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A Riverside Circuit High in the Dales

A classic walk in Upper Swaledale from Keld to Muker along Kidsdon Side, and back by the river.

Distance 6 miles (9.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 820ft (250m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field and riverside paths and tracks, 10 stiles

Landscape Hillside and valley, hay meadows, riverside and waterfall

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 30 Yorkshire Dales - Northern & Central

Start/finish NY 892012

Dog friendliness Dogs on leads (there are lots of sheep)

Parking Signed car park at west end of village near Park Lodge

Public toilets Keld and Muker

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© AA Media Limited 2013. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 Walk back down the car park entrance road, and straight ahead down the gravel track, signed 'Muker'. Continue along at the upper level, ignoring a path downhill to the left. Go through a gate, pass a sign to Kisdon Upper Force, and continue along the track to a signpost.

2 Turn right, following the Pennine Way National Trail. The path goes through a gated stone stile, then through a gap in the wall to continue with a wall on your left. Go on through a gate and over four stiles to descend towards Muker to reach a signpost where the Pennine Way goes right.

3 Go straight on down the track, marked 'Muker', between stone walls. Go through a wooden gate, still following the bridleway to Muker. The track becomes metalled, as it descends through two gates and into a walled lane in the village to a T-junction.

4 Turn left and left again by a sign to Gunnerside and Keld. Follow the paved path through five stiles to reach the river. Turn right and go over a stile to the footbridge.

5 Ascend the steps beyond the footbridge and turn left, signed 'Keld'. Follow the course of the river along a clear track, until it curves right around Swinner Gill, over a footbridge by the remains of the lead workings, and through a wooden gate.

6 Go straight ahead up the hill and into woodland. The track eventually winds left then right round a stone barn, then downhill through a wooden gate to reach another gate above Kisdon Force.

7 Go left by a wooden seat, at a sign to Keld. Follow the stream down to a footbridge. Go through the gate and turn right, uphill, to a T-junction, where you turn right and follow the path back to the car.

Keld - its name is the Old Norse word for a spring - is one of the most remote of Dales villages. Set at the head of Swaledale, its cluster of grey cottages is a centre for some of the most spectacular walks in North Yorkshire. This walk follows, for part of its way, the traditional route by which the dead of the upper Dales were taken the long distance for burial in Grinton churchyard. Leaving the village, the walk takes the Pennine Way as it follows the sweep of the Swale on its way down to Muker. This is Kisdon Side, on the slopes of the conical hill known as Kisdon. It was formed at the end of the Ice Age; the Swale used to flow west of the hill but glacial debris blocked its course and forced it to the east, in its current bed.

As the Pennine Way goes west, eventually to climb the slopes of Great Shunner Fell, the walk joins the Corpse Way and descends into Muker. It is worth taking some time to explore the village. Like many Swaledale settlements, it expanded in the 18th and 19th centuries because of local lead mining. The prominent Literary Institute was built for the mining community; though in a nice reverse of fortunes, when the new chapel came to be built in the 1930s, dressed stone taken from the ore hearths at the Old Gang Mine down the valley was used. The Anglican church, which eventually did away with the long journey to Grinton, dates from 1580.

Beyond Muker, the walk passes through hay meadows and along the banks of the Swale. Both sandstone and limestone are found in this section; look out for the sandstone bed underlying the river. The limestone of the area is part of the thick Ten Fathom bed, one of the Yoredale series of sedimentary rocks. Where the valley of Swinner Gill crosses the path are the remains of a small smelt mill which served the nearby Beldi Hill and Swinner Gill Mines. As you ascend the hill beyond, the ruins of Crackpot Hall, a farmhouse long abondoned because of mining subsidence and changes in farming fortune, are to your right. Its name means 'Crows Pothole'.

As the track descends the valley side, the waterfall of Kisdon Force is below you on the Swale, and there are high overhanging crags on the opposite bank. Further along, you turn downhill to the footbridge over the river, beside East Gill Force. Like all the Dales falls, the volume of its water can vary wildly from the merest summer trickle to a raging winter torrent. Whatever its condition, the rocks around can be very slippery and you should take special care if you leave the path to get a better view.

Where to eat and drink

Park Lodge in Keld provides tea, coffee and light refreshments, and so does the Village Store in Muker. The Farmers Arms in Muker provides excellent beer, as well as good home-made bar meals in the cosy bar with its open fire.

What to look for

Around Muker traditional hay meadows are still to be found. They are an important part of the farmer's regime, which is why signs ask you to keep to single file as you walk through them. Such a method of farming helps maintain the wide variety of wild flowers that grow in the hay meadows. The barns, too, are part of older farming patterns, and form one of the most important visual assets of the Dales. The Muker area is especially rich in them - there are 60 within half a mile (800m) of the village. Their purpose was to store the hay after it was cut, to feed the three or four animals who would be over-wintered inside. This was to save the farmer moving stock and hauling loads of hay long distances. It also meant that the manure from the beasts could be used on the field just outside the barn.

While you're there

Take the minor road that leaves the B6270 just west of Keld to reach Tan Hill and its inn, the highest in England at 1,732 feet (528m) above sea level. With no neighbouring dwelling for at least 4 miles (6.4km) in any direction, it is as welcome a site for walkers today as it was for the packhorse-train drivers of the past, and the coal and lead miners who worked on the surrounding moors. It's not advisable to attempt the drive in fog, snow or icy weather.

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