The most outstanding limestone features of the Yorkshire Dales are the famed triumvirate of Malham Cove, Gordale Scar and Kilnsey Crag.
But if you are seeking out more benign acres – something more on the level! - then look no further than the wonderland within the triangle formed by Austwick in the west, Feizor in the east and the head of Crummackdale in the north. Superb doesn’t describe it.
This is limestone country at its glorious best, our own particular favourite, and when you look down from Sulber Gate upon the massed rows of clints (the slabs of rock) and the grikes (the fissures in between them) forming the extensive limestone pavements around Beggar’s Stile at the head of Crummackdale, you will understand why.
The attractive community of Austwick, with its popular hostelry, The Gamecock, is a strange blend of Viking and Saxon. Its name means “the dairy farm to the east” from the Old Norse austr (east) and Old English wic (a dairy farm). It is thought “east” refers to its location east of Clapham, the area’s major settlement.
The Austwick estate was mentioned in Domesday Book as “king’s land” but, by the end of the 11th century, it was owned by the de Mowbrays, to be followed by another famous northern dynasty, the Darcys.
As the Middle Ages gave way to the age of the Tudors, the manor was acquired by the Yorkes, great landowners in Nidderdale, and then, in the reign of Elizabeth I, it was bought by a Lancashire family, the Shuttleworths, who remained for nearly 200 years until 1782.
Although the Shuttleworths owned the manor, they did not live at the manor house, Austwick Hall – which is built around a medieval pele tower - because that property had been sold by Sir John Yorke in 1573 to his nephew John Ingilby, son of Sir William Ingilby of Ripley Castle.
The Ingilbys outlasted the Shuttleworths and stayed at Austwick Hall for some 300 years, becoming great local benefactors, building the school in 1839 and the church in 1842.
AUSTWICK and MOUGHTON SCARS
8 ½ miles: Allow 3 ½ – 5 hours. Map: O/S OL2 Yorkshire Dales Southern and Western areas
Park in the main street in the centre of Austwick in the vicinity of The Gamecock and set out along the road in a north-westerly direction, towards Helwith Bridge, passing school on your left and then turn left up Townhead Lane.
Follow this past Austwick Hall (on your left), sweep left with the lane and immediately go off right along house drive (Victoria Lodge) to a fingerpost and turn left through a garden, across front of bungalow – no stopping, no rubber-necking! - to emerge in a gravel area.
Go straight ahead (fingerpost) to a stone-step stile and then continue up field by wall on your right. At field end, cross a gated stile, go over vehicle track and take the stile opposite and continue by wall.
Cross a ladder stile to left of a field barn and go straight up middle of field, crossing a stream via a plank bridge, and then climbing steeply to a ladder stile and fingerpost. Ignore ladder stile - stay inside the wall.
Within a few yards, leave the wall to cross a stone-step stile ahead with Studrigg Scar – haunt of the summer rock climber – lining the hillside to your right. Go straight across the next field, over a stone stile, cross the access drive – Sowerthwaite Farm to your right – and straight on along a decent grass path, passing through a rock belt.
Go over a stone stile with a black sleeve and straight ahead, descending towards the Austwick Beck with the whole of Crummackdale spread out before you. At a fork – not obvious, so don’t overshoot – take the left branch (the lesser path) straight ahead to a gated stile. Pass through and turn right and then left to cross a stone-slab bridge over the Austwick Beck at the ancient sheepwash.
To your left is a typical Dales stone clapper bridge dating back to medieval times. The pool to the right of the stone-slab bridge was used by farmers in centuries past to dip and cleanse their sheep of parasites. The sheep were gathered twice a year – in late spring and autumn – and washed in a pool created by damming the beck.
At the bench, turn right to enter a walled track and turn right for 60/70 yards and then turn left along another walled track. Follow this track for about a mile to its end to pass through gate on to the moor with Moughton Scars to your left and soon passing a ruined building.
1: Now follow the good path up Capple Bank, bearing diagonally right to emerge at the top through a limestone notch.
Note: The next section is very uneven in places as it passes through an area of limestone clints, so please take care when placing your feet. These clints become treacherous in the wet. You have been warned!
So, turn left along the rim of Moughton Scars to a prominent cairn and press on along edge of crag to gain a wall and turn right along it.
Beyond end of wall, the path becomes a bit indistinct, but soon you will see a large cairn to your right. Go past its left side and on to the next cairn taking great care on the limestone clints. Pass about 40 yards left of the cairn and then press on to the next cairn. If you find the right line, the path improves. Pass to right of this cairn.
The path is now obvious for a time as it passes more cairns. Continue – sometimes with faith when the path falters – to strike, eventually, a strong path coming up from your left from Beggar’s Stile.
Bear right along this path over Thieves Moss. The path is strong throughout and leads up to a wall end at Sulber Gate. On gaining the wall end, admire the impressive downward view before passing through a gate. Turn left along wall. The broad green path becomes a vehicle track.
On arriving at a fork with waymark, take the right branch. Follow this fine track, eventually passing a cairn on your right, and then join another broad track and turn left, staying on this broad track and ignoring a lesser track going off left at the cairn.
2: At the next fork, take the right branch (blue arrow). This fine track sweeps left round the side of a hill (Long Scar) to run into another stout track coming in from your right – go straight ahead. Press on past a marker post to the next fork and take the right branch, past a wall corner, and down to a gate. Keep on in the same line to the next gate, enter a walled track (Long Lane) and stride out for a mile and a half towards Clapham.
After the first half mile, stick your head over the wall on your right to spot Ingleborough Cave, a popular visitor attraction first explored by the owners of the Ingleborough Estate, the Farrer family, of Clapham, in 1837 when their workers broke through a barrier at the entrance to reveal an underground fairyland beyond.
At end of Long Lane, you will strike another walled track (Thwaite Lane) – turn left and march briskly along following in the footsteps of the monks of Fountains Abbey who used this route to journey to and from their extensive holdings in the Dales and the Lake District. From the 17th century to the mid-19th century, Thwaite Lane was an important packhorse trail.
As you stride along, notice the fine limestone cliff of Robin Proctor’s Scar to your left. The scar, a popular climbing venue, is named after a local farmer who, according to folklore, fell over the edge on his horse while returning home drunk from the Clapham ale house.
After a mile, cross ladder stile on your right. Ignore the arrow (which is out of line) and, instead of going half left as per arrow, go slightly left over the field, keeping to the right of a tiny stream (may have dried up by the time of your visit) and soon passing to right of a large boulder.
Now spot the ladder stile ahead - cross a stone stile to its left. Go straight ahead along left side of wall. At bottom of field, cross a stone stile to left of field corner and turn right down Townhead Lane to its end and turn right to regain your vehicle.