Journey of a lifetime

Yvette Huddleston and Walter Swan explore the treasures of one of Yorkshire's most famous and rewarding river valleys.

The drive from Ilkley to Buckden is a route we have taken many times but the nature of the landscape and the changing seasons and weather, means that the journey is guaranteed to hold new delights and discoveries every time. The early morning was bright and still but a strange mist descended. The further north we headed, the bluer the sky became. Burnsall was shrouded in mist but by the time we arrived in Kilnsey it was sunny and clear.

We stopped to photograph the hurdle-like dry stone walls to the south of Kettlewell before pressing on to Buckden, a delightful village. Both the West Winds and the Village tea rooms were shut as was the village shop, though it had been open earlier in the morning we were assured by Tim Berry, who moved to the village from Leeds with his wife Gwen 13 years ago. They instantly dispelled the notion that incomers are not made welcome in Dales villages, but it helps to be a permanent resident rather than a weekender. Their cottage offers one of the finest views – west towards Langstrothdale – of almost any front garden in Yorkshire.

"As soon as I saw that view, I knew I wanted to buy this place," says Tim. "Buckden is a wonderful place to live," adds Gwen. "There is always so much going on here. It's a thriving community and everyone looks out for each other." Gwen is one of the founding members of the Buckden Singers. Gwen and Tim told us about The Buck Inn which has been closed since July. There are hopes it might reopen in the spring. The success of this establishment – not least as a stopover for the many people who walk the Dales Way every year – in the past suggests that, in the right hands, this is a business which could flourish, bringing a focus once more to the heart of the village.

One of the lessons we have learnt over the years of writing these pieces is that Dales pubs are often closed on Monday lunchtimes. It shouldn't, therefore, have been a surprise to discover that the Fox and Hounds in Starbotton wasn't open to offer us an early lunch; however, it gave us a chance to look around and to appreciate just how old some of the cottages are in this tiny settlement. Several of them have lintels revealing their age as early to mid-17th century, around the time of the English Civil War.

Kettlewell was definitely open for business, with all three of its pubs serving lunch – even on a Monday – as well as a tea room and a caf. However, the news of the moment is that the village primary school is under threat, an issue we had been alerted to by the mannequins and banner at the approach to the village. The village is now famous for its summer scarecrow festival, to see appealing straw figures dressed as schoolchildren standing close to the bridge communicating their heartfelt message was poignant and powerful.

We had a quick sandwich at the Blue Bell Inn in a bar dedicated to the memory of Private William Henry Townson, landlord at the time of the First World War. He enlisted at Skipton in 1916 as a 40-year-old, joining the 4th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers. Despite being wounded twice he returned to the front and was taken prisoner during the Somme campaign, dying in Germany a month before the Armistice.

After lunch and a walk around the village, we popped into Zarina's, a tea room that also stocks Calendar Girl merchandise. The owner, Zarina Belk, knows all the original Calendar Girls from Rylstone and Cracoe WI personally. The link with Kettlewell was established when location filming for the movie took place here in 2003. Zarina had a small non-speaking role, and the village has benefited from a boost to its tourist numbers. "It's had a nice effect; we've had visitors from Europe who have seen the film and come to visit," she says. "I've lived in this area nearly all my life and Kettlewell is a very special place. It's a really close-knit community. Talking to visitors you find out that a lot of them came here as children and they come back with their own children." Pictures on the wall show Zarina with the Calendar Girls when the tea room was re-launched in 2006 and some customers wrongly assume she must have been one of the original naked posers. However, Zarina's sales of calendars and other gifts have raised over 13,000 for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research.

Partly at Zarina's suggestion, we called in at the garage on the southern edge of the village to meet Mick Wilkinson. The garage has been in the family since Mick's father first set up shop in the 1940s. Mick, along with his older brother Bill, had been responsible for getting the children of Upper Wharfedale to school by bus for over 40 years. Mick's garage is a film set in its own right, the idiosyncratic interior appearing unchanged in the Calendar Girls movie. Mick now concentrates on mechanical repairs and supplying petrol but he modestly reveals a remarkable past when asked if he has lived in Kettlewell all his life. In fact, Mick and his brother Bill have been all over the world, having both been British Moto-Cross Champions. Mick still gets the bike out and takes on the slopes and crags of Middlesmoor Pastures outside his forecourt.

Heading south from Grassington towards Burnsall, an interesting choice awaits at the Linton crossroads: turn left to head down to the bridge and the falls, with a distinctive ancient church a short walk downstream; or turn right for the village green adjacent to Linton Beck, with the Fountaine Inn as a magnet for walkers, diners and quaffers. The elegance of the early 18th century Fountaine Hospital almshouses is a pleasing backdrop. We visited the inn partly for the warmth of the log fire on a cold day.

The inn is part of a small chain which also includes The Wheatley Arms in Ben Rhydding and the Tempest Arms at Elslack. The village green is characterised by views of three bridges. We crossed one to meet Robert Chaney, a sprightly 89-year-old with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. Robert defies his age and helps to maintain the immaculate presentation of the village. Pausing in the middle of sweeping the packbridge he said: "I retired 28 years ago, but I like to keep busy." Robert was born in Linton and has lived in Wharfedale most of his life apart from a spell serving with the East Yorkshire regiment overseas during the Second World War.

He moved back to Linton five years ago with his wife Margaret to whom he has been married for 61 years. The couple have six children, 10 grandchildren and two great grandchildren and now live at the Fountaine Hospital. If you park near to Linton church (there is a charge) you can cross the footbridge and walk the short distance to Grassington.

Once you've enjoyed a view of Linton falls, call in at the beautiful St Michael and All Angels church, whose history goes back before the Norman Conquest, though what survives today is from the 12th century. The fact that the church is so squat, as protection against inclement weather, is part of its appeal: it feels rooted in its Yorkshire earth and stone. Downstream from the church are stepping stones and in the field opposite is an unusual standing stone, if you have time to investigate.

Wharfedale and its many wonders repay its visitors along the full 60 miles of the river from its source on Camm Fell in Langstrothdale to its confluence with the Ouse near Cawood. Several days, if not a whole lifetime, would barely do justice to it. Small wonder that it drew back Robert Chaney who chose to spend more than 80 years living here.

YP MAG 8/1/11