Great Whernside from Kettlewell loop walk – making the most of lockdown exercise
Updated: Nov 8, 2020
Not to be confused with Yorkshire’s highest peak – Whernside, Great Whernside is actually the 6th highest peak in Yorkshire but arguably a more interesting walk than bagging the highest.
With the new lockdown restrictions coming into play from Thursday allowing unlimited exercise and the forecast of a sunny day in upper Wharfedale, my wife Liz and I decided to head off to the Yorkshire Dales.
About 5 years ago I did this walk with a couple of my walking buddies Wardy and Hews. The day went down in our walking folklore for being the windiest, wettest day we have ever walked in with visibility so limited there were no views and it was a bit hairy at times if I’m honest.
I’d read about the fantastic views on this walk and I had been planning to revisit the route for a while, so with visibility looking to be good today was an ideal day to conquer Great Whernside. I hope you will see from the photos, I was not disappointed.
We arrived at about 10am and there was plenty of space to park in the National Parks Car Park as well as a public toilet to use before the walk.
We crossed the iconic bridge with the two pubs either side of the road and walked up through the village past the Village Hall on Middle Lane. This was used as a location in the popular movie Calendar Girls much of which was filmed around here – the village hall doubling as Knapley Women’s Institute.
At the end of the Village past the Village Stores we kept straight on before bearing left on a narrow path past some cottages crossing a bridge and walking along the Cam Gill Beck. Eventually we came to a sign marker taking us left onto a farm track.
After about 200m,the path is signed up on the right to start walking up the mountainside. The drive up had been quite misty but we could see the sun fighting to come through. Along this stretch we walked through the mist climbing steeply along an obvious path.
We ended up climbing above the mist which continued to sit in the valley bottom. Looking back it had created a stunning vista and was one of the many stunning views of the day.
The path gradually climbed up over fields until we reached the isolated Hag Dyke Farm, this building dating to the early 1700’s is now a scout hostel.
Walking through the building we picked up a path over rough scrub land which was to take us to the summit. We had reached the point where the millstone grit now sat on top of the limestone meaning that the ground water no longer soaked away through the limestone but puddled on the impervious rock where peat had built up.
This next stretch was slow going as it was super boggy. Liz’s cunning plan of following me, on the basis that being half my weight, if the bog could hold my weight she would be Ok seemed to work for her. The only flaw being the strange ability I have had since birth to walk on water!
Eventually we hit some stone steps where the path steepened and took us through a millstone grit boulder field up to the trig point at the summit.
We had a brief stop for a flask of tea and admired the views, being 2,310 ft high above sea level (704m).
The sun had now come out and the sky was blue as we walked north along the ridge/plateau next to a fence past a large stone shelter. We followed the path to Nidd Head. Here we could look down to the right into Nidderdale with spectacular views over Angram and Scar House Reservoirs.
After another brief photo stop we started our descent, following a path left along a fence for 100m until we reached a stile which then descended very steeply. I was grateful to have my walking poles for balance as it was not easy on the knees.
Halfway down the hill the ground again became very boggy and an ungainly slip meant I landed on my backside in a bog. I was muddier than the dog and did look a bit like Swamp Thing!
We eventually reached the Coverdale road and a sign stating Welcome to Richmondshire, with great views back up to Great Whernside and the ridge.
The next stage took us back uphill following a path along an earthwork called Tor Dyke. This linear earthwork and embankment is about 2000m long and runs across the valley head between Wharfedale and Coverdale, along a limestone scar. It’s basically an artificial ditch which had been hand dug and is around 1.8m high in places.
It dates back to the Iron age approximately 50AD when the rebel Brigantian Chief of the area Venutius used the earthwork as a defence system to protect the Kingdom from Roman invaders. It would have been a powerful symbol and Historic England believe that Tor Dyke may have been part build in the Bronze Age and expanded/re-enforced under the rule of Venutius.
Tor Dyke ends at Cam Head. Here the path goes off on the left descending gradually into Kettlewell. This stretch follows Top Mere Lane, a typical green lane with parallel dry stone walls snaking down the hill.
Towards the bottom of the lane the village of Kettlewell comes into sight on the right but so does one of the most iconic views of the Yorkshire Dales. The ancient field systems which run up Wharfedale with their dry stone walls are a wonderful sight.
At the bottom of the lane we came out at the Old School House and turned right walking back into the village past the village store back to the car.
If you want big views and don’t mind a bit of boggy mud with some steep ascents and descents, I can highly recommend this walk. Make sure you go on a clear day though to make the most of it.
The walk took about 4 and a half hours with a couple of breaks and was just over 8 miles.