecourse not far away, the railway to Richmond by way of Catterick Camp and any number of racehorse trainers in the area. He would have been a racegoer, I think, because the betting features strongly in the stories. He may have been staying at Richmond, or drove around and spotted the hall to the right on the way in to Richmond for a meal in any one of the hotels in the market square.
Easby Abbey ruins is an English Heritage site, but not one you have to pay to access. A small car park will take about a dozen average sized cars The ruins overlook the fast flowing Swale that seems to be eating into the river bank here. The river bends to the right here, so it would not be surprising if one day it worked its way into the site. Picturesque, though, and peaceful. Not that many visitors stop here, preferring Fountains Abbey further south or Richmond Castle further along to the west, overlooking the market square.
Catterick Village to Richmond
There is a good view of Richmond Castle from here, its keep rising above tree level beyond the north riverbank - on the same side of the Swale as Easby Abbey.
From Easby Abbey car park turn left on the B6271 towards Richmond; Saint Trinian's Hall is across the way through a wide gateway, its road elevation partly ivy-covered. Follow this minor tree-lined road between Georgian houses to the junction with the A6108 from Darlington and B6274 from Staindrop in County Durham. Keeping to the A6108 follow into Richmond town centre past a couple of roundabouts, the second one taking you on a right-angle to a couple of reasonably-priced car parks, the first quickly filled. Opposite the filling station is the cricket ground, follow the rightward turn-off here and then left into the big car park. If you can't find space here there's something really big going on!
Cross the Reeth road back past the filling station to explore at length, any turn-off suitable to get you into the main market square. A long row of Georgian hotels, shops and banks reaches around the square. At Bank Holidays a fair sets up for the weekend, market day is Saturday in the square, Thursdays in the indoor market just off the main square on the castle side.
Trinity Church houses the Green Howards (full title: Alexandra, Princess of Wales' Own Regiment of Yorkshire) Museum on several floors, one with Officer's Mess furniture produced at Robert Thompson's workshop in Kilburn near Thirsk. His trademark church mouse can be seen on chair and table legs and elsewhere on the dresser. An extensive array of medals won throughout the 300 year history of the regiment can be seen outside the glass door to this exhibit, including an impressive score of VC's (Victoria Crosses)! Check the website, www.greenhowards.org.uk. Opening times are 10.am-16.30pm Monday-Saturday, open midday on Sundays, £3.50 entry for adults, £3 concessions. Look around at the sloping square from here with its bus station, the Georgian buildings ranged like soldiers all around. And then look up at the castle keep. An English Heritage site nowadays, this was a prison that housed conscientious objectors in WWI. In the following war my father was bivouacked here on the green within the castle walls prior to being posted overseas. Catterick Garrison wasn't big enough to house all the recruits. One of the officers was a famous cricketer, Captain Hedley Verity who had played for England against Australia in 1934. He was posted overseas and captured by the Italians in the invasion of Sicily in 1943. Severely wounded, he died on July 31st, 1943. (There is a home-made cricket bat fashioned by him and adorned with Italian hotel stickers in the Lord's Museum, St John's Wood Road, London NW8).
Still at the castle, there are the remains of a range of buildings along the wall overlooking the Swale. This was a suite of apartments dating to the later middle ages. The castle was originally built by Alan 'Rufus', cousin to Alan 'the Black', Count of Brittany at the time of William I. The castle was extended and built on by subsequent generations until the Civil War when, like many other castles in the region Richmond Castle was rendered unfit to live in as they were thought to harbour royalists. Take the walk around the outside of the walls, visit the riverside cafe and drink in the atmosphere. A story has it that there was a tunnel under the castle that contained treasure. Soldiers there lowered a young drummer boy into where the tunnel started, and whilst he rattled away on his drum below, they followed the sound through the town... until the drumming stopped. The drummer boy was never seen again.
Around the Northern Dales in Yorkshire, deep wooded and grazing land, dry stone walling and stone barns, quiet back roads and footpaths to discover in Swaledale, Wensleydale and Nidderdale - and pubs galore
Swaledale, North Yorkshire
Along the Swale upriver, Easby and Richmond first
Richmond, North Yorkshire
Centre of the Honour of Richmond, awarded to Alan 'Rufus' for his part in aiding William's win over 250 miles to the south near Hastings
Richmond and its castle - a view to conquer
Richmond to Muker
Leave Richmond from the big car park, and with the cricket pitch on your left turn sharp right opposite the filling station onto the B6108. The road drops gently, west out of Richmond and before long you're left in open country with the Swale running under the bridge that skews sharp left and you need to steer sharpish to your right once you've crossed the river.
Woodland sweeps down from the moortops behind Catterick Garrison and Scorton in the distance to your left. There is the promise of interesting driving ahead as the road swings this way and that, with the Swale tumbling below through the trees. The road swings around in a wide arc over a small bridge and comes back on itself with the road leading off to Marske (not to be confused with the other Marske between Redcar and Saltburn on the coast). Leave the B6108 before it reaches Downholme on the left by a minor road that swings right towards the Swale and heads in a straight line for a few hundred yards before snaking towards Grinton over tributaries of the Swale.
On the right into Grinton is the Bridge Inn, a Jennings house with good guest ales. Originally only the part with the porch, it later grew towards the Richmond road - incorporating a cottage on its south side. To the north, in towards Reeth the restaurant was an adjoining shop with a petrol pump outside. A word of warning, there is a 'no mobile phones' policy in this inn. If uou make or take a call do it from outside in the car park or pay 50p into the Yorkshire Air Ambulance charity box.
Aside from the Bridge Inn, attractive as it is, Grinton has a history as a centre of Swaledale lead mining. There are the remains of a dyke built by the Brigantes as a defence against the Romans in AD70, but the Romans stayed and established the local lead mining industry. Norsemen later migrated from the north-west, the names of their grazing areas carried on in names such as Lunersett - from saetr - Gunnerside (Gunnar's saetr) and Ravenseat. The Normans expanded the lead mining, using the product to roof Alan Fergant's Richmond castle, Jervaulx and Easby abbeys. They even exported lead. Lead mining peaked in the 19th Century with its centre at Reeth. The population soared to 1,460 by the height of production but cheaper lead imports saw an end to the area's economic dependence on its lead by the 1950s and farming became the main basis of Swaledale's economy. Nowadays, besides farming local crafts include woollens and other wool-based textiles.
In to Reeth over the bridge, pass Fremington on the right and come up to a narrow bridge with another skewed road approach. There's a large market place in front of a row of shops and inns. The common slopes away from the market cross in mid-square to the south and across to Bellegreen. In the line of buildings to the west are the Black Bull - with its upside-down sign - as well as the Buck Hotel and King's Arms. along this row of business is the Overton House Cafe and ice cream parlour next door. Across the green is the Burgoyne Hotel near the town museum.
Follow the B6270 west out of Reeth towards Healaugh along the north side of the Swale and then over Barney Beck. Across the dale over the river is Maiden Castle - another one - an Iron Age earthwork below Harkerside Moor. The B6270 follows the Swale closely here to where a small bridge leads across to Low Whitta, up to Summer Lodge Moor and over into Wensleydale. (This narrow road is worth taking if you have the time, leading past farms, between high dry stone walls and up to the moortop - a real test of your gearbox and engine if ever there was one)!
Feetham runs into Low Row at the foot of a steep hill nelow Brownsey Moor and around a wide bend above the Swale.
(Just beyond Low Row is another small bridge that takes a narrow road up a steep bank to Crackpot - you read right! - and along Summer Lodge Beck. At Summer Lodge the road passes unfenced steeply uphill to a road fork beside abandoned mine workings. This is where the other road joins it to climb unremittingly over the moor and steeply down to Askrigg. You could drive over to Askrigg from Reeth using the bridge at Low Whitta and return via Summer Lodge).
The B6270 next passes the King's Head at Gunnerside and over the bridge to the south side of the Swale. The King's Head started out as a 17th Century blacksmith's shop and became a coaching inn in the 18th Century. It is a listed building, cosy and comfortable with a superb stone fireplace and a good selection of beers and food.
(At Crow Trees, above the Swale, is another narrow road that leads up to Oxnop Beck Head, below Oxnop Common, and over Askrigg Common - all roads lead to Askrigg)!.
Muker appears after another bend in the B6270, then a sharp right over another narrow bridge - many of these roads were laid before the invention of the motor car - on to Muker. The village lies mostly to the north of the road with a few buildings across Straw Beck. The Swale comes down from the north behind Muker between the steep slopes of Kisdon Hill to the left and Arn Gill Head to the right (Arn comes from the Norse for eagle, a gill is a stream). Arn Gill itself flows into the Swale by Ivelet, just west of Gunnerside, reached from a turnoff at Low Oxnop. There is a public car park accessed by the bridge diagonally opposite the public house and an honesty box helps pay the upkeep. Parking on the village street is strictly access for residents only.
Muker is home to the Farmer's Arms by the bridge. The sign outside reads: 'Dogs, muddy boots and families welcome' (flagstone floor, no carpets). A traditional dales public house, there is a good selection of ales and food available. They also have a holiday apartment at reasonable prices. Other than the pub there is a friendly cafe, craft shop and post office-cum-shop where you can buy the recommended Swaledale Cheese - similar to Cotherstone Cheese, and a little fattier than Wensleydale Cheese.
Still in Swaledale - Reeth, Grinton and Muker
Up to the dalehead, Gunnerside, Oxnop
Thwaite, Keld, and Tan Hill Inn
You're on your way again, out of the car park past the Farmer's Arms, the shops and so on, and along Straw Beck to the left. Greenseat Beck drops from Muker Common into Straw Beck opposite Usha Gap and - watch out there's another skew bridge! Round a bend to Scar House and take a quick look up left. The west side of Muker Common and Stags Fell comes into sight with Cliff Beck tumbling towards you, under the skew bridge and into Straw Beck together with Thwaite Beck and Aygill. West across the Hardraw road from Muker Common is the equally steep-sided Thwaite Common above the Buttertubs.
If you've got time look up Buttertubs. There are a couple of deep holes in the ground. You can't get close enough to fall in for barbed-wire topped fencing that periodically changes shape as more of the surrounding topsoil drops away into the void. There are the skeletons of dead sheep at the bottom. Get too close and you join them! The 'tubs' are hexagonal columns of basalt rock from one of the earlier geological ages, several side by side in different holes that seem to have the urge to unite! The topsoil and upper layers of rock are limestone that are broken up over time and give away unpredictably.
Save the visit for tomorrow after you stay the night at the Kearton Country Hotel in Thwaite.
There is a special connection here with the brothers Richard and Cherry Kearton, who were born here, Richard in 1862, Cherry in 1871. They were wildlife photographers when photography was in its infancy, travelling overseas in their studies and observations. Cherry made strides in moving picture production, filming the trenches early in WWI. Richard died in 1928, followed twelve years later by his younger brother.
Thwaite is basically two rows of two storey gabled houses built from the grey stone of Upper Swaledale with a scattering of barns and farmhouses around.
A short detour the following morning up to Buttertubs followed by a long look around this deep, wild upland dale and you're on your way down again, through Thwaite and uphill along the B6270 to Angram and Keld. The narrow road is easy to follow past Skeugh Head and then snakes between farm buildings into Angram. All around are the stone barns characteristic of the Dales. Across from Angram is the high Kisdon Hill, not exactly Alpine at around 1,640 feet (500 metres), but imposing all the same, its bald peak lit by the morning sun. Next are the tiny communities of Aygill and Thorns. Keld comes hard on the heels of these two hamlets around a bend in the hillside below Keld Side. With two chapels and no pubs, this is definitely a dry village! Follow upward still, above the Swale, to Park Bridge and cross the river one last time to follow West Stonesdale northward. Not only is the ascent from the bridge steep at 1 in 4, it's also a 'Z' bend! If you're driving a short vehicle you'll be all right. I've done it in a long-wheelbased Land Rover Safari Estate. Believe me, it ain't pretty, especially if a car's coming downhill towards you! It's bad enough the other way. Still, it's worth the bother. The little un-walled road worms its way uphill, steeper below Stonesdale Moor on a sharp double bend Soon Tan Hill Inn comes into sight with its one road into two neighbouring counties, Durham and Cumbria. In the far distance to the north-west is the top of Stainmore Common. Closer, to the west are Kaber Fell and Brownber Edge. Stonesdale Moor lowers behind like an angry bull and Ravenseat Moor to the south-west towers to over 1,870 feet (570 m) Abandoned mineworkings litter the area. A great, deep black hole gapes about 100 (80m) yards to the front of the inn, another coal working filled with dense black water. It wouldn't do well to lose your balance here, you'd disappear in a trice with no chance of rescue... Inside the inn there's a warm welcome, a choice of good beers or coffee and a homely menu with generous portions. Tuck in!
'We're the majority in these parts, so don't you'se forget it - Keep your dogs on t' leash, specially in t' lambing season!'
The Yorkshire stretch of the Tour de France came this way in mid-2015, a hard stretch for cyclists. The route was lined by cheering well-wishers, I remember seeing when it was televised (couldn't get up there for other commitments).
Let me take you on a short diversion off Swaledale towards Hardraw (near Hawes) in Wensleydale brings you to the Buttertubs, a basalt rock formation that rises from deep under the ground. Hexagonal pillars set in a deep cleft defy close examination by being surrounded by soft earth. Not for nothing is this area fenced off, and from time to time as more earth collapses other fences have to be added. Some sheep sought fresh grazing the other side of the fence and fallen to their deaths in the depths, you can see their remains lower down if you're tall enough. Let it be a warning. If nimble sheep can come a cropper....
Buttertubs, Thwaite, Keld and Tan Hill Inn
Back through Arkengarthdale
Leaving Tan Hill Inn to the left on the narrow road into County Durham Cumbria is behind you and North Yorkshire on your right. The road leads north-easterly at first and then bends sharply over a couple of small bridges, the second over Mirk Fell Gill as it rushes through a deep sike (a vertical 'gash' in the land) down to Frumming Beck. Close to an area called The Disputes is a track that would take you to Bowes - just by the A66 - if you had an off-roader, a 4X4.
It's worth taking the track at some time if only to see the land it traverses, criss-crossed by deep gulleys, twisting this way and that, over narrow bridges and down along Sleightholme Beck past farms called Sleightholme and Bar Gap, over Hug Gill and into Gilmondby over a metalled road down a steep hill. You pass the hall on your left before the Roman caster - fort - of Lavatris. On the left down the High Street is where the ruins of the Norman Bowes Castle stand. I say 'ruins', there is a fairly intact keep that overlooks the village.
Keep to the metalled road that skirts the lower slopes of Arkengarthdale Moor, past Park Head and Shepherd's Lodge in the left and drop down a steep bank over another narrow bridge. There are some interesting names, such as Punchard, Low Faggergill and Whaw down here as you follow Arkle Beck into Langthwaite where the road to Barnard Castle doubles back and crosses the beck. From the road into Langthwaite village you can see the road climb steeply up below Booze Moor to Stang Hope Moor. Nearby is a powder magazine for the numerous lead mines in the area. Signs of this activity still abound, not least of which is a narrow gauge wagon once used for transporting the lead ore. Above the village, on the side of Booze Moor are a couple of abandoned workings. Others - out of sight - are on the side of Whaw Moor below Whetshaw Bottom. As you pass out of Langthwaite and above Arkle Town is a disused quarry at Calver Hill next to Riddings Rigg. The road bends around the bottom of Calver Hill with Arkle Beck widening below as it too snakes along the dale bottom.below Booze and Storthwaite (a Norse word 'stor' is 'great' and a 'thwait' is a clearing) Hall. Arkle Beck still snakes below Fremington Edge as you pass by the first houses of Reeth, back into Swaledale The beck bypasses the town on its eastern edge, passes under the skew bridge at Fremington and enters the Swale just a short way upriver of the bridge at Grinton.
For accommodation information look up: www.discovernorthyorkshire.co.uk
To be on the safe side, if you've planned a long walk, check the weather online at: www.weatheronline.co.uk The countryside around here is exposed, and prone to snowfall early in the year. Prolonged exposure on the moors can lead to hypothermia and/or pneumonia.
If you don't drive, or you intend to leave your car where you're staying, the buses only go so far up the dale nowadays. although there are bus stops around, it just means no-one's had the time to take them down. Check www.arriva.co.uk and www.dalesbus.org/planner.html
Arkengarthdale's narrow road is steep, watch out for oncoming traffic and look for passing places. Uphill traffic has priority
This is the life, eh? A nice long walk - maybe five or six miles - over undulating ground on quiet footpaths, getting away from it all, free as a bird, and the promise of a good meal and drink before turning in or going back to your accommodation