Twenty minutes into our final day and we encounter sheep down a narrow country road. If this happened anywhere else just after 9am it would be an inconvenience. The pace of life in the Yorkshire Dales, however, seems to have relaxed us. We are now firmly aware that we’re on the sheep’s time. So, after a half-hearted attempt to herd them back, we just sit tight and wait for them to decide where they’re going.
After some sheep decide they’re going back in one field, and the others decide they’re visiting friends a few fields away, we resume our journey following the river from Hellifield towards Settle. Rocky escarpments rise from behind the town. We drive down the high street past The Naked Man, rumoured to be the oldest café in the country. Further on we see the steep slopes of Pen-y-Ghent loom on the horizon. f we had more time we’d stop and explore all of these lovely locations, but it’s the famous railway line that holds our focus.
Built by over 6,000 navvies, the Settle-Carlisle railway spans nearly 80 miles of line and required 14 tunnels and 22 viaducts in its creation. To call it an enormous undertaking would be an understatement! We stop at Ribblehead Viaduct at the base of Whernside and look up at the arches rising over 100 feet from the valley floor. There’s only the three of us in a wild and beautiful landscape on a quiet spring morning and it seems to put us in a contemplative mood.
We explore the valley in silence, humbled by the unexpectedly incredible experience provided to us – something only accentuated by beams of sunlight breaking through the clouds and moving slowly down over the hills towards us.
We journey past the lychgate of St Leonards Church Chapel-le-dale, where many of those who constructed the railway are laid to rest. The ‘third peak’ of Ingleborough stands opposite and we can’t help but admire the dedication and tenacity of anyone who would try and tame this beautiful, wild corner of the Yorkshire Dales. The sun reappears and breaks the spell. It seems like it may be here to stay, so we move on towards Clapham.
The Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust does great work in preserving the Dales and ensuring that they’re available to all. We’ve worked with them a lot in the past so they’re the ideal people to help recommend places to see and things to do in the Yorkshire Dales. Their office is located in the lovely little village of Clapham, just down from the beck and square. We meet Sarah, Judy and the team, enjoy a warming cup of tea and have a lovely chat about the region. We leave thirty minutes later with a spring in our step and a new destination in mind.
Crummack Dale may only be a few minutes further – just the other side of the village of Austwick – but in many ways it’s a whole other world. The landscape is surrounded by limestone ridges but dotted with rock formations called the Norber Erratics. These rocks were carried by glacial movement thousands of years ago and are now perched on limestone formations creating a kind of lunar landscape. It’s a truly remarkable sight and something we would have missed without the insight of the YDMT team.
The surprises don’t stop there. We head back to Austwick for lunch and stop off at The Game Cock to find a diverse menu comprised of traditional regional fare and some gastronomic diversions into French cuisine. So alongside a hearty steak and ale pie you can enjoy galettes, crepes and a host of other delicious dishes from across the Channel. It’s nice to see that the special relationship between France and Yorkshire goes further than the Grand Depart!
We head underground and over ground like well-fed Wombles after lunch. White Scar in Ingleton is the longest show cave in Britain. The accompanied tour takes you past subterranean waterfalls, into ice-age caverns with thousands of suspended stalactites and past many more incredible natural formations. It’s a whole other side to the Dales and one that’s well-worth experiencing. And with the glow of the sun back on our faces we head into the village and set out on the waterfall trail.
The 4 mile trail builds slowly from the Broadwood car park. We follow the path past a prone tree trunk that’s been covered in hundreds of deeply embedded pennies. We move against the gently flowing stream as sunlight breaks through the canopy of trees. As the flow of River Twiss builds we catch sight of Pecca Falls in the distance. We move past slate outcrops and cross a bridge directly underneath the falls, listening enraptured as the noise from the cascading waters begins to crescendo.
The trail rises and we move out of the woodland and around to Thornton Force: largest of the Ingleton Falls and subject of JMW Turner’s artistic attentions (and probably many others too!). We sit on a bench and marvel quietly at this wonder of nature.
Eventually we catch sight of a large rock embedded in the pool below and suggest it might be a good idea to climb up for a better view. Though our knees still disagree, we scramble up and sit closer to the 14 metre drop.
People have been visiting the Ingleton Waterfalls trail since the Victorian era, and though fashions and footwear may have changed, we suspect the reaction visitors get when glancing at Thorton Force hasn’t. In fact, just witnessing people’s expressions as they sit in awe of the waterfall is an attraction in itself.
With obligatory selfies taken, and the sun moving closer down to the clearing, we head uphill, back over the Twiss, and arrive at a well-positioned ice-cream van on Twistleton Lane. After much-needed refreshments, we head down and follow the trail as it runs alongside the River Doe. As the path twists and turns we encounter people dipping their toes and cooling off in the pools that gather under the falls. It looks incredibly tempting but time is against us, so we move onwards, to where to trail opens up.
We find ourselves walking through the quiet village in the late afternoon. Every pub and tearoom looks welcoming in the low light of spring (and probably would in deepest winter to be honest!). We walk back to the car park and glance at brightly painted lambs dancing in the field at the side of the road. It’s a heartening sight that reminds us that spring is advancing and the places we’ve visited are only going to look even lovelier in full bloom!
It’s been a remarkable three days. We’ve seen things we never expected and almost every planned encounter exceeded our expectations. We can’t wait to come back – and perhaps even enjoy a holiday cottage next time!