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The Manor Cafe - Bellerby - Wensleydale - Yorkshire Dales National Park - North Yorkshire

A Bikers guide to the Yorkshire Dales
Where to ride - What to see - The best roads and routes - Maps and guides


The present Yorkshire Dales national park boundary in Mallerstang

Welcome to the Yorkshire Dales National Park

The Yorkshire Dales National Park lies between the Lake District in the west and the North York Moors in the east. it was designated as a National Park in 1954.

Covering an area of approximately 1,769 km/683 square miles, the Yorkshire Dales National Park boasts some of the finest scenery in the North of England. The name 'Dales' comes from the Scandinavian 'Thal' and refers to valleys in the area made boggy by rivers flowing down from the Pennine Hills.

The distinctive natural features of the Yorkshire Dales were shaped by the melting of glacier ice, eroding the limestone and sandstone rocks some 300 million years ago. This created crags, hills, caves and expanses of fissured rock pavements, valleys and waterfalls. Lead mining began in Roman times and continued into the 19th century. Quarrying for the high quality limestone, the clearing of woodland and building of villages, farmsteads and low stone walls so distinctive of the area, are the man made features of the Dales.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park offers visitors opportunities for many outdoor pursuits including walking, climbing, horse riding, bird watching and caving. For archaeologists there are many fascinating discoveries to be made, as this area has been inhabited since Roman times. Naturalists will find the area rich in bird and wildlife, flora and fauna. The Yorkshire Dales is an area of beautiful scenery, interesting towns and villages and many historic attractions to visit.
Wensleydale was the home of one of Yorkshire's most famous clans, the Metcalfes, after they emigrated from Dentdale. The Metcalfe Society hold records dating back to Metcalfes living in the area during the 14th century. They were one of the most prominent families in Yorkshire for over five centuries. Sir James Metcalfe (1389–1472), who was born and lived in Wensleydale, was a captain in the army which fought with King Henry V in the battle of Agincourt in 1415. Metcalfe is still one of the most common surnames in Yorkshire. Bolton Castle in the village of Castle Bolton is a notable local historic site. Mary, Queen of Scots, was imprisoned here. The story goes that she escaped and made her way towards Leyburn only to lose her 'shawl' on the way, hence the name ('The Shawl') to the cliff edge that runs westward out of Leyburn and is a well-known spot for easy walks with excellent views.
Wensleydale's principal towns are Hawes and Leyburn; Aysgarth, Bainbridge, and Middleham are well-known villages. The shortest river in England, the River Bain, links Semer Water to the River Ure, at Bainbridge, the home to an Ancient Roman fort (part of the Roman road is walkable, up Wether Fell). Hardraw Force, the highest unbroken waterfall in England, is located at Hardraw, near Hawes. Aysgarth Falls (High, Middle, Low) are rightly famous, and people come from a long way to see them - they are spectacular in their beauty (enough to feature in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves; also Kevin Costner took a nude bathe in the plunge pool of Hardraw Force) rather than their height. Other notable waterfalls are at West Burton, and Whitfield Gill Force, near Askrigg.
Wensleydale lies between Wharfedale (to the south), and the quieter Swaledale (to the north, via Buttertubs Pass). The less well-known Coverdale is a branch of Wensleydale.
Wensleydale is a very popular destination in its own right, enhanced by its central location between two other well-known tourist dales: Wharfedale and the quieter Swaledale.

Wensleydale is a common destination for visitors who like walking on mountains, moorland, dale-sides, and valley bottoms. Hawes and Leyburn are popular because of their age, location and facilities (pubs, shops, teashops, and hotels). Hawes is the home of a rope-makers (Outhwaites), where visitors can see the manufacturing process.

The Wensleydale Railway operates in Wensleydale. It currently runs to between Leeming Bar, the A1 and Redmire, near Castle Bolton. The railway's long-term plan is eventually to run the whole length of the valley and connect again with the National Rail network at both ends: at Garsdale on the Settle-Carlisle Railway in the west and Northallerton on the East Coast Main Line in the east. It is hoped this may help relieve some of the current traffic congestion that the valley suffers from during the busiest months. Some people come for the Richard III connection: he was brought up in Middleham Castle, of which sufficient ruins remain to be well worth a visit. Middleham itself is a pleasant village with pubs and horse-racing connections (several stables). In the market place stands a stone carving, believed to be a boar's head, signifying where the animal market was during the 15th century as well as representing Richard's personal standard, the white boar.



Swaledale starts to the east of Nine Standards Rigg, the prominent ridge with nine ancient tall cairns on the Cumbria–Yorkshire boundary which forms part of the main east–west watershed of Northern England. To the west lies Kirkby Stephen and the Westmorland Limestone Plateau.

The moors on the eastern flank of the Rigg's moorland become more and more concave as they descend, to become the narrow valley sides of upper Swaledale at the small village of Keld. From there, the valley runs briefly south then turns east at Thwaite to broaden progressively as it passes Muker, Gunnerside and Reeth. The Pennine valley ends at the market town of Richmond, where an important medieval castle still watches the important ford from the top of a cliff. Below Richmond, the valley sides flatten out and the Swale flows across lowland farmland to meet the Ure just east of Boroughbridge at a point known as Swale Nab. The Ure becomes the Ouse, and eventually (on merging with the Trent) the Humber.

From the north, Arkengarthdale and its river the Arkle Beck join Swaledale at Reeth. To the south, Wensleydale, home of the famous Wensleydale cheese, runs parallel with Swaledale. The two dales are separated by a ridge including Great Shunner Fell, and joined by the road over Buttertubs Pass.

Physical character

Swaledale is a typical limestone Yorkshire dale, with its narrow valley-bottom road, green meadows and fellside fields, white sheep and white stone walls on the glacier-formed valley sides, and darker moorland skyline. The upper parts of the dale are particularly striking because of its large old limestone field barns and its profusion of wild flowers. The latter are thanks to the return to the practice of leaving the cutting of grass for hay or silage until wild plants have had a chance to seed. Occasionally visible from the valley bottom road are the slowly-fading fellside scars of the 18th and 19th century lead mining industry. Ruined stone mine buildings remain, taking on the same colours as the landscape into which they are crumbling.

Swaledale is home to many small but beautiful waterfalls, such as Richmond Falls, Kisdon Force and Catrake Force.
Agriculture and industry

Sheep-farming has always been central to economic life in Swaledale, which has lent its name to a breed of round-horned sheep. Traditional Swaledale products are woollens and Swaledale cheese, which was formerly made from ewe’s milk. These days it is made from cow’s milk. During the 19th century, a major industry in the area was lead mining.

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