One of the less frequented dales, Dentdale is only 10 miles long and never more than half a mile wide. Its appeal lies in it being surrounded by high moors which on a fine day are a walker's delight.
Distance: circular walk 10 miles, linear walk 9 miles
Time: 6 or 5.5 hours
Conditions: 2 sharp climbs, up Craven Way and over Blea Moor. Inadvisable in poor weather
Refreshments: Sportsman's Inn, Ribblehead, Dent Town
OS Explorer Map OL2
Originally published: 2 July 2010
Our walk follows the ancient Craven Way out of the valley to meet the Settle-Carlisle Railway at the southern entrance to the Bleamoor Tunnel. The return crosses Blea Moor to Dent Head which is followed by an easy walk down the dale. A linear walk involving a train ride from Ribblehead to Dent Station is an alternative.
We start from the small car park at Ibbeth Peril one mile west of Cowgill on the lane to Dent Town, (GR 743865). The name refers to the nearby limestone gorge carved by the River Dee.
Cross the footbridge over the gorge and climb across one field to the lane running along the dale's south side. Turn right along the lane for about half a mile before going left on the Dales Way which follows the drive for some 100 yards up to Laithbank Farm..
Where the Dales Way turns left continue ahead over a stile on the path signed to Syke Fold. After two gates the path divides and you should bear left through a gate. At the end of the next field there is another fork. Take the path on the left over a ladder stile signed to the Craven Way and Rigg End. It's now a short climb over three more ladder stiles to the walled Craven Way where go left.
It's worth pausing for a breath here for there are eye-catching views back down to Dent and along the valley to the distant Howgills.
Our walk now follows what was once a packhorse route from Dentdale to Ingleton. It was almost certainly used too as a drove road from the 17th to the 19th centuries. It must have witnessed the passage of thousands of cattle from the north on their way to southern markets.
For half a mile or so it's a hard, stony uphill slog but after passing a sheepfold it's easier going on velvety turf which makes a distinctive track across the open moorland of Great Wold. At the top, at over 1,700ft., the reward is a breathtaking view of the Three Peaks, Pen-y-ghent in the distance, Ingleborough to its left and Whernside over your right shoulder. There's a bird's eye view, too, left, of two of the viaducts on the Settle-Carlisle Railway as it runs along the edge of Dentdale.
On the descent you may be tempted by the popular path striking off to the right up to Whernside's summit at 2,418ft. If you are persuaded then allow two hours for the return trip.
Prominent to the left, three spoilheaps from the digging of Bleamoor Tunnel pockmark the hillside. The line's other famous engineering work, the Ribblehead Viaduct, is visible a couple of miles down the valley.
At the foot of the hill the Craven Way shares the crossing of the line with an aqueduct carrying the waters of Force Gill. Good shelter is provided by the wall that separates the two.
From here there's a choice of routes. If you want to travel over one of the finest sections of the railway, inlcuding three viaducts and the tunnel then continue ahead on the lane to Ribblehead station some two miles distant. Trains run every day, (fewer on Sundays), but you should have a timetable with you. From Ribblehead travel one stop north to Dent Station at 1,150ft., and then descend the steep lane to Lea Yeat where go right for Cowgill and the starting point.
To complete the circular walk Blea Moor has to be tackled. From our bridge return a few yards and bear right on a path signed to Dent Head, 2 miles. After one stile, above the tunnel portal, go right, down across Little Dale Beck before climbing to the right of the first spoil heap. An alternative, (mapped), is to continue ahead from our bridge towards Ribblehead Station. In about 200 yards and after crossing Little Beck go left on a rough track leading up to the same spoil heap.
From here it's an easy climb on the route used by the tunnel builders. Three of the shafts are still in use today, protected by stout brick towers. As you cross the moor spare a thought for the men who built the 2,629 yards tunnel. A contemporary description of the the work in Rise Hill Tunnel near Dent Station may help. "Dimly burning candles, uncouth looking wagons standing on the rails or moving to and fro, men at the facings with their numerous lights like twinkling stars, the noise of twirling drills and the force of big hammers, the murky vapour, the chilling damp, give the thrill of more than ordinary pleasure on ascending to breathe the unpolluted mountain air".
The descent on the far side is steep especially through a plantation and then along the side of the northern portal. Dent Head Farm is soon reached with a sign reading 'These birds will do you no harm', a reference to at least one portly, inquisitive turkey swaggering about the farmyard. The path continues another 300 yards to Bridge End and the lane which threads Dentdale.
Turn left and follow the quiet lane for 2 miles downstream to Lea Yeat. It's a delightful stretch with glimpses of some of the dale's farmsteads and the constant company of the little River Dee. At Stone House where the river is crossed, look to the right for a sight of the Artengill Viaduct towering above the valley.
The Sportsman's Inn is soon reached and beyond that it's another half mile to Lea Yeat Bridge. Do not cross but follow the Dales Way through a gate on the left and continue along the riverside to Ewegales Bridge. Again stay on the same bank, following the lane left for less than a mile to the path leading down to Ibbeth Peril and the car park.