Ingleborough and Penyghent – the two shapeliest of Yorkshire’s famed Three Peaks – provide a stirring backdrop throughout this circuit; the eyes are forever drawn to their summit ridges making this a day out to remember.
This is surely one of the most scenic of all Ribblesdale journeys, beginning in the picturesque village of Stainforth before gaining the high pastures in the shadow of Penyghent and then returning by way of quaint Helwith Bridge – nestling beneath a necklace of gaunt limestone quarries – and the gentle, green environs around Smearsett.
Stainforth’s roots go back to the Dark Ages when Saxon farmers named their new settlement Stanford - the stony ford. Domesday Book of 1086 shows the estate in the hands of a warrior favourite of the Conqueror, Roger the Poitevan, who was rewarded with manors the length of Ribblesdale.
In the mid-1100s, Stainforth was gifted to the Abbot of Sawley Abbey, near Clitheroe, and it remained a monastic farming property until the Dissolution of 1538.
Just before the finish, the route passes through Little Stainforth with a chance to divert to see Stainforth Force, a fierce cascade after heavy rain, but otherwise rather tame of nature. The Ribble is spanned at this point by a delectable packhorse bridge built in the 1670s by Samuel Watson, Lord of the Manor of Little Stainforth. The bridge became a vital link on the packhorse route between Lancaster and York.
The bridge was a favourite haunt of the composer Edward Elgar when he stayed with his friend, Dr Charles Buck, at Giggleswick. Elgar was photographed on the bridge in the 1880s and the picture was displayed at his home in Malvern.
PARKING: Use the pay-and-display car park (£4.50 all day) on the western edge of Stainforth just off the B6479 Settle-Horton road as it bypasses the village – or park in the road near the car park.
STAINFORTH and HELWITH BRIDGE
7 miles: Allow 3 – 4 hours. Map: O/S OL 2 Yorkshire Dales Southern and Western areas.
From the car park, turn right along the road into Stainforth and then turn left along road signposted Halton Gill and Arncliffe. After 20 paces – small area of green on your left – as road turns right, go straight ahead to a fingerpost by a house wall and take this access road for Moor Head Lane.
Go past Stockhill House to arrive at ladder stile and gate and go straight across field, through a gateway where the path splits and take the path with two arrows going half right up the field to a wall with stone stile on skyline. This is a stiff pull so early in the walk, so take it easy.
Cross the stone stile on skyline and continue in same diagonal line up the slope on a grass track. Always stay on the main path, avoiding any offshoots and cross paths. The path leads to a wall and stile, cross it - Penyghent ahead – and bear half right up the slope with the How Beck down to your left.
Press on, passing through saplings in plastic sleeves, to a gate, go through and straight on to a ladder stile with Penyghent ahead and Fountains Fell to your right. There is a fingerpost just before the ladder stile.
Cross the stile and go slightly left to the next ladder stile with Ingleborough in all its glory to your left. Continue with wall on your left, go through gate and onward with wall now on your right to arrive in a vehicle track (Moor Head Lane).
Turn left, soon through a gate when the track becomes enclosed by walls. This delightful downhill section leads, eventually, to a cross track (Long Lane).
1: Turn left for Helwith Bridge and follow the lane down to the B6479 Horton-in-Ribblesdale road, turn left for 100 yards and then turn right along the road for Helwith Bridge and Austwick, soon passing over the Settle-Carlisle railway and the River Ribble and with the huge quarries of Dry Rigg (on left) and Foredale (on right) behind the hamlet.
Go past the Helwith Bridge Inn and follow the quiet road for three-quarters of a mile to a 2-sided fingerpost on your left and, here, turn left along the Pennine Bridle Way. At end of the short green lane, go through gate on your right and then go straight ahead, by wall, along a green track.
When the wall bears away to the right after 40 yards, go straight on, passing to left of telegraph pole, to arrive at a gate and continue along a lovely walled track. At end of walled track, go straight ahead to enter tarred access tracks at Lower Bark House and bear left along them, passing Pennine Bridle Way fingerpost and with Ingleborough popping into view to your right.
At next property (Higher Bark House), sweep left uphill, soon through gate, and continue up vehicle track, soon ignoring a ladder stile on your right, to arrive at a gate across the track with another gate a few yards ahead.
2: Go through gate and immediately turn left to a fingerpost for Hargreaves Barn, cross the ladder stile and continue by wall on your left with Penyghent making a splendid picture to your front left.
Cross a ladder stile at gate and press on along the stout track, soon bearing half right over the pastures of Smearsett to gain another ladder stile. Continue along the fine green sward – really enjoyable! - to wind over the huge meadow to yet another ladder stile. Cross it and drop straight down the field, passing to right of a boulder in middle of field, to spot a ladder stile ahead to right of a gate.
Cross the stile, turn left along wall, go through gated stile, and go down the field by the wall and then bear right with the wall and follow it throughout to arrive at a kissing gate. Stay alert! Follow vehicle tracks for a few yards only until the wall turns left and, here, leave the vehicle tracks and follow the wall down to the trees hiding Hargreaves Barn and go through the gate ahead (to left of giant boulder).
Go past the barn and continue down the slightly-overgrown walled track to emerge in road and turn right into the hamlet of Little Stainforth.
Little Stainforth is known locally as Knight Stainforth because of its association with the knights of the Tempest family (now of Broughton Hall, near Skipton) who held the manor in the Middle Ages and whose effigies adorn the church at Giggleswick. The Knight Stainforth estate was purchased by the Watson family in 1547.
Samuel Watson, the builder of Stainforth Bridge – which you are about to cross - was a prominent Quaker. It was he who built the impressive, white-painted Little Stainforth Hall in the centre of the hamlet in the late 17th century (despite the later datestone!). The hall rests on the site of the medieval manor house of the Tempests.
As you enter Little Stainforth – stay alert! Look out keenly for a fingerpost on your right (hard up against a wall) just before a road junction.
Here, turn left into house drive and immediately go straight ahead along a green track, past a wired-off garden enclosure – house to left - to a stone stile to left of a gate. Go straight down the field, keeping an eye on the wall on your right – a ladder stile and fingerpost will pop into view.
Cross the ladder stile and turn left along the road to Stainforth Bridge where you could divert to your right along the river bank to admire Stainforth Force.
Return to the road. Cross the bridge and continue along the road, soon climbing steeply to the B6479 on the edge of Stainforth. Turn right for 200 yards and then turn left across the road to the car park and finish.