A wonderful circular walk of approximately 6 miles in one of Britain’s most beautiful valleys, Swaledale. I find it to be one of the quieter Yorkshire valleys, away from the more tourist trapping central parts.
However those that venture into it will agree it is full of magnificent scenery, from river and beck to waterfalls, from grand peak tops to valley floors covered in meadow. It has a very untouched with time feel, even when going through the villages within.
Why, even when coming from the more southern dales you can enter Swaledale with a most scenic route over Buttertubs Pass northwards from Wensleydale.
This walk from Keld to Muker overlooking down to the river, then returning to Keld by the river will give a perfect all round experience in one day here.
A walk that has wondrous scene beyond wondrous scene. You can do the walk of course starting at either end but personally I like to start in the little village of Keld and head downriver along the Pennine Way section, where you climb steadily upwards with the river down at the bottom to your left and the expanse of the valley opening up in front of you.
Starting in the hamlet of Keld has another benefit. Easy parking with free public toilets in the car park. Get there early in busy times of the year. The car park is within the hamlet itself. It is an honesty box system and the last time I walked this (2021) the coast of parking was £3 for all day.
From the car park in Keld you literally head straight on across the lane and the path is straight ahead. You soon meet a junction but if you want the walk of full variety then head right at the fork.
This enables you to get the full view of the valley below. You will get chance to walk by the river on the way back.
You will find yourself stopping regularly to take it all in, even looking back along the valley from where you came.
There are so many spots to sit to wonder and reflect. Not a day for rushing at all.
Take your time and enjoy all that is on offer for the senses. Summer can be so green but I can assure you that whatever season you find yourself here in, the beautiful magic of Swaledale remains.
The 3 miles towards Muker takes you basically along a scar half way up Kisdon Hill. After a couple of miles the valley widens and you get sight of the village of Muker that you will drop down into. Look forward to an ice-cream break.
The path descends perfectly into the village of Muker. It is nestled perfectly in the bottom of the valley with the hills and meandering valley widening as its backdrop.
It is perfect for a half way stop. It has a shop that is great for ice cream. An art gallery that also sells coffee/tea and cakes. The garden at the back of it is lovely.
There is also a wonderful pub there called The Farmers Arms if you would like that kind of refreshments. It is a very popular pub. In the sunshine you can sit outside with a nice cold drink.
Between all this there is Swaledale Woollens. A shop that has reintroduced the local cottage industry of knitting. Using wool from local Swaledale and Wensleydale sheep you can buy from a vast array of garments and also learn.
The Muker Meadows
Leaving Muker to head back you first come to the famous Muker Meadows.
They are wonderful at any time of the year but to see them in their true wonderful colour of full bloom then come in June. At the end of June or early July the meadows are cut down to make winter food for the livestock, as per tradition.
You will see each meadow field has a barn. In farming history here the cattle lived in the barn and the meadow created their food. And then creating butter for the markets.
The meadows here are protected and one of the jewels of the country in my opinion. A hundred years ago these types of wild flower meadows where common place but now you have to come to Muker to see this type of of beautiful and perfect example.
In bloom the colours contrasting against the green grass of the valley is astounding. There is Vernal Grass, Cat’s Ear, Wood Crane’s-bill, Melancholy Thistle, Yellow Rattle, Pignut, Lady’s Mantles and Rough Hawkbit to name only a few.
Swallows flying all about, swooping in and out of the barns. Bees have their own paradise here too of course.
The path through the meadows is strictly single file to preserve it. Please do not roam here
By the river
The meadow path leads you back to the river and to more variety.
Now you get to follow along the river, on the opposite side, back to Keld, and more closely to it too. A chance to experience the valley from within. Over the bridge first with yet more stunning views!
After a mile or so is another super picnic spot. At Swinner Gill you can sit away from the path beside the waterfall beneath the trees in the shade.
The path now climbs a little but nothing too strenuous. As it levels out you will see the remains of a tractor.
It is worth here taking a little detour up the track for a couple of hundred metres to the ruins of Crackpot Hall.
Crackpot Hall is not famous for its history and nor for any famous inhabitant. It is the ruins of an 18th century building on the hillside.
But one thing it has, is an amazing view back down the valley towards Muker and beyond!
Its name is not as crazy as you would think either. It comes from old English for Crow and old Norse for cave (or hole in the ground), pot. There is a Crackpot Cave nearby.
There used to be mystery in the area. Visitors in the 1930s reported sightings of strange feral children with non understandable accents in the area, running barefoot on the hillside.
In 2015, a BBC documentary investigated the myths and stories and it was found that it was simply the children that lived at Crackpot Hall.
The building was abandoned in the 1950s due to subsidence created by local lead mining. Inside you can still see remnants of the fireplace and an old tin bath.
East Gill Force
As you descend from Crackpot Hall down to Keld you first pass by some beautiful waterfalls and directly over and by East Gill Force in particular.
Yet another perfect stop for picnic and refreshments. This walk is packed with places to stop and enjoy. Malc has fun in the water too, taking the chance for a good swim.
From the waterfall it is literally a few hundred metres back to Keld after crossing the little bridge.
Lots of variety, lots fresh air, lots of views. Every minute, every step a joy here.
This walk of course can be done in reverse from Muker to Keld return, or even just doing one way for those just wanting to do 3 miles or so. There is a local shuttle bus service that can take you either way back. Please check local timetables for The Little White Bus service.
Distance: 6 miles
Time: 3 hours
Parking Postcode: DL11 6LJ
The honesty box car park helps to maintain the toilets and showers.