East Witton to Middleham 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.
Wensleydale lies within the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the River Ure runs through the valley for 74 miles from its source at Ure Head on Abbotside Common in the Pennines into the River Ouse at Cuddy Shaw Reach near Linton-on-Ouse, North Yorkshire where the river changes its name to the River Ouse. Wensleydale is perfect walking country with many way marked footpaths and open landscapes giving spectacular scenery all year round. Wensleydale is also renowned for hill farming, rearing many types of Sheep and cattle and the meadow grass for hay and silage is vital to the system. Its industrial past was water powered mills at Gayle, Hawes, Bainbridge, Askrigg, Thoralby, West Burton and Aysgarth which were variously used to grind corn, produce textiles (wool, cotton, linen, silk and flax), generate electricity or saw wood.
East Witton is a village in Wensleydale at the mouth of Coverdale, south of Layburn. The village has a green running through the centre of its entire length. The River Ure and the River Cover run to the north of the village. The Blue Lion at East Witton was originally built as a shooting lodge and became a coaching inn around 1840. The inn was run by the same family for three generations from 1856 to 1989 until the previous landlady Bessie Fletcher died. She was well known in Wensleydale for serving beer in a jug straight from the barrel in a back room. Although there have been alterations and amendments over the years the present owners installed its first bar in the 1990’s and as the inn is a Grade II listed building the character and history of the Dales inn has been retained. Richard Whiteley OBE DL (1943 – 2005) a presenter and journalist best known for his 23 years as host to the game show Countdown lived in East Witton with his partner Kathryn Apanowicz he is also buried in the village. East Witton is featured in the British television series “All Creatures Great and Small” in the episode “The Prodigal Returns” as the home of the two Mrs Altons.
Middleham a small market town set in the beautiful countryside of Wensleydale lies on the northern side of the valley where Wensleydale and Coverdale meet. The town’s two market squares are surrounded by Georgian buildings, shops, galleries and cafes. Middleham is famous for its 12th century castle the home of King Richard III and its thriving racehorse training industry the Middleham Trainers Association. The towns first racehorse trainer was Isaac Cape in 1765 but today there are many trainers as horse racing is the number one employer and tourism the second. There are several hundred horses stabled in Middleham and can often be seen in the town or galloping across the surrounding countryside. Middleham Castle was built by Robert Fitzrandolph, 3rd lord of Middleham and Spennithorme, commencing in 1190. It was built near the site of an earlier motte and baily castle called William Hill which can be seen nearby. Even though the castle was the childhood home of King Richard III he spent little of his reign there. After the death of the king at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 the castle remained in royal hands until it was dismantled in 1646 but the keep built in the 1170’s, the 13th century chapel and the 14th century gatehouse have survived. Many of the stones of the castle were used in the buildings in the village of Middleham.
The River Ure is a typical clean river of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and is rich in wildlife, insect life and many species of birds. It flows through Wensleydale for 74 miles from its source at Ure Head on Abbotside Common to Cuddy Shaw Reach near Linton-on-Ouse where it changes name to the River Ouse. It is the only river in the Dales named after a village, the village being Wensley, rather than its river. The main tributaries of the River Ure are Bishopdale Beck and the Rivers Bain, Cover, Burn, Skell and Laver. Fishermen love the River Ure for its brown trout, grayling and it also has the nationally rare native white-clawed crayfish.
River Cover flows for 14 miles from its source in the shakes holes found between Buckden Pike and Great Whernside and joins the River Ure just south-east of Middleham. The river forms a limestone dale with ancient woodlands.
From the church we head towards East Witton and cross the main road to the green. We head forward with the green on our left to the top of the village and take the single track road. We very soon take the footpath on the right going through the gate and bear left, following the sign for Hullo Bridge, to the field corner. We go through the gate walking by the side of the stone barn. At the end of the field we go over the stile onto a track. We cross another stile and head forward following the edge of the trees. We cross over another stile into the field and head forward with the wall on our left. We go through a gateway in to the next field then follow the wall on our right then head forward past the hut on our right. We cross over a stile and immediately over a small wooden footbridge then bear slightly left to the bottom corner of the field. We go through the large gate but before we do we go through the little gate on the right to view Bill’s Seat. We continue along the top of the ridge following the yellow arrow. Hullo Bridge soon comes into view and we make our way downhill to cross the bridge then straight uphill with the wall on our right. When we get near the top we go through the gated stile and continue across the field following the arrow. At the gate we go through and turn right downhill on the gallops at the side of the road. On reaching the edge of Middleham we go through the gated stile on the right next to a green seat then turn left this is to avoid the road. We go through a gate with the remains of the old motte and baily castle on the right. We continue ahead with the castle on our left through a gate then a tiny gate onto a track. We turn left by the side of the castle into Middleham then retrace our steps back by the side of the castle going slightly uphill. Just before a metal gate across the track we turn left through a wooden gate onto a grassy path between two hedges. We are soon out into a field and we continue ahead on the flat top then slightly downhill to a track. We turn right and follow the track and when the track bears right we head straight forward between two hedges. We soon go through a gate and head straight forward going downhill to the river. We turn left and go through the gate on the right then follow the river on our right until we reach the road. We turn right past the Cover Bridge Inn go over the bridge and turn immediate right back to the river. We follow the river path for a short way then go through a gate and bear slightly right following the arrow. We go through another gate heading forward following the arrow. At the next gate we go over the stile and bear slightly right. We now keep heading forward uphill with the wall on our left until we reach East Witton. We now turn left back through the village and back to the church.
This is an easy walk on public footpaths and tracks through grass fields and some minor tarmac road. There are some gates and stiles and one steep incline and decline.
Elevation: approx lowest point 101.51m (333ft) approx highest point 183.91m (603.37ft) approx ascent 165.88m (544.23ft).
Distance and Start Point
Approx 5.8 miles allow 2 ¼ to 3 hours using OS Explorer Map OL30 and 302. This walk is done anti-clockwise.
Start point: East Witton Church or in the village.
East Witton and Middleham are in Wensleydale in the Yorkshire Dales, North Yorkshire.
Directions and Parking
Travelling from the south on the A1(M) take junction 51 then at the roundabout take the second exit onto the A684.Travelling from the north on the A1(M) take junction 51 at the roundabout take the third exit then at the next roundabout take the third exit onto the A684. At the next roundabout take the second exit towards Layburn. After passing through Constable Burton take the next left. At the crossroads cross straight over. At the main road turn left for East Witton. The village is on the right or continue round the bend to the church.
Parking: free parking next to the church (only two spaces) and the roadside in the village.
Toilets and Refreshments
There are public toilets in Middleham. For refreshments there is a pub the Blue Lion Inn at East Witton, the Cover Bridge Inn at Cover Bridge and in Middleham there is a shop and four pubs the Black Bull, the Dante’s Arms, the White Swan Hotel and Richard III. There are more shops and pubs in nearby Layburn.