50 years of wild, tranquil and timeless atmosphere of The Dales Way - Roger Ratcliffe

At a remote cafe on the Pennine watershed between Yorkshire and Cumbria are two paid-for cups of tea. However, in the extremely improbable event that the teas I left in the farm at Cam Houses are still on the table they will certainly be undrinkable after more than 20 years.

The Dales Way turns 50 this year. Picture by Roger Ratcliffe.
The Dales Way turns 50 this year. Picture by Roger Ratcliffe.

I bought the teas while walking the Dales Way trail from Ilkley to Windermere, intending them for two walkers I had spent an enjoyable evening with at a B&B in Upper Wharfedale. The following morning I had set off ahead of them and – well and truly soaked to the skin after a heavy shower – and so I was glad to reach the cafe at Cam Houses sheep farm, at 1,500ft up on some of Yorkshire’s wildest moorland.

As I was leaving I could see the couple further down the hill and decided to buy cups of tea for them before I continued the route. But that night, when we ran into each other again at the next B&B in Dentdale, they made no mention of the teas. It turned out they had marched straight past the farm.

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I remembered this incident on hearing that 2019 is the 50th anniversary of the Dales Way footpath, because it is the memories of the people you meet and the experiences you have along the way of a long-distance walk, as much as the photographs of the scenery, that you take home.

MORE RATCLIFFE: Pivotal springtime notes of cuckoos have inspired great composersA programme of Dales Way events is planned throughout the spring and summer culminating at the footpath’s birthday in the second week of August. They include an exhibition and lunch in Ilkley and a commemorative walk along the 80-mile path, which was originally devised by two members of the West Riding Ramblers Association, Colin Speakman and Tom Wilcock.

It is an outstandingly beautiful route, perhaps even the loveliest in England, and the average walker can easily complete it over five days.

The first leg allows for a late-morning departure from Ilkley in order to reach accommodation in Burnsall if you are not intending to overnight under canvas.

Day two is devoted to the long hike up Wharfedale to Buckden or Hubberholme, and for me walking on the elevated limestone terrace between the villages of Coniston and Kettlewell is one of the trail’s highlights.

The third day is that trek up Langstrothdale and challenging traverse of the watershed at Cam Houses.

Once the Hawes to Ingleton road has been crossed next to Gayle Beck, however, another highlight awaits walkers: the path through tranquil Dentdale to the timeless village of Dent.

The river banks of the Dee and Lune then act as conduits westwards in the shadow of the Howgill Fells, and beyond the M6 minor rivers like the Mint and the Sprint are waiting to be encountered before the wider River Kent is met on the outskirts of Kendal.

From there it is little more than a half-day’s walk to the glorious finish at Bowness-on-Windermere in the Lake District National Park, where it is traditional to remove walking boots and soak those tired feet in the lake.