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Travel North - 51: Middleham, Carlton-in-Coverdale, Kettlewell, Drive or Walk the Dale in a Day

Updated on January 30, 2019
alancaster149 profile image

Alan takes you to one of his favourite areas for a walk or drive. Sit back, scroll down and enjoy the route with him

Let's begin at historic Middleham, home to lords, earls and kings from Norman times

The town centre, Middleham on the southern edge of Wensleydale - modern-day centre of racehorse training  near the bottom end of Coverdale
The town centre, Middleham on the southern edge of Wensleydale - modern-day centre of racehorse training near the bottom end of Coverdale | Source
Racehorses return from the gallops above the western end of town to their respective stables
Racehorses return from the gallops above the western end of town to their respective stables | Source
In un-seasonal weather, racehorses are put through their paces on the gallops
In un-seasonal weather, racehorses are put through their paces on the gallops | Source

Let's go for a drive/walk* through a little-known - even to many Yorkshire folk - Dales byway.

It's not on the tourist trail as we understand it, which makes it more attractive in a way. With its sharp edges and drops, bends and climbs the route would tax a less able walker. You need to be fit with a capital 'F'. Strenuous is the order of the day, but for that, whether you're a walker or driver, but for that you've got unspoilt views and a clutch of villages to amble through on downward slopes. Then there's the River Cover that burbles its way north-east to the River Ure and Wensleydale. This is no highway so if you're driving you need to be alert, and it's no road to take for granted - like a lady.

Your day's destination, driving or walking, is Kettlewell on the eastern bank of the River Wharfe in Upper Wharfedale. With its inns, houses and outbuildings built of locally quarried limestone. Kettlewell is a trip back in time. Little has changed for many a Dales year. time passes slower here among the steep roads that descend into a settlement that dates back to the days when Norsemen crossed from the Irish Sea shore of the Danes' kingdom of Jorvik and settled in the Dales. Norse words and names abound. The word 'dales' comes from 'dalir', Kettlewell stems from Ketil's well (as at Kettleness, 'Ketil's naes or point on the coast near Whitby), Ketil being a man's name. Many of the communities between the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales are populated by the descendants of the Vikings and the names of locations and villages reflect that, ending on 'thwaite' (forest clearing),'by' (a town), 'thorpe' (village), 'toft', (grain storage) and 'garth' (fortified farm or manor house). Northumbrian Anglian and Norse settlements were sometimes built close together as at Melmerby and Carlton-in-Coverdale ('-ton' being an Anglian suffix for a township), Agglethorpe and Coverham ('-ham' being the Anglian suffix for a village).

Well down into Coverdale is Horsehouse. Originally this settlement may have centred on one farm. A 'horsehouse' in Yorkshire is (still many in evidence here and there) a hexagonal stone or latterly brick building in which a form of capstan stood for threshing corn or other grain cereals. A horse was hitched to an arm and was walked around the capstan. To make its life a little easier the horse would be blinkered to avoid it becoming giddy.

Let's say we've driven or got the bus to Middleham, at the southern rim of Wensleydale (formerly known as Uredale, after the river). We've walked around the town as it is now, maybe had a snack. *If we're walking we might have stayed in Bed & Breakfast accommodation and made an early start. We've looked at the castle that once belonged to Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick before coming into the possession of his erstwhile friend Richard, Duke of Gloucester and latterly king Richard III. Richard was popular in the North. At the end of the English Civil War most royal castles were reduced to make them uninhabitable by royalists and centres of rebellion against Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth state.

It's possible we've watched racehorses being ridden to or from the gallops at the western end of town on the way to Coverham. The River Cover flows east from Coverham to meet the Ure at Thornton Steward, bypassing Middleham.

Right then, after that preamble we're off:

We leave Middleham on an incline that passes the gallops, the exercise runs where racehorses are kept in condition or to get them up to fitness after recuperation. Soon after, the road comes to a sharp turn downward and zig-zags down a steep slope to Coverham. At Coverham Hall is the quirky Forbidden Corner for which you have to book in advance. You negotiate harmless hazards, maybe get sprayed by water if you stand on the wrong spot and are disoriented in an underground maze where all doors centre on a turning floor. You never leave from the same door you entered by. That's as much as I can tell you here without spoiling your fun. Extensive parking in the grounds is available, facilities and a cafe on the terrace where you can dine in the style of their lords and ladyships. Now the lord and lady run the business and you wouldn't know them from the visitors.

On from Coverham to Carlton-in-Coverdale (there are lots of Carltons in Yorkshire, as a 'carl' or 'ceorl' was a common man). Melmerby and Agglethorpe are set back from this road on a parallel lane, so unless you want to go out of your way in your car you'd never know of their existence but for road signs.

Carlton is a village, although bigger than its near neighbours. There are two inns here that provide accommodation and meals aside from drinks. The road rises again to the north side of the dale, providing long views of the Cover and a panorama of high hills on the far bank. A road for West Scrafton leaves your road not far on, but there's no worry about taking a wrong turn as it heads back almost in the direction you came.

You still need to be alert driving here as often the road is only wide enough for one traffic stream. Passing places are provided, but be aware of slow-moving agricultural machinery or livestock being moved to pastures new.

Onward into the dale...

The Central Dales from an Ordnance Survey map around 1920.
The Central Dales from an Ordnance Survey map around 1920. | Source
Coverdale Overview. Like what you see? then keep going. Some surprises in store ahead
Coverdale Overview. Like what you see? then keep going. Some surprises in store ahead | Source
All roads lead to the Forbidden Corner. You'll never forget you've been!
All roads lead to the Forbidden Corner. You'll never forget you've been! | Source
Carlton-in-Coverdale, one of many 'carltons' in Yorkshire, each with its own character. This one has, and it has two good watering holes to compete for your trade. In summertime it can get busy.
Carlton-in-Coverdale, one of many 'carltons' in Yorkshire, each with its own character. This one has, and it has two good watering holes to compete for your trade. In summertime it can get busy. | Source

The road falls - and rises - and twists to Horsehouse.

If you thought Carlton was small, Horsehouse might be a blink if you maintained your speed instead of slowing. There are a few buildings, stone houses, barns and outhouses. At least it's got a 'watering hole', the 'Thwaite Arms'. If you've walked it's probably a good place to stop and re-charge your batteries on one of their dishes. The menu's extensive and you can study it with a pint of ale or cider. If you've driven down, park up and whether you've walked or driven take time to study the landscape on either side. Across the dale to your left the high ground carries on, at this point visible without craning your neck, you'll see Little Whernside, one of the Pennine peaks, sitting at 605 m above sea level (a.s.l.).

On your way again the road drops still. High on your right in the distance is Brown Haw at 580 m, turns sharply and drops again almost to the level of the river. Just along the road ahead you see the road climb steadily in line for some distance, then disappear left around a bend. Look up again and see the second highest of the Three Peaks, Great Whernside at 704 m (the highest in the 'flat triangle' is Ingleborough to the west near the settle & Carlisle Railway at 723 m). Here is where the Cover emerges from under the road bridge. Stop and park up on the gravel car park, shut the door(s) and breathe in the pure Pennine air. Bottle some of the water, replenish your drinking supply or keep some for chemical analysis, see how few potential contaminants there are.

To your right as you look towards the bridge is a farm road that leaves the dale road in an almost straight line, screened further up by trees. Listen to the young river burble. As there are few cars that stop here out of season, there's ample space. People have pitched tents and camped here, caught fish, although you'd need more than one each. When I come this way I make a point of stopping. Listen to the birdies, watch them when you can but don't make sudden movements and send them flapping off. There might be a kestrel hovering on the lookout for prey. Then hey-ho, it's time to go again. If you've walked it spare a thought for the motorist who has to make way for you on the climb away. Keep to the right to give oncoming traffic an easy view of you. When you come to an obverse bend listen out for traffic before crossing the road to make yourself visible, and remember to cross back again. This might read a bit pompous and patronising, but there are many who don't seem aware of the 'Country Code' for pedestrians. Look it up in the Highway Code book if you're not sure. Better safe than sorry. Shanks' pony is patient.

The hump bridge ahead is only wide enough for one vehicle, allow time to pass and make your move. There's no 'rush hour traffic', so take your time and change down a gear for the long slog uphill.. Great Whernside seems to hover in the distance to your left as you come to the top of the climb. Away to the right when you reach the top if you're walking, you might see Tor Mere Top at 617 m. If you're driving with passengers one of them might catch a glimpse.

Horsehouse to Upper Wharfedale, the Great Divide

The road from Carlton to Horsehouse, idyllic in appearance but dangerous if you're not used to long country roads that bend and twist, climb and drop. The stone walls hide you from bigger vehicles so keep to your side of the road.
The road from Carlton to Horsehouse, idyllic in appearance but dangerous if you're not used to long country roads that bend and twist, climb and drop. The stone walls hide you from bigger vehicles so keep to your side of the road. | Source
Carlton-in-Coverdale to Horsehouse, walk or drive, be careful either way. The road is undulating and sometimes narrow. Stop at passing places on your side of the road if you see oncoming vehicles
Carlton-in-Coverdale to Horsehouse, walk or drive, be careful either way. The road is undulating and sometimes narrow. Stop at passing places on your side of the road if you see oncoming vehicles | Source
The Thwaite Arms at Horsehouse, plainly visible as you round the bend and before you turn the next bend out of the village. Take advantage of the amenitiers, have a drink and a bite to eat and admire the scenery beyond.
The Thwaite Arms at Horsehouse, plainly visible as you round the bend and before you turn the next bend out of the village. Take advantage of the amenitiers, have a drink and a bite to eat and admire the scenery beyond. | Source
Horsehouse as you leave the village, The Thwaite Arms is on the right, where the stone wall seems to point
Horsehouse as you leave the village, The Thwaite Arms is on the right, where the stone wall seems to point | Source
Little Whernside and Coverdale beyond from the south
Little Whernside and Coverdale beyond from the south | Source
The road descends to the river before the hump-back bridge...
The road descends to the river before the hump-back bridge... | Source
The River Cover where the road crosses the bridge to lead straight onward and upward for a distance
The River Cover where the road crosses the bridge to lead straight onward and upward for a distance | Source

Your 'trial' isn't over, though, because this side the road drops again fairly soon, and steeply.

(Keep your foot on the gas or you'll run out of control and there are steep drops either side of the road. You'll turn this way and that as the road bends sharply into Upper Wharfedale. You'll see Kettlewell's rooftops through and over a screen of trees. As you come closer to the village the road zig-zags on a steep gradient (1:4 to 1:3) until you arrive at the back of the village and level out towards the main through road.

The B6160 bends through Kettlewell from West Burton - and Leyburn beyond - to progress to Threshfield and Skipton beyond ('Sheep Town'), past Kilnsey where Kilnsey Crag hangs over the street village like the sword of Damocles. It's been there like that since time immemorial, so who knows...

Take some time off walking/driving here at Kettlewell. Upper Wharfedale. The ground is fairly level to the B6160 bridge over the River Wharfe as it flows quietly through a fairly flat dale floor. If you're driving and need anything for your journey back then get it while the shop's still open. No takeaways here or deliveries (aside from Royal Mail).

The lifestyle is unhurried. Drink it in. Sit outside at one of the pubs or cafes/tearooms and maybe scribble some postcards or sit back and take in the hills in the distance, the Pennine chain of mountains and high moors is close, and the Settle-Carlisle Railway with its many viaducts and tunnels. Ribblehead Viaduct is to the west, the most expensive viaduct in Britain to date since its repair in the 1980s after Transport Secretary Michael Portillo was given the go-ahead to sanction the expense. As it turned out the original estimate was far higher than the cost proved.

I'll add a list of licensed premises along the route between Carlton and Kettlewell at the foot of the page. Savour the atmosphere but observe the Country Code and take your litter with you after stopping. There are no cleaners on these roads, so litter tends to look ugly when caught in bushes or on trees or roadside hedges.

From Hunterstones to Kettlewell

Hunterstones and the source of the River Cover high on the north side of the dale before the watershed.
Hunterstones and the source of the River Cover high on the north side of the dale before the watershed. | Source
Tor Dyke, leading upward to Great Whernside to the south of Coverdale
Tor Dyke, leading upward to Great Whernside to the south of Coverdale | Source
Kettlewell Village at the end of your journey through Coverdale
Kettlewell Village at the end of your journey through Coverdale | Source
Blue Bell Inn, Kettlewell, one of four hostelries in the village that caters for visitors. Spend a day or two here before moving on
Blue Bell Inn, Kettlewell, one of four hostelries in the village that caters for visitors. Spend a day or two here before moving on | Source
Kettlewell pinpointed, map centre. North from Threshfield along the dale, on the road west from West Burton and Leyburn, a bus ride away from Skipton after a journey from Leeds or Carlisle
Kettlewell pinpointed, map centre. North from Threshfield along the dale, on the road west from West Burton and Leyburn, a bus ride away from Skipton after a journey from Leeds or Carlisle | Source
Middle Lane, Kettlewell with a view up to the dalehead. fancy a property? Got half a million pounds to spare? Dales living isn't cheap but don't buy here with the intention of just using it for a couple of weeks a year. or that'll kill off the place
Middle Lane, Kettlewell with a view up to the dalehead. fancy a property? Got half a million pounds to spare? Dales living isn't cheap but don't buy here with the intention of just using it for a couple of weeks a year. or that'll kill off the place | Source
Kilnsey Village along the road to Skipton, with its overhanging crag. It's been like this since time immemorial, so who knows how much longer it'll last
Kilnsey Village along the road to Skipton, with its overhanging crag. It's been like this since time immemorial, so who knows how much longer it'll last | Source

Licensed hostelries from Carlton-in-Coverdale to Kettlewell

Looking around Middleham and then walking or driving can work up a thirst. I don't suggest drinking and driving. Most licensed premises sell soft drinks, tea or coffee. That would be enough to take you to the next stop-off, however far. Take a flask with you to enjoy whilst you admire the view up at the bridge where the road finally crosses the river before climbing to the 'divide'. You can 'tank up' on ale or beer when you get to Kettlewell if you plan to stay there overnight.

It's hardly worth listing licensed hostelries (inns) before Carlton, a third of the way along the dale. See what takes your fancy from the list below:

Carlton-i-C

The Foresters Arms, restaurant & rooms;

Horsehouse

The Thwaite Arms, restaurant & rooms;

Kettlewell

The Blue Bell Inn, restaurant & rooms;

The Racehorses Hotel, restaurant & rooms;

The King's Head, restaurant & rooms

Web addresses can be found under these names for booking purposes.

Yorkshire Dales Walking

A handy guide to keep in your backpack for those uncertain moments when you need to make choices - refer to the web site for a key to the walk numbers
A handy guide to keep in your backpack for those uncertain moments when you need to make choices - refer to the web site for a key to the walk numbers | Source

Public Transport, Middleham, Kettlewell and Wharfedale

Locally bus services are provided by Dales & District, Dalesbus at both ends of your Coverdale route, Middleham and Kettlewell. If you intend to walk from Middleham you'll need to work out your times and routes to get there. Give yourself a day from the nearest railway station, Northallerton or Darlington and book for an overnight stop in Middleham..

At Middleham Service 159 connects Middleham with Richmond and Ripon, Monday-Saturday, www.dalesbus.org/159.html;

At Kettlewell Service 72, 72A and 72B connects Kettlewell with Buckden to the north, Skipton, Grassington and Threshfield to the south, www.dalesbus.org/72.pdf

Skipton and beyond can be reached by rail on the Settle-Carlisle Railway from Leeds or Carlisle. To the east Dalesbus provides a service from Northallerton on the East Coast Main Line, Dales & District Service 856, 'Wensleydale Flyer' connects Northallerton Station with Leyburn Market and change for Service 159;

Beyond Northallerton is the East Coast Main Line with rail connections north to Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Scotland, south to York, Doncaster and Kings Cross (London), east to Durham & Tees Valley Airport as well as Teesside (Middlesbrough, Stockton-on- Tees and Hartlepool -

Northallerton online enquiries (tickets, departures and times) www.northernrailway.co.uk/station/NTR and www.thetrainline.com:

Getting there by car

Middleham can be reached via Leeming Bar and Bedale from the A1(M) London-Edinburgh road; from Newcastle Airport it can be reached via the A19 to Northallerton turnoff, through Northallerton, Bedale and Masham or Northallerton, Bedale and Leyburn. Get directions via car rental firms from Manchester or Leeds-Bradford Airport

© 2017 Alan R Lancaster

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    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

      23 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Didn't mind your chatter, as long as you didn't mind me not answering half the time. Some places need concentration. Of course you could show your appreciation for the drive when we got to Kettlewell by buying a round or two at the 'Racehorse' or 'The Blue Bell'. i'm partial to a single 'Famous Grouse', (no ice!) before I turn in. This trip might run into one of the others up here, such as at Malham Cove and Gordale Scar in the nearby Craven district north-west of Skipton.

      Enjoy the ale, it'll do you good (better than that 'after-shave' brewed by Budweiser)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I used up my allotted time just looking at these stunning photos. What spectacular countryside, and I never get tired of the architecture. Thanks for taking me along on this journey. I hope I didn't talk too much while you drove. :)

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