Active and Adventure British Isles Slow Travel

The best walks in the Yorkshire Dales

A local’s guide to the region’s best rambles.

Set up in early 2020 by Matt and Helen Coppin, Muddy Boots Walking Holidays arrange self-guided walking holidays and guided ‘Discovery Walks’ around the Yorkshire Dales, both of which are designed to take people on the paths less trodden and uncover their favourite secret spots. We caught up with Helen, who shared some of her favourite walking trails in her local area.

Gunnerside Gill

The northern Dales have a wilder and remoter feel than the gentle hills and valleys in the south and walks into the gills and moors here give a real sense of exploration. Nowhere is this truer than Gunnerside Gill, a small valley just north of Gunnerside village where, over 200 years ago, the mining industry boomed. Given the peace and beauty here today, it’s hard to imagine the noise and pollution that once engulfed this quiet corner.

The extensive mining remains – smelt mills, peat and ore stores, blacksmiths and the like – now give us a real insight into what life must have been like for those working in the mines and it is fascinating to see how nature has slowly been reclaiming the landscape over the last couple of centuries.

Evidence of the area’s mining heritage is still visible at Gunnerside Gill © Helen & Matt Coppin

There are various versions of this walk but our favourite – which is actually the route of one of our guided ‘Discovery Walks’! – is a 7 1/2-mile circuit up the eastern side of the gill (a narrow, steep-sided gorge similar to a ravine) to reach the best-preserved remains at Blakethwaite Smelt Mill, returning on a higher path to enjoy great views back into the gill and over the classic Yorkshire scenery of Swaledale.

Wild Boar Fell

The summit of Wild Boar Fell just sneaks over the county border into Cumbria but is part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (following the 2016 extension) and, due to its location in this lesser- visited area, must be one of the most underrated mountains in the country. In fact, we like it so much, that it features both on one of our self- guided walking holidays – ‘Food and Fells of the Cumbrian Dales’ – and one of our guided walks!

Its striking silhouette just begs to be climbed but you are never likely to see more than a handful of people on the vast summit plateau, even on a glorious summer’s day. As with most mountains, there are various routes to the top, but our favourite circular route (12 miles) starts in the lovely village of Ravenstonedale and heads up a clear and easy track (part of the Pennine Bridleway) to gain the ridge, from where it is a short slope up to the 2,323ft summit. A reasonable level of fitness is required to make it to the top, but the path is well-marked and easy to ascend.

Yorkshire Dales
The summit of Wild Boar Fell © Helen & Matt Coppin

After spending some time exploring the summit and soaking up the views over much of the western Dales, the Howgill Fells and the mountains of the Lake District, you take a more off-road descent across Access Land over Wharton Fell, overlooking the verdant Eden Valley. The route ends with a couple of miles along country lanes to return to Ravenstonedale for a well-earned drink in one of the village’s two fantastic pubs.

Malham Landscape Circular

Probably the best-known walk in the Dales and certainly not one you’re likely to have to yourself, this is one worth sharing with the crowds (although you may well find some solitude on the quieter stretches, especially if you head out early or late).

This absolute classic full-day route begins in the popular village of Malham, winding northeast to pass the pretty little falls of Janet’s Foss before heading into the imposing gorge of Gordale Scar. From here, the route heads straight up the side of the waterfall and a little scrambling is required (although there is a nice detour if you don’t fancy it or after heavy rain), before you emerge on the quiet moors above the gorge, strewn with sections of limestone pavement.

Yorkshire Dales
Walking on Malham Cove’s iconic limestone pavement © Helen & Matt Coppin

You soon reach peaceful Malham Tarn, a National Nature Reserve and home to one of only eight upland alkaline lakes in Europe as well as colourful plant species like round-leaved sundew and devil’s-bit scabious, before heading through the fascinating ‘dry valley’ of Watlowes to find yourself on the justifiably famous limestone pavement at the top of Malham Cove, where the views stretch for miles.

From here, steep steps take you to the bottom of the cove, where its scale can really be appreciated, before a gentle walk back to the village, either along the most direct but very busy path or, our preference, over the little clapper bridge and through fields, which conveniently brings you out at one of our favourite pubs – the Lister Arms.

Kisdon Gorge and Swinner Gill

This 7-mile circuit between the villages of Muker and Keld in upper Swaledale is another Dales classic and for good reason – two pretty villages, countless wildflower meadows, gentle riverside walking, a curiously named ruin and, in our version, a surprisingly quiet and remote gill to explore.

Starting in Muker, the route takes you through the famous wildflower meadows – at their best in June and early July – before a gentle stretch along the River Swale. Rather than continuing to Keld on the main route, we like to take an easily missed (and unsigned) path up Swinner Gill. The narrow steep-sided path takes you high above the beck for lovely views over a string of small waterfalls before emerging on to a track at the head of the gill.

Yorkshire Dales
The spooky ruins of Crackpot Hall © Helen & Matt Coppin

From here there are stunning views along the gorge and you are soon at Crackpot Hall. Originally a shooting lodge, this farmstead was abandoned in the 1970s due to subsidence caused by the mining industry in the area and is today a forlorn but atmospheric ruin.

A short walk from here takes you to the tumbling waters of East Gill Force, where you drop down to cross back over the River Swale and visit the remote village of Keld. Our preferred return route is the higher path along the slopes of Kisdon Hill, which affords fantastic views throughout, both back over your earlier route and along upper Swaledale.

Full route notes for this walk are available to download on our blog.

Head of Wharfedale

This delightful 7-mile walk is part of our ‘Wharfedale Ramble’ walking holiday – one of our gentlest routes, allowing plenty of time for soaking up the scenery and pottering around villages. It takes in two lovely villages, three excellent country pubs, one of the most picturesque farms in the Dales, and a charming stretch of riverside walking along the Wharfe, where we have spotted kingfishers, deer and wild orchids. The views from the ridge between Cray and Yockenthwaite down upper Wharfedale are outstanding.

Buckden Pike Yorkshire Dales
Sheep graze on the greenery around Buckden Pike © Helen & Matt Coppin

The route starts in the handsome village of Buckden with a climb up the slopes of Buckden Pike to reach Cray, but all of the climbing is out of the way early and the flat path around the head of the valley is a real joy, passing through fields and woodland, crossing becks and meandering across limestone pavement. You drop down to picture- perfect Yockenthwaite Farm (which produces some delicious granola) before enjoying a relaxing stroll along the river through tiny and wonderfully named Hubberholme and back to Buckden.

More information

This article was originally published in our monthly travel e-zine, The Travel Club. Sign up here to become a member and receive your copy each month!

For more on the Yorkshire Dales, check out our Slow Travel Guide: