I've said it before and I'll say it again, Trailblazer guides take some beating.
— Adventure Travel
The Dales Way stretches for approximately 81 miles (130km) between the towns of Ilkley, at the southern end of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and Bowness-on-Windermere, the most popular tourist destination in the Lake District National Park.
The walk is often described as one of the easiest of the long-distance paths in Britain, and it’s true that most of the first half of the trail is largely level as it follows the meandering River Wharfe. The Dales Way is not entirely without gradients, of course, and there are steep sections, particularly as the path approaches the source of the Wharfe and the watershed, and again on the approach to the Lakes. It’s likely that you’ll also have to complete a couple of long days on the trail, too, as the path passes through countryside where facilities and accommodation are scarce. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the Dales Way is one of the UK’s shortest and most straightforward long-distance trails. Finding and sticking to the trail is also particularly easy, thanks to the wealth of signposts along the way and the superb maintenance of the trail itself.
No surprise, then, that we consider this to be a path that can be tackled by everyone, regardless of their age: I’ve seen babies conveyed along the trail in prams and on the backs of their parents, while the most fashionable hair colour on the Dales Way amongst both sexes is what can most kindly be described as a distinguished silvery-grey. And it is a great trail for those who’ve never attempted a long-distance path before and want to dip their toes in the water and see whether hiking is for them, before moving on to tackle some of the more challenging long-distance trails such as the Coast to Coast Path, or the Pennine Way.
But the delights of this trail aren’t confined to novices. For though it may be only just over 80 miles in length, the Dales Way manages to pack an awful lot of interest into its relatively short span. The charming, lively Victorian spa town of Ilkley; the old cotton mill centre of Addingham and the mining town of Kettlewell; the majestic ruins of Bolton Abbey and the busy tourist hub at Grassington; and the picture-perfect settlements at Appletreewick, Burnsall, Grassington, Kettle-well, Starbotton, Hebden and Buckden – all are encountered on or just off the trail, and all before you’ve even completed the first half of the walk too! The Wharfe itself is splendid too. Where it’s placid and becalmed, anglers wade in to fish for trout and weary hikers sit, paddle in the shallows and cool their overheated feet, while kingfishers and dippers flit across the surface. But in certain places the Wharfe is frothing and furious, most famously at the raging Strid, the final resting place of more than one foolhardy traveller down the centuries.
Nor does the scenery lose any of its grandeur as you wave farewell to the Wharfe in favour of neighbouring Dentdale. Here the delights of the natural landscape are supplemented by several magnificent viaducts and bridges, built during the railway boom of the 19th century, which you pass by, alongside and under on your way to the smooth-topped Howgills, a delightfully hilly corner of the Yorkshire Dales. And then at the end of the trail (and having passed under a couple more breathtaking viaducts), you are rewarded for all your efforts over the previous days with magnificent views of some of England’s mightiest peaks as you move into the Lake District – and your second national park on the trail.
I could spend pages eulogising about the beauty and diversity of this path. But as anyone who’s walked a long-distance trail before knows, the things you see on the way are only part of the enjoyment. For walking is just as much about the people you meet and the food you eat, the things you stop to do and the things that happen to you along the way. It is of such things that memories are made.
- Practical information for the walker
- Sample route guide: Barden Bridge to Burnsall
- Sample Trail Profile & Overview Map
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