A Day in the Dale. Walter Swan and Yvette Huddleston investigate Widdale and Upper Dentdale
Each of our days spent exploring a dale inevitably has involved a car journey getting us there and back within daylight hours.
The further we roam as this series has continued, the more obvious it is that a day is never quite enough, and that the car is only a means to a limited end – travelling on foot would be infinitely preferable, with overnight accommodation a subsequent necessity.
If you happen to find yourself near Hawes with some hours to spare, by all means use your car to explore Widdale and the upper reaches of Dentdale. But seriously contemplate abandoning your vehicle on a regular basis to enjoy these dales' delights on foot.
We made for Appersett, near Hawes, on the A684 route to Sedburgh. This small hamlet (whose name, derived from the original Norse, means either the farm or the pasture next to the apple tree – those Vikings were truly poetic as well as keen-eyed) has only 23 dwellings, though there is a haulage depot on the outskirts, and an art gallery worth visiting. The Artbar Gallery exhibits the work of Moira Metcalfe, an artist who is also a farmer's wife. Though she works using different media – oils, watercolour on silk, watercolours and pastels – it is her colourful depictions of the local landscape using oils which really catch the eye.
"I am very influenced by my surroundings," says Moira. "I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. I love it here. The landscape is endlessly inspirational and the light you get around here is fantastic." Moira also offers courses in painting, including for beginners, through her association with the nearby Stone House Hotel on the other side of the River Ure.
The village green at Appersett is small and practical, with several washing lines on display, though the washing had been taken in on this (mainly dry) day. Nearby is the stone-built road bridge over the Widdale Beck, no great distance from the confluence with the River Ure. Appersett is an excellent starting point for walks to the village of Hardraw, with its famous falls, the largest single drop waterfall in England, and into tucked-away Cotterdale, with the opportunity to climb high up onto Great Shunner Fell from where the views in all directions are magnificent.
We left Appersett on the easily missable Lanacer Lane, just to the east of the bridge. (We were part way to Sedburgh before we realised we'd missed it). This is the most visually appealing stretch of Widdale, the name meaning "the wooded valley" in Old Norse. The beck tumbles down a steep wooded ravine, bisected quite beautifully by the Appersett Viaduct, part of the now defunct branch line between Hawes and Garsdale which once linked with the Settle-Carlisle railway.
Half a mile further on, look out for Thorney Mire Barn, its name being the least attractive aspect of a very appealing bed and breakfast establishment – with not a thorn or mire in sight. Owned since 2004 by Simon and Jane Hudson, it has built up a considerable reputation among those for whom a single day in this area is simply not long enough.
When the lane runs out, it joins the relatively busy B6255, one of the trunk roads that joins Hawes and Settle. Forestry plantations here might seem a temporary blot on the landscape with industrial-scale felling currently taking place. However, the remaining conifers are also now a reserve for the protection of red squirrels, the five separate mini-forests together forming one of only two such reserves in Yorkshire.
Reserves elsewhere in northern England are located in substantial, continuous forests unlike the patchwork nature of the Widdale plantations. Nevertheless they were chosen because it does offer an opportunity to encourage the geographical range of reds remaining on the mainland in England. Not many people, even locally, are aware that red squirrels are present in significant numbers in this area of Yorkshire.
There's no signposting yet alerting you to walks through the woodland to allow you to catch a glimpse of these shy, winsome creatures. Hugh Kemp owns an 18th century farmhouse as well as woodland planted over the past 40 years which now forms part of the Widdale Red Squirrel Reserve. He has been liaising with the Yorkshire Dales National Park to create the trail through the reserve woodlands. In time, the Red Squirrel walk might well be one of Yorkshire's most notable eco-tourist attractions.
Continuing south, allow your eye to drift westwards towards Widdale Fell, the summit of which is the appealingly-named Great Knoutberry Hill. The dale widens out (perhaps Widdale should mean "the wide dale") over this stretch the further you rise, the vista suddenly surprising you with a distant view of the ever-distinctive shape of Ingleborough.
Just as this happens, be ready for a right turn at Newby Head Gate. There is no literal gate, but this is the gateway into the upper reaches of Dentdale. Much of this section of a quiet, tranquil road doubles up as the Ribble Way and Dales Way, so do pay proper attention to the safety of walkers. Cyclists also make good use of this section of road, and small wonder – it must be one of the most beautiful tarmac-ed routes anywhere in the country.
The eye is drawn to Dent Head viaduct, part of the Settle-Carlisle line. Built between 1870 and 1875 what distinguishes Dent Head is that it was built from blue limestone. The nearer you get to it, the more beautiful it seems and the road passes next to it. Where Fell End Gill passes under a road bridge, there's a parking area to your right, with attractive falls and an ancient packbridge in clear view.
Sheep had claimed the bridge, two of them quite blatantly posing when we produced the camera. What you'll really want to take pictures of, though, are the towering arches of the viaduct which seem to stride majestically overhead, dwarfing the trees.
Follow the road a little further, alongside the watercourse's regular delightful falls (on its way towards becoming the River Dee), and you come to yet another viaduct at Arten Gill – the highest viaduct on the Settle-Carlisle line. With eleven arches, a length of 220 yards and a height of 117 feet, it is an imposing sight as its dominates the ravine of the Artengill Beck en route northwards to England's highest mainline station, Dent Station (actually some little distance from Dent itself).
Turn off the road to get the best view of the viaduct, and it's well worth exploring the area around the beck on foot. An information board explains the industrial history of the locality, paying special attention to the renovation that has taken place to restore dry-stone walls, fords, gateways and kilns in the vicinity. The kilns, some of which date back at least 150 years, were used to produce quicklime. This corrosive compound was frequently used in the past, rather surprisingly, one might think, to help make plaster and mortar and, when spread on the fields, to "sweeten" the grass.
There's no sweeter way to round off this day in two dales than to call in at The Sportsman's Inn at Cowgill (reasonably priced bed and breakfast accommodation). This photogenic, 300-year-old Grade 2 listed building is proud to proclaim that it is "not a restaurant that sells beer, we are a c17th Inn that provides quality food and ales at a reasonable price."
It's a pub that makes no concessions to modern trends, so you won't find a jukebox, or Sky Sports – and there's no point in pulling out your mobile phone because they are not welcomed, nor would you get a signal. The only signals are on the nearby railway line – so if you can't get to the area by any other means, why not take the train.
Moira Metcalfe at Artbar Gallery
Nether Bar East, Appersett, Hawes, North Yorkshire, DL8 3LN
Tel: 01969 667782
Stone House Hotel, near Hawes, Wensleydale
Tel: 01969 667571
Fax: 01969 667720
Simon & Jane Hudson
Thorney Mire Barn
Telephone: 01969 666122
The Sportsman's Inn, Cowgill
Tel 015396 25282
Save our Squirrels Project
c/o Cumbria Wildlife Trust
Tel: 01768 212521