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Cowgill, a Geologist and the River Dee

An easy walk at the head of Dentdale, in the footsteps of Adam Sedgwick, beside the River Dee and back through farmland.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 131ft (40m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Tracks, field and riverside paths, some roads, 17 stiles

Landscape Lush valley bottom, views of the fells and farmland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL2 Yorkshire Dales - Southern & Western

Start/finish SD 742864

Dog friendliness Keep under close control; lots of stiles

Parking Parking place at Ibbeth Peril

Public toilets None on route

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© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 Leave the back of the car park on a footpath going through woodland. Cross over a footbridge, then head across the field to a gate and turn left along the road. Follow the road for 1 mile (1.6km) until you get to a stone bridge over the River Dee.

2 Don't cross the bridge, but continue along the riverside over a stile signed 'Lea Yeat'. Go through a stone stile and across two tributary streams, to a wooden stile on to Lea Yeat Bridge. Cross the bridge, then turn left at the signpost towards Dent and Sedbergh.

3 Just beyond the postbox on the left, follow a sign on the right to Dockra Bridge. Go a short way up the drive for Cowgill Grange, then bear left to a gated stile. Go ahead, passing through two gates in front of a cottage and on to a track. Bear right. The path goes round the left end of two houses, through three gates and a stile. After the last gate, turn left to reach a track and go right to Dockra Bridge.

4 Cross the bridge, bend right then take a stile on your left. Go half left to a stile in a crossing wall. Continue ahead to a waymarked hand gate. Go right of the barn, though a gateway in a crossing wall to another gated stone stile, then half left across the field towards the farmhouse to a signposted stile.

5 After the stile, go half right, then through another stile. Continue to another stile, then head towards farm buildings, go over a stone stile by a gateway beside the barn and through another gate. Pass the farmhouse, bend right and then left behind a barn to a bridge with steps and a gated stile beyond.

6 Cross the field to another stile. Just beyond, turn right along a track. As it bends right, go ahead to pass a house, through a gate and behind another building to a wooden stile. Go ahead across the field to a stone stile, go left of the barn on to a track over a stream and uphill again.

7 Curve round the left of the next barn and follow the wall. At the next farm buildings, go through a metal gate by a barn, then follow the walled lane right. After another gate bear left, through a stile, go to the right of the farm building and on to a track. Turn right, bear left through a waymarked gate, pass the farmhouse and follow the track to the road. Turn left to return to the car park.

Cowgill, near the narrow head of Dentdale, is a cluster of houses alongside the River Dee. Now mostly an agricultural, holiday and residential settlement, in the past it housed both miners and mill workers - near Ewegales Bridge was Dee Mill, where worsteds were spun at the beginning of the 19th century. The fast-flowing Dee, which may be named after a Celtic river goddess, and in turn gives its name to Dentdale, provided the motive power; it tumbles and slides across limestone terraces and through gorges on its way to join the River Rawthey near Sedbergh. Though innocent in good weather, the river can be fierce after rain - in 1870 Ewegales Bridge and Lea Yeat Bridge, both on the walk, were swept away.

The start of the walk crosses a footbridge over the river as it rushes through a gorge where there is a waterfall called Ibbeth Peril. The waterfall has a cave (reputedly the home of a witch called Ibby) behind it - just one of a series of caves and passages that riddle the limestone in this part of the dale. Much favoured by speleologists, access to the main system (for the experienced only) is through a narrow entrance in the riverbank, which leads to a passage eventually opening into a large cavern. There are other caverns and underground waterfalls beyond, though the whole system has yet to be explored in full.

St John's Church at Cowgill, seen across the river near Ewegales Bridge, owes much to geologist Adam Sedgwick His sister started a Sunday school in Cowgill at the beginning of the 19th century, and by the 1830s there was a pressing need for a church. Sedgwick himself laid the foundation stone in 1837, when a crowd of 700 gathered in celebration. 'I handled the trowel,' he later wrote, 'and laid the stone, then addressed my countrymen, after which we again uncurled ourselves into a long string to the tune of God Save the King and the strangers, school children, and some others went down to Dent and had cold meat and coffee at the old parsonage. My sister made thirty-six gallons of coffee in a brewing vessel.' The early days of the chapel were not straightforward; diocesan officials first failed to register it as a place of worship at all, then called it by the wrong name. It took the personal intervention of Queen Victoria - Sedgwick had been a close acquaintance of Prince Albert - to sort out the mess.

While you're there

Visit Dent Brewery, which you pass on the walk at Hollins. It is not open to casual visitors - so don't just drop in - but visits are available every Saturday, starting from the George and Dragon in Dent, with transport to the brewery. You can sample some of the Brewery's prize-winning beers, many with sheep-related names such as Sheep and Shearful, Baarister and Ewe are the Weakest Link.

What to look for

While on the first, eastward, part of the walk look up to the facing hillside to see the white-painted Victorian buildings of Dent Station - the highest mainline railway station in England. It is 1,132ft (345m) above sea level and is one of the stops on the spectacular Settle-to-Carlisle line. While it can be an inhospitable place when the winds blow and the winter storms set in, it proved a way into the wider world for the people of Dentdale - even though to reach it from Dent meant a 4-mile (6.4km) walk and a stiff climb. In the later part of his life it was the route regularly taken by Adam Sedgwick on his way to and from York to reach London or Cambridge. It is still used by local people today - you may see them walking along the valley roads carrying their supermarket shopping from Settle or Carlisle. And you will certainly hear the whistle of the trains as they pass over Dent Head and Arten Gill viaducts as they approach Dent Station.

Where to eat and drink

There is nowhere immediately on the route, so head for Dent, with its two pubs and four tea rooms, or go east towards Dent Head viaduct for the Sportsman's Inn, which serves bar meals. It is usually closed in the afternoons.

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