YorkshireNet guide to Upper Wharfedale

Upper Wharfedale area of the Yorkshire Dales

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Upper Wharfedale’s scenery is dominated by the Great Scar Limestone of the Craven Pennines, and throughout the valley white scars of rock mark the hillsides, sometimes forming spectacular outcrops such as Kilnsey Crag. Never far from the river, the B6160 road gives dramatic views of Wharfedale from Bolton Abbey up to the River Wharfe’s source over twenty miles away on Cam Fell above Beckermonds.

Anglian pioneers moving up the valley from the east during the 6th and 7th centuries established today’s village settlements - Bolton Abbey, Appletreewick, Hebden, Burnsall, Thorpe, Linton, Threshfield, Grassington, Conistone and Kettlewell. Tenth-century Norse settlers created the farm-hamlets of the upper dale beyond Buckden, itself a village on the edge of a Norman hunting forest. In medieval times Fountains Abbey and Bolton Priory owned great estates in Wharfedale and their monks evolved the pattern of roads and green lanes on the surrounding limestone uplands, with drove roads such as Mastiles Lane above Kilnsey.

Above Burnsall, Wharfedale’s distinctive landscape shows how the Enclosure Acts, mainly between 1780 and 1820, divided the old common fields in the valley bottom and on the lower slopes of the hills into rectangular pastures enclosed by hundreds of miles of limestone walls.

The ruins of Barden Tower recall the great Cliffords, whilst following the Dissolution the area around Bolton Abbey became the property of the Dukes of Devonshire, who planted trees to develop a parkland character in this part of the valley. Bolton Abbey with its riverside setting, nature trails and the famous Strid is a popular picnic and recreation venue.

Every village has its own distinctive appeal, with Burnsall often thought of as the prettiest village in England, and Linton notable for its green with beck flowing down the centre. Grassington is the centre of the dale, with the charm of a village and the facilities of a town. June’s Grassington Festival is a major arts and music event, with renowned contributors, and its Dickensian Festival held on three Saturdays in December attracts visitors from miles around. Grassington has good car parking at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Centre.

Beyond Grassington, on the eastern side of the dale, Grass Wood is an important Nature Reserve, and at Kilnsey there is the famous crag. The Kilnsey Show is a leading northern agricultural show held on the Tuesday after the August Bank Holiday in the shadow of the crag. The Fell Race up and down the crag is a show highlight.

After Kilnsey, the Kettlewell road has a branch off to Littondale, with links to Malham and Ribblesdale. Kettlewell’s village Scarecrow Festival is a leading attraction in mid-August.

The next village up the dale is Kettlewell, where much of the 2003 film Calendar Girls was filmed. During one week in August, creative villagers put on the hugely popular Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival with a trail to follow around this idyllic Yorkshire village, riddles to solve and prizes to be won!

From Kettlewell a wild upland road crosses to Coverdale and Wensleydale, whilst Wharfedale continues via Starbotton to Buckden. Here the B6160 diverges through Bishopdale to Aysgarth in Wensleydale whilst Wharfedale itself narrows, changes its name to Langstrothdale, and passes Hubberholme’s ancient pub and church. The dale and road continue together, the river tumbling over limestone ledges, past Yockenthwaite to the Wharfe’s source above Beckermonds and Oughtershaw.

Bolton Abbey Yockenthwaite Kilnsey Show