High & Low Force

There are some sights which don’t get any less impressive no matter how many times you see them. High Force in County Durham is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the north of England, but you may be surprised to know that it isn’t actually the highest: both Cautley Spout in the Howgills and Hardraw Force in North Yorkshire have higher drops. Nevertheless, High Force and the close-by Low Force are no less remarkable, particularly after prolonged periods of rain.

There are many routes of various lengths you can choose from to visit the waterfalls. This time, we started from the pretty village of Middleton-in-Teesdale and followed the Pennine Way for an out and back walk of just over 11 miles – our longest walk since the end of summer. We were all very tired when we got home despite the relatively gentle gradients!

This section of the Pennine Way is pretty easy walking, with no steep climbs (excepting one set of stairs as you near the falls). The path is a mixture of grassy tracks through fields and riverside trails, including a few sets of stepping stones (which may lead to wet feet if there’s been a lot of rain and the stones are submerged!).

Walking along the banks of the river Tees you’ll experience many different but equally lovely views. From the start in Middleton you walk through rolling countryside high above the river, before steadily dropping down to the water level, where the river bank is adorned with incredible rocky formations along the edges.

The walk started out a little overcast, including a brief hail shower, but by the end of the day the sun had come out and there was definitely a taste of spring in the air. A highlight of the day was spotting a flock of oyster-catchers sunning themselves by the river: I always think spotting an oyster-catcher is the first sign that spring is truly coming.

When you reach High Force, it can be viewed from the south bank by continuing along the Pennine Way, or you can see the iconic north bank view by paying for a ticket from the Raby Estate. Tickets are £2 per adult and can be purchased from the small booth next to the pub opposite the entrance.

The walk down to the falls along the north bank is a well surfaced track maintained by the estate. During the pandemic they introduced a new circular route and a one way system: the one way system is no longer mandatory for visitors so you can choose between a linear or a circular route to the falls.

Dog friendly rating 3.5/5. This is a great walk for water loving dogs – there are quite a few sections where they can jump into the river for a dip, and multiple streams where they can have a paddle. There are also sections through the woods and along the river where you can let dogs have a run off the lead, although you need to watch out for livestock in the fields and put dogs on leads, especially around lambing. Aside from the entrance to the falls, the walk is completely off-road.

There were lots of stiles on this walk – too many to count! Including quite a few which were tricky the get the dogs over, although smaller dogs will be able to fit through gaps and need less help. For this reason I’ve knocked half a mark off the dog friendly rating.

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Ivy Scar

The drive along the A684 from Leyburn to Hawes is practically the definition of ‘taking the scenic route’. It takes half an hour on a good day to drive the 15 or so miles between the two market towns: but the drive is spectacular enough that you could spend hours crawling along enjoying the view. You very often see people pulled over at the side of the road with their camera out snapping the view! One of our favourite views along this route is the view of Ivy Scar as you’re dropping down to Bainbridge. It’s a dramatic rocky outcrop which looks a bit how I imagine the surface of the moon looks, and with a blue sky and the first green shoots of spring creeping through, there was no better place to head for a walk on the first weekend which definitely had a bit of spring in the air.

We had a snoop on the OS maps app to find a route and started off following this ten kilometre circular walk. We started the walk from Ballowfields Nature Reserve, where there is a small free parking area just off the main road. Rather than sticking to this route though we took a right to follow the bridlepath running below the scar back to the parking area, avoiding the river side section as it’s been wet underfoot recently.

After a first steep pull to get to the top of the scar, this is a pretty easy walk. You follow grassy tracks and the odd surfaced path on a route which is almost all flat or downhill after the initial climb at the start. Navigation may be tricky if conditions aren’t clear as some of the paths are non existent – you just need to rely on your map and the landscape features around you.

The views on this walk were fab – at first looking over towards Addlebrough, before the heather patched landscape looking towards Swaledale opens up in front of you once you finish the traverse of Ivy Scar. You don’t need to look far to be impressed though, with the rocky escarpment providing a fantastic view all along the return leg (if you pick up the bridleway like we did).

The landscape here is dotted with reminders of the Dales’s mining history: we saw an old metal wheel next to a waterfall, as well as a few spoil heaps. This area was used for lead mining, and the lead carried downstream by the water is what’s led to the rare plants growing today at the nature reserve where we started.

Dog friendly rating – 3/5. There’s potential to come across livestock anywhere on this walk, and with spring about to arrive, it’s safer to keep dogs on leads (especially around lambing). However, there were no stiles which required us to lift the dogs over, no road walking, and there were a few places where the dogs could stop and have a drink – especially important now that the warmer weather will soon be on it’s way!

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Silver How

After the best part of a month stuck at home at the weekend due to awful weather, we finally got back to the Lakes last week to tick off Wainwright number 40, Silver How. We’d chosen a smaller summit to get back into the swing of things, and this walk is short enough that you can do it on a morning or afternoon and still have plenty of time to do something else with the rest of your day. At only 395m this is one of the smaller Wainwrights, and its accessibility via short routes from Grasmere and Chapel Stile makes it a popular family day out. We decided that it would be a great one to do in winter to beat the crowds: anyone who’s driven through Grasmere on a summer’s day will know what I mean!

We followed the three mile circular route available on WalkLakes. It starts from the village of Grasmere where there is plenty of car parking. The walk is fairly straight forward, with a mix of surfaced paths and grassy tracks, which climbs gradually to the summit of Silver How after passing through the grounds of the National Trust’s Allan Bank.

There are a few steeper sections but these are manageable even for the relatively unfit (just stop and take a breath for a minute if you’re feeling the burn!). I have to say I was glad we followed the route in the suggested direction as the descent took us down a long series of steps – and there’s nothing I hate more than dragging myself up steps! We did pass a few sweaty looking people hauling themselves up this way.

Navigation isn’t too difficult once you pick up the path to the summit: keep going uphill and look out for the odd cairn if in doubt. The views were good, but a bit dreary given that it was very overcast (although I suppose considering the weather we’ve had recently it was pretty good). Maybe they’d be better in summer!

At only 395m we reached the summit in next to no time. You can keep going to take in a few more summits (some combine Silver How with a trip up Loughrigg), but we decided to head back to the car to get home for lunch. Rheged Filling Station has excellent hot pies and pastries and we always call here if we’re heading home around lunchtime. Fuel is reasonably priced too!

Dog friendly rating – 3.5/5. Ours had a whale of a time on this walk. There wasn’t any livestock around, so we were able to have Coal off his lead for the whole walk, although I suspect this had a lot to do with the time of year (and we always keep our eyes peeled for sheep at any time of year). If there had been any sheep, he would’ve been on his lead for the entire walk.

A big plus though is the total absence of stiles – marvellous! There is also a stream which you cross when you’re not far off the summit, which both of ours had a paddle in, and it would be ideal for giving your dog a drink on a hot day.

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Hard Knott

Way back in November we had a long weekend in the Western Lakes. The original plan was to bag as many Wainwrights as possible: I was hoping for at least six across the whole weekend, but the weather had other ideas. It was a very wet, very windy weekend, and across four days we managed three Wainwrights. One day was a total write off, and on one day we had a window of around two hours to get up and down a hill before the weather closed in. We settled on Hard Knott as the linear route was short enough that we’d be back in plenty of time to avoid the worst of the weather, as well as minimising the amount of time we’d be exposed! Although the rain hadn’t started the wind was picking up and we bundled up in layers before venturing out onto the hill.

Hard Knott is a Wainwright I’d never really thought about before we started doing the Wainwrights: I’d heard of the famous Hard Knott pass, but I’d never realised there was a fell of the same name. We had to drive up the notoriously steep and windy pass to get to the start of the walk – it felt a bit like the start of a rollercoaster when you’re climbing up to the drop!

The route started from the high point of the pass, cutting out a lot of hard work climbing. We found the walk in our Walking the Wainwrights guide, but a similar route is available on WalkLakes. Parking is free in a small grassy area with space for a few cars. It was empty when we arrived but then again I’m not sure that it was a tempting day for a walk with the wind blowing a hoolie!

The walk isn’t particularly steep or strenuous (although at times walking into the wind was like trying to push against a wall). The potential difficulty to watch out for is navigation – the path is grassy and for a lot of the time non-existent. We relied a lot on our OS Maps app to keep on course, and we had clear weather (even if it was windy): I think in poor visibility this would be one to avoid.

We were up and down in less than an hour and a half. We kept the pace pretty sharpish as the wind was freezing! The best part of this walk was the great views over the Hard Knott Pass as well as looking towards the Scafell range. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the weather, we didn’t see another soul – just a few hardy Herdys!

Dog friendly rating: 3/5. This isn’t the best dog walk in the Lakes, but it’s not the worst either. We kept ours on leads as there were sheep hiding around the odd corner, but there was no road walking and no stiles to clamber over. There were plenty of puddles on the ground for the dogs to have a drink, although these may disappear in summer!

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Aira Force and Gowbarrow Fell

On most of the Wainwright hikes we’ve done, the main attraction has been the view from the summit. Yes, there have been lovely views on the way up or down, but the trig point is your reward and where you can pat yourself on the back for another peak bagged. It’s usually the focal point of the walk, with the route planned for the sole purpose of reaching the highest point on the fell. Not so with our trek up Gowbarrow Fell: any walker with an interest in cracking views and spectacles of nature should combine a climb up Gowbarrow Fell with a visit to the waterfall Aira Force.

Like many of my favourite walks, we found this route in our Pocket Mountains guide. A 6.5km circular route, the walk takes you through the manicured grounds of Gowbarrow Park, before climbing through light woodland to make the final ascent of Gowbarrow Fell. The route isn’t particularly strenuous but you need a head for heights: the return leg offers outstanding views of Ullswater, but the price to pay is a steep drop away from the path on one side. A similar route is available on the National Trust’s Website.

This is a walk where having a National Trust membership pays off. There is a large car park at Aira Force (busy on weekends and holidays) where parking is £5 for two hours, £7 for four hours, £9 all day or free for members. I’ve definitely got my money back this year in parking alone.

The walk took us just over two and a half hours with plenty of stopping for photos. The views on this walk were incredible, and it definitely ranks as one of my favourite Wainwrights so far (I think it’s a toss up between Gowbarrow and Dodd for the most enjoyable day out).

The icing on the cake for me was dropping back down to Gowbarrow Park and spotting a red squirrel helping itself to nuts from a feeder – it completely took me by surprise, as I hadn’t expected to ever see one in a place as relatively busy as the area around Aira Force (although that being said a few weeks ago I saw one in the centre of Kirkby Stephen, so perhaps they’re less reclusive than I thought).

Gowbarrow Fell should be manageable even for novice walkers. The paths are generally clear and well defined, there aren’t any horrendously steep climbs, and the views are enough to give anyone the Wainwrights bug.

As an added bonus, the start point has plenty of facilities, including mercifully clean toilets and a tea room (eating cake is a compulsory part of any National Trust visit for me). It is busy around this area: Aira Force is incredibly popular, being an easy walk from the car park and with viewing platforms installed to help visitors get the best view of the waterfall (although one of these was closed when we visited due to tree fall). We actually had to queue for a few minutes to get to the edge of the platform to see the view – so be prepared for more people than you’d normally find on a countryside stroll!

Dog friendly rating – 3/5. There are signs up in Gowbarrow Park asking for dogs to be kept on leads, so these should be respected, but there’s plenty of other things to like about this walk as a dog owner. There are no stiles, no road walking, and there’s a ‘canine corner’ in the car park where there’s a water bowl so dogs can have a drink (although if you’re going for a longer walk on a hot day you’ll need to take extra with you).

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The Grey Mare’s Tail

The Grey Mare’s Tail is somewhere I’d wanted to visit for at least 3 years. Just a bit too far away to be day trip-able, we’d planned to stop there on our way up to the Cairngorms in December 2020. As you’ll know if you’ve read my blog Christmas in the Cairngorms, this trip was postponed until the end of 2021, but we finally got to stop off at the Grey Mare’s Tail on our way north. After so long waiting, I was worried that the waterfall wouldn’t live up to expectations, but the dramatic cascade which is visible almost as soon as you arrive didn’t disappoint.

The waterfall is located in the Moffat Hills and is owned by the National Trust for Scotland: there is a small pay & display car park close to the falls. There are multiple circular walks you can start from this location, but as we were just making a quick stop on our way up to Tomintoul, we opted for a linear walk from Walkhighlands taking us up past the waterfall to Loch Skeen, before re-tracing our steps back to the car. This was about two and a half miles altogether, and took us just over an hour and a half.

Although this is a short walk, don’t underestimate the effort needed – the path up past the Grey Mare’s Tail itself is a narrow hill path which was a bit of a slog all the way, often wet and rocky underfoot, and by the time we were at the top my thighs were definitely burning and we were both regretting not changing out of trainers!

Once you get to the top of the hill there’s a rocky path which takes you all the way to Loch Skeen. I can’t say much for the views up here as by this point the mist had started to descend – but the views back over the valley from the hillside were lovely, even in the dreary, mostly colourless landscape of winter.

Given that the weather was slightly damp (which was significantly better than the forecast), there were quite a few groups of people making the trek up to the waterfall and the loch. Mostly though there weren’t any people to be seen and the mist gave the walk an eerie sense of quiet – so I was quite glad when a group popped out of the fog occasionally!

By the time we got to Loch Skeen the mist had come down entirely and I could only see the water by looking straight down at the ground – another misty loch where I was expecting the Lady of the Lake to emerge at any second! There were quite a few brave souls who had settled down on the shores of the loch with picnics but we stopped for only a few minutes before turning around to head back down to the car – next stop: Aviemore Tesco, about a four hour drive away.

Dog friendly rating – 3/5. There are no stiles or road walking on this hike, but you need to keep your dog under close control around the steep drops and you may also see livestock. The big plus for dogs on this walk is Loch Skeen and the opportunity to have a drink and a swim – we didn’t let ours in as it was December and freezing, with a long car drive before they could get into the warm, but we saw plenty of dogs (mostly spaniels) who had definitely been in for a dip! The main difficulty we had was passing other people with dogs and giving Coal enough space to feel comfortable – the track up to the falls is steep and narrow, meaning you often have to haul yourself up the bank in order to avoid passing people closely.

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High Rigg

The weather in January can be a bit hit and miss. After a week of beautiful weather from Monday to Thursday (while we were stuck at work), on Friday the clouds started rolling in and on Saturday Storm Malik arrived. We therefore decided to play it by ear and make a decision about a walk for Sunday last thing on Saturday evening, and just go somewhere with reasonable weather for a quick one before the next storm arrived. Flicking through the weather forecasts, the Lake District had a three hour window of clear skies and even some sunshine, so we agreed to head over and bag another Wainwright. With the limited weather window we decided on High Rigg – one of the smallest Wainwrights and easily ticked off on a quick morning or afternoon stroll.

We followed the short (2.25 mile) circular route described in our Walking the Wainwrights guide, but if you want a longer walk, you can extend it by visiting some of the neighbouring summits and crags (numerous routes online). I can’t find the route we followed online but there is a similar OS maps route here.

The walk starts from St. John’s in the Vale – there is limited parking at the Church here Monday-Saturday but on Sunday’s you’ll have to park on the roadside (very limited). The walk took us just under an hour and a half, including lots of stopping for photos: the views are lovely, especially across to Blencathra and Thirlmere.

This short walk isn’t hugely taxing, following grassy tracks which gradually climb up and down (although there are a few short but steep slopes to traverse). Navigation could easily become confusing, with a vast array of identical grassy paths criss-crossing throughout the walk, so it’s best to feel confident in your navigations skills before doing this walk.

Case in point: about twenty minutes after we set off we looked at the map and noticed that the summit, to our left, wasn’t included in our route. We therefore detoured up to the rocky summit and marked it as our quickest Wainwright ascent to date – before continuing on our walk and realising that the actual summit was further along the route, marked with a summit cairn. An easy mistake to make I suppose, and one I’ve seen others make when reading other blogs!

Dog friendly rating – 3.5/5. This is a lovely short(ish) dog walk for a morning stroll. There is no road walking and no stiles – and therefore we were two very happy owners!

There were a few sheep dotted around this walk – we kept Merry on the lead the whole time as we don’t trust him not to chase them if he spots them before we do. However, the sheep were few and far between enough that we were comfortable letting Coal off in some places (little angel that he is, he has no interest in livestock whatsoever). Even as good as Coal is though, we still put his lead back on when we saw a sheep in the distance – it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

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Marske & Telfit Bank

As you may know if you’ve been following this blog for a while, Swaledale is our favourite place to get out for a walk. Relatively close to home and much less crowded than places like Wensleydale and Ribblesdale, Swaledale has more than its fair share of dramatic scenery and public footpaths to lead you to it. Mostly, our Swaledale adventures centre on Reeth, with the odd jaunt to place like Keld, Muker or Grinton, but this time we opted for a walk starting in the tiny village of Marske. The village escapes the notice of many people given how small it is (population around a hundred), but it is quaintly charming and has a Norman church which is worth a visit if you like historical buildings.

The walk we followed was a six mile circular route from our trusty Pocket Mountains guide to the Yorkshire Dales (don’t ask me how many of these handy little books I’ve got now, I’ve lost count). If you prefer to find your routes online, there is a longer ten mile version on My Yorkshire Dales. The route we followed was a nice steady hike, with no steep ascents or descents, climbing gradually and on mostly good paths.

The route starts from Marske, where there is a small parking area at the foot of the bridge (honesty box contributions). Leaving the village, you pass through the small privately owned Clints wood, before crossing open countryside to eventually climb up Telfit Bank, where the views are more than worth the very easy climb. Clints Wood is one to visit in early spring, when it is completely covered in snow drops.

Although it was pretty cloudy, Swaledale never fails to impress. The landscape is unique to this part of the Dales, with the hillsides undulating to create a vivid textured appearance, which was only highlighted when the sun occasionally peeped through the clouds. We couldn’t believe how quiet the walk was – despite the parking area in Marske being full, we only saw two other groups of walkers.

Following the track along the top of Telfit Bank is quite exposed, so wrap up warm if you do this walk in winter. Make sure you stop to enjoy the views over the valley, with Clints Scar drawing the eye for most of your return leg. Navigation is pretty easy, following the main surfaced track all the way from the halfway point to pick up the road to return to Marske at the end.

Dog friendly rating – 3/5. While there aren’t many opportunities to let your dog off the lead on this walk due to livestock (sheep, cows and horses – none of which took an interest in us), we did find an enclosed track at the end where they could have a run. The woods sadly are not suitable to let your dog off the lead as they are privately owned and there are signs up asking that dogs are kept on the lead. However, there were no stiles on this walk (automatically scoring any walk a minimum of 3/5!), and crossing the bridge by Orgate Force gives dogs the opportunity to have a drink and a paddle. The walk ends with a short section along a quiet road (we didn’t see any cars), but if you want to avoid this with your dog, you can pick up a footpath which follows the river bank back to Marske.

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What’s in a Name? A Sunday Stroll up Sour Howes & Sallows

Sour Howes and Sallows are, based on name alone, two of the least appealing of the Wainwright Fells (although surely Barf is up there too). Knowing little about them and having never been to this part of the Lake District, they were not fighting for prime position at the top of my ‘to do’ list. However, a changing weather forecast meant that last weekend we ditched our plan to do the Fairfield Horseshoe (again) and opted to stick to the lower fells, where the weather forecast predicated no wind and much better visibility than up on the high tops. Flicking through my wonderful Walking the Wainwrights guide, we compiled a short list of possibles and agreed to do the walk with the best forecast. And thus, Sour Howes and Sallows were catapulted to the top of the list.

We followed the 6.5 mile circular route set out in our guidebook, but if you don’t own this, a very similar route is available on WalkLakes. We parked for free on the side of the road at the end of the Dubbs Lane byway (limited spaces for about four cars). Overall it took us just over three and a half hours to complete this walk, although it would’ve taken us three hours if we’d paid closer attention to where we were going on our way down and gone left instead of right at a fork!

The route itself is easy to follow, with the start and end following an enclosed lane, with a detour up and along a grassy slope to take you to the two summits. The initial climb up Sour Howes was a bit of a slog (and muddy as the path is all grass), but it’s over pretty quickly, with good views across to the Kentmere Horseshoe to keep you going. Don’t forget to look over your shoulder for a lovely view over to Windermere.

Before you know it you’re at the summit (a large grassy knoll). We didn’t hang around here what with it being January and pretty cold: instead we continued on along the undulating grassy trail to our next port of call, Sallows. A rather unappealing name in modern English, from Googling it appears that ‘Sallows’ may come from the Middle English word ‘Salwe’, which means Willow. Perhaps you used to be able to find willow trees here?

Whether or not this is true we didn’t see any willow trees on the summit, just a few other walkers, and after saying hello we started the descent back down to the byway we started on. This descent is fairly steep but it’s over before you know it: a rare treat where you can see the bottom of the slope from the top.

The walk along the lane back to the car is an easy stroll which is downhill or flat for most of the way. While it was quiet on our way up, on our way down we did see a fair few more people, as well as more than the normal amount of mountain bikers. It was a sunny Sunday in the Lake District though so I’m surprised we didn’t see more people!

In terms of views, there is nothing on this walk which is going to blow your previous favourite view out of the water, but it is a pleasant ramble through typical Lakeland scenery. In particular the views as you climb up Sour Howes are very nice, but there is also a pleasing ruggedness to the view across to Sallows as you make your way there.

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. This walk is a great option if you’re wanting to tick off a Wainwright or two with your dog in tow. The long stretches along the enclosed lane offer plenty of off lead time (although watch out for sections of tumbled down wall if your dog is likely to run through), and there was only one stile with the potential to be difficult. This is a ladder stile at the foot of the climb up to Sour Howes and for this reason I would recommend tackling Sour Howes first: there is no drop on the other side of the stile, meaning you can get your dog up without having to worry about getting them down the other side. Speaking from our own experiences, it’s definitely a lot easier to get a dog up a ladder stile than it is to get it down! There is no road walking on this hike but also no water, so if you’re planning to do this hike on a hot day, take some extra along for your dog.

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Preston-under-Scar

After a busy few weeks over Christmas (including a long journey up to the Cairngorms and back), we decided to have a nice easy weekend without a long drive for a walk. We also wanted a walk which was reasonably quick and easy while we were still in recovery mode! Looking online and in our walk books there weren’t many walks which met all of these criteria and so we decided to freestyle and make a route of our own, starting from the pretty Wensleydale village of Preston-under-Scar. I’m always a bit anxious about making up our own routes in new places (what if a footpath is totally impassable?!) but we had no issues with this one at all and, with good weather and a clear blue sky, we had a lovely winter morning stroll.

The route we plotted was a circular walk of just over three and a half miles, starting from Preston-under-Scar where there is free roadside parking (please park considerately). Quickly picking up a footpath on the edge of the village, the route follows grassy tracks, surfaced paths and some less obvious trails to take you through fields, across moorland and along the edge of a woodland, as well as passing a working quarry. For such a short walk the scenery is incredibly varied – in particular the views over Wensleydale from the track above Scarlet Wood are incredible. I didn’t notice them on the outward leg climbing up a muddy track as I was too busy hanging onto a fence dragging myself up a slippery slope!

My favourite part of this walk was walking across Preston Moor – it’s so bleak and windswept (like most moors) and I love the feeling of being so far removed from every day life. Half way across the moor you enter Access Land with a dog restriction, so we had to make sure we kept to the public footpath – easier said than done when it was totally invisible and required tramping through completely trackless heather! Fortunately the OS Maps app is marvellous and we were able to make sure that we stayed on course.

Towards the start and end of this walk you pass a working quarry. This slightly disrupts the path you take at the start as you’ll need to detour around it, but this is easily navigable and doesn’t add any extra time to your walk.

You do gain some height over the course of the walk, but both your ascent and descent is fairly gentle. The paths were mostly dry (muddy in places) but that may be due to the fact it was absolutely freezing with most puddles frozen over and snow on the ground in places. In our previous experience walking around this part of Wensleydale it can be pretty soggy underfoot, so waterproof boots are definitely a good idea.

Despite the walk being fairly short, we certainly felt ready to get back to the car to head home for a cup of tea and bacon butty. Being out on the moor is very exposed and the wind was extremely chilly, so make sure you wrap up warm!

Dog friendly rating – 3.5/5. Unlike a lot of walks in the Dales, we did find a few places on this walk where you could let your dog off the lead for a good run. At the start of the walk you pass through the bottom of a disused quarry where it was safe to let the dogs off the lead, and there are a few enclosed lanes along the way too. On the moor, be aware of ground nesting birds and grouse, which we saw plenty of! Poor Merry was very frustrated with them constantly popping up and flying right in front of him and not being able to chase them. There were quite a lot of stiles on this walk, most of which required us to lift the dogs over – so be prepared to get muddy.

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