Walking and Swimming in Swaledale
Wildflowers and Swim Spots Galore
When we go on a holiday we enjoy going somewhere and being able to explore from our base. Upper Swaledale is perhaps one of the best places in the country to do this - stunning walks, either in the valley bottom or across heather-clad tops. A beautiful river, full of some of the best swim spots we have ever seen and, at the right time of the year, ancient hay meadows in full bloom.
We first explored Swaledale when we did the circular walk from Reeth to Keld and back over two days. Since then we have frequently packed up the tent and settled for a few days of relaxing at Usha Gap campsite. It is fair to say that we have fallen in love with the area.
Both the Coast to Coast walk and the Pennine Way pass through Keld and a look at the map shows numerous paths. Over the years we have explored many of them and we will be sharing our favourites, starting with this one, which is a gem.
Swimming in Swaledale
This walk takes in the best of the area, including three lovely swimming spots, the meadows and a couple of typical Dales hamlets. For anyone wishing to start wild swimming I would recommend swimming in Swaledale. Although the best spot is by the road, I would always recommend walking too, to make the most of the glorious countryside.
Either start this walk at Usha Gap campsite and follow the footpath across two fields to Muker (where there is a pub) or start in Muker and finish via the campsite at the end of the day. When crossing these fields look out for little owls, which seem to be doing very well in the area.
From the village follow the path up behind the pub and then drop down towards the River Swale. This is a stunning path and a real tourist draw as it takes you across the hay meadows via a path of stone slabs. With the lovely barns (known in Swaledale as cow'ussses) and the dry stone walls this is the Yorkshire Dales of your dreams. May and June are the best time to go as the hay meadows are in full bloom with a wide variety of true meadow flowers. Most years they are full of bees and other pollinators, although unfortunately in 2021 when I spoke to the lady doing a bee survey there were hardly any to be seen.
Perfect Picnic Place
You cross the fields going through the very narrow gaps in the stone walls until you get to the river. For this walk turn left, upstream and follow the well worn path towards the woods. With the woods on one side and the river on the other this is a lovely stretch of walk. This year we were lucky enough to see a redstart at the edge of the woods - my first Yorkshire one as they are very much at the edge of their range here. We stopped for lunch and thought it was about the perfect place for a picnic.
Follow the path uphill and into the woods - the well-defined path goes up through to Keld, but there is a less defined path that falls steeply down to the river and the two waterfalls of Kisdon Force. This is the site of the first swim of the day, although because it is very wooded it does tend to be cold. After a scramble back up the bank return to the main path and into Keld past the orchard.
Turn right and past the cafe into the Keld campsite. This brings you in at the top of Catrake Force, which can be your second swim of the day, although you will need to climb down the bank to the pool. We have also approached this waterfall from downstream, which requires a wade up the river from Kisdon Force - it is a bit tricky, but the reward of seeing the ampitheatre-like waterfall appear round the bend in the river is well worth it.
Reverse your steps back into the village and follow the road past the visitor centre to the "main road". Turn right past the yurts and keep straight on at the junction where you will see the wonderful Wain Wath falls at the side of the road. Although this is a popular destination it is not a busy as you might think. Even on warm July days we have had the pool practically to ourselves by 4pm.
This is the perfect place to start your wild swimming adventure. It is easy to access with a nice gradual entry. Swimming towards the waterfall you will feel the water warming up. The stones have heated it, so it almost feels like a warm shower as it tumbles over the fall into the pool below. It is also an easy exit, so you never feel far from safety.
After a swim, paddle or just a sit in this lovely spot, it is time to head back to Muker. Return on the road past the yurts and keep on the main road past Keld Lodge Hotel (the former Youth Hostel). Ignore the public footpath to your left that signposts Muker - it will take you across the hill and keep on the road until there is a footpath signed to Angram on the left. This path takes you through fields in the valley parallel to the road. It is not always well marked, so the best way to navigate is to look out for the next the gap in the wall.
The path takes you into the hamlet of Angram where you rejoin the road. Look out for the sign on your left just after the village to Thwaite, another route that takes you through the fields rather than on the road, bringing you in at the back of Thwaite across more hay meadows. Listen out for curlews and oystercatchers which nest in the moorlands above the valley.
As you come into Thwaite bear left to keep off the road and follow the track alongside a stream and over a very old bridge until you arrive on the road again by the campsite, to finish.
Distance: 12 km
Terrain: Mostly good tracks or road, but a scramble down to Kisdon Force.
- little owls
- yellow rattle
- meadow cransebill