The 1,500ft summit of Calver Hill stands like a sentinel guarding the approach from Swaledale into Arkengarthdale. This nine mile walk around its slopes has some of the finest views in the area. The return route along the remote Arkle Beck gives an idea of how isolated this valley must once have been.
Distance: 9 miles
Time: 6 hours minimum, but worth a whole day
Conditions: firm surface
Refreshments: Langthwaite and Reeth
Originally published: 1 April 2005
In order to cover the stiffest climb first, we start the walk in Langthwaite, the tiny capital of Arkengarthdale. In its nucleus of grey stone buildings clustered by the bridge over the beck the most noteworthy are the Red Lion inn, the house of 1695 proudly built by RH and IH, and the tiny former Primitive Methodist chapel of 1839, known as the Ranters' Chapel for the amount of noise once generated at the services.
Go down the road towards Reeth and in about 150yds go right at the first footpath signpost. From the next stile, go ahead uphill with the chimney pots of The Ghyll as a marker.
Continue beyond the house on a green track that climbs gently towards Bouldershaw House up on the hillside. Away on the right are the prominent spoil heaps of The Moulds lead mine, one of many which were part of the dale's busy industrial landscape over a century ago.
Continue past Bouldershaw up on to the quiet lane which connects the dale with Feetham in Swaledale. This was once a Drovers' track and before that a Roman road north from their fort at Bainbridge in Wensleydale. The straight alignment of the route is easily visible away to the right as it climbs over the Stang on its way to another fort at Bowes.
We go left along it through a landscape scarred with mining activity, where nature is only slowly reasserting itself.
In about haIf a mile we leave the road at Fore Gill Gate just where it begins its descent to a ford made famous in the opening sequences of All Creatures Great and Small. Go left through a gate on to a bridleway and then right in 50 yds at a fork. This takes you over the shoulder of Cringley Hill and affords panoramic views down into Swaledale's narrow valley and its spectacular field pattern, which began to develop some 400 years ago.
The well-marked track descends gradually, every step revealing new and rewarding vistas. Only the cries of lapwings and oystercatchers are likely to disturb the tranquillity of the scene.
In about a mile and a half from Fore Gill Gate, our walk joins a firm, gravel road from Nova Scotia Farm and with it the Coast-to-Coast path, from St Bees to Robin Hood's Bay, created by A Wainwright. We follow it through to Reeth.
At Thirns, it goes left up a concrete track which, past Moorcock, reverts to gravel. Continue along the slopes of Calver Hill (formerly Calva) and then through a gate to a converted farmhouse at the bottom of a field where the gravel ends.
Our way is now by a squeeze-through stile some 50 yds from the house in the left hand comer of the field. Beware of being catapulted ahead by the vicious spring on the gate of the next stile. From here the route, though unmarked, is easy to follow. Just use the bell tower of Reeth School in the distance as a marker for the stiles which come in quick succession. In the penultimate field before the school the path crosses over some very fine lynchets or cultivation terraces which date from the pre-Conquest Anglo-Saxon settlements.
Go left when you reach the B6270, passing the school which was built in 1860. The road descends into Reeth with its many facilities including the Swaledale Museum, a new national park centre, and a good selection of pubs and cafes. Once the hub for the lead mining industry, Reeth has reinvented itself as a tourist honeypot. It's worth exploring and admiring the fine houses around its busy green.
To continue our walk, follow the Richmond road down to cross Reeth Bridge, rebuilt by John Carr in 1773 after floods. It carries the main road over the Arkle Beck. Go left at the first footpath signpost just after the garage, and continue upstream on what must be one of the finest valley walks in the dales. In the first half-mile, two fields are crossed.
Just after a prominent barn marked with a white arrow, go left through a gated stile and then uphill past another barn to a bridleway. Turn left here on a gently undulating track that is well maintained, easy to follow and offers views back across to Reeth and left over the valley to brooding Calver.
In half a mile you descend through trees to the stream side and a junction. Go right on the
bridleway, ignoring the beckside path which, from personal experience, can be flooded and very muddy. Our chosen route, on the other hand, is relatively dry, much more scenic and the beck can still be heard as it ripples and rushes in its urgency to join the Swale. From Castle Farm, the path follows the 1,000ft contour level and is overshadowed by the white cliffs of Fremington Edge. Soon, the settlement of Booze in Arkengarthdale is visible nearly two miles ahead.
In half a mile, Heggs House is reached after which the route descends again to the beckside. Shortly after a gate, and a footbridge, the way divides again. Once more the recommended route is by the bridleway straight across the field, instead of the waterside path, if only to pass the picturesque buildings around Storthwaite Hall. The 18th century hall itself is clad in creeper which was the home of countless chaffinches when I passed through. Just beyond, on the left and next to a ford, are the overgrown tailings from a former smelt mill. On the other side of the stream which pours down Slei Gill, an ancient track was used to carry the refined lead to Darlington and Stockton.
The last section of the walk follows the track from Storthwaite through woods and then along the beckside back to Langthwaite.