The Buttertubs via Great Shunner Fell from Thwaite round

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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.

Swaledale is a very beautiful and typical limestone Yorkshire Dale with a narrow valley bottom road, the unpredictable River Swale, green meadows, fell side fields, white stone walls, limestone barns and lots of sheep. It runs broadly from west to east from the high moors of the Cumbria–Yorkshire boundary at the watershed of Northern England, where Nine Standards Rigg rises, to the market town of Richmond. A number of small dales to the south of the rigg join to form the narrow valley of Upper Swaledale at the small village of Keld then at the village of Thwaite the valley slowly broadens out to take in the villages of Muker, Gunnerside and Reeth before reaching Richmond. Swaledale is home to many types of flora and fauna. Over the last few years the national park has been restoring 495 acres of upland and lowland to bring the traditional hay meadows back to their former glory, as part of the Hay Time Project. The process of not cutting the grass for hay or silage until wild plants have seeded provides a profusion of wild flowers in the spring and summer. Tourism has become very important in Swaledale attracting thousands of visitors a year especially with walkers as The Coast to Coast Walk passes through the valley and there are many public rights of way and open access land for all the family to explore and enjoy in this wonderful dale of Swaledale.

The River Swale is a major tributary of the River Ure which itself becomes the River Ouse and empties into the North Sea via the Humber Estuary. The river is one of the fastest rising spate rivers in England and can rise 3 metres in 20 minutes. The river is constantly changing its course and for centuries people have been trying to control the flooding that regularly occurs but the lead mining and the draining of the moorland has not helped. A traveller in the 1700’s wrote “the Swale rusheth rather than runneth”.

Thwaite is an unspoilt pretty hamlet of stone buildings, farms and cottages set in the heart of the beautiful dale of Swaledale in the North Yorkshire Dales. It lies in the district of Richmondshire and the civil parish of Muker, surrounded by the hills of Upper Swaledale with the lovely Thwaite Beck flowing through its centre. The village was the home and birthplace of Richard and Cherry Kearton who were pioneers in wildlife photography at the end of the 19th century and their name lives on in the historic Kearton Country Hotel and Tea Rooms situated in the village centre. The hotel is an ideal place to stay from which to explore Upper Swaledale and if you are just visiting their tea rooms serve wholesome food, cream teas, coffee and famous mochas along with homemade cakes and ginger biscuits.

Muker is another unspoilt pretty village of stone buildings and nestles on the north bank of Straw Beck. The village houses a pub The Farmers Arms which boasts what a real pub should be still retaining its unspoilt charm serving good beer and hearty wholesome food. Muker also has a village shop as well as craft shops and a cafe. Originally the vicarage, the Muker village tea shop and en-suite B&B was built in 1680 and like the village pub it has retained much of its Olde Worlde charm. The flower rich hay meadows in the area are carefully protected and the farmers receive grants which allow them to farm the land by traditional methods, without using artificial fertilizers. Agriculture was the main economy until lead mining became more important during the late 18th century and early 19th century. It was also a major centre for hand knitting. Today the main economy is woollen clothing, sheep farming and tourism. Muker is featured in the TV series “All Creatures Great and Small” in the episode “Hampered” as the venue for the Darrowby Flower Show. Thwaite and Muker are perfect destinations for walkers, cyclists and those who wish to tour the dales by car or motorcycle. Muker is a popular starting point for a variety of walks with breathtaking views and is where both the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast walks meet.

Great Shunner Fell at 716 metres is the third highest mountain in the Yorkshire Dales and the highest point in Wensleydale it is also the highest of the fells bordering Swaledale and Wensleydale. Over the years due to the fell being very popular with walkers erosion has taken place across the moorland. Most of the path, the Pennine Way, which passes over its summit on its way from Hawes to Keld, has now been paved with flagstones to prevent further erosion of the peat. The summit is marked by a plus shaped windbreak with seats and the triangulation pillar has been built into the northern arm. The area is mainly limestone but millstone grit forms many outcrops on the fell and coal seams have also been worked on its slopes. Great Shunner Fell is the most southerly remaining place in Great Britain for the yellow marsh saxifrage or bog saxifrage which is a perennial herb with yellow flowers and red stem with a height ranging from 5cm to 30cm and grows on boggy landscapes.

The Buttertubs Pass is a spectacular high mountain road that winds its way south from Thwaite and Muker in Swaledale to Simonstone near Hawes in Wensleydale. The pass is so called because near its summit the road passes a group of fluted 20 metre deep limestone potholes which are known as The Buttertubs. Theory is that the name of the potholes came from the times when farmers would rest there on their way to market and in hot weather they would lower the butter they had produced into the potholes to keep it cool. The Buttertubs Pass is known as a challenging cycle climb and was included in Stage One of the 2014 Tour de France.
The Pennine Way often referred to as the back bone of England is 267 miles long and heads north passing through the Yorkshire Dales and the Northumberland National Park ending at Kirk Yetholm just inside the Scottish Border. The Old Naggs Head at Grindsbrook Booth, once the village blacksmiths, is the official start of the Pennine Way.

The Walk

From the side of the road we walk through to the end of village and take the first footpath on the left going through the gate, sign posted Great Shunner Fell three and a third miles, and follow the footpath by the side of the beck to a stone barn. We go through the gate stile to the right of the barn into a field. We head straight forward to go over a stile in the next wall, we cross over the field to go over another stile in the next wall onto a track. We turn left and keep following the track, the Pennine Way, between the walls. At the end of the track we head forwards following the stone path still on the Pennine Way passing a spoil heap to a cairn. The path now becomes grassy and we head downhill a short way then start going uphill. The path becomes a stone path again we head towards the pillar cairn on top of a hill. We follow a number of small cairns to reach a gate and just beyond the gate is a plus shaped shelter with some seats this is the summit of Great Shunner Fell. After going through the gate we turn left and follow the fence line on our left on a faint path. The fence bears right and then at the next corner we go through a gate on the left. We head forwards following the fence line on our right. The path and fence bear left and we keep following the fence to the corner. At the corner we turn right still following the fence line more or less on the level. We now just continue to follow the fence line on our right which keeps bearing right. After a while the path and fence turn sharp left downhill past a large cairn to the road and a cattle grid. We turn left and follow the road, Buttertubs Pass, uphill until we arrive at The Buttertubs. We explore and admire The Buttertubs before we continue along the road to the top of the hill. We cross over a cattle grid and then the road starts to make its way downhill. We pass a seat and a pillar on the left at a dogleg in the road and just keep heading downhill back to Thwaite.


This is a moderate to hard walk on the Pennine Way, on faint grassy paths and also on the road of the Buttertubs Pass. There are some steep inclines and declines.

Elevation: Approx lowest point 284.60m (933.73ft) approx highest point 712.40m (2337.27ft).

Distance and Start Point

Approx 8 miles allow 4 hours using OS Explorer Map OL30, Yorkshire Dales, Northern & Central areas. Wensleydale and Swaledale.

Start point: Thwaite at the junction to the Buttertubs Pass.


Thwaite is about 1 mile from Muker in Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales.

Directions and Parking

From A1 take the A684 to Bedale. At the t-junction in Bedale turn right for Layburn. At the small roundabout at Layburn turn right and then left for Reeth. At the cross roads cross straight over and follow the road over the top and down to Grinton turning left at the t-junction onto B6270 to Reeth. Continue on the B6270 through Healaugh, Freetham, Low Row, Gunnerside and Muker. Continue for about a mile and Thwaite is the next village.

Parking: Free roadside parking.

Toilets and Refreshments

There are no public toilets in Thwaite and for refreshments there is the Kearton Tea Rooms. The nearest public toilets are at nearby Muker which also houses the Muker Village Teashop and Stores and a pub The Farmers Arms.

3 responses to “The Buttertubs via Great Shunner Fell from Thwaite round”

  1. Great walk I completed with some friends on Saturday just gone (21st). Thanks for the route suggetion. Here’s my account with some pictures:

  2. thetaxidriverj says:

    Hi Gareth, glad you enjoyed the route. Your blog brought back memories of when we did it 3 days after the Tour de France. The Taxi Driver.

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