This walk in the Yorkshire Dales National Park offers the chance to escape the crowds

The fine path leading down to Little Stainforth with Penyghent on skyline.
The fine path leading down to Little Stainforth with Penyghent on skyline.
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Ribblesdale has somehow escaped the fame and kudos heaped upon some of the other valleys of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and that is just fine – it offers the chance to escape the crowds on little-known paths while soaking up a wonderful landscape.

Settle, the starting point, is one of the busiest communities in the Yorkshire Dales with a successful mix of light industry and tourism. The National Park boundary clips the eastern edge of the town thus, officially, excluding Settle from the park, but that doesn’t stop the visitors turning up by the score, particularly walkers, but also, in summer, cyclists and motorbikers.

The whole place fairly buzzes, exuding a great atmosphere. The town’s quaint streets are a hotch-potch of rustic 18th and mid-19th century buildings, reminders of Settle’s influence and affluence as a trading centre over the past 200 years.

In the Market Place, for example, are the famous Shambles, now shop units, but originally an open market hall. The arches were added in the 18th century and the upper storey was built by the Victorians.

Although the town has boasted a market since 1248, it was the opening of the Kendal-Keighley turnpike in the mid-1700s which allowed this tiny settlement to develop and grow. And when the Settle-Carlisle railway arrived some 100 years later, Settle’s future as a trading post was assured.

The town was founded by the Vikings, its name deriving from the Old Norse setl, a dwelling place. It was recorded in Domesday Book of 1086 as “Setel” when it was the property of Roger of Poitou who was gifted most of Ribblesdale by William the Conqueror.

By the dawn of the 13th century, the estate had passed into the hands of the Percy barons; Henry Percy was granted a market charter by Henry III in 1248 and the market - held on a Tuesday - has now been going strong for 770 years.

SETTLE and LITTLE STAINFORTH

7 miles: Allow 3 – 4 hours. 
Map: O/S OL2 Yorkshire Dales Southern and Western areas

Use the large pay-and-display car park in the centre of Settle next to the petrol station (£3.20 up to four hours; £3.90 over four hours) – or do what we did and park in the streets opposite the car park (Townhead).

Exit car park and turn left along the main road (B6480), go under the railway (Settle-Carlisle line) and continue, past the end of the Horton road (B6479) and cross the footbridge ahead (to left of road bridge) into Giggleswick and immediately turn left on to a tarred path by side of tennis courts.

At a junction of paths with multiple fingerposts, go straight on for Giggleswick for ten yards and then, at fork, take right branch up the slope to emerge in road at Giggleswick. Turn right, soon sweeping left into heart of village by the wall of the old vicarage.

Follow the road round to the church (St Akelda’s), enter churchyard for a close-up of this historic building, go past porch and exit church yard through gate ahead.

St Akelda’s dates from the earliest days of the Norman occupation but is thought to stand on the site of a Saxon house of worship as carved stones from that period are incorporated in the church fabric. The church has a number of fine medieval tombs of the Tempest family, once Lords of Little Stainforth and now of Broughton Hall, near Skipton.

Turn right, passing a house on your left with 1669 datestone. Follow the gravel access track, turning right past a stone property on your left and immediately turn LEFT along a narrow path and then go straight on through the middle of Giggleswick School playing fields. At end of this path, on striking a cross path with a modern school building to your right, turn LEFT for a few yards and then turn right up steps to enter road.

Turn right, soon passing Giggleswick Junior School and then Settle golf course to emerge in the B6480 (the old A65) and the foot of Buckhaw Brow. Cross the road – quarry entrance ahead – and turn right along verge for 20 paces, stride over the low wall on your left, and continue on a strong path (fingerpost: Buckhaw Brow) and then sweep left up steps. At top of steps, the slope gets even steeper – just dig in!

At top of hill, go through metal gate and turn left, the path soon leaving the wall to zig-zag up the hillside with the huge, now disused, Giggleswick Quarry on your left. At top of slope, follow wall on your left with Penyghent to your front left and flat-topped Fountains Fell to its right.

Follow the quarry wall as it curves round to the left and now look out keenly for a fence post with yellow tape (opposite a mill chimney in the valley) and, here, take the path going diagonally down the hill on your right towards Penyghent.

After 60/70 yards – stay alert! – there is a vague fork in the grass path – take the right branch down to a wall to strike a good path just before the wall and turn right along it towards the valley with wall on your left. Go down a steep bit and then, after a few yards, on joining a strong track, turn left through gap in wall.

1: Now follow a splendid path which eventually enters trees and then arrives – have patience! - at a wall. Turn left along wall and follow it to a gated stone stile on your right – don’t overshoot! – cross it, turn left along wall for a few yards to a huge tree and then go half right down the slope into the field and cross it to gain the lefthand of two ladder stiles (the lefthand stile is not immediately visible).

On crossing the lefthand ladder stile, go straight up the field and go through the lefthand of two gates, then through the stock enclosure and then follow the grassy track up the hillside on your left, the path zig-zagging. Always stay on the strongest track.

The track leads to a gate. Press on with wall on your right to next gate, go through – and STOP! Look to your right to spot two green paths leading back towards the valley. Take the lefthand one going furthest away from the wall and with a wood to your front left.

The path, on approaching the wood, bears right down a narrow limestone defile. At its end, go slightly left down the field to gain the field corner and an obvious short green lane. Follow the green lane to its end and cross ladder stile at fingerpost.

Go straight ahead (as fingerpost), past a fingerpost in mid-field, and on to a gateway with a barn to your front right. Go through gateway and race down the vehicle track with Penyghent prominent and with Little Stainforth and a caravan park down to your right.

Sweep right with the track to Little Stainforth and walk down the road to the crossroads just before the white-painted Knight Stainforth Hall.

Little Stainforth is known locally as Knight Stainforth because of its long association with the knights of the Tempest family (now of Broughton Hall, near Skipton) who held the manor throughout the Middle Ages. The estate was purchased by Anthony Watson in 1547.

His descendant, Samuel Watson, a prominent Quaker, rebuilt the impressive Knight Stainforth Hall (also known as Little Stainforth Hall) in 1672. The hall, which has been in the hands of the Maudsley family since 1839, rests on the site of the medieval manor house of the Tempests and still retains several features from that building, including a 14th-century doorway.

Turn right along the road (Stainforth Lane) with Langcliffe Quarry across to your left. After a short half mile, leave the road at fingerpost on your right and go across field in line of fingerpost, leaving the wall on your left and going diagonally right up the field, passing under telegraph wires and then aiming for the righthand of two barns ahead.

2: Root out a gated stile in the wall and go on to the next one and then straight across next field, aiming for left end of a barn where you will find a stile in wall corner. Go past left side of the barn and straight across next field to gated stile and then continue by wall on your left.

Cross a stile in wall corner and go on to a wood and follow the wall round its right edge and then descend with wall and wood on your left on a stony vehicle track. At three-sided fingerpost, go straight on for Stackhouse Lane along a broad track through trees.

When wall and wood on your left finish at a water trough, go straight on along left edge of field with wall on your left. At field end, enter road and take the path almost opposite (fingerpost: Ribble Way etc).

A fine green track leads over the field to a walkers’ gate. Continue on a good path above the Ribble gorge to pass to left of a house. Press on – all obvious – to pick up a wall on your right leading to a wicket gate in wall corner and take the well-worn track over next field. On arriving in sports field, turn left and right by the River Ribble.

At a fork, take the right branch, turning sharp right within 15 yards to pass alongside a building. This path leads to the B6480 and a link-up with the outward leg. Turn left over road bridge and go straight ahead into centre of Settle and regain your vehicle.