Swaledale is always a pleasure to explore at any time of the year and Reeth makes a popular starting point.
Distance: 8 miles, or 4 miles if Scabba Wath Bridge is used
Time: 4 or 2 hours
Grade: easy, no climbing, stiles mainly in first two miles
Conditions: well signed paths and tracks
OS Explorer Map OL30
Originally published: 6 May 2011
This easy 8 mile route does not scale any heights yet offers extensive views over one of Yorkshire's most exquisite valleys.
We start from the spacious green in the heart of Reeth, (GR 038993), which is surrounded by sufficient pubs and tearooms to fortify, or revitalise, any walker. Go to the wide gap in the south-west corner and pass to the left of Hudson House into Anvil Square. At the end follow a walled, tarred path for a few yards before turning left down a lane for about 100 yards.
Then bear right along the track signed to the Swing Bridge. Beyond the doctors' surgery a fine stone causeway leads to a junction. Go straight ahead here through a gate. The path is well marked and soon runs along one of Reeth's medieval cultivation lynchets which are terraced up the hillside and would once have provided crops for the village.
Ignore a path which descends to the riverside and instead stay at the same level with the right of way well marked by a series of stiles. All the way through to Healaugh the dale is dominated by the bulk of Harkerside on the south side of the river. There are also good views both back down the valley and ahead to the distant hills of upper Swaledale.
The path finishes on the tiny green by Healaugh's manor house. The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon for 'clearing in the the forest'. Go left along the narrow B 6270. Most of the houses are of the 17th and 18th centuries. As in many Swaledale settlements they are set at a variety of angles to the road which slows down the traffic and allows the walker to appreciate them.
At the far end of the houses turn right on the lane to Kearton. For the next 300 yards you are following the line of the old road up the dale which kept to the high limestone terrace on the north side and for centuries was used by itinerant packmen, officials, lead miners and people going to market. It is often referred to as the Corpse Road and was used by funeral parties who carried the coffins from the villages of the upper dale to the consecrated burial ground at Grinton. The practice ceased with the opening of a new churchyard at Muker in 1580.
After crossing Barney Beck and where the lane bears right, go left on a path signed to Robin Gate. Pass to the right of a barn in the middle of the first field and then through a gap in a wall between two fields. From here it's easy, level walking from stile to stile with a glimpse of Scabba Wath Bridge below and glorious vistas ahead that unfold with every step. It's only when you are well past the bridge that the path begins to descend gently to the house called Robin Gate on the valley road. Turn right along it. (If you wish to halve the walk then go left along the road to Scabba Wath and cross the bridge to rejoin the return route).
The road climbs through trees away from the river bank. In about 250 yards turn left on a path which curls round through the trees back to the river. The next mile and a half is a delight with the rushing Swale for company and ever changing views across the meadows to the twin villages of Feetham and Low Row perched on the valley side.
At the end of this section the path takes to a flat, but broad wall top to reach Isles Bridge, built in 1835 to replace a wooden one. Cross it and turn left. In about 300 yards the lane passes over the natural limestone staircase of Mirk Gill which must flow spectacularly after heavy rain. Just beyond, at Low House, you can hardly miss J Harker's handsome farmhouse of 1840 on the right.
Now bear left on Low Lane to follow the original unsurfaced road along the valley floor. There's no traffic to disturb the tranquillity along this two mile walled route which has survived, virtually unimproved, for 300 years. The lane is tree lined and there are rewarding glimpses of the heights of Feetham Pasture and then Calver, to the left.
At Low Whita we join a tarred lane and bear left. On the left is How Hill with a prehistoric earthwork and, a few more yards down the lane on the left there's a prominent drumlin, evidence of the glacial action which helped to create Swaledale's landscape.
Ignore the 19th century Scabba Wath Bridge and go right on the tarred lane to Grinton. In a quarter of a mile a cattle grid is crossed and in a similar distance we bear left on a path. After a gate in a high wall the path continues on a beautiful terrace above the steep wooded slopes of the Swale. The views over to Healaugh and down the dale to Fremington Edge are magnificent.
It's now easy going downstream along the river bank and past a set of robust stepping stones, part of a right of way leading across the fields to Healaugh. Ahead is the Swing Bridge, restored after the original was swept away in floods a decade ago. From it there are good views of the terraces of Reeth's medieval lynchets on the far bank.
Beyond the bridge it is an leisurely half mile back to Reeth.