Backroads of Wharfedale and Nidderdale

Wharfedale and nidderdale driving routeThis is an opportunity to get off the beaten track and drive on some roads with no name! Apart from a couple of miles driving on the A6108 in Wensleydale, and the return leg enjoying the fine views from the B6265 between Pateley Bridge and Grassington, this route is completely driven on minor roads. It’s around 85 KM, just over 50 miles and many of the roads are very narrow so expect to be doing no more than 20 MPH on them. I would anticipate the drive taking the best part of 3 hours with a couple of short stops. There are a couple of stretches of road which give the feeling of travelling through a totally wild stretch of the Dales with no settlements at all and just the odd wandering sheep for company. This drive offers some of the best scenery in Wharfedale and Nidderdale and some idyllic and peaceful villages, plus some of the Dales most popular locations in Grassington and Kettlewell. It’s not a drive to be undertaken in a hurry (nor in a wide vehicle!), but offers a great opportunity to spend half a day experiencing the delights of some of the less travelled roads in Yorkshire.

For some unique photographic perspectives of the Dales and villages covered by this drive , have a look at our sister website-

Start at Grassington 

Grassington could be classed as a large village or small town. It was granted a Royal Charter for a market and fair in 1282 giving it market town status. The market was held regularly until about 1860. It’s situated in the heart of Wharfedale and, along with nearby Burnsall, is one of the locations best known to visitors from the big Cities to the South.grassington main street Grassington grew as a village in the 17 Century when it became an important centre for lead mining. Evidence of its mining heritage can be seen on the moors high above the village near Yarnbury with the signposted Grassington Moor leadmining trail. Visiting on a cold day gives a hint of the harsh conditions the miners had to cope with. Grassington was the unlikely location for an 18th century murder mystery.  In 1766 Dr Richard Petty was murdered at Grass Wood near Grassington. There is a good deal of intrigue around what actually happened but it seems that the Grassington Blacksmith Tom Lee shot the doctor as he returned from a cock fight at Kettlewell, in order to steal his winnings . Lee was a publican and sometime Blacksmith and his blacksmiths workshop or ‘smidy’ is marked today by a plaque in the village. Lee was originally acquitted of the murder but re-tried and hanged at York . His body was left suspended at Grass Wood in an iron gibbet until it decomposed and the bones fell to the ground. Not surprisingly, Lee’s ghost is said to roam Grass Wood to this day! The arrival of the Yorkshire Dales railway at nearby Threshfield in 1901 gave easier access to Grassington for visitors from the industrial Cities and it became a popular day trip excursion. Today it remains one of the main tourist centres of the Dales with numerous shops, cafes and pubs.

Watching cricket at Grassington

Watching cricket at Grassington

It is also home to Grassington Folk Museum houses a collection which tells the story of Wharfedale.  Grassington holds a yearly 2 week long summer festival encompassing music, performance and visual arts, held in a variety of venues around the village. In the winter Grassington hosts a Dickensian Festival when the townspeople and visitors don Dickensian costumes and take part in festive gaslit Christmas festivities. There are numerous walks in the area and Grassington is a good base to explore Wharfedale from.

From Grassingtons main Street  enter the B6265 heading towards the river and Threshfield. Instead of following the road, take the first road on the right, Grass Wood Lane,with a warning sign saying the road is unsuitable for buses and lorries. This pleasant lane leads past a visitor car park and the Upper Wharfedale cricket club. The road passes Grass Wood with the River Wharfe on the right. It’s possible to see the B6160 road from Threshfield to Kettlewell at the other side of the river. After a mile or so, Kilnsey Crag comes into view on the left by the B6160. The road becomes very narrow at this point with room for only one car. There are only a few passing places so be prepared to reverse if you meet an oncoming vehicle. 

Kilnsey is a small village on the B6160 road, between Threshfield and Kettlewell. The village is famous for its large limestone cliff, Kilnsey Crag, overlooking the road and the River Wharfe from the west. The Crag is around 170 feet high, with an overhang of 40 feet and is popular with climbers who can usually be seen dangling precariously as you pass along the road under the cliff. The village is set back off the road, behind the Tennant Arms pub, a 17 century coaching inn. Through the village, the road climbs to become Mastilles Lane which was a Roman Road and later a medieval drover’s route leading to Malham Tarn in the West.  Walkers are afforded fine views of the village, the lakes of its trout farm and the surrounding countryside from a gate above the village where the road becomes a track. The Old Hall in Kilnsey was a medieval administrative site for the wool trade. Most of the present building dates from 1658. Kilnsey hosts a well know agricultural show on the Tuesday after August Bank Holiday  It is one of the larger agricultural shows in the North of England and it attracts visitors from throughout the Dales and way beyond. 

The narrow lane eventually arrives in Conistone.  

Conistone is a tiny settlement of just over 100 inhabitants, 3 miles North of Grassington and a mile from Kilnsey at the other side of the river. In Tudor times the villages were combined and known as Conyston cum Kylnesey. conistoneToday, the two villages are joined to form the Conistone with Kilnsey Parish and residents meet twice a year to deal with matters affecting the local community. Conistone is set in the heart of Wharfedale’s limestone country, and the hamlet boasts a number of natural attractions close by including the gorge at Conistone Dib and the limestone outcrop of Conistone Pie. The Mossdale Caverns cave system is also East of the village. This was the scene of a tragedy in June 1967 when 6 young cavers died after rainfall flooded Mossdale Beck. It remains the largest loss of life in a British caving accident. The parish church of Conistone, St Mary’s, dates from the 11th or 12th century, and is a Grade II listed building.

Don’t follow the sign post left to Kettlewell.conistone to kettlewell road Instead take the unsignposted road to the right. This is another tiny lane- you will be travelling at no more than 15 MPH along this road, but it’s a lovely country road, untraveled by most visitors who speed along the B6160.Eventually you arrive in Kettlewell. 

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. kettlewell 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.

You will arrive in Kettlewell by the village maypole. kettlewell 1Turn right here towards the church, and turn left over the stone bridge next to the Kings Head pub. You will see the village store on the left. Turn right opposite the store. The road climbs steeply with a 1:4 gradient, signposted Leyburn. Stop as the road climbs for an excellent view of Kettlewell from above.

After the initial steep stretch, the road levels out and threads along a stunning limestone valley with rolling hills and dry stone walls in all directions –classic Dales scenery!

kettlewell to woodalekettlewell to woodale 2

The road climbs before summiting after around 2 miles at a sign saying ‘Welcome to Richmondshire’. It continues along a flat plateau which gives the feeling of being in very wild country, miles from civilisation –especially in bad weather. The single track road then begins to descend into the valley with wandering sheep, and wild flowers in late summer. Eventually the River Cover appears on the left, which is crossed via an isolated stone bridge.

Around 5 miles after leaving Kettlewell, you reach the first village in Coverdale- Woodale (though there was no sign to tell you where you were when I last drove the road!). Follow the road with the River Cover now on the right in the valley below. 1 Mile after Woodale you will arrive at Braidley.

 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 first named settlement you come across after crossing the moors from Wharfedale. The River Cover flows below the village and the 1984 feet peak of Little Whernside is visible from the hamlet.

After another mile you will arrive at Horsehouse. Average speed along this road is likely to be no more than 30 MPH.

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.

After Horsehouse the lane widens as it passes through meadows and farmland – the countryside now feels more inhabited and less wild than it did a few miles back. The road then arrives at the hamlet of Gammersgill with its picturesque old cottages. Just before Carlton there is a right turn leading to West Scrafton.Alternatively it’s possible to carry on to Melmerby and Agglethorpe before turning right to Coverham and the A6108 at either Middleham or East Witton.

Agglethorpe is a small hamlet in Coverdale. It’s the site of Agglethorpe Hall, a grade II listed building originally built in the 17th century and rebuilt in the 19th century. It isn’t open to the public.

East Witton is a small village on the A6108, set around a village green. The remains of the 12th century Jervaulx Abbey lie close to the village. The Cistercian monks of Byland Abbey in Ryedale erected a new church and monastery on the current site in 1156, dedicated to St Mary. The abbey eventually owned half of the valley and was renowned for breeding horses, a tradition that remains in the area to the present day, particularly at neighbouring Middleham.

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.

Middleham is an historic Dales town in Wensleydale, on a hillside between the River Cover and the River Ure, 2 miles from Leyburn on the A6108.  It’s famous for its ruined castle, which was King Richard III’s childhood home and its horse racing stables. The area was first settled by the Romans. A branch road from the Great North Road passed through Middleham to Bainbridge and the Romans built a guard station to control traffic on the River Ure close to the town. Construction of the castle began in 1190.  In 1462, the 10 year old future King Richard III came there to the home of his cousin, the 16th Earl of Warwick, to learn the skills of Knighthood. The castle is now a ruin after having been dismantled in 1646, but a number of remnants of the past have been unearthed near the castle by metal detector enthusiasts, including jewellery bearing Royal crests and the ‘Middleham jewel’ which was eventually sold for £2.5m .The town was granted a charter to hold a weekly market in 1389 and the town still has two market places. The larger, lower market is dominated by a mediaeval cross. The upper, or swine market, centres on the remains of a 15th-century market cross and a line of steps. The growth of the racing industry in Georgian times saw the rebuilding of much of Middleham and the establishment of the first recorded racehorse trainer, Isaac Cape around 1765.  Race meetings were held regularly on the High Moor above town during the 18th Century and it’s from this era that most of the buildings originate. Today a number of racing stables exist around the town and on most mornings the market square echoes to the sound of hooves as jockeys take their mounts to exercise on the hills around the town. Middleham has a number of accommodation and eating options and 4 pubs- The Black Swan, The White Swan, The Black Bull and Richard III.

These roads are all tiny country lanes –rather than try and follow a route I recommend you just pick one, enjoy the fantastic scenery,  and attractions like the Forbidden corner and make your way towards the A6108 road.

The Forbidden Corner is a unique 4 acre garden filled with tunnels, follies, caves and grottos in the grounds of Tupgill Park estate. It was set up as the private garden of Mr C.R.Armstrong O.B.E and was opened to the public in 1994.

Follow the A6108 – Just past the Blue Lion pub at East Witton, you will see the car park for Jervaulx Abbey. Look out for a right turn here with a partly obscured sign indicating Healey and Masham to the right. Follow this road uphill through farmland until you reach a cross roads at the duck pond at Ellingstring. Turn right here. 

Ellingstring is a small hamlet in Wensleydale and is within the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The village comprises of around 25 stone houses and a couple of farms. It’s set in tranquil farmland just off the A6108 road (travelling South from East Witton, the turn off is just after the Jervaulx Abbey car park and is quite hard to spot). The village is reached via small country lanes and is off the road. It’s reached by a left turn at the cross roads which is the site of one of the village duck ponds.

You arrive at a T Junction near the village of Healey. Turn right here.


Healey is a one street village around 3 miles from Masham in Nidderdale close to Leighton reservoir and on the road from Lofthouse. It’s around half a mile north of the River Burn, whose valley provides wide, open views from the village. There are a number of historic buildings in the village with 5 achieving Grade 2 listed building status. These include a Barn at Firs Farm that was originally a Chapel of Fountains Abbey in the 16th Century and the corn mill which was built in 1756, and is now holiday accommodation. 

This road leads over the moors of Nidderdale through a harsh landscape of heather and wandering, hardy moorland sheep. You’ll pass the reservoir at Leighton on a good road with little traffic. As with the journey from Kettlewell to Coverdale, you’ll again feel that you’re driving in a wild environment which hasn’t changed for hundreds of years. Eventually arrive at Lofthouse.


Lofthouse is a small village about a mile south of Middlesmoor and 5 miles North of Pateley Bridge. It has a primary school, memorial village hall, post office and pub, The Crown Hotel. There’s also Lofthouse dairy on the right as you drop down into the village which serves some of the best ice cream in the world! The village has an unusual memorial fountain dedicated to the memory of men of the village who lost their lives in the 1st World War. Just outside the village is the cricket ground which is one of the most picturesque in the Dales, sited at the foot of the hill leading to Middlesmoor with its church perched high above. Lofthouse was once a station stop for the Nidd Valley Light Railway. The railway’s primary purpose was to carry goods, materials and labour to construction sites 6 miles further up the Nidd valley, where two large reservoirs were built at Angram (1904-1919) and Scar House (1921-1936).  However, Lofthouse was the passenger terminus for the line, which was opened in 1907, closed to passengers on the last day of 1929, and was closed completely in 1937. The station buildings can still be seen, now converted into a house on the left as you drive into the village, and the layout of the line can be seen stretching back through the fields towards Pateley Bridge. 

From Lofthouse follow the only road out of the village eventually arriving at Gouthwaite Reservoir.

Gouthwaite reservoir is popular with bird watchers who can admire the avian wildlife from 3 designated areas. The reservoir was completed in 1901 at the expense of the Elizabethan manor house of Gouthwaite Hall, which was submerged beneath the reservoir.

The narrow, mostly two lane road continues through Ramsgill 

Ramsgill is a tiny village in Nidderdale, on the road between Pateley Bridge and Lofthouse. It’s a collection of a few stone cottages and a church, St Mary the Virgin, built in 1843, set around an attractive Village Green. The majority of the cottages were built in the 19th century although the Byland Abbey monks had their principle grange and a small chapel here, now a listed building and in ruins in the grounds of the church.  The village is famous for its pub, The Yorke Arms, an 18th century coaching house and shooting lodge, now serving as a Michelin starred restaurant with accommodation available. 

The road then arrives at Pateley Bridge. 

Pateley Bridge is a small market town with a population of around 2000, situated in a valley on the River Nidd. The name Pateley was first recorded in as Patleiagate with Pateley coming from the Old English meaning “woodland clearing of the paths”, referring to paths up Nidderdale and to Craven which intersected here. Until 1964, Pateley was the terminus of the railway line running up Nidderdale from Nidd Valley Junction, near Harrogate. Between 1907 and 1937, the Nidd Valley Light Railway ran to Lofthouse and onto the reservoirs of Angram and Scar House further up the dale. The town is the site of the Nidderdale museum which is located in the original Victorian workhouse and covers all aspects of life in the dale.  Pateley Bridge is the starting and finishing point on the Nidderdale way, a circular route which covers 53 miles, looping around the Nidd Valley. It’s also a convenient location to visit nearby attractions such as Brimham Rocks, Stump Cross Caverns and How Stean Gorge. Since 1319, Pateley has also hosted one of the largest agricultural shows in the UK. Known as Nidderdale Agricultural Show, Pateley Show, the Nidderdale Rant or Pateley Feast, the show is held in September and attracts visitors from all over the country. Pateley  has two pubs , The Royal Oak and the Crown (Nidderdale doesn’t have the most imaginative pub names – Pateley and neighbouring Lofthouse and Middlesmoor all have a ‘Crown’,) a couple of restaurants and B+Bs and a caravan site by the river.

Arriving in Pateley Bridge by the petrol station, turn right up the steep hill along the B6265. After a few miles, with some fantastic views to the right, the road passes through Greenhow. 

Greenhow is one of the highest villages in Yorkshire, at an altitude of between 400 and 420 metres (1,300 and 1,380 ft), and one of the few villages in the United Kingdom lying at over 400 metres. It’s situated on the B6265 road between Pateley Bridge and Grassington and is at the end of the unnamed 8 mile road linking the A59 with the B6265.  The first recorded settlement of the site was by the monks of Fountains Abbey, who were the first to mine lead in the area. Sir Stephen Proctor bought the Manor of Bewerley, including the mineral rights in 1597, and founded the current village Joseph Kipling, the grandfather of Rudyard Kipling was the minister at the Methodist Chapel at Greenhow and Rudyard himself is known to have visited the village though it’s unclear whether the family home was situated on the site of Kipling’s Cottage which is currently a house in the village near the Miners Arms. To the east of the village is Coldstones Quarry, operated by Hanson. A large public artwork, The Coldstones Cut, has been created by the artist Andrew Sabin, and was opened in 2010 and affords great views of the surrounding area.

 The B6265 then continues over high moorland, affording great views of the surrounding countryside before passing Stump Cross Caverns. 

The limestone caves at Stump Cross are located beneath Greenhow hill, 1275 metres above sea level on the B6265 road from Pateley Bridge to Grassington. Their name was taken from Stump Cross, which in ancient times marked the limit of Knaresborough Forest. One mile of the caves are open to the public but the entire system extends more than 4 miles and has not yet been fully explored. The caves were formed around half a million years ago but were only discovered in 1860 by lead miners from nearby Greenhow. Inside one of the first caves explored were the whole skeletons of reindeer, wolverines and bison which had been trapped in the caves thousands of years before. The area around the caves and particularly the road towards Greenhow are reputedly haunted and many people claim to have heard the sound of ghostly clogs of ancient minders tap tapping their way home on the windswept road on a dark night. Today the caves are owned by the Bowerman family, who also part-own the Richmond Brewery Company, which in 2008 released an ale named after Stump Cross. They are designated as a site of special scientific interest and are open to the public every day in Summer and at weekends in Winter.

The road then drops down into the valley by Dibbles Bridge 

Dibbles Bridge is a stone bridge on the B6265, on a steep bend, at the foot of a 1:6 gradient Fancarl Top. On 27 May 1975 the bridge was the scene of a horrific accident when a bus full of pensioners from Teesside, en route for Grassington, failed to negotiate the gradient and severe bend in the road and crashed through the bridge, landing on its roof in the beck below. Thirty-one elderly passengers and the driver were killed, and thirteen others injured. It remains one of the worst-ever road accident in the United Kingdom by number of people killed.

Follow the road as it climbs and eventually arrives at Hebden. 

Hebden is a small village on the B6265 road between Grassington and Pateley Bridge. In 2001 it had a population of 216 and 133 dwellings. Hebden has a church, a chapel, a hotel and a pub- The Clarendon Hotel, a tea room, a community hall, a post-office and general store. The main road crosses a stone bridge over Hebden Gill, built in 1827. Main Street, forming the high street for the village, continues south as Mill Lane, towards the bank of the River Wharfe .The road to the north runs to the small hamlet of Hole Bottom, location of some stone holiday cottages situated in an idyllic location. From there the route continues as a track onto Grassington Moor, with the remains of an old lead smelting works still visible high on the moor and affording great views over the surrounding countryside. Lead mining and Cotton milling were important industries for the village and from the early 19th century Hebden served as a dormitory village for the miners, helping the population rise to over 500 in the 1830s. As a result of the success of the mines a number of the mine owners were involved in the promotion of the Grassington to Pateley Bridge turnpike road, which was begun in 1760 and was to provide an all-weather route across the moors for wagons. Green Terrace, which includes the Post Office, was built in the 1870s, and Main Street was transformed from a humble back lane into the high street. The village school, with working clock and bell tower, was built by the community in 1874,and the community hall, was completed in 1903.The accessible ore was largely exhausted by the late 1800s, and the population steadily declined and has now reverted to its sleepy roots, with many visitors whizzing through on the main road, therefore missing the gold post box outside the post office, installed to commemorate the 2012 Olympic Games rowing gold medal won by Andrew Triggs Hodge, who grew up in the village.

The B6265 then continues back to where you started the drive at Grassington.

Circular walks which can be completed in conjunction with the drive –

Grassington to Hebden

Kettlewell to Arncliffe

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