A patchwork of meadows cut by the River Swale forms the beautiful and rugged Swaledale, deep in the Yorkshire Dales. In this wild playground, the tea is strong, the beer is golden, the puddings proper, and the scenery speaks for itself.

By: Mark Barnes | Published: 13 Jul 2022 | Last update: 21 Nov 2023

Swaledale, the most northern and least visited of the Yorkshire Dales, is a stunning landscape of glistening green fields and barren moorlands.

The River Swale winds through the valley floor, cascading over waterfalls and collecting in secluded pools that entice hikers in for a refreshing wild dip.

Farmhouses, untouched by time, dot the fields alongside medieval bothies. The Swaledale Ram, a local breed of sheep as hardy as the land it roams, grazes in the meadows.

This enchanting valley offers a myriad of walking paths, cycle trails, and idyllic corners tucked away in the folds of the land.

Take a break and enjoy a picnic in one of the wild meadows, or relax with a pint at a traditional inn while listening to the echoes of this picture-perfect landscape.

IN THIS GUIDE

THINGS TO DO IN SWALEDALE, YORKSHIRE


1 – EXPLORE THE BEAUTIFUL MUKER HAY MEADOWS & VILLAGE

Protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) the Muker Hay Meadows are upland hay fields, rich in wildflowers and grasses.

The fields are privately owned and actively farmed. Harvested using traditional techniques, the hay is stored in old stone cowhouses that dot the undulating landscape. The public footpath that runs just north of Muker village takes you right through the fields, providing a spectacular walk through this important scenic habitat.

The area is at its peak between late May and early July when the grazing animals have been removed, the hay is ready to be cut, and the scent of wildflowers fills the air.

Refreshments in Muker // The Muker Village Store & Teashop (Friday to Sunday, 10 am – 12 pm) will sort you out with a proper Yorkshire tea and the Farmers Arms pub is as traditional as it gets.  

2 – GET HIGH OVER BUTTERTUBS PASS

The roads of the Yorkshire Dales disappear up and down valleys as they connect tiny villages and superb country landscapes. Driving the country lanes and peering out from the seat of your car is a great way to soak up the amazing landscape of Swaledale.

The best-known high road in the Yorkshire Dales is Buttertubs Pass, a sinuous track that connects Haywes in Wensleydale with Thwaite in Swaledale.

Rising to a height of 526 metres, the 6 mile drive crosses the high moorland offering superb views of the expansive crinkle of valley and fells.

It’s a good quality road, easy to drive, with wide lanes in both directions. Park at the summit to truly appreciate this wild, rugged, and remote place.

Buttertubs pass in the Yorkshire Dales
Buttertubs Pass, Yorkshire Dales

3 – TAKE ON A CYCLING CHALLENGE ON THE SWALE TRAIL

With its winding valleys and high passes, Swaledale boasts some of the best cycling routes in the UK. As the most northern of Yorkshire’s dales, the roads are quieter, providing ample options for a thrilling cycling adventure.

For experienced cyclists seeking a challenging ride with breathtaking views, the lung-busting climbs up onto the moors, such as Buttertubs Pass, Fleet Moss, and Grinton Moor, are excellent options.

For those looking for a more leisurely excursion, the specially designed 20-kilometer Swale Trail between Reeth and Keld offers a mix of road and unsurfaced tracks, complete with cafes, tea rooms, pubs, and stunning vistas.

Bike hire in Swaledale — We hired our bikes from Dales Bike Centre, who helped pick a route that was just right for us. They offer road bikes for touring, mountain trail bikes for going off-track, or e-bikes to help get further and higher. Maps are provided with all the tracks in the area.

4 – ADMIRE KIDSON FORCE WATERFALL

Arguably the most spectacular waterfall in Swaledale, if not the entire Yorkshire Dales, Kidson Force boasts a dramatic double cascade set in a steep, rocky gorge, surrounded by trees.

The first cascade drops 5 meters into a picturesque pool that’s perfect for a refreshing swim on a hot day, while the second plummets 12 meters to a rocky base.

How to get to Kidston Force — Kidson Force is a 15-minute walk from Keld. The first 10 minutes of the walk is relatively easy, but the last section down to the base of the falls is quite steep and can get very muddy after rain. Shoes with good grip are essential for getting down to the waterfall.  

5 – SWIM AT EAST GILL AND WAIN FORCE

The steep path leading down to Kidson Force can be a bit challenging for families, people with reduced mobility, or anyone carrying a picnic. However, there are two other great options for accessible swimming in Swaledale.

East Gill Force is a small waterfall that features expansive grassy banks on one side and a small plunge pool below the falls. It’s an excellent spot for a refreshing dip on a hot summer’s day and is only a seven-minute walk from the car park in Keld.

Further upstream, Wain Wath Force is a wide, short cascade with grassy banks and plenty of rocks to sit on. Parking is available on the sides of the B6270 main road by the entrance for easy access, however spaces can fill up quickly.

east gill swaledale
East Gill Force

6 – HIKE ONE OF THE MOST SCENIC SECTIONS OF THE COAST TO COAST

The Coast-to-Coast Path runs from St Bees on the Cumbrian coast to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North York Moors coast, taking in some of the finest countryside in England.

It is no surprise, therefore, that it passes through Swaledale.

Hiking the entire route takes two weeks, but you can enjoy one of the best sections, along with many of the sights listed above, in just a few hours.

The trail from Keld to Muker (marked in red on the map at the end of this guide) takes about 90 minutes and passes East Gill waterfall, meadows bedecked with flowers, and old cowsheds dotted along the River Swale. It begins and ends in two wonderful villages, both with cafes and one with a pub.

To complete a three-hour circular route, head back on the other side of the River Swale (purple path on the map), through a green forest, and via Kidson Force Waterfall for a fabulous half-day out.

swaledale, yorkshire dales.

7 – EXPLORE A HIDDEN RAVINE

While strolling along the valley of the River Swale, you may think that Swaledale is a gentle, rolling landscape. However, several steep-sided ravines cut by rivers are hidden around unassuming fell corners.

The most impressive of these is Swinner’s Gill, where a little stream has formed a series of short falls plunging over rocky ledges.

At the top of the entrance to the gill sits Crackpot Hall, a wonderful ruin abandoned over half a century ago. It used to be an old mining office and it’s a grand reminder of a once-proud mining industry.

How to get to Swinner’s Gill — Crackpot Hall is a 25-minute walk from Keld, with Swinner’s Gill 10 minutes further. Together, they make a great excursion and can be included on a 30-minute detour from the Keld to Muker walk detailed above (orange on the map below).

MORE | SWALEDALE’S MINING HERITAGE

If you are interested in exploring more of Swaledale’s mining heritage, there are more extensive ruins on the gill north of Gunnerside and a small museum, The Old Working Smithy, in Gunnerside Village.

8 – GRAB A PINT IN A TRADITIONAL INN

There are few better ways to end a day of outdoor activities in Swaledale than in a pub. On cold and wet days, weary limbs are reinvigorated by a roaring fire; when the sun is out, Yorkshire’s friendly beer gardens provide sweeping views over hill and dale.

The Farmers Inn in Muker is a friendly pub, right by the side of the road, and a great spot to absorb the comings and goings of the village and warm up next to the roaring fire.

The Punchbowl Inn in Feetham is perched above the valley floor. They have a great selection of local ales, and the views from their outdoor seating over the patchwork of fields are stunning.

The Buck Inn at Reeth is best for a livelier time. On weekends, locals pile out of Richmond and beyond to drink and chat on the village green just outside the pub.

swaledale pubs

9 – HAVE A MOORLAND NIGHT OUT AT TAN HILL INN

Located at 528 metres above sea level, Tan Hill Inn is the highest pub in Britain. Nestled atop a picturesque yet barren moorland, panoramic views stretch as far as the eye can see, with nothing but windswept grasses and a handful of sheep in sight.

Despite its remote location, the pub exudes a warm and inviting atmosphere, bustling with the lively chatter of hardy patrons. From hikers seeking a comfortable bed to cyclists looking for a hearty meal and lost drivers finding themselves on a barren, windswept mountaintop, Tan Hill Inn welcomes everyone.

There is live music every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, excellent food and their very own Kings Pit Ale.

For a truly unforgettable experience, try to snag a seat in one of their outdoor pods for a pint while gazing out into the endless rugged vista.

10 – VISIT THE NORMAN CASTLE AT RICHMOND

Richmond is a charming market town situated at the entrance to Swaledale. Its quaint cobbled square is surrounded by a mixture of historic buildings and independent stores.

The highlight of the town is Richmond Castle. Built in 1071 as one of the great Norman fortresses, the castle rises out of the town and overlooks a bend in the River Swale. Initially designed to subdue the unruly northerners, it fell into disrepair in the 16th century but was later restored to its former glory.

Today, it stands as the best-preserved Norman castle in England, and offers an incredible glimpse into the area’s rich history.

A leisurely stroll from the castle along the picturesque riverbank will lead you to another grand ruin, the Easby Abbey. This well-preserved monastery boasts an impressive refectory and gatehouse. The church within its grounds is home to rare 13th-century wall paintings, which are well worth admiring. Visiting Easby Abbey is a must for anyone interested in medieval history and architecture.

richmond castle
Richmond Castle

MAP | THINGS TO DO IN SWALEDALE

Swaledale is a picturesque valley located in the northern part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, known for its stunning landscapes, historic towns and villages, and great outdoor activities. All the activities listed in this guide are included on the below map.

Hiking Instruction — The walk between Keld & Muker, using a section of the Coast-to-Coast Path, is marked in red (90 minutes). To complete a fantastic circular walk, follow the purple path along the other side of the river and through the forest (another 90 minutes). A short detour along the brown path will bring you to Kidson Force Waterfall (add 15 minutes). Whereas the detour marked in orange will take you to the breathtaking beauty of Swinner’s Gill (add 30 minutes).

How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.  


WHERE TO STAY IN SWALEDALE

Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, a family-friendly holiday, or a base for some great walking, Swaledale has plenty of options.

COUNTRY ESCAPE

CHARLES BATHURST INN

Known as the CB Inn, this converted 18th-century inn has cosy antique-filled interiors with wooden beams. It’s the quintessential English country pub stay with good food.


HEART OF SWALEDALE

PUNCH BOWL INN

A sister pub of the Charles Bathurst Inn this pub is located in Low Row in the heart of Swaledale. The Coast to Coast passes close by outside and there are wonderful views over the fields.


REMOTE INN

TAN HILL INN

Wild and remote high up on the moors this is a wonderfully atmospheric and fun place. There are roaring fires, bleak expansive views, good value food and live music at weekends in summer.


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Swaledale guide