First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A brisk west wind, a chink of sun in the Swaledale clouds after days of rain over North Yorkshire, and the clatter of walking sticks on the road outside Muker Teashop where Jane and I were finishing our Yorkshire rarebits. Out in the village street a hairy-kneed rambler of the old school frowned at Jane’s Satmap device. ‘Get you lost, will that,’ was his pithy judgement.
A walled lane led up the sloping fellsides behind the village, the grazing fields dotted with the square-built farmhouses and small stone barns so characteristic of the Yorkshire Dales. Sun splashes and cloud shadows chased across them. It was a joy to be alive and walking up there in the face of the wind, climbing the old stony road to the crest of Kisdon Hill and following it down to Skeb Skeugh ford and the huddle of grey stone houses at Keld, the Norsemen’s well-named ‘place by the river’. I remembered the enormous kindness (and huge teapot) of Lizzie Calvert at her Thorns B&B house when I arrived here with my father more than 30 years ago, soaked and bespattered from a storm-bound Pennine Way.
On the outskirts of Keld, Jane and I joined that glorious and notorious long-distance treadmill, but only to cross the rain-engorged Swale. East Gill Force jetted down its black rock staircase and into the river with a muted rumble and hiss, and here we swung away from the Pennine Way and made for Crackpot Hall’s dolorous ruins. ‘Don’t miss Swinner Gill,’ we’d been advised by Nick and Alison Turner, owners of Muker Teashop. ‘It’s really something special.’
It was lead-mining subsidence that put an end to Crackpot Hall, and the ruins and spoil heaps of the Dales’ great lost industry lie all around – stone-arched mine levels, a tumbledown smelt mill deep in the cleft of Swinner Gill, and the precarious trods or tracks of the lead miners. All lay silent this afternoon, with the dale sides rising sharply to the sky, the beck sluicing below, and a breathtakingly beautiful prospect opening southward towards Muker down the sunlit floor of Swaledale.
Start & finish: Muker Teashop, Muker, Richmond, N Yorks DL11 6QG (OS ref SO 910979)
Getting there: Bus (http://getdown.org.uk/bus/search/muker.shtml): service 30 (Richmond-Muker-Keld, Mon-Sat) or 831 (Leyburn-Muker-Keld-Hawes, Sun & BH)
Road: A1; A 6108 or A6136 to Richmond; A6108, B6270 to Muker.
Walk (6½ miles, moderate/hard grade, OS Explorer OL30): Leaving Muker Teashop, left; left again up lane by Literary Institute. Forward; right by Grange Farm, left up its side (‘footpath to Keld’). Follow lane; then ‘Bridleway Keld’ (909982)up walled lane for ½ mile. Pennine Way/PW forks right, but continue for 30 yards, then bear right uphill by wall (903986; ‘Keld 2 miles’). At top of slope follow wall to left; continue climbing to open hilltop. Follow green road (fingerposts) over hill, down to ford beck, right along road. On left bend, right (893009; ‘Keld only’) into Keld.
Right down gravelled lane (893012; ‘footpath to Muker’). In 300 yards, left downhill (‘PW’). To return direct to Muker, turn right and follow PW. To continue walk, cross River Swale footbridge; left to reach top of waterfall. Where PW forks left, turn right along track (896011; ‘bridleway’ fingerpost). In ½ mile pass stone barn; in another 100 yards pass engine and steering wheel sunk in ground (!). In 50 yards fork left (904009) on stony track to Crackpot Hall. Aim for house above; then follow path (progressively narrower) into Swinner Gill. Where path forks opposite ruined lead mine buildings, take lower fork to fingerpost; turn back sharp right (911012; ‘Muker’) down narrow path to ford beck (911008; NB – if beck too swollen to ford safely, retrace steps to Crackpot Hall and follow main track south towards Muker).
Continue along path for ¼ mile to join main track; continue down Swaledale on right bank of river for 1 mile. Cross Swale by footbridge (910986); right (yellow arrow) for 50 yards, then left along meadow path for ½ mile back to Muker.
Conditions: Narrow, slippery paths in Swinner Gill
NB – Detailed directions, online map, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk
Lunch: Farmer’s Arms, Muker (01748-886297) – a proper pub, and very welcoming
Tea and Accommodation: Muker Teashop (01748-886409; www.mukervillage.co.uk) – really warm and welcoming. Try the Yorkshire Rarebit and the sinful cake-and-cheese combo! £65 dble B&B