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Bedale to Ribblehead
four days around Wensleydale, Yorkshire

Four lovely days, each of them in the ten to twelve mile range, and each of them different. Late May is a wonderful time to be out, and it was good walking weather - dry and warm. We had no mud, and days 1 and 4 (photo 14) were mainly on hard surfaces, so good soles were more important than waterproofness. There were horse flies at higher elevations (photo 17), but they hardly bothered us. We travelled to Northallerton the day before, then took the (fairly frequent) 73 bus to Bedale (photo 1). As it comes into town it's worth getting off, otherwise you go left round the suburbs before getting to the Market Square (it then goes straight back to Northallerton). At Ribblehead there is a pub with accommodation, a railway station (photo 20) and a magnificent viaduct (photo 19), with opportunities for more local walks if you want to stay on. Day 3 of this walk is similar to day 1 of the Herriot Way, a 4-day circular if you want to do a car version.

For day 1 we had Landranger 99 (1:50000) which was good enough; for days 2 and 3 OL30 (1:25000), and for day 4 OL2 (1:25000). We used the OS App on day 4 (I like to see exactly where I am) but the other maps were too old; route finding was not difficult, though a compass was useful on day 2 to see where west was.

Day 1: Bedale to Middleham
This is a relaxing approach to the Dales on small roads and lanes with no climbs (photos 2 and 3); most pubs in the area are closed now so we had a long morning (9 or 10 miles), going via Burrill and Stubbing Nook, with a left turn at the Cocked Hat to pick up the footpath to Thornton Steward (a delightful village with no facilities). Then it was straight on westwards (we had some trouble locating the exact path) to the grand estate of Danby Hall, where the path was clearer, becoming a track by the river to a road, where we turned left to the Cover Bridge Inn. After a long lunch, the stroll to Middleham was delightful; we exited the pub to the left to pick up a path along the river Cover (photo 4). After about half a mile, we took the leftmost of two paths on the right to slant up over the hill, soon coming across the Castle (photo 5) and then the town.
Day 2: Middleham to Aysgarth
Even if you are not into horse racing, it makes Middleham a lively town! The clip-clop of horses (photo 6) being taken out for exercising may wake you up, and the large numbers of stable lads and lasses mean that the many pubs do very well, and the village shop seemed always to be open. We followed the horses out south-west on the road, took the path going west over Middleham Low Moor. Grasslands have obscured the paths (photo 7), but by going west we got to Common Lane, then went on to Penhill Farm. The birdsong was wonderful, but the long up had tired us (maybe we took it too fast), so we looked for the easiest way down, which was to West Witton by road for lunch, then west, soon picking up the path through Mesnes Plantation, briefly getting back to the A684 before continuing on the path (photo 8) to the Knights Templars ruin. Then down to Temple Farm and along the A684 until, just beyond a bridge, there is a path to the Aysgarth waterfalls. Wandering along the river you come to the lower falls (very relaxing, photo 9), then the middle falls (very popular, photo 10) and then on into the Churchyard.
We could have stayed here, the village didn't have facilities, but we went on uphill, and were tired when we got to Aysgarth.
Day 3: Aysgarth to Hawes
This was a delightful day, over the other side of the River Ure, using a dismantled railway path. Going back to the bridge below the Church, we were happy to see a sign saying 'Askrigg 4 miles' (our lunch stop). The path first takes you to the upper falls (photo 11), then wiggles a bit; but the signage was excellent until we reached the road into town at Nappa Mill, where it gave up.
After lunch we went south west on the road until Abbey Head where we rejoined the path, continuing on through lovely countryside (photo 12) until we took a track to the right, then left along a small road below Cams House (photo 13). After Old Cams House we took the slanting path up to the road at a disused quarry. We went along this road until a welcome footpath took us left down into Hawes (photo 14), joining the Pennine Way and its shortcut.
Day 4: Hawes to Ribblehead
If the route for day 3 was a bit fiddly, this is easy: go out past the Wensleydale Creamery (photo 15) on the Pennine Way (photo 16) and stay on it. The climb (photo 17) was easier than we were expecting, the paths were good, there was only one bit where it seemed to disappear briefly. Once up, this is a high-level path over splendid terrain, with views all around (photo 18).
Eventually the Dales Way joins the Pennine Way, and when they split we took the Dales Way, soon getting the wonderful view of the Ribblehead Viaduct nestling among mountains (photo 19), walking on down to the rather busy B6255 and trudging to Ribblehead. This is just a pub and a station (photo 20); the place seems so remote that I waved at the train; it hooted and stopped.
(Click on a photo to see a larger version in a new window.)
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