My top five Yorkshire Dales highlights

This isn’t a traditional list of tourist attractions. There are plenty of places to visit in the Yorkshire Dales but my favourite holiday memories are of walks, views and rural life. So what do I love about the Yorkshire Dales?

1. Field barns

My camera roll confirms I was obsessed with photographing barns on holiday. Although with around 6000 field barns in the Yorkshire Dales I still have quite a few to find!

The barns were built in meadows around 200 years ago to store hay and house cattle over the winter months. The freezing winters have taken their toll on many of them but for every barn without a roof there’s another one that’s still in use.

Stone barns of Wensleydale
Stone barns of Wensleydale

2. Hills

The Yorkshire Three Peaks walk is a 26 mile route which combines ascents of three hills – Pen-y-Ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside. We opted for the easier option and split the hills across three separate days; pop over here to read more about our Yorkshire Three Peaks walks with the children.

Following the Pennine Way up Pen-y-Ghent
Following the Pennine Way up Pen-y-Ghent

With the exception of one very short easy scrambly section up Pen-y-Ghent all are straightforward hill walks in summer conditions. From the summits we spotted the sea, the distant peaks of the Lake District and other local hills.

Pen-y-gent view
Pen-y-gent view

Of course there are plenty of less-frequented hills to climb in the Yorkshire Dales, including the distinctive flat topped Addleborough; definitely one I’d like to tackle one day.

3. Waterfalls

Thanks to the presence of limestone the Yorkshire Dales is famous for its waterfalls. The Ingleton waterfalls and triple set of falls at Aysgarth are probably the most well known. Plus there’s Britain’s highest single drop (above ground) waterfall at Hardraw Force, the beautiful West Burton falls and Mill Gill Force near Askrigg. But take a look at an OS map and you’ll see waterfalls marked along almost every stretch of river.

Wensleydale waterfalls
Wensleydale waterfalls

The best time to visit is after heavy rain. It was sunny during our trip (I’m not complaining) but the waterfalls were still impressive. If you’re visiting over May or August Bank Holiday weekends and are feeling adventurous you might even like to visit the waterfall at Gaping Gill.

4. Dry stone walls

Together with the field barns the dry stone walls symbolise hill farming in the Dales. There are over 5000 miles of walls throughout the Yorkshire Dales, marking field boundaries and keeping in livestock.

Stone walls near Askrigg, Yorkshire Dales
Stone walls near Askrigg, Yorkshire Dales

Some of my favourite walls are high in the hills. I was intrigued by the wall heading up near the summit of Pen-y-Ghent and again along the summit ridge on Whernside. I can only imagine the effort it must have taken to build them.

With so many walls there are also plenty of stiles. In Wensleydale these are often narrow slits in the walls combined with heavy spring gates. The local sheep are obviously great escape artists!

5.  Wildflower meadows

Visit the Yorkshire Dales in early summer and you’ll be treated to hay meadows full of buttercups, daisies and red clover. The buttercups form a swathe of yellow, brightening up the fields and helping to encourage other wildlife.

Wildflower meadow near Hawes, Yorkshire
Wildflower meadow near Hawes, Yorkshire

As you might imagine, along with field barn photos I have a lot of flower meadow photos too!

Have you been to the Yorkshire Dales? If so, what are your favourite places?

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Yorkshire Dales pinterest image
Yorkshire Dales pinterest image

Orchid spotting at Hartslock Nature Reserve, Oxfordshire

One of my early summer treats is an evening walk to view the orchids at Hartslock Nature Reserve. Covering 11 acres the reserve is relatively small but a favourite of mine. Partly because it’s one of the best picnic spots in Oxfordshire and partly because of the orchids which cloak its slopes.

Summer evening view over the Thames, Hartslock Nature Reserve
Summer evening view over the Thames from Hartslock Nature Reserve

I walked, with two friends, from Goring to Hartslock, along the Thames Path, surrounded by the bounty of late spring. Swallows diving for insects, fluffy goslings paddling along behind mum and knee-high nettles. We spied on the mansions on the opposite river bank, wondering who might live in them.

Orchids galore, Hartslock Nature Reserve
Orchids galore, Hartslock Nature Reserve

After a mile or so we turned away from the river for a short steep climb up the chalk slope to the reserve. At the top is a bench with fantastic views down to the River Thames. We stopped for a while to catch our breath and admire the Oxfordshire countryside before heading through the gate to the orchid slope.

Monkey orchid, Hartslock Nature Reserve
Monkey orchid, Hartslock Nature Reserve

Hartslock Nature Reserve

The reserve is home to the rare monkey orchid which aside from Hartslock only grows in two other places in the UK. The orchids are taped off to stop visitors trampling on them but it was still easy to kneel and take photographs. Although the small prickly thistles hidden in the grass liked to remind you of their presence too!

Monkey x lady orchids, Hartslock Nature Reserve
Lady x Monkey orchids, Hartslock Nature Reserve

Even rarer than the monkey orchids are the hybrid lady x monkey orchids. This is the only place they grow in this country but there were so many you’d never realise they were rare. Sadly it has been a bad year for lady orchids and we didn’t see any of these.

I could have spent hours exploring the orchid patch but the setting sun reminded us we still had another couple of miles to walk. It wasn’t exactly a forced march home through the woods but we didn’t hang around.

Orchid slope at Hartslock Nature Reserve
Orchid slope at Hartslock Nature Reserve

At various points I could see the bright orange glow from the disappearing sun peeking through the trees and I was hopeful of an amazing sunset. But we were too late. By the time we emerged the sun was tucked up in bed. Not that it mattered of course as the orchids were the true highlight of our walk.

If you’re interested in orchids you might also enjoy my posts about them at Homefield Wood and Warburg Nature Reserves.

More info:

  • The monkey, lady and lady x monkey orchids are at their best during May although this is weather dependant. Different orchids and plenty of other chalk loving plants flower later in the summer.
  • For access details visit the Hartslock Nature Reserve page on the BBOWT website. This also includes a link to the walk route we followed above.

A snowdrop walk near Swyncombe, Oxfordshire

As regular readers will know I believe a good walk always features cake. So it’s probably no surprise that our weekend walk included afternoon tea at a church. Most visitors were probably there for the main event, snowdrops in the churchyard, but not us. Instead I’d chosen a longer walk with a cake stop halfway round.

We left the car, rather nervously, in a small car park a couple of miles from Swyncombe. Last time I parked there I returned to find someone had smashed the window of the car next to us. Fortunately there were plenty of people around this time, hopefully enough to deter anyone up to no good.

The perfect tree for climbing
The perfect tree for climbing

Swyncombe Down

The first part of the walk took us steeply uphill through woodland, out on to Swyncombe Down. Although I’d planned for cake we’d also bought sandwiches so we ate these, sheltering from the wind, in amongst the trees. We didn’t hang around as it was freezing; I am so looking forward to summer picnics again.

The path runs alongside an earthwork topped with large beech trees. These had multiple branches as a result of pollarding many years ago; perfect for climbing. The earthwork, a trench called the Danish entrenchment, wasn’t much to look at but supposedly dates back to 870AD when the Danes were fighting King Alfred in the area.

Walking the Ridgeway near Swyncombe
Walking the Ridgeway near Swyncombe

St Botolph’s Church, Swyncombe

A little further on the path joined the Ridgeway, our local long distance trail, taking us downhill and up again to St Botolph’s Church at Swyncombe.  The chuchyard puts on a good display of snowdrops each February and visitors are encouraged to visit with the lure of snowdrop teas.

A couple of years ago we visited Welford Park (of Great British Bake Off fame) which has huge swathes of snowdrops and is packed with visitors. The snowdrops at Swyncombe are on a different scale as they only cover a small proportion of the graveyard but they’re still very pretty.

Snowdrop teas at Swyncombe
Snowdrop teas at Swyncombe

The warm winter weather has encouraged the snowdrops to flower early this year and I was glad we’d chosen to visit at the start of the month as a few were already starting to go over. It’s a little strange walking around headstones and taking photos in a graveyard but the snowdrops do look lovely. Whilst I’m not in a great hurry to be buried anywhere I can certainly think of worse places!

Afternoon tea at Swyncombe Church
Afternoon tea at St Botolph’s Church, Swyncombe

After a wander around the snowdrops it was time for cake. It was a hard decision but eventually we chose orange cake, chocolate sponge, brownie and gingerbread between us. We sat outside to enjoy them before heading into the church for a look through their second-hand book stall.

Snowdrops at Swyncombe Church
Snowdrops at St Botolph’s Church, Swyncombe

The Ridgeway

Leaving the church we rejoined the Ridgeway. Another uphill stretch had us puffing and panting, good job we had the cake to power us! Part of the route goes through woodland and every year I’m amazed by how much moss covers the tree trunks in this particular area. In previous years we’ve just walked a short circular route around the church so this year it made a change to turn right at the top of the hill rather than left.

It was lovely chatting to my son as we walked. When he’s at home he’s often buried in technology but there’s no option to do that outdoors. Instead he chatted happily about Star Wars (he’s seen the film twice) and Nerf YouTubers. Whilst I’m not knowledgable about either of these topics I could at least answer some of his random questions, including ‘Do bones go rusty?’.

Who can resist walking through puddles?
Who can resist walking through puddles?

Our route back to the car took us along broad bridleways, with views out to the remaining towers of Didcot Power Station. The sun was slowly disappearing behind the clouds but there was still fun to be had. The kids waded through the big puddles and I joined them on one occassion, only to find out that my ageing wellies had developed a split thus letting water in.

Fortunately our car, and all its windows, were still intact when we arrived back. Even better was that the rain started to fall just as we returned. Perfect timing!

More info:

  • Snowdrop teas at St Botolph’s Church in Swyncombe take place over three weekends in February. Dates are advertised on the church website.

Inkpen Wild Walk, Berkshire

I’m pretty sure the best antidote to a dismal grey day is a walk in the countryside. Last weekend we ignored the clouds and drizzle and headed to Inkpen in Berkshire for a walk that combined a macabre gibbet and spring crocuses!

We followed a shortened version of the Inkpen Wild Walk, a walk designed by the local wildlife trust that links two of their reserves. Our 6 mile route started at Inkpen Common, the longer alternative being a 10 mile walk which joins up to Kintbury railway station.

Inkpen Common nature reserve
Inkpen Common nature reserve

At Inkpen Common villagers once had the rights to graze livestock and burn the gorse in their ovens. Nowadays the gorse sits alongside other heathland plants and the reserve is a haven for reptiles. However the likelihood of spotting lizards and snakes sunbathing on a cold March day was pretty minimal.

Along the Wayfarer's Walk
Along the Wayfarer’s Walk

We puffed our way up Walbury Hill, the highest hill in Berkshire and the starting point for two long distance walks, the Test Way and the Wayfarer’s Walk. A wide chalk track led us along the Hampshire Downs. The fields either side were full of sheep although we looked in vain for any lambs.

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Combe Gibbet

Combe Gibbet, at the top of Gallows Down, is a notorious local attraction. The original gibbet was erected in 1676 to hang adulterers George Broomham and Dorothy Newman. They had murdered Broomham’s wife and son after their illicit affair had been discovered. Today’s gibbet is actually a replica but you can still imagine the crowds gathering to watch the hanging.

From the gibbet we continued along Wayfarer’s Walk, taking in the amazing views and snacking on biscuits, before heading down steeply from Inkpen Hill. There was plenty of evidence of spring arriving; buds on twigs, plants peeking through the soil and stinging nettles starting to grow again. We found a muddy puddle with some great animal and bird tracks which we attempted to identify.

Inkpen Crocus Field Nature Reserve
Inkpen Crocus Field Nature Reserve

Inkpen Crocus Field Nature Reserve

The second reserve of the day was Inkpen Crocus Field Nature Reserve. Accessed via Pottery Lane (Inkpen was once home to several potteries) we first had to walk past a number of large and imposing houses; property envy was rife!

The meadow has the largest wild crocus population in Britain. Although we visited at peak viewing time (March) I was a little disappointed with the number of crocuses. I was expecting a field of purple but the flowers were rather more sparse. Perhaps my expectations were too high or maybe it hasn’t been a great year for the crocus. Crocuses aside, the meadows must be idyllic on a sunny summer day.

Pooh sticks in the wood
Pooh sticks in the wood

The drizzle started so the last mile was walked pretty quickly. There was still time to throw a few twigs into a woodland stream, and admire an amazing treehouse in a back garden.

Despite some initial moans from the kids (we’ve got to walk 6 miles?) we had a great afternoon walking and I’m glad we made the effort to get out rather than lazing around at home.