Meadow hikes and waterfalls in the Yorkshire Dales

We arrived in the tiny village of Muker ready to do a hike in Swaledale, a gorgeous valley. The village, like all of them in the Yorkshire Dales was picture perfect; every building looked the same, built with grey stones and decorated with pretty flower boxes. Before we started we headed to the toilets but they required 20p and we only had £1. So we headed to a little shop across the road to get change but then a man called out from above the shop. He was sitting by an open window and offered us 20p which he threw out to us. I had to awkwardly tell him that we both needed 20p so he threw another one down. I offered to throw him my pound but he politely refused and wished me a pleasant wee…little did he know I was desperate for a fat shit. It was such a sweet gesture though, they sure are proving to be a bloomin’ lovely bunch in Yorkshire.

So, we finally set off on a hike along the Muker Meadows. These meadows are privately owned and actively farmed for hay, some are even protected as part of a special area of conservation. A narrow path led through the meadows with strict instructions not to veer off track as the meadow is vital to use for hay and feed the animals in winter. Fields were separated by drystone walling and most had an old stone barn on the land, previously used to store cattle in winter. The trail was very quiet with just a few other hikers and interestingly in the Yorkshire Dales we seem to be the youngest hikers. Unlike in the Peak District and Snowdonia which are full of young people in large groups, playing music on a damn speaker, The Yorkshire Dales seem to appeal more to the retired ramblers which suits us perfectly.

We passed a waterfall and managed to find a route to the top where there was a perfect swimming hole in the clear water. My plan for this hike was to get to the Crackpot Hall, an abandoned 18th century farmhouse built on the edge of a remote hillside. Seeing as I do all the research on where we visit I decided to make up a story and tell Craig it used to be a crack house and then it became a marijuana farm. From then on we couldn’t help but call it the Crackhouse hall. The view from it was incredible, looking right down the valley where we’d just come from. It was a stunning view actually, already we were very impressed with the Dales.

We had to decide where to head next, there was a short loop back or a rather long one which took us to the village of Gunnerside. Seeing as the weather was delightful we took the longer option. We had this whole area to ourselves, there wasn’t a soul around and it was so refreshing after being in busy Wales. We didn’t make it far along the trail before we found another swimming hole. It was a stunning little spot, a waterfall was dripping down a lush mossy wall and filling a series of pools down the valley with clear but brownish coloured water. Next to it seemed to be a spring fed pool, a clear green colour which was actually much warmer. Craig gave both a go, the spring fed one took some skill to get into, he had to stand in a surfing pose and slide down on the slippery ground until it was deep enough to submerge. Then he spotted a dead mole floating upside down in the water which he removed with a rock…suddenly I wasn’t in the mood to swim in this area.

We hiked through an area of hilly moorland and rounded a bend where there was a view of Swaledale valley which is all cultivated with the neatest of farms and dry stone walls. Our plan was to have afternoon tea in the very quaint village of Gunnerside but both tea rooms were closed so we headed back via the meadows, squeezing through narrow gaps in walls with miniature gates which were very old fashioned stiles. Eventually the path veered closer to the river and we had a final swim and cool off to end the day.

When we got back to Helga we had a look at the map to figure out a good place to camp for the night. We spotted a tiny parking area by a river which wasn’t too far away so we set off. The final section involved an absurdly steep single track lane. Boy were we relieved when we made it up and over without meeting anyone. The camp spot was perfect for the night, but we were surprised to be sharing it with another van after a few lonely nights on our own. The lady who occupied the van was very quiet though so an ideal neighbour. As we cooked dinner we noticed a few delivery vans driving through – including a huge John Lewis truck, geez imagine meeting one of them on this tiny road.

We couldn’t quite believe our luck when it came to sunset and for the third night in a row we had a crazy sky filled with pink clouds. I was running around like usual, snapping photos and I realised our neighbour hadn’t even come out to see it. I think it’s because her van didn’t have side windows so she had no idea what magic was happening outside. Another reason why I love having a van with windows all around.

The area we were camping in had some interesting old ruins from the mining days so the following morning we took a stroll up a valley to check it out. I managed to spot a piece of lead on the floor from the mine and we were amazed at how heavy it was. A stream trickled through the valley and it went deep enough in a few spots for us to have a cool off as it was another hot day.

We thought we’d try our luck at afternoon tea again as we drove back through Gunnerside but they were closed again. Luckily we found the village store and tea room in Muker was open, albeit only outside seating and in takeaway containers. There were only three tables and we managed to nab the last one. A lady who was in her 60’s was looking for a spot to sit and we couldn’t believe it when she asked a couple if she could sit on the end of their bench as she promised not to breath near them. What the heck. With covid still very prevalent I would of politely declined. But luckily as she asked the other customers said they were off so she could take their table. I could tell instantly that she was a talker and within seconds she looked my way and said “how long have you been living like this then?”. I was rather confused as to what she was referring to so I asked “like what?” And she said “well, everyone in masks and the queues…” What the fuck…where the heck had she been this whole time? I felt like she’d just been dropped off by a UFO and I sort of choked out “the whole time, a year and a half…WHERE THE HECK ARE YOU FROM?!” She explained she was from the Isle of Man and I was wondering if the island didn’t have any TV’s, radios or newspapers. She actually grew on me though, she was pretty cool and was travelling solo in a van which she built so she could store her motorbike in the back. And I was right, boy was she a talker.

After our first Yorkshire tea (made way too weak for me), a tasty cheese and pickle sandwich and a scone with cream and jam we continued west along the beautiful road. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous, the sun helped too but I just loved all the vibrant green pastures and the endless lines of dry stone walling. We pulled off at the village of Keld to check out some waterfalls. As with all the villages around here it looked like it was ready to accept an award for best kept village of the year with matching stone houses, flower boxes bursting with colour and free range hens wondering the quiet roads.

Much to Craig’s delight there was a rope swing at the waterfall which I instantly said no too. The river was clear in the shallows but almost black in the deep section so there was no way I was jumping into the creepy abyss – I’ve done that way too many times on our travels and feel I’ve finally grown out of it. Craig’s first jump wasn’t exactly a success, his torso bent forward so he did this awkward belly flop and slapped his face on the water too. To get out he had to heave himself up the rocky wall beside the waterfall by using a rope…I was even more relieved I said no.

He did a few more jumps and I carried our belongings down to the next pool so he could jump down and meet me. I managed a little swim in a shallow section and Craig discovered the next waterfall was another great spot to jump from so off he went. There were dozens of ideal swimming holes along this river and it was perfect weather for it. In fact it was quite unbearably hot and after getting back to Helga who was now a sauna we ended up pulling over a few miles up the road so we could run into the river and lay there for a while to get our body temperature down.

We found another perfect spot to camp on an empty road. The scenery was more rugged now with hills and moorland. A few dead rabbits were in the area including the guts which had been removed and discarded on the floor. For the fourth night in a row we had a gorgeous sunset. I can’t believe how lucky we’ve been in Yorkshire, it’s no wonder why we’re enjoying it here so much. This sunset was slightly different though and the clouds were like hundreds of little pink bubbles.

The following morning the road led us down hill, towards civilisation which was a bit of a shock. But we weren’t quite done with the Dale’s we had a waterfall to visit. There was very limited parking area but we managed to find the last spot and set off on a hike. There were such big hills around us, I wouldn’t call them mountains as they were grassy but it was quite impressive and another sight we hadn’t expected to see here. Wedged between two steep hills was the Cautley Spout waterfall which is England’s highest and drops down 200m in a series of broken cascades. The hike led up to the very top of the falls but we headed for the centre, looking for any swimming options. After climbing up some rocky walls we arrived at a deep pool below the waterfall. The edge was like an infinity pool, with water slowly creeping over the edge into the next pool below us. What a find! When we got back down to the bottom the sun had come out and a pint in the very old pub sounded nice. We popped in to ask for a table outside and were told it was an unlicensed pub so they only sold nonalcoholic beer!! What are the chances ay. It was very ironic actually because the sign outside said something along the lines of “inside is everything you would expect from a country pub…” except booze.

The back garden had a grand view of where we’d just been hiking, it was probably one of the finest pub views we’ll ever see in England so we opted for an ice cream instead of beer. The landlord was a lovely chap, 83 years old with similarities to David Attenborough. He sat down on the table next to us and we had a nice chat, sharing stories of his time living in Africa and retirement running this pub. It was a lovely end to our time in the Dales, and now we need to prepare ourselves for the busy Lake District.

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