Walking: Prettiest village marks start of a Yorkshire Dales adventure

The picturesque falls on the edge of West Burton.
The picturesque falls on the edge of West Burton.
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West Burton, six miles west of Leyburn, is many people’s idea of the perfect rural idyll.

Dominated by its expansive village green, surrounded by chocolate-box cottages, it has one distinct advantage over other Dales contenders for the title of “prettiest village” - an almost-complete lack of traffic because it is tucked away from any through routes.

West Burton was founded by the Saxons who named it Burh-tun, meaning the fortified farmstead, from the Old English burh (a fort) and tun (a farm or settlement). “West” was added to the name much later to distinguish it from another Burton, near Leyburn, which became Burton Constable.

Despite its great antiquity, West Burton has no historic buildings. Most of its appealing properties – updated in the 20th century – were built in the 1800s to accommodate lead miners, quarry workers and cottage weavers. There was once a medieval hall situated at the top of the village, but this is long gone, replaced by a barn with 1707 datestone.

The “obelisk” on the green, built in 1820 in the shape of a church spire, is a mystery. It is not a market cross as West Burton has never had an official market; some historians suggest it may have been a preaching cross as the community has no Anglican church.

The valley of the Walden Beck, into which this circuit dips its toe, is sometimes referred to as Waldendale, though this is unofficial – there is no such place as Waldendale on O/S maps. Records from nearby Middleham Castle, relating to the Forest of Wensleydale and dated 1539, refer to the valley as Waldale.

It became the domain of the Norman Lords of Middleham following the Conquest of 1066 and it formed part of a huge hunting chase. The Walden Beck rises on the slopes of Buckden Pike at the head of the valley and flows for seven miles to join the River Ure near Aysgarth.


6 miles: Allow 2 ½ – 3 ½ hours. Map: O/S OL 30 Yorkshire Dales Northern and Central areas.

Park alongside the village green in the centre of West Burton in the vicinity of The Old Smithy and start by walking along the road to the top of the village (due south), passing to left of the obelisk and with the Fox and Hounds across to your right.

On passing obelisk, there is a fork in the road - take the right branch (not the road for Walden) and walk to end of village. Go straight on through the middle of the farm at Town Head to approach a red metal gate and bypass it using footbridge and gated stile to its right (fingerpost: Newbiggin).

Press on along vehicle track and then continue by wire fence on your left, soon passing through gate (or use stile) with barn to your right. Keep straight on with the Little Beck on your left to arrive at a large ruined barn and a 3-sided fingerpost – turn left for Forelands to a footbridge and a gap stile with new gate.

Pass through and go straight ahead for 30/40 yards and then turn left along a trod to two trees to strike a diagonal rake and turn right up the rake. At top of initial section of the diagonal rake, the rake turns left – ignore it! Keep going half right up the field (no path) to root out a stile and fingerpost at top of field just to the left of an old barn.

Pass through and take the diagonal path for Forelands, soon crossing footbridge. Now go straight ahead to a fingerpost and footbridge in middle of field with house (Forelands) beyond. At the fingerpost, turn half left up the field in line of fingerpost to strike a ditch and bear right along it.

At end of ditch, continue along wire fence to a gate and fingerpost to left of Forelands House. Go through gate at fingerpost and straight on, over access drive, and onward up a wide green track to arrive at three-sided fingerpost and go straight on along North Walden Road, an ancient miners’ track, to begin the journey over Forelands Rigg.

Until 10 years ago, this entire area was covered by a huge pine forest planted in 1967. In 2007, the trees were harvested before replanting took place.

Within 100 yards, at a fork, take the left (higher) branch with Thoralby in Bishopdale popping into view to your right. Press on to pass a marker post with arrow to gain a waymarked stile (large stone gatepost on your right). Cross the stile and continue along the wide track between wall and fence for a few hundred yards to spot a stile on your left – do not miss this vital turn!

1: Cross the stile and bear right through the remains of the Forelands Rigg forest. After about 500 yards, spot a wooden gate on your left and the two steps which remain of an old stile – again, do not miss this vital turn.

Go through the gate and half right to another redundant stile with post. Now look straight ahead to pick out a track in the distance running over the cleared forest (Burton Pasture). Head straight for this track and, almost immediately, a wall and gate pop into view.

Gain the gate, pass through and continue on the fine path which leads safely down to a 2-sided fingerpost. Go straight past it down the hill, over a duckboard with wire netting, and then, when track sweeps left, go straight ahead, through saplings in sleeves, to enter road at Walden, a lonely community of scattered farms, but no village. Turn right.

Go past Cross Farm with the high ground of Wooldale Moor to your front left and Naughtberry Hill to your front right. Continue down the road with the Cowstone Gill to your left. Cross the road bridge over the gill and go up far side and turn left down access track to Cowstone Gill House (also a sign for Hargill Farm) over cattle grid (fingerpost: Cote Bridge).

After about 150 yards – stay alert! - there is a fork. Take left branch to pass through gateway to left of a barn. Go down concrete strips to gate at Cowstone Gill House and turn left along fence (fingerpost: West Burton) and follow fence round to a gated stile, go straight ahead for 20 yards and cross footbridge over Cowstone Gill.

Turn right up slope, through a walkers’ gate and up side of wall to stile on skyline. Cross it and go half right over the huge field (no path), passing to left of a telegraph pole in middle of field. Now root out a stile and fingerpost in the far field corner.

Cross the stile, go half left across field corner to next stile and on by wall on your right, bearing right down the hill for 20 yards only and then turn left, descending to cross a tiny stream. Go straight ahead to pick up a wall on your right.

2: Go through a gated stile at field end and straight ahead over a huge field, passing marker post with yellow tape. There is a vague fork just beyond the post – take right branch, past the next marker, and then cross a gill and onward, through gap stile, and on by wall on your right.

At end of field, cross a gap stile and go straight on with the Walden Beck to your right. Now take a straight line over a dozen fields – no description needed. As you enter each field, look for the stile on the far side. After crossing the dozen fields, you will arrive at a stone-step stile with a TV aerial at its side (to left of gap in wall).

Cross this stile and go slightly left over next field to a stile (yellow tape) and then turn right along wall towards a caravan (on our visit) to enter road and turn right down to Cote Bridge. Cross it and turn left at a double fingerpost for Rookwith Bridge – take the lefthand path by the Walden Beck. At end of track, go through red metal gate and on by wall on your left and follow it to a gap stile and fingerpost at Rookwith Bridge – do not cross the bridge.

Instead, go half right across field (fingerpost for Riddings). At top of field, cross a stile and follow wall on your left to a gated stile after 70 yards. Pass through and bear slightly right over the field with a large barn up to your left. There is a gate ahead to the right of the buildings at Riddings – aim 30 yards right of the gate to find a gap stile.

Go straight across next field with Riddings to your left, through gap in wall and straight on, over stile next to a gate, and onward over next field. Go through a gated stile next to a gate and go straight ahead, crossing a vehicle track – do NOT turn left down the slope – to contour the hillside ahead to a stile.

Pass through, drop down to a tiny stream and turn right, past a metal tank, to a wall corner and fingerpost and turn left to the next wall corner and three-sided fingerpost and turn left round the wall corner for West Burton to gain a gated stile to left of a barn.

Follow this path down to West Burton Falls. Enjoy the views to your left before turning right and then left over a bridge into West Burton. Go straight ahead between houses to emerge in road and turn left to the village green. Regain your vehicle.