Great Yorkshire Walks: Boots are made for walking

Roger Ratcliffe continues his quest for great autumn walks with 10 gems in and around the Yorkshire Dales.

I love the expression "booting up" for the way it distils that sense of excitement you feel before striding forth on a favourite walk.

Booting up in one of the parking spaces at Grass Wood in Upper Wharfedale on a sunlit September day, with blue tits and greenfinches flitting around in the hazel trees, is a delight. So is booting up and catching the Settle-Carlisle line train for a walk through Dentdale, or preparing to follow the lovely canal towpath from Gargrave to East Marton.

We all have our special booting up places. In the Yorkshire Dales alone there must be thousands of them. On a cold winter's day, the ritual won't take one second longer than necessary, but in September and October the haste is usually driven by eager anticipation of a great outing in the autumn countryside.

In the Dales, the best walks don't necessarily require detailed "turn left at the second gate" descriptions. An Ordnance Survey map for the area is all you need to construct a route that ticks the basic boxes of physical ability, weather and time available. Many routes follow footsteps taken by the earliest Dales walkers, people like the Stone Age hunter-gatherers of 12,000 years ago whose flint arrowheads were found in Victoria Cave above Settle, or the Roman legions who for three centuries marched between Bainbridge in Wensleydale and Ilkley in Wharfedale, or the lay brothers of Fountains Abbey who did so much to establish medieval trading routes. Their so-called green roads still provide the foundation of many of today's walks. And now they are joined by modern long-distance trails like the Dales Way, Pennine Way, and Alfred Wainwright's superb Coast to Coast. Other routes concentrate on a particular landscape feature such as the great mature woodlands at Hackfall and Nidd Gorge, best seen first thing in the morning or just before one of those long-shadowed and silent October dusks.

So go and boot up. And don't let anyone tell you the words mean something you do with computers.

1: MUKER AND KELD

Timeless corner of Upper Swaledale

One of the finest and most infallible circular routes in England, with sweeping views over an especially picturesque stretch of the Swale and fascinating features around virtually every corner.

The outward stretch follows the Pennine Way to remote and sleepy Keld. For the return, cross the river to join the popular Coast to Coast Walk, passing photogenic waterfalls like Catrake Force, Kisdon Force and East Gill Force en route to Crackpot Hall, a ruined farmhouse last used by the old lead mines which still scar this side of the dale and provide much interest. From here, drop down to the Swale for a delightful stroll back to Muker across haymeadows and past fine examples of traditional stone barns.

Walk: 6 miles; 3 hours

OS Map: OL30 Yorkshire Dales North/Central

Parking: Muker.

Refreshments: Muker, Keld.

2: DENT TO RIBBLEHEAD

Historic railway and ancient track

Delectable and wonderfully tranquil Dentdale is at its loveliest in bright autumn sun. Green fields along the dale floor are etched with high hedgerows and studded with spinneys and copses that are ablaze with colour. The best way to see it is by taking the Settle-Carlisle line to Dent Station, at 1,150 feet above sea level the highest main-line station in England, then walking down the hill to pick up the Dales Way footpath as far as Dyke Hall Lane. Turn left here to join the centuries-old packhorse route known as the Craven Way across the northern flank of Whernside, Yorkshire's highest mountain, and pick up a homeward train at Ribblehead Station.

Walk: 9 miles; 6 hours

OS Map: OL2 Yorkshire Dales Southern/Western

Refreshments: Dent and Ribblehead.

Train times: 0871 2002233 or www.settle-carlisle.co.uk

3: WALDEN DALE

The quietest dale of all

This one's for connoisseurs of the Yorkshire Dales, and is particularly appealing when the air is sharp and landscape colours are at their most vibrant. Springing from one of the National Park's prettiest village greens – West Burton – the walk visits one of the least-altered of dales, giving progressively better views over Wensleydale which become awesome if you opt to climb up to Naughtberry Hill and return via Newbiggin. But an easier alternative is to follow the lovely dead-end lane over Cote Bridge and climb up Whiterow Road, then at the first bend leave the road to follow a track past some great field barns to Bridge End. Double back now, following the beck all the way down to West Burton.

Walk: 6 miles; 3 hours

OS Map: OL30 Yorkshire Dales North/Central

Parking: West Burton.

Refreshments: West Burton, Aysgarth.

4: HACKFALL WOODS

Picturesque woodland on the River Ure

"A beautiful wilderness" wrote one 19th century author of Hackfall, and while its charm is beyond question the landscape is, in fact, man-made. The artist JMW. Turner painted here, William Wordsworth was another admirer, and it became a popular destination with Victorian middle-classes.

After years of neglect the woodland's former glory has been restored, and for the exuberant colours autumn is definitely the time to explore its many footpaths and discover the follies, grottoes, waterfalls and fountain. To enter, find a left-hand gate past Grewelthorpe's village pond, which leads to an old track and a field path into the trees. Follow the Ure upstream then exit by a flight of stone steps leading back to Grewelthorpe.

Walk: 4 miles; 3 hours

OS Map: Explorer 298 Nidderdale.

Parking: Grewelthorpe.

Refreshments: Grewelthorpe.

5: NIDD GORGE

Stunning river and woodland

This is one of the Woodland Trust's flagship sites, and with good reason. A substantial broadleafed wood fills the sandstone gorge sculpted by the River Nidd to the west of Knaresborough. The woods date back to 1600 and at Gates Hill there are overgrown defensive earthworks used by Colonel Fairfax as cannon placements during the Civil War's Siege of Knaresborough. There's a big network of paths on both sides of the Nidd, and all three native woodpeckers are found here. The OS map shows several alternative walks, from simply accessing the woods from the car park below or, as some do, constructing a walk from Harrogate railway station and returning from Knaresborough station.

Walk: 7 miles; 3 hours (Harrogate-Knaresborough)

OS Map: Explorer 289 Leeds.

Parking: Harrogate or (for wood only). B6165 Knaresborough-Ripley road.

Refreshments: Harrogate, Old Bilton, Knaresborough.

6: GOWTHWAITE RESERVOIR

Magnet for migrating birds in autumn

A three-mile sheet of water in Upper Nidderdale, Gowthwaite attracts particular attention in September and October because of its birdlife. Almost anything can and does turn up after autumn gales, but most days it's good for wildfowl (goosander, goldeneye, pintail, shoveler, teal, wigeon), waders (greenshank, ruff) and raptors (merlin, osprey, hen harrier, goshawk.) So if you have binoculars and, even better, a telescope, this can be an extremely rewarding walk, especially around the muddy lagoons on the north-west shore. The Nidderdale Way runs along both sides, and so a circular route is possible, although one section involves road-walking. The two stretches are linked at the village of Ramsgill and at Wath Bridge.

Walk: 7 miles; 4-5 hours (if birdwatching)

OS Map: Explorer 298 Nidderdale.

Parking: Ramsgill; Wath; Pateley-Ramsgill road.

Refreshments: Pateley Bridge, Ramsgill, Wath.

7: NORWOOD BOTTOM & LINDLEY RESERVOIR

Beautiful valley and woodland

The Washburn Valley is justly popular, but most visitors aim for Yorkshire Water's car parks at Swinsty and Fewston Reservoirs. This walk showcases a prettier landscape of irregular shaped fields, clumps of trees and fine broadleaf woodland which positively comes alive in autumn. Look out for newly arrived flocks of fieldfare and redwing, parties of goldfinches feeding on thistle heads, and much fungi. Start on the south side of the viaduct, walk to the old packhorse bridge at Dobpark, cross to Middle Farm and find the field paths eastwards to Farnley. From here it's a delightful walk down to Lindley Bridge and back along the tree-lined shore of Lindley Reservoir.

Walk: 6.5 miles; 3 hours

OS Map: Explorer 297 Lower Wharfedale/Upper Washburn Valley.

Parking: Near viaduct at Lindley Wood Reservoir on B6451.

Refreshments: Otley.

8: GRASS WOOD

Wildlife-rich Dales woods

This is the best woodland in the Yorkshire Dales, and besides being a palette of reds and golds in autumn the trees draw a good number of birds while the understory is rich in fungi. Park on the road separating the lower and upper woods, and from the Grassington end walk downhill to follow the Wharfe northwards. It's here that you might be lucky enough to see all three species of British woodpecker, plus nuthatches and treecreepers. Rejoining the road, walk down the hill and at the end of the woods turn right through a gate to take a track which leads onto the wooded ridge and then arcs back down to a superb beechwood near the starting point.

Walk: 3 miles; 2 hours

OS Map: OL2 Yorkshire Dales Southern/Western

Parking: Grassington-Conistone minor road.

Refreshments: Grassington.

9: CRUMMACK DALE

Peaceful limestone valley

Pssst... keep this one to yourself! Crummack Dale is a total delight in autumn, surrounded by dazzling bone-white limestone scars and slopes of bronzed bracken, and laced with the shiny and gently gurgling Austwick Head Beck. The map reveals several good options for exploration but the best route is to walk up Crummack Lane then fork right to take a signposted path over fields to cross the beck near its source. Emerging on the superb White Stone Lane, follow it south as it becomes a riot of wayside colour and berries. At the tiny hamlet of Wharfe, find the small green lane leading through trees back towards Austwick.

Walk: 5 miles; 2hours

OS Map: OL2 Yorkshire Dales Southern/Western

Parking: Austwick.

Refreshments: Austwick.

10: EAST MARTON

Fine walk along canal and Pennine Way

Any collection of walks in Yorkshire has to include a canal towpath, and this stretch of the Leeds-Liverpool between Gargrave and East Marton is one of the loveliest and quietest there is. By September, the changing colour of trees provide photographers with an extra dimension, with some great reflections seen in the still water. It's one of those walks that make maps redundant, because you simply follow the canal westwards from Gargrave and at East Marton switch to the well-signposted Pennine Way for the return journey. Many will also leave their rucksacks and snacks behind, opting instead for refreshments in the Cross Keys at the half-way point.

Walk: 7 miles; 3 hours

OS Map: OL2 Yorkshire Dales Southern/Western

Parking: Gargrave.

Refreshments: Gargrave, East Marton.

YP MAG 18/9/10