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Yorkshire's beautiful backbone – hiking a Dales High Way

Alison T30 (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Yorkshire's beautiful backbone – hiking a Dales High Way

Hiking Collection by Alex Foxfield

7-14

days

3-6 h

/ day

92.4 mi

12,425 ft

12,200 ft

The locals call it God’s Own Country, and with good reason. Yorkshire is one of the most scenically magnificent regions in England. No less than three national parks can be found within its borders and in the Yorkshire Dales National Park you have many of its most staggering sights. Now imagine a varied and challenging adventure across its most spectacular landscapes, over iconic landmarks and to viewpoints of haunting, rugged splendour.

You may well be imagining A Dales High Way, the incredible 90-mile (145 km) trek from the village of Saltaire in West Yorkshire to Appleby in Cumbria’s verdant Eden Valley. En route, you’ll discover the Neolithic ambience of Rombalds Moor; Malhamdale’s limestone wonders; summit the iconic, wedge-shaped Ingleborough and traverse the Howgill Fells, with massive views of both the Dales and the fells of the Lake District. It's hillwalking at its finest.

This magnificent journey was the brainchild of husband and wife Tony and Chris Grogan, who had the idea of a higher and wilder alternative to the already established Dales Way. The pair first completed the route in 2007 and it has gained great popularity ever since. It is a strenuous trek by virtue of the way it seeks out the high fells, making it more of a traverse above the Dales rather than a ramble amongst them.

With this in mind, it is an adventure suitable for reasonably fit hikers with some hillwalking experience. Gradients are not as severe as those found in the Lake District, but ascents such as those found on Ingleborough and the Howgills will still give your calves a thorough workout. Certain key junctions are waymarked. However, much of this trek is through open country and across high fells where there is no waymarking, so solid navigation is essential.

The route visits many of the Dales’ most picturesque towns and villages, giving you plenty of refuelling options and accommodation choice. This also presents you with decisions to mull over as to how many days to spend on the trails. I’ve split the adventure into the recommended six stages. The first two stages in particular are long days, with almost ten hours of hillwalking. If this sounds a bit much, you can always break them in two by sandwiching the night in Skipton with stays in Addingham and either Hetton or Malham.

Each season brings its own delights and challenges. Daylight hours in winter mean that you may need more than six days on the trails. If the higher fells are under ice and snow, winter boots will be essential, though it is unlikely crampons and ice axes would be needed unless conditions were particularly severe. Late summer is a gorgeous time to ramble, with purple heather in bloom across the moorlands.

Regardless of the month, this is a long trek across wild, windswept moors and high summits that are exposed to the elements. The weather in this part of England is notoriously fickle, so warm layers, waterproofs and sturdy boots are required.

The route effectively runs in parallel to the beloved Carlisle to Settle railway line, one of Europe’s great rail journeys. It makes for a fantastic option for the return to Saltaire. Alternatively, if you’re unable to find the time to do the trek in one multi-day push, you could use the many stations along the line to knock off sections in isolation.

Just a fifteen-minute ride from Leeds, start point Saltaire is easily reached by train, whilst motorists can arrive via the A650 and use the car park on Victoria Road, the official start of the route. End point Appleby-in-Westmorland is on the A66, which connects the M6 at Penrith to the A1(M) at Scotch Corner. Like Saltaire, it lies on the main railway line between the cities of Carlisle and Leeds.

On The Map

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Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors
    Difficult
    08:20
    18.2 mi
    2.2 mph
    2,200 ft
    2,100 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This stage is characterised by the ancient mystique of Rombalds Moor and the many vestiges of the Neolithic era you’ll discover along the atmospheric trails. The Twelve Apostles stone circle is the most famous of these, found on rugged Ilkley Moor, the most well-trodden part of Rombalds. The moor is the subject of Yorkshire’s unofficial anthem, On Ilkla Moor Baht …

  • Difficult
    09:42
    20.6 mi
    2.1 mph
    3,200 ft
    2,925 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Sure-footedness, sturdy shoes and alpine experience required.

    The limestone splendour of Malhamdale awaits you on this splendid hike from Skipton to Settle. The dramatic ravine of Gordale Scar and the curved limestone cliff face of Malham Cove are the undisputed highlights on what is a strenuous 20-mile (32km) trek, with 3,000 feet (914m) of ascent to contend with before you reach the picturesque market town of Settle …

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  • Difficult
    07:14
    14.8 mi
    2.0 mph
    2,500 ft
    2,275 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This leg is all about the unrivalled scenery of Ribblesdale and reaches a climax on arguably Yorkshire’s most iconic peak: Ingleborough. At 2,375 feet (724m), the summit of Ingleborough is the highest point of the entire Dales High Way and is a fitting headline act, roughly halfway through this epic journey. Ribblesdale is a hiker’s heaven and this ramble, whilst …

  • Difficult
    06:56
    15.1 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,675 ft
    2,050 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This leg picks up where the previous left off, striding out high amongst the splendour of Ribblesdale. This time it is Yorkshire’s highest peak Whernside, at 2,415 feet (736m), that has your heart soaring. As you skirt its flanks via a bygone packhorse trail, the iconic Ribblehead Viaduct – surely the most awe-inspiring structure on the Carlisle to Settle line …

  • Difficult
    05:23
    10.8 mi
    2.0 mph
    2,075 ft
    1,750 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This is a marvellous traverse of the distinctively rounded, yet steep, Howgill Fells. Once up high you can stride out on excellent trails with little in the way of elevation change. Rambling from summit to summit is relatively straightforward, leaving you to enjoy unbeatable views of Lakeland to the west and the Dales to the east. It’s an ideal hike …

  • Difficult
    05:37
    12.9 mi
    2.3 mph
    775 ft
    1,075 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The final stage through the verdant Eden Valley, whilst still beautiful, is the shortest on a Dales High Way. With the big hills of the Dales and the fells of the Howgills behind you, there’s less elevation to contend with. The one significant ascent is to the extensive and unspoilt limestone pavement of Great Asby Scar, before you end your …

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    6
  • Distance
    92.4 mi
  • Duration
    43:12 h
  • Elevation
    12,425 ft12,200 ft

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Yorkshire's beautiful backbone – hiking a Dales High Way

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