Walking: Harsh world of a Dales lead miner

Glorious track leading to Cupola Corner with the Cupola chimney on skyline.
Glorious track leading to Cupola Corner with the Cupola chimney on skyline.
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Looking for a big adventure? This is it – a dream tour through the poignant ruins of a bygone industrial age in the heart of Wharfedale.

High on Grassington Moor, way above today’s honeypot villages of Grassington and Hebden, lies a bleak, scarred – yet magnificent - landscape where, in centuries past, hardy men toiled to make a living, hewing lead ore from the unforgiving ground.

Today’s route winds its way through the remnants of that once-mighty industrial operation.

In complete contrast to those barren uplands, Hebden, our starting point, is as pretty as a chocolate-box picture, a lovely oasis of peace and quiet, as it has been for more than a thousand years since its foundation by the Saxon farmers who named their settlement after the wild rosehips which grew here in abundance. The name Hebden derives from the Old English heope (the wild rose) and the Old English denu (a dene or valley) – the valley of the wild roses or rose hips.

The Domesday Book survey of 1086 tells us that Hebden’s pre-Conquest holder, a Saxon called Dringel, was usurped after 1066 in favour of a powerful Norman baron, Osbern d’Arcis, lord of numerous manors in the Tadcaster area, including Thorpe Arch, and who was appointed Sheriff of Yorkshire about 1100.

Later, the great de Mowbray dynasty took possession of the estate and they sub-feud it in the mid-12th century to a local family of freemen who adopted the name of the village as their surname. The de Hebdens stayed for 400 years, residing in a fine manor house which survived until the early 1800s when it was pulled down.

Records of Fountains Abbey from the 13th century show that Simon de Hebden gave the monks “a grant of free passage” over his lands when they journeyed to the annual sheep shearing at their grange at Kilnsey, the abbey’s major holding in Wharfedale.

PARKING: Roadside parking in the centre of Hebden just off the main B6265 in the minor road signposted Burnsall. Park by the lefthand wall in the vicinity of the old toilet block and cafe.



8 ½ miles: Allow 4 – 5 hours. Map: O/S OL2 Yorkshire Dales Southern and Western areas

Return to the B6265, cross it and turn left along pavement, past the Clarendon and the Hargreaves coach depot, and immediately turn right at fingerpost for Tinkers’ Lane along a vehicle track. After about 100 yards – with open gateway ahead – spot the 2-sided fingerpost on your left, go along the wall for a few yards (ancient boundary stone), enter vehicle track and turn left to a gate and then go a quarter right up the field aiming for a ladder stile in top field corner.

Cross the ladder stile and press on by wall on your right for 80 yards and then turn right through gap stile in wall. Now turn half left up the field to a ladder stile below a house which is framed by two trees and with a barn to its right. As you near the ladder stile, spot the gated gap stile to its right – take this and then go straight ahead, round wall corner, to a gated stile and fingerpost on right.

Pass through, turn left along wall to ladder stile (gate) and turn right along wall, soon ignoring gate on your right. Follow wall with the crags of Hebden Ghyll to your right. Soon, on entering a stout vehicle track (Tinkers’ Lane), turn right.

This terrific track leads past High Garnshaw House and onward, eventually passing through a gate where the walled track finishes. There is a large open meadow on your right. Continue by wall on your left to re-enter walled track and immediately turn left through a gate. Go half right over field to a prominent ladder stile. The Cupola chimney, our destination, is visible to your right.

Cross the ladder stile and go slightly right over field along line of marker posts, cross an access road to gain ladder stile ahead, and go half right over next field to a gate to left of spoil heaps.

1 Go through gate, along the track for 40 yards and then turn left across the field, passing to left of a tiny stone building, using a vague trod. Pass to left of a redundant ladder stile and follow wall on your right for 100 yards to a stone-step stile ahead, cross it to enter an area of spoil heaps and go forward 50 yards to spot a gap stile on your left and a gap stile to your right – turn right to this stile and then go straight ahead, up grassy slope, to strike a broad vehicle track, the Duke’s New Road, and turn right.

This is the Grassington lead-mining field which flourished for some 250 years from the mid-17th to late-19th centuries when cheap imports from the Continent killed off the industry. The Duke’s New Road was built by the landowner, the Duke of Devonshire, in the 1790s as part of a major development of his mining interests. The duke spent tens of thousands of pounds - millions in today’s money - as he drove new, deep shafts, put in water courses, tunnels, flues and chimneys to reap the rich underground rewards from these wild uplands.

On arriving at a fork (orange netting, on our visit), take the left branch, soon crossing a stile at a gate across the track. Now enjoy the sheer grandeur of the track over Grassington Moor.

After a short half mile, go through a green gate at cattle grid (stile to its right) and then make a big sweep left at Cupola Corner – to your right are the remains of the old Cupola smelt mill.

The mill opened in 1700 and produced 300 tons of lead a year for the Dukes of Devonshire. In 1792, its inefficient ore-hearth furnaces were replaced by up-to-date machinery and the ruins you see today - and the Cupola chimney - date from that time. The chimney was built to carry away poisonous fumes from the smelting operation to protect the workers – the fumes travelled along a 600-yard flue which is still visible today.

Press on along the broad track to pass the ruins of an old grinding mill with the Cupola chimney to your right. Continue for another 150 yards to a three-way split and take the right branch. Now stay alert! After about 100 yards – don’t overshoot! - turn right along a vehicle track. This track crosses a culvert after about 100 yards. Go past spoil heaps (on left). The skyline to your right is Simon’s Seat.

Plough on – what a journey! - to pass an old mine reservoir on your left (shooting butts) when the track sweeps right. There is a fork – take the left branch going straight ahead. Next, you will approach a second mine reservoir (these reservoirs are known as the Blea Beck Dams). Just before the reservoir, there is a vague fork (small cairn, on our visit). The left fork is a dead-end leading to the reservoir only; take the much-less-obvious right fork through the grass.

The path becomes a bit vague, but is always visible over the ground – as a guide, press on in the company of the gurgling Blea Beck which winds its way merrily alongside to your left.

On crossing the moor (Sand Haw Moss), go through gated gap stile at a notice warning of mine shafts. Continue on a decent pass through the reeds half right to link up with a wall on your left and with Grimwith Reservoir ahead. Follow the wall for a few hundred yards and look out keenly for a vague fork in the grass track. Don’t miss it!

Take the stronger, right fork which goes straight on to leave the wall on your left. Grimwith Reservoir opens up to your left. Pass to the right of a bracken-and-boulder-strewn knoll when a gate pops into view in the distance.

Gain this gate, pass through and go straight ahead and then sweep left down the hill on a vehicle track. This fine track eventually sweeps right to pass through a gateway – continue for a short distance to a gateway on your left at a section of corrugated fence with, on our visit, planks of wood. Turn left through this gate and follow the track down to a gate and enter a walled track, Hartlington Moor Lane.

2 Turn right and follow the track for a mile to the B6265. Cross it and take the road opposite for Burnsall. Follow this quiet road, ignoring all fingerposts, for three-quarters of a mile, down the hill and up the other side, passing a barn on your left. Go over the brow with Burnsall Fell on the skyline. Press on to a large house on your left (South View) and, just past the entrance, cross a stile on your right at a 2-sided fingerpost for Burnsall and Hebden.

Turn half right across the field corner for Hebden to a ladder stile, cross it and turn left along fence, go over a stile and turn right into field corner. Go through gated stile and turn left along wall to a large tree and, here, go half right down middle of the field (no path) with a barn across to you right.

A wall corner eventually pops into view – turn left round the wall corner, go through gate and then go a quarter right down the field (no path) to the hidden Ranelands Farm. Aim for a gate to the left of farm trailers.

Go straight ahead through farm premises with a long barn/shed on your left and farmhouse on right, through gate, and on in the same line across the field – do not follow vehicle track rightwards.

On crossing the field, the grass path splits – take the right branch to a gap in the wall with a fingerpost and stile to its right. Go through the gap (or use stile) and cross the immediate stile on your left.

Drop down on to a vehicle track, turn right to a junction of tracks and then, with gate of trout farm ahead, go off half left over flagstones, passing to left of trout hatchery. Cross a footbridge, go through kissing gate and straight on to link up with the Hebden Beck on your right.

Take the good path up the slope and continue to a stile with a large stone house to your front right. A final uphill push leads into the road in the centre of Hebden – regain your vehicle.