I walked the classic Dales Way route from Ilkley to Bowness on Windermere (roughly 80 miles / 128 km) in August to raise money for the British Lung Foundation. The route passes through two beautiful national parks; the Yorkshire Dales national park and the Lake District national park. The first half follows the River Wharfe with a very gentle ascent up to the watershed near Ribblehead and then a series of gentle hills takes you through the valleys of Dentdale, the River Mint and the River Kent to the finish at Bowness on Windermere. There are several villages & small towns on the route so it is relatively easy to find food and accommodation along the way.
I walked for six days during hot weather averaging about 14 miles a day. Every night was spent in B&Bs from the excellent Dales Way Association list, apart from one night in Windermere youth hostel at the end. This is a link to my data sheet. My stops were much more evenly spaced on this walk than they were on my Hadrian’s wall walk because I had done a bit more advance planning and knew my capabilities.
- Ilkley to Burnsall 13 miles / 21 km
- Burnsall to Buckden 15 miles / 24 km
- Buckden to Ribblehead 13 miles / 21 km
- Ribblehead to Sedbergh 16 miles / 25.5 km
- Sedbergh to Lambrigg 11 miles / 18 km
- Lambrigg to Bowness on Windermere 15 miles / 24 km
It may be that attempts to prepare for the weather on distance walks are doomed to fail because of the capricious weather in Britain. Having learned lessons about rain on my Hadrian’s wall walk, I had naturally stocked up on rucksack liners, dry sacks and even sacrificed glamour by buying a rain proof poncho. It then proceeded to be a gorgeous, hot, dry walk so my stops this time were to buy stronger suncream (slightly too late unfortunately) and a sun hat from a village charity shop. I had also based my water supply on my rainy Hadrian’s wall walk so I wasn’t carrying enough water. You can read my kit list here
1/ Ilkley to Burnsall
This first section of the Dales Way follows closely along the River Wharfe.
After crossing over the stepping stones at Bolton Abbey, I managed an ice cream cone. Beyond the abbey lies the Strid, which is a popular walk along a series of waterfalls and rapids with a deep underwater channel. This is caused by the dramatic narrowing of the River Wharfe from approximately 9m wide just to the north of the start of the Strid, to the width of a long stride less than 91 m later.
After this dramatic section, the walk follows through small hamlets as far as Burnsall which was the end of my first day. Apart from some crowds around Bolton Abbey, Wharfedale was very peaceful for most of the route.
2/ Burnsall to Buckden
My leisurely pace continues along the River Wharfe for about four miles into the pleasant, bustling village of Grassington, where I stopped for tea.
After the village, the route climbs through walled lanes to reach the limestone moors around the head of Bull Scar. It passes the well know limestone outcrop known as Coniston Pie, before dropping down through Crookacre Wood into Kettlewell.
This was followed by another five miles of bucolic riverside walking in the sunshine full of meadowsweet, stepping stones and the distinctive Dales stone stiles, bridges and barns, all the way into Buckden.
3/ Buckden to Ribblehead
The next section heads through meadows filled with wild flowers along the ever changing river Wharfe, through Langstrothdale as far as Beckermonds. Here it turns along a leafy road which follows Oughtershaw Beck. After another mile, I turned off the road to follow the path past a couple of farms.
The stretch beyond Swarthghyll Farm was the most remote, exposed part of the walk with rough track, no shelter and few fingerposts. Unfortunately, I developed heat exhaustion by late afternoon because I had been walking all day in full sun without enough water or a sunhat. Probably because of this, I lost the trail at Cam Woodland where tree felling had caused the trail to be diverted. Luckily I spotted a couple of hikers on the Pennine Way over the brow of the boggy hill full of holes which I was clambering up and I called out to them. I was then dragged unceremoniously up the hill by a German hiker with no English at all.
When he got me to the top he gave me glucose tablets and water which was very generous of him. It is frustrating when there is such complete mutual linguistic incomprehension that you can’t even thank someone properly for the help, but I would like to thank him now whoever he was. Thanks to him I arrived safely at Ribblehead.
4/ Ribblehead to Sedbergh
The next day I had to come up with a strategy to reach my next B&B by evening but keep my sunburnt skin out of the sun as much as possible. I decided to set out early and find shelter under a tree during the hottest part of the day.
Having resigned myself to waiting it out there was nothing to do but relax and watch the farmers carrying out their business from under a tree which made me think of this often quoted poem by William Davies:
What life is this if full of care
We have no time to stand and stare?
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep, or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
I resumed my walk as it got cooler and arrived at Sedbergh in the dark. Most of the people at the B&Bs along the way were really friendly. The people at the B&B in Sedbergh, who had waited patiently until after 10pm for me to arrive, made me a delicious sandwich and a cup of tea when I arrived. There is something about the precariousness of walking alone which means that the kindness and generosity of people leaves a lasting impression. For me it is these experiences which form part of the uniqueness of walking.
5/ Sedbergh to Lambrigg
Anyway, after a day off in Sedbergh, where I shed 5lb of unnecessary items and posted them home, I felt refreshed for the final stretch of the journey through the lovely Howgills and into the Lake district. The route follows the River Lune past the picturesque Lune and Lowgill viaducts.
As I arrived at Lambrigg to a lovely room overlooking the Howgills, I reflected on how even the little bridge over the busy M6 had somehow managed to seem quite quiet and rural.
6/ Lambrigg to Bowness on Windermere
The final day of the walk crosses pasture, heading around Burneside to join the River Kent as far as Staveley before turning across the final moorland stretch of the walk.
If you like a walk with a good finish, this one will not disappoint as it winds down from the hills with occasional glimpses of Lake Windermere into the attractive town of Bowness on Windermere. When I reached the ferry terminal I asked someone to take a picture of me in my British Lung Foundation T shirt before I had a well earned meal. After this I sat down on a bench as the light fell to reflect on the loveliness of the walk.
The Long Distance Walker’s Association gives the following statistics for the Dales Way:
- Length: 125.7 km / 78.1 miles
- Ascent: 2.276m / 7,467 ft
- Maximum height: 519m / 1,703 ft
Observations about the trail:
This trail is a fairly easy one which a fit walkers should be able to achieve it in 5/6 days. The route follows easily navigable riverside paths for much of the time with a very gentle ascent up to the half way point near Ribblehead and then a series of gentle hills takes you to the finish at Bowness on Windermere. The waymarking is idiosyncratic but fairly reliable except for the central stretch across the moors where I did have to use my map and compass at times.
There are quite a few villages with shops, pubs, and good B&B accommodation available at regular intervals. The stretch between Oughtershaw and Ribblehead is the most remote and exposed with no waymarking (at the time of writing), so make sure you have sufficient food and water for this stage.
Unlike some walks, the Dales Way has a beautiful finish as it descends into Bowness on Windermere. For information, I used the invaluable Dales Way Association website, the Terry Marsh Cicerone guide and the Harvey strip map.
In memory of Mary