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Travel North - 56: Walk Upper Swaledale, Unwind in a Rarely Seen Corner of the Dales

Updated on April 19, 2019

Start and finish at Muker

Muker village - there's a car park on the left before the bridge, and buses stop across the bridge. Parking is also possible on the left side of the road if there aren't too many others (weekdays)
Muker village - there's a car park on the left before the bridge, and buses stop across the bridge. Parking is also possible on the left side of the road if there aren't too many others (weekdays) | Source

A ruined farm, a waterfall, the infant River Swale that tumbles past Reeth and Richmond...

You'll breathe in a different kind of fresh air as you pass a ruined farm with a history and an intriguing name.

Whether you drive or have arrived by bus at Muker (pronounced: Myooker) in Swaledale, start from the roadside and be careful of local traffic that might seem to appear from nowhere in the narrow lanes behind the roadside shops and dwellings. Take in the patchwork quilt of green fields and woodland. Squared barns seem to litter the hillside, their thick walls of local limestone. Follow the narrow lane near the small church, north away from the main road that snakes away east- and westward through the dale near its narrowest point.

You reach a stony, zig-zagging path that winds uphill. Look back to where you've come from, and westward beyond to Buttertubs Pass where the Yorkshire leg of the Tour de France cycle race passes. To the south-east is the steep, winding road that heads up to Askrigg Common. Both roads link Swaledale with Wensleydale. Before you achieve the crest of the hill turn right for where the track joins the Pennine Way.

You are at the narrow track that follows the upper northern rim of the dale. Below, the Swale looks like a silver ribbon, broken here and there by trees and brushes that line both banks of the river. At the top where your path takes you is craggy, outcrops of rock jutting like an old man's beard away from his jaw. The track begins to get rough, the view opening out to the deep Swinner Gill, a gash in the hillside. Steeper now, progress on this track will be slower as you negotiate the clumps of rock. Woodland obscures your view for a short way as the going gets a lot easier.

Stay with the main track before you come to the clutch of houses and farm buildings that is Keld, where fields show to your left. Take a sharp right turn to cross the footbridge below Keld's locally well known waterfall. This is a popular point for a picnic. There's a broad track above the falls that crosses the hill face through old lead mine workings and skirts above the tree plantation of Westwood. Your track passes above a downward hurtling gill or stream, This is where you come to ruined Crackpot Hall.

It's not - nor has ever been a 'hall' as such, a grand residence, rather an isolated farm with outbuildings that looks out over a narrow, winding green-clothed dale with steep sides marked by winding dry stone walls. The infant River Swale winds past on its way south from its source behind you to your right, and near Muker will veer eastward.

The 'Crackpot' is no mentally deficient hermit but an underground chasm made by many years of rainfall on and through limestone rock, a 'pot'. Some are navigable by pot-holers who take their hobby seriously, wearing diving gear and miner's helmets with strong lamps. They check their equipment regularly and before following underground watercourses, because their lives depend on the condition of their gear. Some 'pots' are gigantic, open to the general public. Ask locally before tackling them, and go with experienced pot-holers.

The farm was abandoned because of subsidence in the 1950s, the name being derived from the Old Norse - as are many names hereabouts - meaning 'crow' and 'pot', a local term for a cave. As did the farm's earlier inhabitants, take time to appreciate the grandeur of the rugged scenery, away right to Swinner Gill and down dale back toward Muker, unseen around the bend and past the steep hillside at the south end of the narrow dale. Across from where you stand you'll see and appreciate the heights of Kisdon Hill (499 m) that you passed after leaving the hamlet of Kisdon behind Muker. Below you, across a footbridge is a cluster of stone barns at Hartlakes where the Swale bends to the right

Pass the lower end of Swinner Gill, its waters rushing down between rough rock walls to your left, and with a steep hillside to your left make your way south almost level with the river.

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*This part of the world sees few outsiders, and locals will thank you for following the country code. Basically it entails taking any rubbish with you, closing gates behind you and not harassing livestock. If you take a dog with you, keep it on a lead whilst passing through grazing pasture. Not seeing sheep or cattle doesn't mean there aren't any around..

Keld and the infant River Swale

Kisdon Force near Keld in Upper Swaledale, where the track you follow turns towards Crackpot Hall - neither a 'hall' nor connected with the mentally ill
Kisdon Force near Keld in Upper Swaledale, where the track you follow turns towards Crackpot Hall - neither a 'hall' nor connected with the mentally ill | Source
Keld, seen from the Pennine Way above Swaledale. The river rises here and flows into the Ouse north of York. In between the Ure and the Nidd flow into the Swale. It's all water, given different names at various points
Keld, seen from the Pennine Way above Swaledale. The river rises here and flows into the Ouse north of York. In between the Ure and the Nidd flow into the Swale. It's all water, given different names at various points | Source
The view from above Crackpot Hall over the remains of its roof to the River Swale below - the weather can change suddenly, so if you're on a walk take protective clothing and sturdy boots
The view from above Crackpot Hall over the remains of its roof to the River Swale below - the weather can change suddenly, so if you're on a walk take protective clothing and sturdy boots | Source
Kisdon Hill, high above the west side of Keld in Swaledale
Kisdon Hill, high above the west side of Keld in Swaledale | Source

The track back to Muker winds along the dale below more woodland along the hillside.

Now your gaze takes in the crags high above, rather than down from amid them. A footbridge leads back across the river, a turn right along the waterside track to another stone barn. Where the track turns fives you a view up to Hooker Mill Scar between two peaks, the one on the right seen from here being Kisdon Hill. The track takes you uphill to a field corner where another lane takes you back into Muker along the base of the steep hill.

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Getting there:

Muker is on the B6270 road west from Reeth, and Richmond beyond that, 22 miles from Muker. A bus service, Little White Bus, Swaledale Shuttle (littlewhite-bus.co.uk) has a service that goes through Muker three times daily;

'Explorer' Ordnance Survey Map No. OL30 covers the area, Grid reference SD 91068 97844;

To learn more about the region look into the Yorkshire Dales National Park web site:


The return leg of your walk

Swinner Gill in close-up with the remains of lead workings barely visible
Swinner Gill in close-up with the remains of lead workings barely visible | Source
The Swale courses south here to Muker. Keld is up on the left near the foot of Kisdon Hill. Crackpot Hall can be just seen mid picture, left of centre, with Swinner Gill - the cleft on the left
The Swale courses south here to Muker. Keld is up on the left near the foot of Kisdon Hill. Crackpot Hall can be just seen mid picture, left of centre, with Swinner Gill - the cleft on the left | Source
You'll probably see a fair numbers of these on your way through the area... Swaledale sheep - don't try to count them while you drive.
You'll probably see a fair numbers of these on your way through the area... Swaledale sheep - don't try to count them while you drive. | Source

Nature in the Dales

If you'd like to find out more about the natural history of the area, why not look into natureinthedales.org.uk/get-involved/places-to-see-wildlife/muker-meadows

Of course you want to know where to rest your weary bones after this six mile hike, don't you...

On your way into Muker you can't miss The Farmer's Arms' inn. I've been in there a few times on visits to the village, and it's genuine. No 'muzak', no massive TV screens, no slot machines. A village inn for locals or visitors to drop in, with a sign that tells you you're welcome to step inside whether or not you've got muddy boots on. It's open all day, so there's no need to rush back from your walk, breathless and panting for a bite and a slurp before it shuts its doors. Main meals, baguettes and sandwiches are available, with main meals priced from £8.25. Try it and see if I'm not wrong. Surprise yourself, maybe try your hand at conversation. People around here are friendly - they don't bite!

Phone: 01748 886297

http://www.farmersarmsmuker.co.uk

Ins and outs of The Farmers Arms

Indoors is obviously more interesting (unless you're a student of Dales architecture), with a welcoming fire on chillier days
Indoors is obviously more interesting (unless you're a student of Dales architecture), with a welcoming fire on chillier days | Source
the Farmers Arms at Muker, a Free House (not brewery-tied) with a well-kept cellar and good food to keep you going after an energetic walk. A great place to 'wet your whístle' as folk say up this way
the Farmers Arms at Muker, a Free House (not brewery-tied) with a well-kept cellar and good food to keep you going after an energetic walk. A great place to 'wet your whístle' as folk say up this way | Source

Down dale at Reeth - you may have passed through on your way from Richmond, or over the hill from Leyburn in Wensleydale

At the Swaledale Museum you'll be able to trace back 270 million years of local history, visit on The Green, Reeth, Richmond, DL11 6TX

01748 884118

www.swaledalemuseum.org.uk

(there are some good watering holes close by, to slake your thirst after travelling back through time. i'd recommend them both. If you're not the drinking type there are several tearooms dotted around Reeth, on and off the green).

Yorkshire rivers - the Swale rises top left and flows into the Ouse north of York

High ground and drainage in Yorkshire - most flow into the Ouse and then through the Humber into the North Sea
High ground and drainage in Yorkshire - most flow into the Ouse and then through the Humber into the North Sea | Source

© 2018 Alan R Lancaster

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    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      9 months ago from UK

      I had an English tutor who had done a lot of work on Anglo Saxon place names. There are a lot ending in ton and ham around the East Midlands from what little I now recall.

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

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

      I was at Battle Abbey at the weekend (13-14th October, '18) and noticed a sign for a River Teise on the way through Kent. There's also a River Swale near Sheppey (Kingdom of Kent was established by incoming Jutes, northern neighbours of the Angles, hence the similarities). There are lots of places in the midlands that start with 'Ash', Ashton-under-Lyne, Ashton-in-Makerfield, Ashburton, Burton-in-Ashfield. The Mercians were also Angles, like the Northumbrians and obviously East Angles of Norfolk and Suffolk. Place name similarities occur a lot in these areas, but not so much between them and what were Middlesex and Wessex, Sussex and Surrey, although there;s a Hayes and an Ashford in Middlesex and Kent. Exceptions crop up here and there.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      9 months ago from UK

      Amazing how many duplications there are in the UK and that's not even taking into account all the duplicates in the USA. I visited Leeds Castle, Kent last week. A distant relative told the tale of working there several years ago when a group rang up. "We are just outside Leeds, but can't find the castle" They were in Leeds Yorkshire!

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

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

      Intrepid, Liz. Lots more to see. I usually write my pages to suit the visitors rather than the editors, then both are kept happy. I sometimes correct myself as a result of information gleaned from further reading (such as about Whernside, Great Whernside and Little Whernside, all in the same area and fairly close together as the crow flies). Things can get confusing around there, what with place, river and other name duplications - four Aytons, three Aislabys, two Marskes, two Melmerbys, a couple of Normanbys, Stockton-on-Tees and Stockton-on-the-Forest (near York), several river Derwents, Edens etc.Thankfully only one River Ure!

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      9 months ago from UK

      Thanks. I have managed to track them down and have a read. You could write a travel guide on the area with your great balance between tourist guide and local historian. My next job is to edit my River Vltava article to suit the editor's requirements.

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

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

      Liz, me again.

      No sooner said, plus one or two extra in the northern Dales:

      TRAVEL NORTH - 1: "YOU TAKE THE HIGH ROAD", From The A66 To Richmond, Northern Dales And Back;

      TRAVEL NORTH - 2: SWALEDALE CIRCUIT - Catterick Village To Tann Hill, Back Through Arkengarthdale;

      TRAVEL NORTH - 3: FOLLOW THE TEES UPRIVER, From The Tees Bay To A Pennine Gill;

      TRAVEL NORTH - 5: WEST FROM BEDALE, (Up Through The Middle Dales And Back);

      and a bit more recently

      TRAVEL NORTH - 21: MIDDLEHAM CASTLE - Home To The Once Mighty.

      There's another one fairly recently about a trip through Coverdale starting at Middleham and finishing at Kettlewell (not to be confused with Kettleness on the coast). There are about a score that take you on walks and drives around Cleveland and the coast between Tees Bay and Scarborough, and one about York written in the last twelve months or so. Get your trowel out and get digging, there might be gold in them thar hills! There are three that take you out of Yorkshire, to Northumberland (2) and Cumbria (1)

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      9 months ago from UK

      Thanks. I will look them up as soon as I get a chance. It is certainly a part of the UK well worth visiting.

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

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

      Hello again Liz, you need to go right back, down nearly to the bottom, "West From Bedale", where there's a picture of Bedale Market place in the 19th Century (hiring fair), and another with a picture of Richmond Market Place... "Route 66..." (a play on the A66 that takes you via Darlington and Scotch Corner to the Cumbrian coast). There's another page that starts at Catterick Village with pictures of inns on the Green. These were written about eight years ago, so there's a fair bit of scrolling down to do. I'll do some digging and post my 'findings' here.

      TTFN

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      9 months ago from UK

      I have looked for both these articles on your profile, but have not found them yet. If you can give me the full titles, I will have another look.

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

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

      Hello Dora, the images are off the net, with sources named (click on the word 'source' to see). I've been there a number of times. The village shop sells Swaledale cheese made from local cow's or ewe's milk - more than one type, as are also the Wensleydale, Bishopsdale (off Wensleydale, on the way to Upper Wharfedale) and Cotherstone varieties, the latter being is upper Teesdale. Google them on a map. You can buy Wensleydale cheese online from the Wensleydale Creamery at Gayle near Hawes. It's a crumbly cheese made with non-animal rennet if you're a vegetarian, and various types of fruit cake are available, as Yorkshire folk like to eat cheese with fruit cake. Nice with a cup of Harrogate tea. Enter Hawes Creamery in your search box for details.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      9 months ago from The Caribbean

      Your photos are a great complement to the very detailed and inviting descriptions you give. Enjoyed the track.

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

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

      Great place to visit Liz. I try to get up to High Force as often as I can, weather permitting. You can feel the thunder of the waterfall under your feet before you set eyes on it. After rainfall you get cascades on both sides - it's like looking at an old man's front teeth! Take a look at the Hub page on my profile about following the Tees from Teesmouth to Cow Green Reservoir (it's a fair way down, being an early piece of writing here).

      I like Richmond as well... as my namesake, Alan 'Rufus' did just under a thousand years back. Alan 'Rufus' had a thing going with King Harold's younger daughter, Gunnhild. (Take a look at the page in the 'CONQUEST' series)..

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      9 months ago from UK

      Lovely part of the country. The river in Richmond is very scenic especially on the autumn. We visited High Force a few years ago.

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

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

      The Pennines, eh?.(Been there, done that, got the tee-shirt etc...) Been on the Settle & Carlisle Railway, or near it? If you scroll down the profile page you'll come to a couple of pages that take you to Ribblehead and Horton-in-Ribblesdale - the cafe there gives you an uninterrupted view of Pen-y-Gent, and from the viaduct you see all three peaks, Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-Gent. From there take the road down to Hawes through Gayle and stop off at the Hawes Creamery. Not just cheese but souvenirs, a cafe and a licensed restaurant as well as the museum. You get to see how the cheese is made as well... And it's not far from Muker as the crow flies. The road from Muker up the dale takes you up to a turn-off for Buttertubs Pass before you reach Thwaite. After Buttertubs, Hardraw is at the bottom of the road (right) for a walk to Hardraw Falls, then along the road to Hawes and Gayle. Turn left out of the Creamery to take the B6255 road up to Ribblehead (half an hour to forty minutes' drive). If you're lucky the mobile tea bar will still be there when you get to the car park. B6479 to Horton. From Horton carry on that road to Stainforth. Take the back road overland past Malham Tarn to Arncliffe where you turn right for Hawkswick and join the B6160, turn left for Kettlewell and up Coverdale Great Whernside is on the right above the road, then Little Whernside (you'll have seen all three Whernsides by the end of the day) before passing Horsehouse and reaching Carlton on the way to Middleham with its castle and connections to Richard Earl of Warwick (the Kingmaker) and Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Richard III), Take your choice of route home - via Bedale for Northallerton or via Masham for Thirsk.

      You'll be whacked out after that day, or take a room at Kettlewell/Muker/Hawes. Enjoy the trip!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      9 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      I always enjoy your hubs on the North Yorkshire. We were there last March and we have family there so your hub often becomes our point of conversation. Tonight, it's the Pennines.

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