Wensleydale – Gayle to Wether Fell round
North Yorkshire is England’s largest county and one of the most rural comprising of the Yorkshire Dales, North York Moors, Vale of York and the coastal regions and they all have their own distinctive natural beauty. The county covers an area of 3,341 square miles and 40% of this area is covered by National Parks and with stunning moorland, beautiful dramatic to rolling hills, ancient woodland, a spectacular coastline, splendid waterfalls, many attractive villages and hamlets and many historic sites such as abbeys, castles, priories, stately homes and traditional pubs there is something for everyone of all ages to explore.
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.
Upper Wensleydale lies within the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the River Ure runs through the valley 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 and Wensleydale is the only dale named after a village rather than its river. 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.
Hawes is a picturesque small market town, with the River Ure running though its centre. Situated at the head of Wensleydale Hawes is England’s highest market town and along with the dale it is one of the biggest honey-pot tourist attractions of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Market day is Tuesday attracting many visitors and gives the locals the chance to get together at the auction mart and stock up with provisions at the indoor and outdoor markets. The town has other attractions such as the Dales Countryside Museum and National Park Centre located in the former railway station, a rope makers where you can see how church bell ropes, halters, skipping ropes and washing lines are made using traditional methods to produce a wide variety of rope products and the Wensleydale Creamery where you can see how the famous Wensleydale cheese is made by hand, to a time-honoured recipe, using milk from local farms where the cows graze the sweet limestone meadows that are rich in wild flowers, herbs and grasses. It is this herbage that gives the milk, and hence the cheese, its special flavour. The cheese has been made in Wensleydale since 1150 when Cistercian monks settled in the dale and established a monastery at Fors just 4 miles away from Hawes. There is also a Pottery and nearby is a children’s playground. Hawes is also a great place for walkers and hikers with many footpaths to choose from including the Pennine Way which is the UK’s first National Trail. Hawes is nestled between the hills of Great Shunner Fell and Lovely Seat to the North and Wether Fell and Dodd Fell to the south.
Gayle is an attractive small hamlet with Gayle Beck flowing through its centre and Gayle Force tumbles over the rocks at the side of the bridge on the road to Hawes. On the other side of the bridge is Gayle Mill a 19th century fully restored operating saw mill which houses the world’s oldest operational water powered turbine and is now a protected building. The mill, an educational attraction, is open to visitors and guided tours on certain days only.
Burtersett is a hamlet about 1 mile east of Hawes and Gayle. There is a village institute with tea and coffee facilities but you have to make your own drink and leave a donation.
Wether Fell at 614 meters overlooks Hawes, Gayle and Burtersett, to the north, Sledale to the west and to the east Rydale and Semer Water. The walk up to Wether Fell from Burtersett and back along Wether Fell Side provides wonderful views to the north of Wensleydale and from Cam High Road the views to the east over Raydale are also wonderful.
With the car park on our left we walk forward a short way and take the footpath on the left sign posted Burtersett and Marsett. We cross the field to go through a gate then bear left continuing through the fields, crossing the stiles, to pass between a barn on our right and trees on the left. We continue heading forward through the fields, past another barn on our right. The path soon becomes a track between two walls that leads to the road at Burtersett. We bear right then right again following the footpath sign to Wether Fell but before we do we head forward into Burtersett for a look at the village and the institute. We pass a house on the right and follow the clear track up the hillside to go through a gate into Open Access Land. We keep heading forward uphill through a wall then at the wall corner we bear left and continue forward to the next wall to go through a gate. We then bear right and when the main track bears right we turn off left on a smaller grass path. We soon go through a gate and bear slightly right to go through the gate in the corner. We now turn right onto High Cam Road, Wether Fell is on the right, and continue on the track until we come to a gate. We do not go through the gate but turn right with the wall on our left. We keep following the wall on our left until we come to a gate. We go through the gate and head forward. When the track bears left we retrace our steps through the gate and at the next wall we head slightly forward to go through a yellow gate on the left. We bear right through the field to cross the stile. We are now heading downhill. We go through a gate leaving the Open Access Land. When we come to a stream and the path splits we take the right path downhill. We pass to the right of a barn then retrace our steps back to Gayle. Before turning right back to our car we turn left to the bridge to view the waterfall.
This is an easy to moderate walk on grass and gravel paths/tracks, through fields and Open Access Land, with some inclines and declines. There are a number of stiles, some of which are quite high with strong sprung gates.
Elevation: approx lowest point 261.10m (856.63ft) approx highest point 592.80m (1944.88ft) approx ascent 380.50m (1248.36ft).
Distance and Start Point
Approx 7.75 miles allow 3 -4 hours using OS Explorer Map OL30, Yorkshire Dales, Northern and Central area, Wensleydale and Swaledale. This walk is done clockwise.
Start point: In the village of Gayle just south of Hawes.
Gayle, just south of Hawes in Wensleydale in the Yorkshire Dales.
Directions and Parking
From the A1 take the A684 to Bedale, Leyburn and into Hawes. Take the first left passing the Wensleydale Cheese Factory. At the narrow junction turn left over the bridge then immediate left. Parking is on the right and there is some more parking further on.
Parking: free road side parking in the village of Gayle.
Toilets and Refreshments
There are no public toilets or refreshments en-route. The next nearest facilities are in Hawes. The public toilets are in the Market Place in Hawes near the car park. For refreshments in Hawes there are shops, tearooms, cafes, an excellent chippy and four pubs The Crown, The Fountain and The Old Board Inn in the Market Place and The White Hart Inn in Main Street.