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Over from Littondale

From unspoiled Arncliffe to Kettlewell, and back by the River Skirfare.

Distance 6.4 miles (10.4km)

Minimum time 3hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 1,315ft (400m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Mostly clear, some rocky sections; may be muddy, 23 stiles

Landscape Rocky hillside, moorland and meadows

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL30 Yorkshire Dales - Northern & Central

Start/finish SD 932719

Dog friendliness On leads - sheep in fields and on moorland

Parking In Arncliffe, near church

Public toilets In Kettlewell (just off route)


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1 From the car park, cross the bridge and turn right at its end, over a gated stile. Walk parallel with the river and go up steps to cross the road via two stiles. Bear right and follow the footpath steeply uphill over a stile and through a gate. Bear right and climb through the woods up Park Scar to a stile.

2 Beyond, follow the footpath to the right to another ladder stile. Pass a signpost and go through a gap in a tumbled wall to another signpost. Continue to a ladder stile, then cross the corner of the field to another ladder stile at the summit.

3 Beyond the stile, bear half right and descend to a ladder stile. Follow the path beyond towards Kettlewell, descending steeply to a signpost. Cross a track to reach a limestone scar. Descend through a narrow cleft (The Slit), then walk down to a stile and, beyond it, a footpath sign. Turn right, go through a gate and on to the road.

4 Turn right for 300yds (274m), then go right through a gate signed 'Hawkswick', bending right again at another sign. Climb through woodland, go through a waymarked gate, then bear left through a gap in the wall. Continue uphill, winding steeply to a gap in a wall beside a stile. Bear left to another stile then ascend the grassy path, bearing right where the path forks, to another stile. Beyond, continue downhill bending right by a cairn.

5 At a junction of tracks continue with a wall on your left. Go through a gated stile and into Hawkswick village. Bear left at the junction, curve right between buildings and go through a gate to the bridge.

6 Cross and follow the road, bending right. Just before farm buildings on the left, turn right towards the footbridge; do not cross, but turn left at the 'Arncliffe' sign. Follow the river, going over three stiles, then a footbridge and another ladder stile. The path leaves the riverside and reaches a gate. Cross the field beyond to a ladder stile, then another footbridge.

7 Walk to the right of the barn and go through a gate, then bear left to a squeeze stile in a crossing wall. Cross a track and go through three more stiles, following the river, to go through a gate near a house. Follow the waymarked posts to a kissing gate and past the churchyard to the starting point.

The village of Arncliffe and the limestone scars surrounding it may look familiar to long-time followers of the television soap opera Emmerdale, for the opening titles for many years featured views of the village, and in the programme's very early days it was used as a film location. The cameras have long departed, leaving visitors space to appreciate Arncliffe's spectacular setting. Great limestone scars - once the home to eagles who gave the village its name - line the hillsides all around, and the fells are riddled with caves and gulleys. Arncliffe sits on a great spit of gravel, above the floodplain of the River Skirfare. Before the building of the bridge, a ford allowed travellers an easy crossing for the many ancient tracks that converge here. Some of the tracks may be prehistoric; there is evidence south of the village of Celtic field systems and stone enclosures.

St Oswald's Church may have been Saxon in origin, but nothing remains of that or its Norman successor. The tower is 15th century, while the rest was rebuilt in both the 18th and 19th centuries. The village records stretch back a long way however; the church retains a list of 34 men from the parish who went north from here in 1513 to fight the Scots at the Battle of Flodden - some of their names are still held by village families. In the churchyard is a simple stone memorial to John Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich, who caused a theological stir with his book Honest to God, first published in 1963. In Bridge House, close by, Charles Kingsley wrote part of The Water Babies - his Vendale is Littondale. Arncliffe's houses, built of local stone, are set informally around the church and the green. There is some suggestion that it may have been initially a planned village, set here by monks who were clearing people off the surrounding land so that farming could be carried out more profitably.

Leaving Arncliffe, you will almost immediately begin the long climb up the hillside to Park Scar. The path passes through a patch of ancient woodland, Byre Bank Wood, which has regenerated itself with little management or felling for centuries, because of its precarious foothold on a steep bank. There are rare plants and flowers to be found among the trees. The descent to Kettlewell will take you through The Slit, a dramatic, narrow cleft in the limestone rocks above the village, while approach to Hawkswick gives wide views over Littondale, much of which is a conservation area. The fields are managed as wildflower meadows that provide winter fodder for the cattle. Littondale is also a must for ornithologists - look out on the walk for curlews, peregrine falcons and redshanks, as well as dippers, oystercatchers and yellow wagtails.

Where to eat and drink

For an authentic Dales experience, visit the Falcon Inn in Arncliffe, run by the same family for four generations. Here you'll be served good beer direct from the barrel. There are no pumps, pot jugs are filled at the barrel and the ale is poured from them into your glass. The Falcon also serves home-cooked food - they prefer notice of vegetarians!

What to look for

Take some time to explore the ancient village of Kettlewell. Its name means the stream in a narrow valley - the village is built alongside the Dowber Gill Beck as it tumbles into the River Wharfe. Towering over Kettlewell are the long ridges of limestone and the huge bulk of Great Whernside. A weekly market used to be held at Kettlewell, which was on one of the main coaching routes from London to the North - beyond the village the route went over into Coverdale and into Richmond. Three inns served the travellers, and now provide for the many tourists who flock here.

While you're there

Explore further up Littondale. The village of Litton is sited where the valley narrows, while beyond is the hamlet of Halton Gill. An 18th-century curate here, the Revd Miles Wilson, wrote a book to explain astronomy to ordinary folk. In The Man in the Moon he imagines a cobbler climbing to the moon from the top of Pen-y-ghent, then wandering at will around the solar system.


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