The Journey to the Dales
The Yorkshire Dales has long been on our UK travel bucket list and so as summer 2021 swung into life we decided now was as good a time as any to spend a week peeking at what the Dales have to offer. And we were not disappointed!
The trip began in the usual manner, humming up the motorway. In this case the M5 North from Bristol on a Friday evening.
The sun cast a pleasant glow over the evening as we searched out our first parkup of the trip – the Broughton Arms just north of Stoke on Trent.
As the shadows lengthened, we pulled into it’s ample carpark overlooking the Trent and Mersey Canal, rippling gently in the summer breeze.
The pub itself has a fantastic beer garden commanding views over the canal. We spent a happy few hours watching canal boats pass over a few beers before retiring for bed.
Mam Tor and a popular peaks parkup problem!
Saturday dawned a little overcast but still pleasantly warm. We decided to spend the weekend in the Peak District before finishing off the journey to the Dales.
That in mind we had a little dog who was becoming jittery after a long drive the evening before. So we made a beeline for Mam Tor to let her stretch her legs. And we could do with a bit of exercise as well for that matter.
Mam Tor proved to be a success. A steep incline from the carpark soon turned into a (relatively) flat ridgeline walk commanding impressive views out over the Peak District.
After a quick sandwich we took the Winnats Pass down to the village of Castleton. Winnats pass is mightily impressive but almost nigh on impossible to capture whilst in motion.
Castleton was extremely busy and we had to park half a mile or so from the village itself. Heaving with all manner of folk from hikers dressed to the nines, to family groups armed with cameras, ice creams and babbling children.
We didn’t stay for too long due to the crowds and we had a plan to explore the Ladybower reservoir that afternoon.
Intending to overnight at the Ladybower Inn to facilitate this we squeezed into the carpark and went in for a drink to ask if it was ok to stay the night.
Unfortunately, peak tourist season and lack of planning on our part meant that they had already accepted their full quota of campers for the night so we hastily looked for another option. We have postponed our plan to explore the reservoir for another time.
An hour later after another awesome drive we arrived at the Sycamore Inn. Plenty of space here – they have a huge secluded car park adjacent to a large playfield – perfect.
Dinner and drinks done we hit the hay for an undisturbed and quiet night under the trees listening to river gurgling away in the background.
To The Dales!
A boring drive this time along several motorways that connect Manchester, Leeds, Huddersfield and the rest of the Northern powerhouse cities.
Emerging from the urbanised chaos we arrived in the land of green pastures, Wensleydale cheese and funny accents.
Check out our full recommendations for campsites, pub stops and itinerary in Yorkshire here.
Malham, Janets Foss, Gordale Scar and Malham Cove were on todays agenda.
We must say that Malham have done a cracking job of orgnasing parking – they obviously get a huge amount of visitors and know how to deal with them.
So with a boundlessly excited Springer Spaniel we set off to trek between each of these natural attractions.
The walk to Janets Foss was a simple one, a mile or so of smooth path through lucious fields being munched on by contented sheep. The final hundred meters or so become a little rocky and rooty so bear that in mind if you fancy a visit.
Janets Foss itself is a sparkling woodland waterfall and natural pool – filled with people splashing and having fun. Great to see but a little busy for us to want to join in. Onwards!
Emerging from the forestry we followed the trail passed a conveniently placed burger van, up and across some exposed outcrops towards Malham Cove.
To be honest, even at this point, we didn’t know what Malham Cove was. It had come up as a POI in the area and this hike took it in.
So we were completely blown away when we rounded a corner and the clifftop edged into sight. A huge semi circular clifftop with outrageous views down across the valley below. Malham looking frightfully small in the distance.
We clambered around the massive, weathered rocks to get the best views and sat for a while with a cup of coffee to catch our breathe.
The descent back to the valley floor is extremely steep, a tumble of massive steps built out of rocks cascaded down to the valley floor – the dog pulling me every step of the way – every step a precarious venture further towards a nasty fall.
The river Malham Beck meanders from the bottom of the cliff back into Malham village. A well-earned pint later and we were back on the road.
Heading to Usha Gap Campsite
Now heading up to our spot for the week – Usha Gap campsite. It’s unlike us to stay in one spot for the week but Usha Gap seems so special that we actually wanted to stay put for the next 5 days and use it as a base for exploring.
The drive up and into the Yorkshire Dales is truly special. Traversing endlessly long valley floors with impressive ridgelines either side, the terrain getting ever steeper away from the road. The tarmac ahead curving away into the distance alongside gushing rivers and livestock proudly commanding the fields. Iconic crumbling drystone walling snakes it way up the mountainsides enclosing paddocks and completing the scene.
The final mountain pass, Buttertubs Pass, between Hawes in Wensleydale and Muker in Swaledale is the icing on the top. Sharp drops and incredible views, hairpin bends crawl round steep corners and the landscape just keeps on getting better.
Finally arriving at Usha Gap we had a chat with the lovely owner and made ourselves at home.
The evening passed in a blur of a hazy sunet, beer and something I can’t quite remember for dinner!
Ribblehead Viaduct and White Scar Cave
Monday arrived and signaled the return of our favourite time when on the road. The mid week lull. We often find weekends are a little busy for our tastes so we love Mondays when we’re away as it signals a quieter few days ahead.
Back over Butter Tubs pass (we drove the pass many times over the next week as Usha Gap and Swaledale are right at the north end of the Dales and most places we wanted to visit were further south) towards Ribblehead Viaduct.
Ribblehead viaduct is an impressive piece of engineering from the 19th century. Workers endured extreme conditions and terrible living standards to erect the 24 stone arches to carry the railway line across the valley. In happier news it makes for an excellent dog walk with interesting features and information for us humans to look at.
As the weather closed in (very quickly) we made a pit stop at the Station Inn (also a Brit Stop FYI) for a pint and a snack to wait for the weather to clear.
Carrying on for the afternoon we decided to check out White Scar Cave.
The caves were a reasonable price (at time of writing) and absolutely fascinating – lead by our guide Martin – enthusiastic, knowledgeable and with a dry sense of wit we’d fully recommend checking them out if you’re in the area.
Having had our fill of caves for the day it was back over Butter Tubs pass to the campsite for the evening.
Hawes, Wensleydale Cheese and Explore Swaledale
Tuesday is market day is Hawes so expecting the town to be heaving and the carpark to fill up quickly we headed over bright and early to find an almost deserted carpark,
Wondering if we had the days wrong we strolled into town to see what was happening. Turns out its just a late starter type of market (atleast on the day of our visit) as the stalls were all set out and vendors were waiting for the punters to show up.
Hawes really is a gem of a little town and we whiled away the morning exploring the town and street market before heading over to the world-famous Wensleydale Creamery.
The tour of the creamery is well worth doing and very reasonable. We explored the small Wallace and Gromit exhibit and watched through the glass at the factory floor for a while before taking our seats for the live cheese making demo. Very interesting and we subsequently spent about £50 on cheese and crackers in the shop – and could easily have spent more but our little campervan fridge wouldn’t have been able to take it. The rest of the week saw us eating copious amounts of cheese which was lush!
The time had arrived where the dog was beginning to nag for a walk so we headed back to Swaledale (yes – over Butter Tubs pass again) and set off from the campsite to explore on foot.
Crossing through fields with ridiculously narrow pedestrian gates we passed through Muker, disappointingly the pub was closed on Tuesdays, and pressed on to the rivers edge behind the village.
Una spent a happy hour swimming and splashing here before we headed back to the campsite to indulge in some cheese and wine.
Deciphering Druids Temple
Wednesday saw us headed south to explore the mystical Druids Temple.
Druids Temple is an excellent place for a dog walk with astounding views over the Leighton Reservoir.
The temple itself is not actually an ancient temple but was built in the nineteenth century by the landowner. Reasons are not totally agreed upon but the overriding opinion is that it was to alleviate local unemployment by an eccentric and wealthy land owner. You can read more here
The carpark is very reasonable (£3 for the day as I recall) and is serviced by a really delightful café for a coffee and a cake post walk.
After this we stopped off on our way home at Aysgarth to visit the three waterfalls. The waterfalls are an impressive cacophony of gushing water spread out over three wide but short sections of falls.
It was a lovely place to hang about for an hour or so to paddle and watch families enjoying time outside together.
A quick pint of the local Aysgarth beer in the local hotel (which was lovely!!) and we were headed back to Usha Gap for yet more cheese for tea.
Exploring Swaledale and Keld
Thursday was our last full day in Yorkshire so we decided not to drive anywhere and explore as much of Swaledale as we could on foot.
Retracing our steps from earlier in the week we passed through Muker again and followed the river right up through the breathtaking valley.
The trail started to climb slightly as we rounded the far end of the hillside towards Keld, Wain Wath Force and Kisdon Force.
Stopping for a sandwhich in Keld as the hotel was closed we suddenly realised we were only a few miles from the Tan Hill Inn – the highest pub in England and a permissive campervan overnight stop. Making a mental note to visit next time we’re in the area we continued back around the rest of the valley.
Arriving in the blistering mid afternoon heat at Thwaite we were over the moon to discover that the local hotel was open and serving, as we were only a mile or so from the campsite we spent the afternoon here drinking in the sun with one very tired dog and 8 very tired legs.
An excellent way to round off our trip to the Dales.
Next time we come we’ll stay further south to explore the towns of Settle and Skipton and discover what the other side of the Dales has to offer.
Friday is home time! Sad Times! Normally we stay until a Sunday and make the most of our annual leave but we already had plans back home this weekend so off we set.
Following one final, gorgeous drive through the Dales we stopped off at the super lovely Crook O Lune picnic and walk area just off the M5 to give Una a good run (and swim) and set ourselves up for a long, dull drive back down the motorway.
Diving into the Yorkshire Dales Summary
So that’s it for our Yorkshire Dales road trip. There is so much more to see and do in this area that we will definitely be back.
Everything is done at a very much slower pace than usual given that Lyd is 7 months pregnant so we are taking it easy and not seeing quite so much.
But it is a nice change of pace and we find that we do end up less tired after a week away.
Your turn now – Go Explore! In Yorkshire!