Yorkshire Dales – Upper Wharfedale – Conistone – The Dib – Capplestone Gate – Conistone Pie round
The Yorkshire Dales is an upland area of Northern England spanning westwards from the Vale of York, over the Pennines and into Cumbria. Known mainly as The Dales it has outstanding scenery, a diversity of wildlife habitats, a rich cultural heritage and peacefulness. The Yorkshire Dales National Park, created in 1954 and one of fifteen National Parks in Britain, has over twenty main dales each with their own unique character and atmosphere. Most of the dales are named after their river or stream except Wensleydale which is named after the small village and former market town of Wensley rather than the River Ure. The Northern Dales are rugged and the Southern Dales are less remote but the dales, so beautiful, are littered and scared with ancient settlement sites, disused mineral workings, dry-stone walls and barns. The U and V shaped valleys, formed by glaciers, are mainly grazed by sheep and cattle and provides the hills for walkers and climbers and the valley bottoms for strollers and amblers.
Wharfedale is a beautiful lush green valley in the Yorkshire Dales of North Yorkshire running from north to south. It is one of the longest valleys in The Dales evolving near the villages of Cray and Buckden in Upper Wharfedale where the meandering River Wharfe and the rocky limestone outcrops, give this dale a different type of attractiveness to other dales valleys. Wharfe is a Celtic name meaning “twisting, winding”. The valley from Upper Wharfedale to Lower Wharfedale takes in some of the most prettiest and popular Dales villages, such as Starbotton, Kettlewell, Conistone, Kilnsey, Grassington, Bolton Abbey, Hebden, Ilkley, Burley-in-Wharfedale, Otley, Pool-in-Wharfedale, Arthington, Collingham before opening out into the Vale of York beyond Wetherby.
The River Wharfe for its first 15 miles heads east from its source the confluence of Oughtershaw Beck and Green Field Beck near Beckermonds in Langstrothdale. It then heads south, into Wharfedale, and south eastwards for a further 45 miles before it enters the River Ouse at Wharfe’s Mouth near Cawood. The section from the river’s source to Addingham below Grassington and Threshfield is known as Upper Wharfedale and lies in North Yorkshire and in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Below Addingham where the dale broadens and turns eastwards this section is shared between North Yorkshire and West Yorkshire which includes the towns of Ilkley, Otley and Wetherby and is known as Lower Wharfedale. The river flows through many gills and over the waterfalls of Scar Lash near Conistone, Linton Falls near Grassington and the Strid at Bolton Abbey it is also a public navigation from the weir at Tadcaster to its junction with the River Ouse and tidal from Ulleskelf.
Conistone is a small pretty village in Upper Wharfedale situated beside the River Wharfe. The village 3 miles north of Grassington is set into the limestone landscape below the hillside of Conistone Moor at 496 m. Conistone with no shop or pub is home to the long established horse and pony Trekking Centre and St. Mary’s Church. The church was built in the 11th or 12th century and probably the oldest building in the district. In 1846 it was rebuilt adding the chancel under the supervision of the Lancaster architects Sharpe and Paley who maintained its original Norman style. It is built in limestone rubble with grit stone dressings and a stone slate roof and in September 1954 was granted a Grade II listed building along with two 18th century chest tombs in the churchyard. The oak pews made by Mousey Thompson of Kilburn were installed in 1957. To the east of the village is The Dib which is a narrow dry gorge created by post glacial floodwater and leads upwards from the village green through Gurling Trough to an area of spectacular limestone scenery where Mossdale Caverns lie within Mossdale Scar.
Mossdale Caverns is a cave system where Mossdale Beck disappears below ground into the caves at Mossdale Scar. The caverns are carved from Yoredale limestone by the flow of Mossdale Beck which is the largest stream sink in England. The very challenging 6.5 mile cave system is graded V, super severe, because it involves crawling and squeezing for most of its length and the passages are narrow and often muddy, with many submerged or semi-submerged sections. The caverns can, and does, flood completely after even a small amount of rainfall. The cave system is located on private property and permission to enter the caves is no longer granted due to the tragedy that happened on 24th June 1967 when ten young cavers aged between 17 and 26 years entered the cave system. After three hours four of them decided not to continue and exited the caves. One of these four returned to the entrance shortly afterwards to find it completely flooded due to a recent rainfall swelling Mossdale Beck. Immediately realising the danger of the other six cavers inside she ran 2.5 miles across the moor to raise the alarm. When the Upper Wharfedale Fell and Cave Rescue teams arrived the high water levels prevented them access so the waters of Mossdale Beck had to be diverted away from the cave entrance by digging a trench and still the rescue operation could not begin because of the high internal water levels. It was not possible to enter the caves until the following day. The Cave Rescue teams found five of the bodies in the Far Marathon Crawls and the sixth was found the following day. The bodies were left as found and in 1971 they were buried by their colleagues from the ULSA in “The Sanctuary” a chamber in High Level Mud Caverns with the agreement of their families and concrete was poured down to seal the entrance but was later opened up again. There is a metal tablet fixed to the rocks at the safe entrance in everlasting memory from their families and is to date the single most deadly tragedy in British caving. There is also a poem in memory of the cavers written by Oliver Pratt of Grassington and is placed in the Church of St. Mary in Conistone.
The distinctive knoll of Conistone Pie situated on the Dales Way can be seen to the north east of Conistone and a climb to the top provides wonderful views of the valley and hills and Capplestone Gate is a gate opening out onto the top of Conistone Moor where also the views of the surrounding hills and Wharfedale are fantastic.
The famous Kilnsey Crag dominating the landscape to the west of Conistone is a large limestone cliff of around 170 feet with a challenging overhang of 40 foot attracting many climbers all year round. The village of Kilnsey has a pub and Kilnsey Park, another popular tourist attraction for both the young and the old, has a restaurant.
The Dales Way is an 84 mile Long Distance Footpath from Ilkley in West Yorkshire to Bowness-on-Windermere in Cumbria and passes through the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Lake District National Park. The route, being mostly along river valleys, is shorter and less strenuous than the more well known Pennine Way and Coast to Coast Walk even though the first section in Upper Wharfedale from the Watershed at Cam Houses in Langstrothdale down into Ribblesdale is very steep going, up and down. The next section follows the river valleys of Dentdale, the River Mint and River Kent before descending to the shores of Windermere.
We park at the side of the road at the stone arched Conistone Bridge and walk forwards into the village where we turn left and immediately right on a stony track and keep bearing right to go through a gate. We head forwards and walk uphill through the narrow gorge of The Dib. At the top it opens out into a valley for a short way and we go through two gates before we start to go uphill again following the track. We go through a gate and scramble up some rocks. At the top we make our way to go through a gate and turn left through another gate then turn right following the public bridleway sign for Sandy Gate. We follow the track though a gate and then between two walls and at the crossroads we turn left following the sign post for Capplestone Gate and head forwards to a tree plantation where we turn right with the trees on our left. We follow the path with the wall on our right and then bear left across the open field, Mossdale Scar and the caverns are clearly seen on the right. We go through a wall and keep heading uphill following the track to a gate (Capplestone Gate). We go over the ladder stile and turn left and head forwards with the wall on our left. When we reach a sign post we head forwards along the top, not left for Kettlewell. We go through a gate and after a short way we turn left over a stile in the wall. We now head downhill following the path with a wall on our right we go through a broken wall and keep heading downhill and through a gate in the wall on our right towards the bottom of the wood. We now turn left onto the Dales Way and keep heading forwards over the stiles and then to the left of Conistone Pie. When we get level with the outcrop of Conistone Pie we go over the stile in the wall on the left and head forwards following the path until we come to a wall. This is the top of The Dib where we came up but we turn right and follow the track, Scot Gate Lane, all the way to a tarmac road and then turn left. We visit St. Mary’s Church to view the plaque in memory to the lads that died in Mossdale Caverns then continue into Conistone and back to the bridge.
This is a moderate to hard walk on grass and stony tracks and public footpaths. There are some steep inclines and declines and one short rocky climb.
Elevation: lowest point 183.30 metres (601.38 feet) highest point 514.70 metres (1685.65 feet).
Distance and Start Point
Approx 7 miles allow 3 hours using OS map OL2, Yorkshire Dales, Southern and Western Areas.
Start Point: Conistone Bridge.
Conistone is just off the B6160 between Grassington and Kettlewell in Upper Wharfedale in the Yorkshire Dales.
Directions and Parking
From the A1 take the A61 to Ripon. At Ripon take the B6265 through Risplith and Pateley Bridge, past Hebden and Grassington. At the t-junction at Threshfield turn right onto the B6160. After about 2.5 miles Conistone is on the right just before Kilnsey.
Toilets and Refreshments
There are no public toilets, pubs or shops in Conistone. The nearest pub, the Tennant Arms, is at nearby Kilnsey. There are pubs, cafes and shops at Grassington and Kettlewell.