Beat the crowds and follow Wainwright’s footsteps

It is hard to argue with those who believe that the most beautiful walk in England is the one which follows the lovely River Twiss upstream from Ingleton then swings onto a centuries-old green road called Twistleton Lane to cross the southern ridge of Whernside, Yorkshire’s highest mountain, before returning along the steep banks of the River Doe.

As with most things of great beauty, however, it doesn’t come cheap. To follow the four-and-a-half mile route known as the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail you must stump up £6 per adult, £3 for children and £14 for families. The price of a ticket has risen steeply over the years, so much so that when the guidebook author Alfred Wainwright included it in his Walks in Limestone Country in 1970, admission for adults was just 1/- or 5p in today’s money.

“So small a fee! So great a reward!” Wainwright wrote cheerfully then, but I think he would probably grind his teeth - as I do - when forking out the charge today.

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However, I doubt that anyone ever goes home dissatisfied. As Wainwright said, “Here nature, always bountiful, has been lavish indeed: charming rivers sparkling waterfalls, wooded ravines, sinister pools and gorges all combine to present a pageant of unexcelled beauty and grandeur.”

The many highlights include Pecca Falls, a jaw-dropping collection of five waterfalls cascading 100 feet over sandstone steps into deep pools; the spectacular, much-photographed waterfall known as Thornton Force; and Baxenghyll Gorge, a deep water-foaming crevice overlooked by a viewing bridge.

Most of the route lies over private footpaths and it has been a nice little earner for the landowners since Victorian times. More than a century ago, for example, on just one day three steam train excursions from Leeds, two from Bradford and two from Lancashire towns brought mill and factory workers and their families to the walk, which had become a huge attraction. Visitors were then charged 2d in old money (less than 1p today) and 3,840 people were recorded as clicking through the turnstile.

Keen to promote their goldmine, the people of Ingleton borrowed the famous Italian saying “vedi Napoli e poi muori”, which told well-heeled tourists they might be so overwhelmed by the beauty of Naples it could prove fatal. Audaciously, the Ingletonians began to advertise their own visual wonder with the slogan: “See Ingleton and then die!”

I have always preferred to walk the route in early spring, before the crowds arrive, when it is possible to have the deep chasm of Swilla Glen to myself and hear birdsong echoing from the oak, ash, birch and hazel trees.

From Easter onwards, especially at weekends, the place can be as busy as Roundhay Park in Leeds, although it seems to me that many people walk only as far as Thornton Force and then retrace their footsteps, leaving the second half of the route along the banks of the River Doe a quieter and more rewarding experience.