Yorkshire Dales walk - West Witton

A cairn marks the end of the ridge at Penhill, Wensleydale

A cairn marks the end of the ridge at Penhill, Wensleydale - Credit: Archant

This walk of field paths and moorland tracks begins in the Dales village famed for the Burning of Bartle

West Witton, Wensleydale

West Witton, Wensleydale - Credit: Archant

Although not high, even by Yorkshire Dales standards, Penhill stands out in almost any panorama of lower Wensleydale and its long flat top makes it readily identifiable in distant views even from the North York Moors. This walk does not visit the actual summit, which is tucked away in the middle of the moor, but instead contents itself with the more interesting Penhill Beacon. This is more exciting country and in earlier centuries its prominence led to it being one of a string of strategic points where beacons were placed to warn of impending danger, raising the alarm faster than any horse could gallop. Over the generations the beacon carried news of the arrival of the Spanish Armada as well as countless raids by marauding Scots.

Standing among the well-kept cottages of West Witton today all that mayhem seems a long way off. The biggest disturbance these days comes from the main A684 which cuts the village in half and from the annual Burning of Bartle. Each August the effigy of Bartle is incinerated, Guy Fawkes-style, even though no one can remember why or agree who Bartle was. One legend has him as a sheep rustler while another says it was a statue of St Bartholomew, to whom the village church is dedicated, destroyed during the Reformation.


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The walk starts at a lane by a small triangular tree-covered green at the western edge of the village. It weaves between cottages before leaving the buildings behind and rising across the hillside with views opening up across the dale, including to the square fortress of Bolton Castle on the other side of the valley. The lane passes a caravan site shortly after which it deteriorates into an enclosed rough track. Carry on along this, climbing past an old low quarry until it reaches a T-junction with another green road, High Lane.

Cross straight over and climb a stile and take the faint path signed to Black Scar, heading towards the end of the ridge of Penhill high above. The path climbs the field to leave by a gate high in the right hand wall and then continues curling up the slope to reach a plateau before the final slopes. Press on along it as it weaves through a gate then turn half left but look out for another path that soon leaves the main track and leads away uphill, making for a line of low spoil heap, a legacy of old lead workings.

When the heaps are almost reached a track rises firstly rightwards and then from the western end of the heaps turns to traverse leftwards up the slope on a narrow, well-made trod that eventually becomes a sunken way leading to the top of the hill. Soon after it breaches the gritstone cap it reaches a gate in the wall on the edge of the escarpment. Go through this and turn left through a rather boggy section alongside the wall, where stepping stones help to stay dryshod.

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Shortly there is a choice of ways. You can either continue along the wall past the trig point or, more interestingly, cross it at a fence stile and follow the edge of the escarpment eastwards with fine views along the length of Wensleydale to the Vale of York and, on a clear day, the North York Moors beyond. West Witton, looking like a model village from this height, is directly below.

Eventually both routes converge at a head-high square cairn crowned with a rough wooden cross, which marks the end of the ridge. This makes not only an ideal refreshment stop but also an excellent vantage point from which to pick out the descent route.

From the cairn take the steep slope dropping eastwards off the end of the ridge to a green track leading away across a series of nine fields to reach the Melmerby to West Witton road. At the road turn left downhill to curl round Penhill Farm and immediately afterwards take a farm track on the left signed to Penhill Quarry. The track, Flint Lane, eventually passes a small conifer plantation on the right. Ignore a stile at the far side of the next field and carry on to a second stile. Go through this and drop down the steep field. This leads to another green lane. Go straight across to a footpath signed to West Witton which continues downhill beside a ghyll with a charming cascade. Carry on across another field to a third, fainter, green lane. Again, cross this, heading towards the wood, which is entered by a small gate in the left hand end of the wall. Continue through the woods and across another field to the village.

Start/finish: West Witton

Distance: 6 miles/9.5km

Height gain: 1165ft/356m

Time: 3 hours

Terrain: Field paths, moorland tracks, steep climbs and descents

Parking: Roadside in the village

Refreshments: Pubs in West Witton

Map: OS OL30 Yorkshire Dales Northern and Central

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