Travel North - 66: Dales Maiden Overlooks the River Swale - Walk via an Iron Age Hill Fort in Lead Mining Country
Upriver from Richmond by Arkle Beck, away from the River Swale lies Reeth...
Set where the road west to Muker joins the Arkengarthdale road,
around a large green town was the beating heart of local lead mining until when cheaper imports killed it off in the 1920s. High moors surround the district where the River Swale meanders in large horseshoe bends... most of the time. Unseasonable floods hit upper Swaledale in the disastrous summer of 2019, destroying the old stone bridge at nearby Grinton to the south, engulfing that side of the Bridge Inn.
We're here to forget all that and concentrate on a pleasant although at times demanding walk. Pass between impressive 18th and 19th Century stone-built houses and businesses south to the river, along by the National Park centre to the workmanlike Anvil Square. From here take the path marked, "To the river" and take a right onto a lane that heads west. Not far along here another left turn sees you following the path as it wends right and toward the river. A suspension bridge here was torn away from its moorings in 2000, rebuilt as it was in 1920.
Across the River Swale you could turn immediately right and along the river bank, although the public right of way is a few yards further, up the hill after you've crossed the bridge. ..
Across the Swale and uphill...
Take a right turn back to the river and follow the track half a mile to a farm...
An 'arch' shaped set of stepping stones juts out into the river here, although I wouldn't suggest you use them - they're not on your way for a start - but walk between the farm buildings and ascend to a road.
Turn left for a a little over a hundred yards along the road before following a signposted footpath. This footpath climbs the hill away from the road to a large clump of bushes. This is the site of Maiden Castle - there is another not far away to the north on Stainmoor - what was an Iron Age hill fort, and what you can see is reasonably preserved.
Take a path from the south-west corner of the site that leads roughly south-west for a half mile. You'll see the spoilheaps left after Harker Lead Mine was abandoned, one of the earlier workings that brought the Industrial Revolution to Swaledale from the 1700s. You'll see reminders frequently around the area that gave this part of the dale its own character that it shares with nearby dales.
There are two tracks that climb the hillside, and meet either side of a shooting hut, a hazardous place to hang around from the 'Glorious Twelfth' of August (grouse season). You are now at Browning Gill, a spring where you take a left turn to a wide track used by shooting party off-road vehicles, and go east across the high, flat Harker Hill. From here you can look out over Reeth and up to Arkengarthdale, an open, majestic panorama. You can follow the vehicle track for two miles, although you don't have to go as far as that, as a couple of paths cut the corner. Your point of reference is Grinton Tower and Youth Hostel. One path is good for walking and misses out some road walking at a later stage. You come to north of the lodge, a few minutes walk into Grinton villager Take a look at the impressive stone-built St Andrew's Church. A path to you left avoids later trekking along the road, and reaches the north side of the lodge, a short walk into Grinton village. A path to your left lets you bypass the road, crosses pasture land by the River Arkle. Where the path comes to the road you only have a few minutes' stroll back into Reeth with its cafes, grand-looking hotels and public houses. My own favourite at any time of year is The Bull', close to the crossroads, where to the north the Arkengarthdale road climbs steeply away between the houses and the Muker road by comparison eases along away westward from the green.
Downhill again to Grinton, another bygone centre of Swaledale's lead mining past
You will have walked around seven miles, and climbed to around 1,050 feet (320 m)...
starting at Ordnance Survey Explorer map reference SE038993 [Explorer map no. 30]. This walk is not too hard, although the many footpaths could cause confusion near the river, and a climb to the moor from the suspension bridge can be strenuous if you're not used to hill climbing. Broadly speaking you have Takean enjoyable, easy-ish walk with a brisk descent into Grinton.
Take an Ordnance Survey map (recommended, and when you learn to read them they're indispensable) that will be better than the sketch map here that is only of use as a general guide. If there's a mist - and near rivers or standing water at some times of the year that's not unheard of - you'll find a good compass useful.
Wear good, sound walking boots, not trainers that let in wet, sometimes near a river the going could be squelchy or waterlogged, muddy and slippery. By the same token jeans are not ideal as they too let in and retain the damp. This may not be a long hike, but comfort is the key to enjoying a walk in the countryside. Take weatherproofs, and good woollen socks in spring or autumn especially.
Keep an eye open for heavy weather. If it looks threatening but could blow over before you set out bide your time. Do some shopping for snacks - chocolate or Kendal Mint Cake is good to keep up energy levels. Have a look around the Reeth Mining Museum, it'll give you an idea of what the lead miners had to put up with., and it'll make for an enjoyable interlude during your day.
A word to the wise: parking in Reeth is limited. On the green there's a cobbled area where a regular small market takes place outside the 'Black Bull Hotel'. Check online for market days for optimum parking Locals will not take to you if you block access paths or driveways.
Most of all, enjoy your walk!
And back to Reeth across the dale...
There is a regular Dalesbus service if you choose to arrive by road other than by driving.
Here are a couple of general maps of the Dales area you'll be in, to acquaint you with the region. York is around two hours' drive away, Richmond is connected to Darlington by Arriva bus services and Darlington is on the East Coast Main line for fast services from Newcastle-upon-Tyne or York - or further afield. Book a hotel room or bed & breakfast unless you have plans to rent a property nearby for a week or whatever. That's probably the best course to take and you have a choice of walks from these pages.
Where is Reeth and how do I get there?
© 2020 Alan R Lancaster