An enjoyable 28 mile circuit of the highest and most remote of the Dales, Arkengarthdale, with a chance to visit Britain’s highest pub, The Tan Hill Inn. The journey starts and ends in Reeth and should take around an hour of driving on good, though often narrow roads through some of the harshest, but most beautiful countryside in Britain.
Reeth is located on the B6270 road and has a spectacular setting, overlooked by the fells of Fremington Edge and Calver Hill. It’s a sizeable village of around 700 inhabitants, situated at the meeting point of the two most northerly of the Yorkshire Dales: Swaledale and Arkengarthdale. Like most of its neighbours, Reeth grew in the 18th century with an influx of workers attracted to the many lead mines in the area. Today it’s a popular tourist village, set around an attractive village green, and is a stopping point on the Coast to Coast walk. It boasts a number of B+Bs, a hotel, post office and general store and 3 traditional pubs which all offer accommodation – The Black Bull Hotel, The Buck Hotel and the King’s Arms. There is also an outdoor clothing shop and a Yorkshire Dales National Park centre.
From Reeth Village green, take the B6270 passing left in front of the Buck Inn. The road climbs out of the village and you get your first glimpses of the stunning Swaledale scenery which characterises this most scenic of Dales drives. The peak of Calver Hill is visible to the right with the heights of Harker Top across the valley to the left. The road follows the line of the River Swale in the valley below, and arrives first at the scattering of cottages which is the hamlet of Healaugh. Past Healaugh, the road runs close to the river (though it can be difficult to see when the leaves are on the trees in Summer).
The road then passes through Feetham, where the minor road from Langthwaite in Arkengarthdale joins the B6270 from the right. At this junction is the Punch Bowl Inn, which is a well known restaurant and hotel, with fine views down the valley. The road continues through the hamlet of Low Row and past the turn off left to the intriguingly named village of Crackpot with its ruined, isolated 18th century farmstead, Crackpot Hall. Carry on along the B6270, again passing close to the Swale, with the panorama of the valley opening out as the road approaches Gunnerside.
Gunnerside sits at the foot of Gunnerside Gill, a narrow, rocky valley where extensive remains of the lead mining industry can still be seen. Most of the village’s stone cottages were built in the 18th century to accommodate miners and their families. The historic Kings Head pub in the small village centre reflects the areas Viking settler history. Gunnerside takes its name from a Viking King’s summer pasture – ‘Gunnar’s Saetr’. The village houses a museum –the Old Working Mill and Smithy, in which can be seen interesting artefacts from the area’s history. Tracks from Gunnerside lead over the moors to Swinner Gill, which is the site of a cave where local Catholics reputedly held services in times of persecution. The village has a pub, The Kings Head dating from 1760.
The narrow road winds its way through Gunnerside before crossing a stone bridge over the river and threading a course between drystone walls to cross the river again and arrive at Muker.
Muker is a Swaledale village with a population of just over 300. The area has been settled since Bronze Age times, and the good grazing land in the area encouraged the Vikings to settle here – the name comes from the Norse word “Mjor-aker” meaning “the narrow acre. The flower-rich hay meadows around Muker continue to be of importance and are carefully protected. Farmers receive grants which allow them to farm the land by traditional methods, without using artificial fertilizers. Muker grew rapidly in the 18th century due as it became as centre for lead mining and hand knitting, and many of its stone buildings date from this period. Muker’s Church, St Mary the Virgin was built during the reign of Elizabeth I. It was consecrated in 1580, and was a ‘Chapel of Ease’ to St Andrews Church further down the Dale at Grinton. This meant the inhabitants of Muker had to pay for their vicar but all charges such as those for weddings, funerals etc had to be paid to the vicar of Grinton. This changed in 1751 when Muker became a parish in its own right, and 11 years later the churches thatched roof was replaced by a slate one. Until Muker Church was built, Grinton Church was the only one in the area, so families had to carry the bodies of family members there for burial along the track which became known as the ‘Corpse Way’. Special wicker coffins were developed to ease the load on what could be a walk of over 15 miles, and special flat stones were sited along the route. It’s possible to walk the corpse way today and spot some stones which would have been used for this purpose. Muker has a tea room, woollen clothing shop, and a craft shop and gallery located in the old school which is well known for having a stuffed sheep on its roof!
The road continues alongside the river with 499 metre Kisdon Hill visible to the right, and passes the left turn to Buttertubs Pass and Wensleydale. We continue to follow the B6270 through Thwaite.
Thwaite is a tiny village in Swaledale at the foot of Buttertubs pass, the road leading from Wensleydale. The name “Thwaite” comes from the Old Norse word þveit, meaning ‘clearing, meadow or paddock’, and the village was the birthplace and home of Richard and Cherry Kearton, who were pioneers in wildlife photography at the end of the 19th century. The Kearton name lives on in the Kearton tea rooms and Kearton Country Hotel in the village.
At the T Junction just outside Thwaite, take the right hand turn, signposted Keld and Kirkby Stephen. Go over the bridge and through Thwaite. The road begins to climb up out of the village, giving fantastic views back down Swaledale to the rear. It’s a single track road winding its way between drystone walls amidst some of the best scenery in the Dales. The road passes through the hamlet of Angram (no sign) before arriving at the right turn off to Keld after a couple of miles.
Like many villages in Swaledale, Keld was a Viking farming settlement and its name comes from the Norse word Kelda meaning a spring, and the village was once called Appletre Kelde – the spring near the apple trees. The village grew in the mid 19th century when it became an important lead mining centre, supporting a population in the surrounding areas of more than 5000 people. It was during this period that most of the village was constructed. Today the area is popular with walkers and is the crossing point of the Coast to Coast Walk and the Pennine Way. There are also a series of waterfalls close by, at a limestone gorge on the River Swale. These are Kisdon Force, East Gill Force, Catrake Force and Wain Wath Force. About a mile east of Keld on the northern slope of the dale are the ruins of Crackpot Hall. The remains present today are of an 18th century farm but there seem to have been various buildings on the site across the centuries. The views down the dale from behind the ruined building are spectacular and well worth the walk to reach the location. Keld Lodge is an eating and accommodation option in the village.
Carry on along the main road, signposted Tann Hill up past Keld Lodge Hotel. The B6270 continues to Kirkby Stephen, but as the road drops into a valley just beyond Keld, look for the right hand turn, signposted West Stonesdale.Go over the bridge and across the river here, and begin a steep ascent up the narrow lane, with amazing views down the valley and the road back to Keld. The road soon reaches the few cottages and farms which make up West Stonesdale.
West Stonesdale is a tiny settlement just off the B6270 near Keld in Swaledale. Close by is the site of an abandoned lead mine, which operated between 1850 and 1861,and has some well preserved old buildings and mine workings, though there are exposed shafts which can be dangerous.
The road then climbs to an inhospitable moorland landscape, where you can believe you’re the only car on the road for miles around! And maybe you are –this is a truly wild place, and not one to be caught in during bad winter weather. Eventually you spot a group of stone buildings, appearing incongruous in the isolated surroundings and arrive at a T Junction with a left turn to Kaber. We turn right to arrive at The Tan Hill Inn.
At 1732 feet above sea level, the Tan Hill Inn is famous as being the highest pub in Great Britain. It must also be one of the most isolated, being 11 miles away from Kirkby Stephen in Cumbria, the nearest town. The building dates from the 17th and 18th century and was built to serve miners in the area. Despite it now being in the middle of nowhere, when it was built there were a number of, now demolished, miner’s cottages in the area. The pub became famous in the 1980’s when it ‘starred’ in double glazing TV adverts –being used to demonstrate the window’s draft excluding properties in the most hostile environment the ad agency could come up with. The Inn is subject to bad weather in winter and in 2009, New Years Eve visitors were trapped there for 3 days due to snow. The Inn has a ghost- Mrs Peacock, an ex landlady, and it’s highly likely you could be sharing the bar with a couple of sheep which the owners took in as orphan lambs. It’s safe to say that a visit to the Tan Hill Inn is a unique experience!
As the road passes the pub, the views are incredible with the horizon stretching for miles on a clear day. The road runs alongside the river (which is a tributary which eventually joins Washfold Rigg and becomes Arkle Beck) for a while before passing over it via a stone bridge. After a few miles of driving across the bleak surrounds of Arkengarthdale Moor, the first signs of civilisation begin to appear in stone barns, drystone walls marking field boundaries and a couple of wooded plantations on the distant hillside. These mark the start of the first village in Arkengarthdale –Whaw, situated in the valley to the left.
Whaw is a tiny settlement of stone cottages around 2 miles from Langthwaite in Arkengarthdale. It boasts a Site of Special Scientific Interest –Arkle Beck Meadows which are managed in a traditional way of hay cropping and grazing. There are 7 meadows in total – two are situated on flat land along the Arkle Beck, with the remainder on the north-facing slope to the south of the Beck.
The road continues, offering up some classic Dales scenery as it follows the course of the Arkengarthdale valley, eventually passing by a left turn which heads to Barnard Castle and the tiny settlement of Eskeleth which doesn’t actually appear on most maps. Just pass this turn off is the CB Inn –a pub, restaurant and hotel, named after 19th century local leadmine owner, Charles Bathurst. Just past the pub, the reaches Langthwaite.
Langthwaite is the main settlement of Arkengarthdale and one of the most Northerly villages of the Dales. It’s a small hamlet with a shop, a pub –The Red Lion and the church of St Mary the Virgin, built in 1812 to replace the old church further down the Dale at Arkle Town. Like most of the villages in the area, it was a lead mining centre in the mid 19th century but is now a sleepy place with a few cottages, farms and holiday homes.
A short distance further down the road is Arkle Town (no sign last time I visited)
Arkle Town is a tiny hamlet in Arkengarthdale. In its mining heyday of the mid 1850’s it had a church and pub and 41 dwellings but now all that remains are a scattering of cottages and the remains of the old graveyard behind the village and overlooking the river.
The road climbs out of the village with the peak of Calver Hill to the right, which provides a hiking route to Reeth in neighbouring Swaledale. We follow the road as it winds through a landscape of moorland and meadow before dropping back down to our starting point at Reeth.
Circular walks which can be completed in conjunction with this drive -