Starting in the heart of the Dales, at Kettlewell in Upper Wharfedale, this 43 mile circuit takes you through some of the Dales’ and indeed, Europe’s most spectacular scenery. You’re well off the beaten track on this drive as you experience two of the lesser visited and more remote dales, on small, quiet country lanes, with a dip into Wensleydale and a scoot along the single lane A684 which may feel like a motorway, when sandwiched between stretches of the isolated roads in Langstrothdale and Coverdale.
Kettlewell lies around 5 miles along the B6160 from Threshfield and is visible at the bottom of the valley as you follow the road along the course of the River Wharfe. It’s an ancient settlement the name is believed to come from the old Anglo Saxon word which means a bubbling spring or stream. Signs of Anglo Saxon and Roman settlements and farming methods can still be seen in terraced fields to the south of the village. The village grew around a market first held in the 13th century, but the population increased significantly at the time of the industrial revolution when it became a centre for textiles and lead mining. In 1838 Kettlewell boasted a cotton mill, three blacksmiths, two joiners, five inns, two shoemakers, a surgeon and a tailor. Today, tourism and farming are the main source of income for fulltime residents (many cottages are rented out as holiday homes). The village has 3 pubs The Racehorses, the Blue Bell and the King’s Head which all offer food and accommodation. There is an old fashioned village shop, an outdoor-pursuit shop, filling station and garage and a couple of cafes.
Follow the B6160 road north out of the village as it bends left past the Racehorses pub. Narrow in places the road follows the River Wharfe along the valley, through the hamlet of Starbotton before arriving at Buckden. This stretch of road is narrow in places, and care is needed particularly negotiating the bend in Starbotton.
Buckden is a small village on the Dales Way in Wharfedale, situated where Buckden Gill joins the River Wharfe. It has a well known pub –The Buck Inn (where ex Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey spent his honeymoon), a couple of café/restaurants and a collection of cottages. The village is at the foot of Buckden Pike – a peak that stands above the village. At 702 metres (2,303 ft), it narrowly misses out on being the highest peak in the area, the title instead going to nearby Great Whernside (704 metres). The village had a population of 184 at the last census though that includes the hamlet of Cray, which is along the road on the other side of Buckden Pike. Although the village of Buckden was founded in Norman times, the village lies on the route of the roman road from Ilkley (Olicana) to Bainbridge (Virosidum) where the Romans had a fort. The current path of the roman road, heads up through Rakes Wood towards Cray and then over Stake Moss. In the mid seventeenth century lead mining developed above Buckden, and the remnants of this can be seen at the Buckden Gavel mine on Buckden Pike. The mine was worked until 1877 when it was abandoned due to competition from cheaper imported lead. In 1964, a skeleton was found in Buckden Gavel mine. The body was never identified and was dated to around 1890 by coins and documents found on the body –perhaps a Victorian hiker who fell down the shaft and was never discovered!
At Buckden, the B6160 continues towards the A684 in Wensleydale, but this route takes the back road through the little visited Langstrothdale. Note –the road we’re taking is often closed in the winter months. Look for the road forking to the right opposite the Buck Inn, with sign for Hubberholme. This is a very narrow road, one cars width, so be prepared to stop and reverse if necessary to allow vehicles to pass. After around a mile and a half you arrive at Hubberholme (no name sign when I last drove the route.)
Hubberholme was described as ‘the smallest, pleasantest place in the world’ by the writer J.B. Priestley. (His ashes were scattered in the St Michaels churchyard) Scar House, above Hubberholme became a Quaker meeting House following a visit from George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement in 1652. There is a Quaker burial ground adjacent to the cottage, which is now owned by the National Trust and operated as a holiday cottage. Since the 18th century on the first Monday after New Year’s Day, a “parliament” has been held at the George Inn at Hubberholme – the grazing rights to a 16 acre “poor pasture” are auctioned by the Vicar, with the auction finishing when the candle on the bar burns out. This event is known as the Land Letting. The George is the last pub on the Dales Way until the Sportsman Inn at Cowgill in Cumbria.
Leaving Hubberholme, the road winds up to slightly higher ground, with the river in the valley to your right, with dry stone walls and some classic Dales scenery all around. The road eventually widens and you pass a cattle grid before arriving at the isolated settlement of Yockenthwaite.
Yockenthwaite is a tiny hamlet of a couple of farm houses in the Langstrothdale valley where a stone bridge crosses the River Wharfe. The earliest evidence of human habitation in the area dates back to the Bronze Age- a stone circle or ring cairn can be seen beside the river about 1/3 mile upstream from the bridge. The stones are generally thought to be all that remains of a pre-historic burial mound. The circle can be found on the north bank of the river, by the Dales Way a reached via a rough track from the bridge at Yockenthwaite.
From Yockenthwaite the road runs alongside the river through some delightful limestone scenery. The road is wider here with parking areas- I’ve even seen small campervans parked up here. The road passes the couple of cottages at Deepdale and heads on to Oughtershaw.
Oughtershaw is a tiny hamlet situated on the Dales Way long distance walking route. It lies on the small country road leading through the Dales from Yockenthwaite to Gayle. The village is sited on Oughtershaw Beck which runs down to Beckermonds and then merges with Greenfield Beck to become the River Wharfe.
Pass by the few cottages and 19th century chapel and continue along the tar road, with a few pot holes, rather than the track along the river. The road now starts to climb, steeply on places, and the river valley is replaced by a moorland environment. At the peak, there are spectacular views all around and numerous places to park up and enjoy this isolated place. Continue along this good, single track road as it begins to drop down into the valley, keeping an eye out for errant sheep as you proceed. Eventually, you encounter the first stone cottages of the hamlet of Gayle, the first village in Wensleydale.
Gayle is a small hamlet situated 1 mile south of Hawes, with a cluster of stone cottages built around a bridge crossing Duerlry beck. On the beck is Gayle Mill, which was built in 1784, and operated as a cotton mill and then a saw mill before closing in 1988. It was then renovated via a BBC TV Restoration programme and is now open throughout the year for tours and heritage skills training courses. Further up the beck from the bridge is an alternative method of crossing the water in the form of a ford. Gayle has a Methodist Church, constructed in 1833. A breakaway Methodist sect, associated with the Sandemanians in Scotland, was previously associated with the village, but only their graveyard remains in a quiet road alongside the chapel.
The road continues another mile down into the valley to arrive at Hawes.
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 there’s 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.
The A684 road passes through Hawes, and it’s this road we now follow with a right turn along Hawes main street and out towards Bainbridge.
Bainbridge is situated on the A684 road, close to the confluence of the River Bain with the River Ure. At around two and a half miles long, the River Bain is reputed to be the shortest river in England. The population of 480 are served by a pub, the Rose and Crown, and a small village shop with post office. The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has its headquarters in the village, and employs 120 people in total, though not all work at Head Office.
Continue along the A684 to arrive at Aysgarth.
Aysgarth is situated in Wensleydale on the A684 between West Witton and Bainbridge. It has a population of 178 people living in 100 dwellings. 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 aims to rebuild the railway from Northallerton to Garsdale, and to reopen Aysgarth station. Aysgarth’s main attraction is its series of 3 waterfalls which have cut their way through the limestone and can become a spectacular raging torrent after rain, or a more subdued affair in dry weather. The falls featured in the film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and are off the main road and down a steep hill behind the Palmer Flatt Hotel, which serves food and has accommodation. Other pub options are the Aysgarth Falls Hotel, by the falls, or the George and Dragon further along the A684.
Continue along the A684, passing the right turn to the B6160 which heads back to Kettlewell (though this is an option if you want to cut the drive short). We carry along the A684 to arrive at West Witton.
West Witton is the first village on the A684 heading West to fall within the boundaries of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and is 4 miles West of Leyburn and 15 miles East of Hawes in Wensleydale. The village is famous locally for its Guy Fawkes-like “Burning of Bartle” ceremony held on the Saturday nearest 24 August (St Bartholomew’s Day), where an effigy of “Owd Bartle”, a sheep stealer, who suffered a sticky end at the hands of irate villagers in years gone by, is paraded through the village before being burnt at Grassgill End. The village has two pubs – The Wensleydale Heifer which doubles as a boutique hotel and the Fox Hounds which also serves food and offers accommodation
Turn off the A684 at West Witton along a minor road to the right, Grassgill Lane. At the T Junction, turn left on Witton Steeps, then right where the road joins Common Lane. Follow the road through farmland to arrive at Melmerby.
Melmerby is a small hamlet in Coverdale on the road linking Kettlewell to Wensleydale. It’s at a junction in the road where one branch continues to Agglethorpe and Middleham, and another road heads North to West Witton. To the west of Melmerby the peaks of Great and Little Whernside are visible in the high dale.
Turn right at Melmerby and follow the narrow lane towards Carlton
Carlton is a tiny village in Coverdale with a population of around 120. It’s on the road between Kettlewell and Middleham and close to the River Cover. The village was home to the “Coverdale Bard”, Henry Constantine, and an inscription has been placed in his memory above the entrance to Flatts Farm. It has a pub, the Forester’s Arms, which is owned by the villagers, and a village hall. The pub dates back to the early 1800’s and is named from the Coverdale Forester’s Friendly Society, formed in 1816. Every other summer the Foresters March is still held in the village.
The road then follows the River Cover along the valley to Gammersgill where the roads starts to narrow and onto the other isolated settlements of Coverdale, Horsehouse, Braidley and the final village (no name sign when I last visited) Woodale.
Horsehouse is a remote village of around 50 inhabitants in Coverdale, with a scattering of old miner’s cottages, a post office, and a church dedicated to St Botolph, the patron saint of postmen. Until the 19th century, Horsehouse was a popular stop for huge pack horse trains with two inns offering stabling. Today there is just one remaining, the Thwaite Arms.
Braidley is a tiny hamlet in Coverdale on the road between Kettlewell and Middleham. It’s a couple of miles along the road from Woodale, which has no name sign so is the last named settlement you pass through before crossing the moors back to Wharfedale. The River Cover flows below the village and the 1984 feet peak of Little Whernside is visible from the hamlet.
After Woodale, the feeling of isolation increases as the road begins to climb up to the high moors, before dropping down again into Wharfedale. This is an incredibly scenic route and well worth the extra time taken to drive on the small winding roads, rather than take the quick route back to Kettlewell along the B6160.
5 Miles after leaving Woodale, the road arrives back in Kettlewell.
Circular walks which can be completed in conjunction with drive –