Between the 17th and 19th centuries lead mining dominated Swaledale's economy. Remains of this industrial past are to be seen on any walk in the dale. Our 9 mile route explores Gunnerside Gill and Swinnergill where mining activities have left a rich legacy.
We start in Gunnerside village by the bridge over the beck (GR 952982). Opposite the King's Head take the lane signed Gunnerside Gill. In 100 yards go right through a gate on a path which passes round the former village school.
Distance: 9 miles, or 5 if you return direct from Blakethwaite
Time: 6 or 3 hours
Conditions: a couple of short ascents out of Gunnerside and Blakethwaite, uneven stony surfaces out of Gunnerside and on both sides of Swinnergill Mine
OS Explorer Map OL30
Originally published: 17 July 2015
The path continues through the most attractive Birkbeck Wood where the former hazel, birch and rowan cover is being replanted. After a scramble over a rocky section the path descends to the more open valley floor. It then heads upstream to the first evidence of lead mining, a range of curved buildings called bouse teams where the newly mined ore was stored before crushing.
The many ruins here and on the opposite side of the valley do not dominate the landscape for nature has reasserted itself in the last 100 years, the gill is clothed in green and a succession of shallow falls and an impressive rocky gorge are especially attractive. When I walked through a cuckoo called in one of the tributary valleys..
Beyond this site the path climbs away from the beck along the side of a wall on the left before reaching the extensive site of Bunting or Bunton Mine. A desolate scene has been created here by the drastic practice of hushing caused by the scouring action of water deliberately released from a series of man made dams high up the valley side. The aim of this destructive practice was to reveal the hidden veins of lead below the surface.Three hushes are visible at Bunton Mine but the process is easier to understand by looking at the scars in the landscape on the other side of the gill, all part of the the North Hush of the Lownathwaite Mines.
We continue from Bunton Mine for 200 yards to s signpost perched on the edge of the third of the mine's hushes. Here we join Wainwright's Coast to Coast trail from St Bees Head to Robin Hood's Bay. Whilst most of the thousands of walkers walk the 190 miles from west to east we follow it westwards for just over 2 miles, so you are likely to meet quite a few heavily laden hikers, no doubt pleased that they are already over half way to their destination on the North Sea coast (I passed about 10 when I surveyed our walk).
Take the path uphill from the signpost in the direction of Blakethwaite Dams and in about a quarter of a mile, at a cairn, go left downhill to Blakethwaite smelt mill, set tightly in its own tiny gorge. Here the ore from the local mines was smelted. Peat from the moors was used as fuel and was stored in the long building on our side of the gill. Over the stream the ore hearth was housed in a separate building - a row of iron supporting columns still exists. A waterwheel powered the bellows and the flow of water was controlled by two dams half a mile upstream. Climbing the hillside behind the ore hearth are the remains of a long flue which took the noxious fumes away from the mill.
Cross the beck here and go left. If you wish to shorten the walk then follow the track ahead as it climbs gently on to the moor before descending into Gunnerside some 2 and a half miles away (not mapped).
Our main walk, still on the Coast to Coast, follows the track from the bridge for some 100 yards before turning sharp right, uphill. In some 100 paces there's one acute bend to the left before the path continues very distinctively to the top of the moor. It's then marked by a series of cairns to where it joins a hard core moor access track which comes up from the left across the desolation of North Hush,
Bear right on the track, following it in some 400 yards through a gate. Entrancing views open up ahead towards Keld and the Pennines. Then, just after descending a left hand bend in the track go right on a signposted rough path which drops steeply for half a mile to the ruins of Swinnergill mill and mine perched dramatically at the head of the precipitous Swinnergill.
Just beyond the mine we cross a bridge over the beck and in a few yards leave the Coast to Coast, bearing left on a narrow path which plunges down the gill with a distant view of the River Swale way below. About half way down the path divides to avoid the even steeper drop the beck makes to the valley floor. I took the path to the left which crosses the stream and climbs the little shoulder of the hill ahead before dropping to the bridleway running close to the Swale.
Away to the right, at the foot of Swinnergill, the ruins of Beldi smelt mill by a ford, make an ideal picnic spot.
Our return route is now all downstream, following at first the rough bridleway across the river meadows for over a mile to where a path bears right to Ramps Holme footbridge. Do not cross it but continue ahead on the riverside path through meadows yellow with buttercups for nearly two miles to Ivelet Bridge, built in 1687 for £5 as a legacy of Philip Swale.
The path we use was part of the route along which coffins were carried from the villages of the upper dale to the consecrated churchyard at Grinton. Although disused after the building of Muker church in the 16th century it is still known as the Corpse Way. Tradition says that the large low flat stone by the road close to the bridge's eastern parapet was used as a temporary resting place for the coffin.
Do not cross the bridge but continue along the lane into the hamlet of Ivelet where turn right in front of the red phone box. From here a path crosses a succession of meadows with good views downstream. At one point, where the path approaches the river bank, make sure you go left, away from the river and over the last three fields into Gunnerside.