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Wharfedale - a guide for visitors to Upper and Lower Wharfedale

field barns near Grassington Wharfedale is the prettiest of the Southern dales, and with its accessibility from the major population centres of the West Riding, it's very popular indeed. Fortunately the Dales don't suffer from the tourist mayhem that has overtaken the Lake District and the Peak District, so it's still a pleasure to visit and traffic jams are virtually unknown. In Wharfedale, traffic gets worse the further down the dale you get, with the over-commercialised naffness of Bolton Abbey being a particular problem, but once above Bolton Abbey it's a pleasure to visit.

So what's so great about Wharfedale. Well, in my view it has the best walking of all the dales. There are arduous walks on the moors above, gentle walks by the river, and lovely ambles among the dry stone walls and field barns. Something for everyone really, and as the dale is relatively narrow, if the weather turns you're never too far from shelter. There are  pretty little villages which are still quite real, and it has the amazing remains of it's industrial past on the moors above.  Excluding Bolton Abbey it has no real tourist attractions, so only attracts those who love the great outdoors, which probably accounts for the unspoilt nature. And to cap it all, it has a fantastic selection of pubs.

So, starting from the top of the dale, here's an overview of some things to see and do.

What to see in Wharfedale

Buckden Village


Right at the head of the dale Buckden is a small village at the foot of Buckden Pike, a towering hill that's a favourite with walkers. One of my favourite walks in the whole of the dales  is the waterfall walk from Hubberholme to the summit via Buckden Gill. Another favourite's from Buckden around the Eastern escarpment to Starbotton and back again. If you fancy visiting Littondale next door, then an almost mirror image of that walk is from Arncliffe to Litton.And if visiting Buckden, then Hubberholme just next door is absolutely unmissable with it's amazing church and possibly the prettiest setting of any village in the dales. For food and drink the white lion at Cray, just outside Buckden, is my preferred choice. 
View of Kettlewell


In the middle of Upper Wharfedale, Kettlewell has a beautiful setting by the river, and suffers from an abundance of excellent pubs. Nowadays it's best known as the setting for the Calendar Girls film, even though the real calendar girls story happened in Rylstone just down the dale. The youth hostel here is still in business with 2, 4, 5 and 6 bedded rooms which makes it an excellent choice for cheap family accommodation. If you haven't tried youth hostelling in years, it's very different now - no compulsory chores and they even allow alcohol on the premises.
Grassington main street


The capital of Upper Wharfedale. This old lead mining village is still a vibrant thriving community, and is considerably larger than the other vilages in Upper Wharfedale. It has the best selection of shops and cafes, though Kettlewell just edges it in the pub selection. There's fantastic walking, either by the river and grass woods, or more adventurous walks on the moors above. If you have kids don't miss out on a visit to the old lead mines at Yarnbury as they're very special indeed.
Barden Tower

Barden Tower

In a wonderful position above Burnsall, Barden Tower is the remains of a fortified hunting lodge formerly owned by the Cliffords of Skipton Castle. There's not a lot left of it now, but it's free to look around, and there's a quite marvellous restaurant in the grounds where in nice weather you can sit out and eat cakes and sandwiches. Much nicer than the Cavendish Pavilion at Bolton Abbey. Barden is also the setting for some marvellous walks around the reservoirs on barden Moor, or round Rylstone Cross.
The Blue Bell at Kettlewell

Pubs of Wharfedale

Now here's a subject close to my heart. Having spent many years exploring Wharfedale, these are my ten favourite pubs. Could I pick one favourite pub, well, perhaps the Miners Arms circa 1984(ish), but that's long gone now. I noticed the pub has reopened recently, so next time I'm passing I'll have to pop in and check it out again.


Comments (4)
Why is it folk who write about Wharfedale and The Wharfe forget it doesn't just stop at Bolton - the one with a Priory not an Abbey - it continues through beautiful countryside to Cawood. Edmund Bogg's Thousand Miles in Wharfedale is a good referance for anyone visiting the area.
posted by IMOR 02/04/2009 14:40:48
Absolutely right, it's just a question of finding time to write about it.
posted by Mick 02/04/2009 14:50:38
Why have you deleted your views about Ilkley, i really think it was spot on, dont let these bunch of arrogant pretentious people stop you saying what many people that also live here thinks about the general feeling that goes around this pretty place. Shame on them!!!
posted by George Atkinson 09/04/2009 11:24:37
I never tire of visiting Wharfedale I think Ilkley and Otley are enchanting and the country side throughout the dale hides many attractive features. Sadly I have to confess to driving as my mobility is very limited but the views are magnificent
posted by Eddie May 16/05/2009 17:57:18
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