Discover a secret world of waterfalls during this Yorkshire walk
This sumptuous little circuit unlocks a secretive path in Upper Wharfedale which winds its way along the banks of the Cray Beck through the largely-unknown Cray Gill with its picturesque cascades and waterfalls.
It is sheer delight from start to finish and not to be missed.
The whole area surrounding the tiny settlement of Cray – renowned for its hostelry, The White Lion – is festooned with waterfalls; every hillside presents its own tumbling spectacular as the upland streams head helter-skelter towards the valley to pour their waters into the River Wharfe.
The starting point, Buckden, is one of the most popular walking destinations in the Dales and rightly so – a perfect jewel in a perfect crown. Buckden’s name means “the valley of bucks” and this gives some indication of the village’s prominence as the headquarters of a great hunting forest known as Langstrothdale Chase in the Middle Ages.
This was Percy land – as was much of Wharfedale and Littondale – and the great Barons and later Earls and now Dukes of Northumberland set up their forest officials here in the 12th century on the site of a Saxon farmstead. Records show that the Percys were mining lead high on the slopes of Buckden Pike as early as the 14th century.
Buckden Bridge, which is crossed at the start of this walk, was the subject of a broadsheet in 1750 which ran: “A bridge is built in yonder dale and on this bridge there hangs a tale.”
The broadsheet told how Buckden desperately needed a bridge to carry the ore down from the Birks smelt mill on Birks Fell opposite the village and that an election candidate promised one if the people of Buckden voted for him.
At that time, £200 had been set aside by the authorities to rebuild nearby Hubberholme Bridge which had been washed away by floods – but the money went to Buckden. For some time afterwards, Buckden Bridge was known as the Election Bridge.
BUCKDEN AND CRAY GILL
5 miles: Allow 2 – 3 hours. Map: O/S OL 2 Yorkshire Dales Southern and Western areas.
Use the pay-and-display car park at Buckden (on the right just past Village Store). £4.50 for over 2 hours, which is good value as a notice in the car park explains how the cash has been used to pay for two footbridges.
Exit car park by the way you entered into road, cross it diagonally left – red phone box to your left – and go down the vehicle track by side of village green. Enter the Buckden-Hubberholme road and turn right.
Go over Buckden Bridge spanning the River Wharfe and, within a few yards, turn RIGHT at fingerpost for Hubberholme. An obvious path leads over field to the Wharfe and then follows the flood bank in a most delightful fashion.
When the path leaves the river bank, go through a gate and continue by wall on your right to re-enter the Hubberholme road and turn right. Just before Hubberholme, notice Kirk Gill Manor on your right.
The manor was built by Bishop Reginald Heber (1783-1826) who remodelled an ancient farmhouse on the site owned by his family who originated from the Yorkshire dales. Heber served as a country parson in his native Cheshire for 16 years before being appointed Bishop of Calcutta in 1823. Sadly, the arduous climate, combined with poor health, led to his early death at the age of 42. He is mainly remembered for the hymns he wrote, the most well known being “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains”.
Press on to The George Inn, turn right over road bridge and right again along the road, pausing to admire the medieval church of St Michael and All Angels.
The church was originally a forest chapel on the edge of Langstrothdale Chase, the medieval hunting forest. In 1241, it was given to the monks of Coverham Abbey by William de Percy, and was known as the Chapel of St Oswald of Huberham.
The most important feature of the church is the rood loft, believed to be one of only two in the country to have escaped the edict of Elizabeth I that all such ornaments should be destroyed. It was moved to the church from Coverham Abbey at the Dissolution in 1538 for safe keeping.
All that remains of the rood loft is the frame. Originally there would have been a floor to support minstrels or musicians. The pews and choir stalls were made in 1934 by Robert Thompson, the Mouseman of Kilburn.
One of the altars was reclaimed from The George Inn across the road where it had been used for many years as an ale bench. At the west end of the church is a bell with the date 1601 and showing the arms of Elizabeth I. In the churchyard are the buried ashes of author JB Priestley who loved this corner of Upper Wharfedale and was a regular at The George.
1: Ignore an immediate fingerpost on your left for Deepdale etc. Stride out along the road for a short half mile to a fingerpost on your left for Cray (National Trust plaque for its Upper Wharfedale Estate) at Stubbing Bridge.
Take this path by the Cray Beck at the start of an enchanting journey through a fairytale landscape. On arriving at a series of mini-waterfalls pouring down Cray Gill, cross a stone-step stile and press on by the limestone gill, soon climbing above it – all obvious – to pass through a walkers’ gate to continue the gradual ascent with a line of telegraph poles on your right.
The path steepens to gain a wall with the Buckden-Bishopdale road down to your right. On gaining the wall, do NOT pass through it. Instead, turn right along the wall (wall on your left) to pass below a farmhouse, go through a wooden walkers’ gate and onward to enter farm vehicle track at a fingerpost.
Bear right along it for a few yards only to a junction of several vehicle tracks and turn left up to a three-sided fingerpost and turn right along the broad access track. Follow this, over a shallow ford and past barns to enter the Bishopdale road at The White Lion at Cray.
Turn left along the road and plod slowly up the gentle slope admiring the waterfalls to your front right and then a more impressive fall to your front left. This is the start of the Kidstones Pass leading into Bishopdale and on to West Burton and Leyburn.
2: After about 600 yards, turn sharp right with the road and then turn right at fingerpost for Buckden, through a gate. Go half left over field (as fingerpost). As you cross the field, spot the obvious gate in far wall – this gate is not the route! Aim about 50 yards to right of the gate to gain the wall at the point where the wall enters a short walled track. You may have to stride across a tiny stream or two, depending upon the amount of water.
The walled track soon finishes – keep on along a broad green track, through a gate, and onward along the grass track with fence on your left and Cray to your right. Go through next gate and onward, over a tiny stream, and press on through a gated stile next to a gate.
Now stride out along the broad grass track – Buckden Rake – and follow it throughout with no diversions or deviations.
On your left is the broad flank of Buckden Pike whilst straight ahead is the ridge comprising Birks Fell and Firth Fell and which separates Upper Wharfedale from Littondale. To your right is the long, brooding ridge of Yockenthwaite Moor.
Go past a three-sided fingerpost – resist the temptation to turn left for Buckden Pike! – and keep going to enter a stony track and bear right along it with wall on your right. Now enjoy the carefree, down hill run into Buckden, more than adequate compensation for the graft of the outward leg. The track enters the back of the car park at the finish.