The Herriot Way is a circular walk through two of the northernmost of the Yorkshire Dales, Swaledale and Wensleydale. It is named after the fictional yet legendary Yorskhire Vet James Herriot. James Herriot is the pseudonym of a real veterinary surgeon who lived and worked in the Yorkshire Dales named Alf Wight. The Herriot Way is a route based on a walking holiday that Wight took with his son visiting the Youth Hostels of Aysgarth, Grinton and Keld.
The decision to take on this route was based on a few factors. It has been a number of years since I had met up with my best friend from school and we were long overdue a catch up. This year also marks 20 years since or good friend passed away at the age of 18. Whilst I was going to be walking with Jeff (as I had on many legendary challenges before like our Hadrian’s Wall Walk in 3 1/2 days and our Coast to Coast in 6 1/2 days #notbragging) I was also going to be covering some of the stomping ground that I used to roam with Duncan. The summer before he passed away we walked from Richmond to Grinton eating his dads army supplies of “Biscuits Brown” en route, purified some water from the River Swale for hydration and then fell soundly asleep in our tent pitched at Grinton Lodge after a large number of ales at the Bridge Inn. It was going to be nice to recall those good memories and talk about the others that Jeff and I shared together with Duncan in our youth.
People often walk this at a leisurely pace over four days but we decided that we’d beast ourselves with a hilly 25 mile section on day one then breeze it with two 12+ mile sections on day two an three.
We started in Keld and left the car at Rukin’s Farm car park. There is an honesty box on the gate as you drive in / walk out and Barbara is happy for people to park over night for multi day walks. She also does a great bacon sandwich to give you some energy before starting the day! The campsite there is also excellent so well worth checking out as it is a beautiful river side location and very reasonably priced.
Our first day was forecast rain, thunder and lightning so we took the decision to avoid the top of Melbecks Moors above Gunnerside and followed the Coast to Coast route down the valley to Reeth. Purists can easily find the full route here. The LDWA site quotes the walk as being 49.3 miles long where as our route trimmed a little off to avoid being caught out and exposed in poor weather so came in at 45.4 miles.
Our itinerary was as follows:
Day one: Keld to Aysgarth
Day two: Aysgarth to Hawes
Day three: Hawes to Keld.
The walk from Keld to Aysgarth brought back memories of the coast to coast to coast route. We’d stopped at Rukins on way through Keld back in 2010 and with the rain drawing in as we set off we were happy to take the familiarity of the coast to coast route over the lightning risk on Melbecks Moor. This was the start of a very wet day!
We cleared the first five miles quite quickly and whilst the rain was constant we were low enough to have some visibility. There are a number of paths you take but we initially stayed south of the river walking behind Muker to Angram and Gunnerside. We then took the Swale Trail Route which is a bridlepath route south of the Swale down to Reeth where we stopped for a pub lunch before venturing back out into the rain on Grinton Moor. We had a brief stop off at Dent’s Houses to take on some food and water in the shelter of the Bolton Estate shooting hut and then we headed on to Aygsarth. We avoided a visit to the falls itself as the weather meant the waterfall had disappeared under the raging river. The rain became torrential in our final stage and it meant that our photography of the route was limited.
We were eventually welcomed into Aysgarth by Jason at Cornlee Bed and Breakfast and he ushered us in from he rain, offered to dry our footwear and bags and then booked us in at the pub for a meal. A highly recommended acommodation provider if you’re in the area as Jason really went above and beyond and provided an amazing cooked breakfast in the morning.
Day two was short and sweet and again a deviation from the standard route. I never feel too disappointed with a variation with good intent and the Buttersett Show seemed appealing to try and take in on our way to Hawes. We were blessed with some much better weather.
We headed along the road to Thornton Rust in the sunshine and then crossed the river at Worton to reach Askrigg before heading back across at Bainbridge. From Bainbridge we followed the roman road uphill to take in the views across the dales and we’re treated to a show of shepherding with sheep dogs too.
When we arrived at Butterset we were too early for the show so decided to continue on to Gayle and then in to Hawes.
This day was short but it allowed us a good opportunity to sample a (large) number of local ales in Hawes before heading to the Youth Hostel to get a good nights kip!
Our final leg began on a grey morning with low cloud. Again as a slight variation we wanted to walk via Hardraw from Hawes so we headed down and over the river and via Hardraw to meet the bridleway onto Great Shunner Fell.
The climb was steady but significant and every time you thought you’d reached the top (the poor visibility was quite disorienting) there was a bit further to go. Great Shunner Fell is the third highest hill in the Yorkshire Dales at 716m high which is just under 500m of ascent from Hawes.
The walk down towards Thwaite brought little change in the visibility but that didn’t dampen our spirits. As we approached Thwaite we headed back up the valley to Keld
Our route variations shortened the days and as the purpose of our Herriot Way was to catch up and not necessarily to be 100% true to the route description we we’re happy with that we’d ticked off the main points of the Herriot Way. It’s a route I’d thoroughly recommend as it brings you to som stunning parts of the Swaledale and Wensleydale and it has enough challenge in it to make sure you know you’ve had a walk.