Walking

A Guide to the Yorkshire Dales

A land of many moods, the Yorkshire Dales National Park varies from wild and windswept moorlands to tranquil pastoral scenes streaked with drystone walls and dotted with crumbly, creeper-clads barns. Rich in both history and natural beauty, it calls to the muddy-booters, the culinary connoisseurs and the history-enthusiasts alike with its wealth of activities and attractions.  

A collection of river valleys and hummocky hills flecked with picturesque towns, the Yorkshire Dales National Park covers 680 square miles. A haven for all those looking to shrug off daily responsibilities for a while, there is always something to do, no matter the season. Whether you’re visiting for the day or staying in the heart of the Dales, you’ll quickly understand why so many want to return here year after year.

To make sure that you have the best experience possible, we’ve put together some of the highlights of the Park for you to discover during your Yorkshire retreat:

Walks in the Dales

One of the best ways to get to know the Yorkshire Dales National Park is by walking, especially if you bring along some traditional ‘fat rascals’ cakes and a flask of hot tea to keep you going. If you want to savour all the beauty of the Park but save on the miles, there are many short walks to choose from along river paths, across moors and over limestone pavements. Some of our favourites include the 6.5-mile Aysgarth Falls circulate via Castle Bolton, the 4.5-mile Fell Beck circular, the 5-mile Ribblehead Viaduct walk and the 3-mile Malham Tarn circular (a miles without stiles walk). The 5-mile Ingleton Waterfalls Trail is also really enjoyable, starting and ending in the village of Ingleton. That said, if you fancy more of a challenge, hardier long-distance walks include the Pennine Way, Lady Anne’s Way, the Dales Way, the Herriot Way and the Three Peaks.

Family Activities

With a huge range of activities on offer, every day in the Yorkshire Dales brings something new. For multi-generational appeal, the Museum of North Craven Life in Settle, the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes and Constable Burton Hall and Braithwaite Hall in Leyburn all reveal fascinating insights into the area’s varied social and cultural history. For a different way to see the sights, the Wensleydale Railway, the Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway and the Stainmore Railway each provide novel ways to get around. Meanwhile, the Settle to Carlisle line takes you over the iconic Ribblehead Viaduct – a breath-taking example of Victorian engineering. To peruse the Park’s only RHS gardens, head over to Parcevall Hall Gardens, or to discover the flipside of the Dales, go underground into the depths of the phenomenal show caves of Ingleborough Cave, White Scar Cave, How Stean Gorge and Stump Cross Caverns.

Castles and Abbeys

Yorkshire is a treasure trove of centuries-old castles and abbeys, once formidable shows of power and spirituality. At over 900 years old, the Grade I-listed Skipton Castle is one of the most well-preserved Mediaeval castles in England. On the edge of the Dales in England’s oldest city, the 700-year-old Ripley Castle invites you to learn about its centuries of military, political, religious and social turbulence, while Bolton Castle affords a full day out with gardens, tearooms and falconry experiences. Pendragon Castle, Middleham Castle and Richmond Castle are also well worth visiting, while if you are looking for a showstopping attraction, the UNESCO World Heritage Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens never cease to amaze. Home to a Cistercian Abbey, stunning Georgian gardens and a sprawling deer park, all the family will love exploring here. Within the Bolton Abbey Estate you can see the Priory Church and the impressive ruins of an Augustinian Priory surrounded by a 30,000-acre patchwork of ancient moorland and woodland. Finally, the Grade-I listed Jervaulx Abbey today stands as an atmospheric ruin that can be visited year-round.

Natural Wonders

The ideal place to unplug and recharge amongst nature, the Yorkshire Dales National Park benefits from one of the most stunning collections of natural wonders in the UK. One of the most spectacular, the towering limestone cliff at Malham Cove makes for an incredible sight. An enormous, 300-meter-wide natural amphitheatre topped with a limestone ‘pavement’, Malham Cove’s unique geology and raw beauty have earnt it cameos in the film versions of Wuthering Heights and Harry Potter and The Deathly Hollows. For more eye-catching geology, Brimham Rocks should definitely be on your list. Or, for magical waterfalls, make sure you set time aside for Aysgill Force, Aysgarth Falls, Fell Beck and Hardraw Force (Britain's highest unbroken waterfall). 

To see an area of legendary status, you can walk up to the top of Gaping Gill – the largest underground cave chamber in Britain – on the southern slopes of Ingleborough, while experienced cavers can actually pay a fee to be winched down into the cave’s 98-metre-deep abyss. For hikers, the highest of the Yorkshire Three Peaks, Whernside, makes for a worthy summit in the Dales and rewards walkers with panoramic views across Pendle Hill, Morecambe Bay, the Lakeland Fells and the Howgill. That said, if you prefer your adventures a little dreamier, you can return after hours to star watch in the park. Newly designated an International Dark Sky Reserve, the Yorkshire Dales National Park invites stargazers to make the most of some of the darkest skies in the country, with the Milky Way, planets, meteors and even the Northern Lights sometimes visible.

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