Wensleydale is a walker's paradise and there's nowhere better to appreciate its charms than by taking the old tracks which run along the broad limestone terraces some 300ft above the valley floor. They are little used but offer constantly changing views across the subtle grey and green landscape for which the dale is famous.
Our 10 mile walk starts from the large green in Bainbridge (GR 934902), first settled to administer the medieval Forest of Wensleydale. Leaving the Rose and Crown to your left take the road to Askrigg. In 300 yards this crosses Yore Bridge over the River Ure, built in 1793 by the York architect John Carr as an improvement for the Richmond to Lancaster turnpike of 1751.
Distance: 10 miles or 5 if bus is taken from Hawes
Time: 5 hours
Grade of walk: moderate
Conditions: well signed field paths and green lanes, three short climbs
Refreshments: Bainbridge, Hawes
OS Explorer Map OL30
Originally published: 4 October 2013
On the far side go left on a path which climbs away from the river across the old trackbed of the Wensleydale Railway. Head to the right of Yorescott farm to the Askrigg to Sedbusk road. Turn left and in 100 yards go right on a well signed path.
In some 200 yards bear right at a junction and continue uphill following an old hollow way and aiming for a ridge to the left of a small wood. You may be lucky as I was to disturb a red deer on this section but you will certainly be rewarded by panoramic views south across the dale to Addlebrough once you have reached the summit. After a gate the path drops to the pretty hamlet of Skell Gill with its clutch of 17th century houses. Go left along a narrow track.
(I've also mapped an alternative though longer route to Skell Gill using the lane signed to Helm from the Askrigg to Sedbusk road. Make sure after a stiff half mile climb that you turn left at the first junction).
From Skell Gill we follow for nearly two miles the ancient pre-turnpike road which runs on the broad limestone terrace high above the valley floor. Countless travellers used it including, in 1663, Lady Anne Clifford with a retinue of about 300, en route from her castle in Skipton to her Westmorland estates.
The track, signed to Sedbusk, soon becomes a green lane. It was also the settlement line. Four houses are passed with direct links to the main road below. At West Shaw Cote there's a small area of protected natural woodland in a tiny gill with miniature falls.
In another half mile, and where the walled lane bends to the left, go right over a wall stile and follow a well used path across fields to Litherskew. Beyond the hamlet the path continues through a succession of squeeze-through stiles protected by well sprung little gates to a small wood of sycamores and the houses of Sedbusk. All along this section there are outstanding views across the valley to Hawes and the moors beyond.
Walk ahead along the village street in the direction of Simonstone and a few yards beyond the houses go left on a path signed to Haylands Bridge. This drops sharply, crosses the Askrigg to Hardraw road and continues on a stone pavement down to join the Pennine Way by the riverside. Turn left over the bridge and follow the Way when it bears right over a field to rejoin the road on the edge of Hawes.
There are many opportunities for refreshment here. You could also halve the walk by taking the bus back to Bainbridge.
The main walk now follows the main A 684 left from the Dales Countryside Museum towards Bainbridge. Some 300 yards past the Hawes Auction Mart and almost at the end of the houses go right through a gate on a path which leads directly to Burtersett just over a mile away. The village was famous from 1860 to 1930 for its quarries which produced high quality sandstone flagstones used for pavements in many of our towns. Most quarrymen lived in surrounding villages and walked to work. The stone causeway we are following is a result of their labour and protected the pastures from the wear and tear of their boots.
Where the path forks just before the houses bear right uphill to enter the village close to the former Wesleyan chapel of 1870. Go right and then follow the lane left past a couple of welcome seats opposite the former Burtersett Institute.
Away on the hillside to the right the old quarries are readily visible under the looming hill aptly named Crag. The lane leads to Countersett (the 'sett' in both these and other villages is Norse for a summer pasture). After half a mile it climbs before crossing Horton Gill with a couple of tiny waterfalls. In another 100 yards and where the road bends to the right go left on a path, through reedy pastureland to reach Cam High Road. Turn left.
The track we now follow on a straight alignment down the valley side is some 1800 years old. Built by the Romans it connected their fort in Bainbridge with Ingleton and Lancaster. Its directness across the moors ensured its survival over the years and in the 18th century our section was used as part of the Richmond to Lancaster turnpike though this was later rerouted on easier gradients through Hawes.
Though stony it makes for easy walking and gives time to appreciate the grandeur of the scenery. After nearly a mile we reach the tarred road from Bainbridge to Contersett. If you continue ahead you will follow the line of the old road as it heads for the fort on Brough Hill just above the village. There are good views of its banks and ditches as you approach Bainbridge.
I've also mapped an alternative which is just as scenic but is mainly on footpaths. Turn right when you reach the tarred road. After a short climb you come to the riding school at Gill Edge. Turn left down the drive (there's currently no footpath sign) and in about 100 yards go left signed Bainbridge. It's an exhilarating half mile, with glimpses from on high of England's shortest river, the Bain, before a sharp descent to emerge in the village by the Corn Mill Tearoom.