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Forces of Nature at Catrigg and Stainforth

From an attractive, stone-built village in the heart of the Ribble Valley, with a visit to two impressive waterfalls.

Distance 4.8 miles (7.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 525ft (160m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Green lanes, field and riverside paths, some road, 15 stiles

Landscape Moorland, farmland and river meadows with two waterfalls

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

Start/finish SD 821672

Dog friendliness Can be off lead in walled section up to Catrigg Force

Parking Pay-and-display car park in Stainforth, just off B6479

Public toilets At car park

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1 From the car park turn right, then right again, signed 'Settle'. Over the bridge, go left through a gap in the wall. Follow the beck to an open area. Go through the white posts and turn left. Go right of the green, then turn right. Go uphill on the lane for ¾ mile (1.2km) to a gate and ladder stile. (To visit Catrigg Force, take the smaller gate to the left. Return to the same point.)

2 Go over the ladder stile. The track bends right. Go over a stile in a crossing wall, then turn right, signed 'Winskill'. The path bears left to join a track. Go over a stile and continue to the farmhouses, then go straight ahead over a stile signed 'Stainforth and Langcliffe'. As the track bends right, go left over a stile signed 'Langcliffe'.

3 Cross the field to a stone stile, turning right immediately afterwards, to follow the path downhill. After a short walled section, the path descends more steeply to a hand gate, then bears left halfway down the hill, to descend to a hand gate. Follow the path beyond to another gate.

4 After the gate the lane becomes walled. At a crossroads of paths near the village go straight on. At Langcliffe's main street turn right and walk to the main road.

5 Cross the road and go through a gap in the wall diagonally right. Follow the footpath over a railway footbridge. Where the path ends go towards the mill. Just before the buildings take a signed path right, going behind the mill and beside the millpond. Go through a gate and continue along the pond side and through a stone stile to reach a gate on the left by houses.

6 Go through the gate and turn right between the rows of cottages. Where the row ends, before the post box, go left over a footbridge over the River Ribble and at the end turn right, beside the weir, to a stone stile signed 'Stainforth'. Follow the riverside path, going over six more stiles to a caravan site.

7 Go right of the site, on the riverside path, past Stainforth Force to the humpback Stainforth Bridge. Go through a stile on to the lane, turn right over the bridge and follow the narrow lane as it bends and climbs to the main road. Turn right and take the second turning left back to the car park.

Stainforth is set along the Stainforth Beck as it rushes to join the River Ribble. It provides the starting point for many tracks across the moors to the east, once important routes for trade, that crossed the beck at first on the stone ford (which is what 'Stainforth' means) and later by the 14th-century bridge. The walk follows one of these ancient ways, the walled Goat Lane, as far as the path down to Catrigg Force. This spectacular waterfall, hidden in a wooded valley, was one of the favourite places of the composer Edward Elgar, who regularly stayed with his friend Dr Charles Buck in nearby Settle. Elgar would walk here, perhaps mulling over his latest work as he did so. Towards the end of the walk you pass another waterfall, Stainforth Force, where the Ribble passes over a series of limestone steps in tumultuous cascades. Just above is an attractive humpback bridge leading to Little Stainforth. The bridge was a vital link on a packhorse route between Lancaster and Ripon.

After Catrigg Force, the walk route winds, after superb views towards Fountains Fell, towards the farms at Winskill. On the moorland just above are the Winskill Stones, pedestals of limestone topped with slate deposited here by ice-age glaciers. The slate protected the limestone beneath from the erosion that has worn down the surrounding rock. An area of limestone pavement here is now a nature reserve, but was for many years quarried for ornamental garden rocks. After a campaign to prevent this destruction, 64 acres (26ha) was purchased from the owner for £200,000. Now the area, with its rare limestone plants, is preserved; it is dedicated to the memory of television gardener Geoff Hamilton, who was patron of the appeal that raised the funds to buy the land.

Sir Isaac Newton often came to Langcliffe Hall, which has an odd door surround probably carved by the same masons who worked on the much more elaborate house in Settle known as The Folly. Newton was friendly with the local landowners, the Paleys. One of the family, William Paley, wrote a famous book, Evidences of Christianity (1794). Also in Langcliffe is a former inn called the Naked Woman - a counterpart of the better-known Naked Man in Settle. If you're lucky enough to be in Langcliffe during a wedding, linger for a while to see an old Dales custom; while the ceremony takes place in the church, the village children tie up the churchyard gates and refuse to let the newly-married couple out until the guests have thrown money to them.

Where to eat and drink

The Craven Heifer in Stainforth attracts visitors from far and wide - including the Prince of Wales, who launched an initiative called 'The Pub is the Hub' here in December 2001 aimed at keeping village pubs open as a focus for the community. Apart from serving Thwaites beer and meals the Craven Heifer also doubles as a village shop.

What to look for

Stainforth Scar, seen from the riverside path in the latter part of the walk, is not a natural limestone cliffs but the remains of a quarry, now being reclaimed by nature. The history of quarrying in the Yorkshire Dales National Park goes back long before 1954 when it achieved special status; Ribblesdale especially has many quarries, some still active. More than 4 million tons of stone are quarried from the National Park each year, mainly for road building or for use in the construction industry. Quarrying is a quandary in the Park. It provides local jobs in an area where they are scarce. Many of the permissions to quarry are long standing and have many years to run - paying compensation is not an option. But conservationists argue that destroying an irreplaceable resource is not sensible, even though the companies make great efforts to clean up and plant trees as quarrying finishes. It is a complex problem, and will not easily be resolved.

While you're there

Visit Victoria Cave east of Langcliffe. Nearly 1,500ft (457m) above sea level, the cave was discovered in 1838 (the year of Queen Victoria's coronation). Archaeologists revealed occupation by Roman, Celtic and Stone-Age people, as well as animals - arctic foxes and reindeer - from the ice age, and, in its earliest layers, hyenas and their prey, including elephants and woolly hippos.

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