A chance to experience the drive over Buttertubs Pass, described as England’s truly spectacular road by Jeremy Clarkson. This 37 mile drive also takes in some of the highlights of Swaledale and Wensleydale via the major (though single lane!) routes of those dales – the B6270 and the A684. This enjoyable drive takes you through some of the most picturesque villages in the Dales and should take a couple of hours to complete, with some brief stops.
For some unique photographic perspectives of the Dales and villages covered by this drive , have a look at our sister website- Yorkshire-Photography.com.
Hawes is a large village of around 1200 inhabitants, on the A684 road, which was historically an important position on the Lancaster-Richmond Turnpike road. The name Hawes is derived from an Old Norse word hals, meaning “neck” or “pass between mountains” as it stands at the head of Wensleydale between Buttertubs and Fleet Moss. Until 1954 the village had a railway station that was the terminus of the Hawes branch of the Midland Railway and a terminus of the line from Northallerton. Midland Railway kept the line to Garside Junction open for passengers until 1959. Today the station houses the Dales Countryside museum in its restored buildings and threes an old locomotive and carriages on the platform. Hawes was granted a charter to hold markets by King William III in 1699 and today market day (Tuesday) is as busy as ever, with a farmers’ auction mart attracting sheep farmers from all over the north of England. Hawes is now one of the main tourist centres in the Dales with shops, cafés , hotels and 4 pubs (Old Board, Crown,Fountain,White Hart) attracting large numbers of visitors. Hawes is one of the Dales villages which are popular with bikers and the Market Place is usually lined with bikes on a Summer weekend. Probably Hawes best known attraction is the Wensleydale Creamery, made famous after being mentioned in the animated Wallace and Grommit films, which is now open to visitors so that they can see the famous Wensleydale cheese being made and sample the end product in the café.
Follow the A684 from Hawes towards the hamlet of Appersett, and here look for a right turn to Hardraw.
Hardraw is a small village in Wensleydale, most famous for its waterfall, Hardraw Force, which is accessed for a small charge via the bar of the 13th century Green Dragon Inn in the village. The falls are situated in Hardraw scaur which is a wooded ravine just North of the village, and with a single 100 foot drop are reputedly the highest waterfalls above ground in England. Just below the falls is a natural limestone amphitheatre which is the location for a well known brass band contest held every September. The Green Dragon Inn also hosts a yearly folk festival – the Hardraw Gathering.
Pass the Green Dragon and follow the road, Bellow Hill out of the village. The road climbs then drops to a road sign for Simonstone and a campsite. Turn left here. The road climbs steadily, arriving almost immediately at the cottages of Simonstone, location of Simonstone Hall, which is now a country house hotel. The road rises and bends and you’re afforded the first glimpses of the surrounding hills. After passing over a cattle grid, the road narrows and you’re driving through a wild landscape of stunning moorland vistas as you approach Buttertubs Pass.
The Buttertubs Pass is a high road climbing from Simonstone near Hardraw and Hawes in Wensleydale to Thwaite in Swaledale. The 6 mile drive takes around 10 minutes of straight driving but it’s likely you’ll want to stop and take in the scenery. TV Presenter Jeremy Clarkson’s described it as “England’s only truly spectacular road”.(That was before his infamous punch-up at the Simonstone Hotel at the foot of the pass!) The name come from the 20 metre deep limestone potholes called the Buttertubs which the road passes. Rumour has it that the name came from the time when farmers would rest there on their way to market. During hot weather they would lower their dairy produce into the potholes to keep it cool. The road is in good condition though can become slippery in wet weather. You are high up and enjoy great views but there are only a few sections with sheer drops and these are well protected by barriers. It’s popular with motor cyclists and cyclists and featured as one of two King of the Mountains climbs in Stage One of the 2014 Tour de France.
After crossing another cattle grid the road begins to drop, with some iconic views as the road snakes along the pass, before starting its descent into the Swale valley below. There are a couple of stopping places here, which is good as it’s likely you’ll want to stop and take some pictures. The road drops down into the valley before arriving at a T Junction, on the B6270 near Thwaite.
Thwaite is a tiny settlement 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.
You may want to visit the small village of Thwaite , but after this our route heads in the opposite direction, along the B6270 to the Swaledale villages of Muker and Gunnerside.
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 whicker 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 team room, woollen clothing shop and craft shop and gallery which is well know for having a stuffed sheep on its roof!
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 villages 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,
Carry on along the scenic route of the B6270 as it heads through the heart of Swaledale, and the tiny stone cottaged hamlets of Low Row, Feetham and Healaugh, with maybe a diversion off the main road to the intriguingly named settlement of Crackpot with its remote and ruined 17th century farmstead, Crackpot Hall. Eventually the road arrives at Reeth, and around a mile further on, Grinton.
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.
Grinton is a small village in Swaledale, situated 11 miles west of Richmond on the B6270 road. Its church, St Andrews is sometimes called “The Cathedral of the Dales” as, for centuries, it was the only church for the whole of upper Swaledale, with many burials coming from miles away along what became known as the Corpse Way. The wealthy could use horse and carts to transport bodies but the poor would have to carry the dead on their shoulders in wicker coffins. At intervals on the trail long flat rocks were either placed or made to lay the coffin down so that the pallbearers could take a well earned rest, and some of these may still be visible along the Corpse Way today. Fragments of the original Norman church remain, including the font and the tower arch, with some additions from the late 13th or early 14th century, but St Andrew’s now dates mainly from the 15th century. Grinton has an 18th century arched stone bridge crossing the River Swale alongside which is a pub, The Bridge Inn, parts of which date to the 15th century.
At Grinton, the road passes over the river Swale via the above mentioned bridge. On the bend, opposite the pub is a right turn, signposted Redmire, 5 Miles. Take this road which rises as it becomes a pleasant tree lined lane. The road begins to climb and crosses a cattle grid (watch out for wandering sheep here), after about 50 yards, look out for a right turn towards Redmire. Take this road which begins to climb through moorland. To the left is the turreted Grinton Lodge, built in 1817 as a hunting lodge, but used as a Youth Hostel since 1948. As you begin to climb, look back for fine views across Swaledale with the cottages of Reeth in the distance. The narrow, single track road now travels through a lonely, often bleak moorland landscape, unchanged for thousands of years. After crossing a cattle grid, the road begins to drop and the hills and valleys of Wensleydale open up before you. The roads descends through woodland. Look out for a small unmarked road (East Lane) on the right. Follow this tiny lane as it wends its way through trees, and across a River before arriving at Castle Bolton.
Castle Bolton which takes its name from the imposing Castle which overlooks its village green. The castle was built between 1378 and 1399 by Richard le Scrope, 1st Baron Scrope of Bolton and Chancellor of England. The castle is where Mary Queen of Scots was held after her defeat in Scotland at the Battle of Langside in 1568. She fled to England, posing a threat to the position of the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I. She stayed at the Castle for 6 months and was allowed to wander the surrounding area and often went hunting. Whilst there she learnt English, as she only spoke French, Latin and the Scots language. Mary left Bolton Castle in 1569 and was taken to Tutbury in Staffordshire where she spent much of the 18 years before her execution in 1587. The castle is currently owned by Harry, the eighth Lord Bolton, who lives at nearby Bolton Hall, built in 1675. Bolton Castle is open to the public and has a maze, herb garden, wild flower meadow, rose garden and a vineyard on the site. Is an imposing site from many vantage points across Wensleydale and good views are afforded from the minor road running parallel to the A684 between Newbiggin and Carperby.
Follow the road as it bends to the left of the Castle and through farmland to arrive at a T Junction. Turn right here and follow the good, two lane road towards Carperby.
Carperby in Wensleydale is famous for its 7 stepped cross dated 1674, which was once the cross in the village’s market square. The village is spread along the minor road running parallel to the A684 and is within easy walking distance to nearby Aysgarth. The village has 2 wells but only one, St James’ is still a source of water. St Matthew’s well near the village green, with elaborate stone surrounds dated 1867, ceased to provide water in 1975. The pub has no shop, but has pub, The Wheatsheaf, which is where James Herriott (the pen name of James Alfred Wight) the vet and author, spent his honeymoon in 1941.
Follow the road from Carperby through farmland, with occasional good views of Castle Bolton back in the direction you’ve travelled from. A filling station on the road indicates a turn off to the left lead to Woodhall.Continue to follow the straight, two lane road. It eventually bends to the left with a right turn to Newbiggin (not to be confused with the village of the same name off the B6160 in Bishopdale). Follow the main road, ignoring the turn off to Worton until it arrives at Askrigg.
Askrigg is a village of around 563 inhabitants in Wensleydale, around 5 miles East of Hawes. The name Askrigg is of Old Norse origin, consisting of the combination of askr (ash tree) and hryggr (ridge), meaning the ridge where ash trees grew, denoting the existence of Viking settlers though the village was probably settled as early as the Iron Age. By the 15th century the area around the village would have been used as grazing land. Askrigg was granted a Charter for a weekly market by Elizabeth I in 1587 for the holding of a weekly market on Thursday, and of fairs in spring, summer and autumn. By the 18th century the main trade in the village was textile manufacturing but it also had a reputation for clock making. Askrigg was the home of the Wensleydale Metcalfe family who lived at nearby Nappa Hall. Mary, Queen of Scots, was once imprisoned in the house, possibly before she was moved to Castle Bolton further down the dale. The village has a market cross which was erected in 1830. There was also a toll bar in the market place to collect payments from stallholders and an iron bull ring set into the cobbles. This would be used to secure a bull which would then be attacked by dogs in a macabre sporting spectacle. There are two pubs in the village -the Crown Inn, known under this name since the 1850s though there has been an inn at this site since the late 18th century. The other pub, the Kings Arms, was built in 1767 as a coaching inn by John Pratt, a local who was also a famous jockey. The village once had a railway station that was part of the Hawes Branch of the North Eastern Railway from its opening in 1878 to its closure in 1954.The Wensleydale Railway Association plans to rebuild the railway from Northallerton to Garsdale and re-open Askrigg station, amongst others. Askrigg was the setting of the 1970’s TV show All creatures Great and Small –One of the many 18th and 19th century houses in the village became Skelldale House – home of the fictional Dales vet James Herriot, whilst the King’s Arms became the setting for the Drover’s Inn.
Carry on along the road, ignoring the left turn signposted Bainbridge. The road becomes single track passing through some nice countryside, bordered by dry stone walls and with good views down the valley as it runs parallel to the River Ure over to the left. Eventually the road straightens with a delightful run between pastures and some great views to be enjoyed as the road heads towards Sedbusk –a hamlet of 30 or so stone cottages set back on the fell above the road.
Follow the road beneath a tree lined canopy, looking out for the left turn and sign post to Hawes. Follow this road back to Hawes.
Circular walks which can be completed in conjunction with the drive-