You’ll enjoy this one! The ease of route-finding on the outward leg along the well-waymarked Pennine Way and the glorious, sylvan setting of the return trip by the Leeds-Liverpool Canal make it a day out to savour and remember.
Because of the simplicity of the route, you will fairly whizz round and the eight miles will feel more like six or seven. As a winter bonus – and an inducement from the January temperatures - the roaring fire at the Cross Keys at East Marton takes some beating.
Gargrave has a rare claim to historical fame, being one of the few places in the county to sport a Roman villa. In the 1760s, labourers digging a field drain half a mile south-east of the village stumbled upon the foundations of a building which was assumed to be a Saxon church - and the area was promptly named Kirk Sink (and so it still appears on present-day maps).
But when experts returned to the scene in the next century, they uncovered a far more exciting find - a highly-decorated mosaic floor; the Saxon “church” was, in fact, a villa which once belonged to a Roman official of high status.
However, the Anglo-Saxon settlers who followed the Romans did leave their mark on the area. When Gargrave’s Victorian church was under construction, a number of Anglo-Danish crosses from the 9th and 10th centuries were unearthed. The crosses indicate that Gargrave was the site of a field church established by missionary monks from Iona or Lindisfarne.
In those Dark Age days, travelling priests of the Celtic church would set up a wooden cross as a focal point from which to preach the gospels. These field sites became, in turn, burial grounds and then churches, usually made of wood. When a church became established, it was the practice of the Celtic priests to erect a stone cross of the type found at Gargrave.
Gargrave was recorded in Domesday Book of 1086. By the early 1100s, the estate was in the possession of the Percy family which, about 1147, founded a monastery at Sawley, near Clitheroe, some 10 miles west of Gargrave.
In 1313, Henry Percy gave the Sawley monks lands at Gargrave together with the living (the right to appoint the parish priest). The monks turned the village into a prosperous crop-growing and trading settlement with its own market, reaping rich harvests from the fertile Aire Valley.
In the late 1790s, Gargrave received a new lease of life with the opening of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. The lead mines of Wharfedale and beyond sent ore to the village by pack train and this was carried out by barge from five specially-constructed wharves. The barges returned with cargoes of coal, corn and other goods, reviving the village as a bustling trading and transport centre.