How To Turn One of Britain’s Best Walks Into An Adventure

I sat at my writing desk yesterday, staring at the snow gathering fast and thick before the eyes, coating the world outside with a thick layer of icing, rather assiduously. But I found myself thinking of Malham Dales. We were there last year around this time. It is a powerful memory, the kinds that stick with every iota of detail lodged into the cells, for our walk there had gathered momentum, assumed a life of its own. Now, this is a walk that has recently been declared by ITV to be amongst the top three in its list of a hundred ‘rambles, scrambles and ambles’ in Britain and North Ireland. But we did not know then of its upcoming celebrity status as one of Britain’s best walks (do watch the link at the end of the post, it is loaded with the most scenic walks in the British countryside).

Malham is a quiet village in the Yorkshire Dales, dotted with stone cottages, warm country pubs and ancient stone bridges traversed by packhorses once. The road to Malham, for us, was paved by 10 random stops because I had decided to change my blog host from WordPress to Siteground. That was all in vain. I ended up making the change this year, and keeping in mind the association, I could not help slipping in that photo of the limestone pavement of Malham in my earlier post.

A strange lunar landscape and a solitary tree sticking out of it. That is the draw of Malham.

But I am not a woman of few words and to let you go just like that would be monstrously unfair on my partiality towards chattering more than I should. Adi bemoans that I take five lines where he makes do with one. Usually that word is ‘nice’. I have naturally developed an antipathy to ‘nice’.

We stopped for a spot of Sunday brunch at a country inn where to the tune of hoppy ale, roast meat and Yorkshire puds, we were subjected to friendly interjections from a bald guy in a leather jacket, his girlfriend, and their hound who sat underfoot, throwing a hissy fit when another of his kind invaded his territory. Adi clammed up as he does when he is feeling particularly unsocial, so it was left upon me to be the picture of amiability. Frequent smiles and aching jaws.

When we got out of that warm pub with its flagstone floors and roaring fireplace, we were greeted by a sharp wind. Cowering into our jackets we set off into the pastures, past the beck that tripped over stones and gurgled its way into pre-historic woodlands where ancient ash trees were sheathed in moss. Upon barbed wires of dry stone walls, fluttered clumps of fleece in the wind — the aftereffects of scabby sheep having enjoyed a real good scratch. *whispers – I have a bit of that wool tucked into my box of souvenirs. Past bee libraries (I am not on crack), which are book nests transformed into dwellings for solitary bees in ash trees, we came in view of a startling sight. Janet’s Foss. The waterfall of Janet, the fairy queen. She is said to dwell in a cave screened by a waterfall which gushes into a pool that glows the colour of magic.

Till then it was a walk, which by its very nature, is suggestive of a slow pace. It stretches your body gently, lets the mind wander as you saunter, coaxes cobwebs out and generally paves the way to a beatific state of mind. Why, it soothed Adi’s frown away.

Soon we found ourselves in the middle of a limestone amphitheatre, along with a herd of grazing sheep. The beck flowed by, a river of honey gold glinting in the soft light of the sun, for it had emerged at some point to dispel the gloom of the day. Our jaws dropped as we turned around and surveyed this sheer display of nature’s power over us, tiny humans. A limestone landscape fashioned by the relentlessness of ice and water during the last Ice Age. We turned a corner and there lay Gordale Scar, a cave system that had collapsed and gouged the cliffs to reveal a gorge, that was at once intimidating and deliciously alluring.

We mused. Should we risk a climb? This is the part where I admit that we were wearing plain old walking shoes. The boulders were slimy, and the water gushing down it did nothing to bolster our confidence. As we walked away from that gorge, I simultaneously started whinging about not doing the one thing I had set out to do: see the limestone pavement. It was up there, you see, above the cliffs.

So my darling boy decided he would take me up. Up cliffs that were fenced off. Vast stretches of the inclines were varnished with jagged, grey limestone. As a reward, at the outset, Adi’s trousers caught at a snag in the fence. They ripped *whispers — at the crotch. But this did not thwart him. Oh no. He carried on and convinced me to follow him.

‘This should be easy,’ I said to myself as we started climbing. I had bypassed Adi when he called me from behind. ‘Look at the view, Nessie,’ he said. I turned, clinging to the long grass. And I froze. ‘This is what it feels when you reach the point of no return then,’ I thought, and a strange form of gut-liquefying panic gripped me. The bed of rocks below taunted me.

I started climbing then, and boy, I did not stop except to ride out the rushes of wind that whipped the grass. Oh that wind, it did not susurrate, it keened. What would have been music to my ears in a field, threatened to make me wilt on the steep inclines. After that there was no stopping. I have never felt more like a nimble goat in my life as I did then.

At one point, I called out to Adi. There was no reply. I would not dare to look down. It was too steep for comfort. My heart beating, with the rat-a-tat of a thousand Hitchcockian birds clamouring against window panes. After a short interval, but what seemed like eternity at that point of time, I heard Adi say faintly from somewhere below, ‘I am trying to climb a boulder.’ My imagination, already ripe with horror, had a whole tableau playing out. Of us desperately waving to speck-like people below for help. Perchance, they would arrange for an air ambulance for the foolish people up there, or would they rather nod their heads in contempt, and opine, ‘Odd folks. What did they think the fence is for? Let them stay up there.’

The relief that washed over me when I spotted my husband’s head pop up. I started back on my single-minded scramble to reach the top, which looked deliciously near. A final heave – thank heavens for my loose pair of trousers – and I was up on the edge of the cliff. I lay there, eyes shut, arms unclenching from clinging on to the grass for dear life, heart beating, legs trembling like jelly, sweat gathering beneath my jacket, the tee shirt demanding a gulp of air. Even today, I cannot believe that we made it to the top. The cliffs had been fenced off for good reason. Later, much later, I read a news story about a father and daughter who were out on a hike in Scotland. They went rogue like us, climbing a fenced mountain. It was a chance loose footing, but the father never made it back.

By this point, you might ask me to bugger off, because hey, you do not want adventures of this kind, do ya? But well, some hare-brained schemes once acted upon lead to spectacular landscapes as limestone pavements, where you too can get your trousers ripped.

Before I quit gabbing, I wanted to leave a note about the other rewards for this harum-scarum deed: It lies in the winding lanes that descend sedately to reveal the surreal beauty of the British countryside, for surreal is what it is and nothing less; in a pint of chilled ale at The Buck Inn; and, in the innocent faces of a dozen calves with yellow ear tags, who come lumbering around the corner to catch a sight of loud humans with ripped trousers.

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Our leathered-up friend was insistent about clicking at least one shot
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Sunday Roast lunch at the pub. Those Yorkshire puds are nothing less than gems.
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Malham Beck. ‘Beck’ and ‘Foss’ are Norse words, letting you know that the Vikings were here.
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Across the stone bridges of Malham
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Drystone walls and farm sheds
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A walk through farm land 
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And into the woods around Malham
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What did I tell you?

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The ancient woodlands around Malham

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Janet’s Foss
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The way to Gordale Scar
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Gordale Scar
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The part where I had climbed and turned back to behold this sheath of rocks
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See those tiny figures atop the cliffs. That is the point where we scrambled up.
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The ancient landscape that is the Malham Dales
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The limestone pavement of Malham, a natural karst landform scoured by glaciers as they receded, leaving behind grykes (fissures) and clints (limestone slabs).
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Award winning shot: Sheep poo and lonely tree
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Malham Dales
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Would you just look at that?
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Baby girls

Up and Down the Yorkshire Dales

The countryside has zero pretensions. None of the glitz, glamour, competitiveness or fatuous claims that is part of our daily lives are to be found in the country – unless you are a recluse who is pretty much done with the frivolities of life, and have therefore retired in the bosom of the country, where your life is about communion with nature. Nature is insidious, isn’t she? She will make her way into your heart with sheer smoothness. Each country escape is a reinforcement of that thought.

We met an old couple at a tearoom in the village of Muker after the long walk to Crackpot Hall. The man was the spitting image of Ian McKellen (remember him? ‘Magneto’, ‘Gandalf the Grey’…). When he turned around, I almost said out loud, “Gandalf!” I did not however do that. It is not alright to unleash your wonkiness on poor, unsuspecting people who have just met you.

Nattering away is the best thing you can do during tea time. So there we were finding out nuggets about each other – stranger couples exchanging life stories. It turned out that Gandalf and his wife were hardcore Londoners. Forty years ago, they moved to the Yorkshire Dales. His grudge was against Americans (come on, don’t get grumpy all over me, I am just the purveyor of conversations) invading the city. “The day the Americans came in and they stopped doing beer for lunch, I knew it was time for us to leave London,” he said.

The British have their priorities in place. You cannot fault them on that.

Lengthy conversations with locals apart, we drove around the Yorkshire Dales. Now the dales are about pure tradition. It starts from the way the farmers tend to their land, roaming around the country lanes with collies perched upon the back of their quad bikes, as they send gruff smiles your way. Dry stone walls patch work lush rolling slopes and meadows while limestone barns pop up all over the latticed landscape.

Then you see cottages carved out of local stones, ruined remnants of 18th-19th century lead mines, small waterfalls, bales of hay stacked up by the meadows, ancient woodlands, small stone bridges and gurgling brooks flowing through the valleys. At the end of the noon, droopy as a dog, you step into an old, traditional pub with stone-flagged floors and large fireplace, plonking yourself at a table in the garden. The drill goes thus: Chug on pints of local ale accompanied by no-nonsense pub food. Gastro pubs look the other way. Your neighbours will be cyclists, motorcyclists, many sizes and shapes of dogs along with their owners, and oodles of walkers. As the honey-golden sunshine of the noon softly touches upon the face, you smile away the sunburn you have acquired during your rambles and you know this that the dales have got you good.

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An expansive stretch of village green, a local postwoman making her daily rounds in the village, a coffeeshop with tantalising cakes, a tiny convenience shop, three village pubs (who said that they did not want you to be spoilt for choice in Reeth), two churches and a smattering of stone houses. You have entered Reeth. A village in upper Swaledale that lies on the B6270 road. There are plenty of walks to do around it. Just head to its information centre. The old lady at the till will take her time in helping you out with suggestions.

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A historic coaching inn, The Buck, traces its way back in time to the 1700s. 
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After a long time spent inside the longest surviving inn in Reeth (it dates back to the 1600s), things might look a bit different. Wait, are you seeing things upside down?
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Postwoman of Reeth.
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The chocolate biscuit cake stole the show. Laden with chewy oats, nuts, lots of butter, chocolate and raisin, it was all mine. Adi turned up his nose at it. Men are odd.


This was our starting point for the walk to Crackpot Hall.nMuker Beck runs through the tiny village where a handful of houses stand next to the river and a ribbon of a road runs past them. You can see the church peeking out from above the stone cottage with the creepers. In the old days you might have been witness to all significant occasions in the life of the poor folk taking place in this church made of wattle and daub and heather thatch. They walked miles and miles to get here for weddings and burials. This single church in Muker is historical – it is one of a handful that came up during the reign of Elizabeth I in the 1600s.

The dales believe in minimalism. A village shop and tearoom come together as a package, a pub stands next door and then you have a boutique selling Swaledale woollens, which displays a placard informing you all-importantly, it was graced by the presence of the Prince of Wales. After such a clear sign, if you want to buy anything (at extortionate prices), let it be upon your head.

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Muker Beck runs through the town which was an important post for the lead mining industry in the old days.
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St. Mary’s looms up above the cottages of Muker.
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Blue doors
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And red doors. It is easy to fall for Muker.
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The only pub in Muker is this.
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The all-in-one tearoom and village store
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Goodies guaranteed to make the drool flow fast just like a mastiff.
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A Welsh rarebit with tomato relish and salad on the side.
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Butter Tubs, a pale golden, dry bitter ale. Delicious after a hot walk.


One of the smallest and evocatively tranquil villages in the Upper Swaledale. It just has the Keld Lodge and one Butt House B&B. No shops. Yessir, you gotta get your supplies elsewhere because you shall get none in Keld. The original name of the village was Appletre Kelde (‘the spring near the apple tree’), derived from the Viking word Kelda (‘a spring’). Keld lies at the crosspoint of two challenging hiking routes in the country – the 267-mile long Pennine Way which spans the length of the Peak District to the Scottish border, and the Coast-to-Coast Way that runs from St. Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in Yorkshire. And get this: During the height of the lead mining industry, Keld had about 6000 inhabitants. Today it has less than a 100 villagers. There’s a reason to fall in love with the villages in the dales.

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Gunnerside country is curiously flat and the farmers here stick to the traditional methods of farming. A methodist chapel, a smithy, a pub, a primary school and a post office are all you shall spot within this small settlement that gets it name from the Nordic word Gunnar’s Saetr, meaning the ‘Viking king’s summer pasture’. Somehow it is difficult to imagine the Vikings on this flat, serene landscape, but if history says so, who am I to bicker. When we made a stop by the beck in Gunnerside, a man hiking through, his shirt open till his waist, stopped for a brief hello. One of his lines got stuck in my mind. “They say this is the Yorkshire Riviera. Today, you can’t doubt it.”

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Gunnerside Flats
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A Harley trio in Gunnerside
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The 19th-century New Bridge
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Gunnerside Beck
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Boys out spring camping
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“I chatter over stony ways, /In little sharps and trebles,/ I bubble into eddying bays,/ I babble on the pebbles.” Tennyson to add to the beauty of it all.


I have got a surprise for ya. The Scandinavians were in Thwaite. Well, you would say duh by now. Which means you are reading this, plus you would be right too. Naturally Thwaite gets its name from the Old Scandinavian word thveit which means ‘meadow or paddock’. I just remember the barking of dogs in the distance in Thwaite and a farmer passing by in his tractor loaded with a bale or two of hay. There was not another soul to be seen in the village and these are scenes from an early evening.

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That is all. With massive motifs of sunflowers, sheep, dry stone walls and limestone barns popping out of the landscape, we drove into the sunset.


Crackpot Hall on the Dales

It got me with its name. How can you possibly ignore a ‘Crackpot Hall’ when it looms up on the map, right? In the Yorkshire Dales, last weekend, we walked 6 miles from the village of Muker to get to it. Even if it be just an abandoned farmhouse, more than half of its roof having given way to the elements, the ruins added drama, perched above the deep winding valleys of Swaledale.

The word ‘hall’ is a misnomer in Crackpot’s case. It necessarily conjures up visions of grandeur, mansions, opulence, right? Only this was an isolated building. Some of its small and dark rooms were still intact under the portion of roof that remained. A big fireplace recreated suggestions of considerable warmth on cold, windy days. Rusted pots and pans were still to be seen stashed away inside the alcove next to the fireplace. And then a rusted metal bath stood on the side of the room. Bracken and weed grew inside.

Walking through the derelict bits of it, I could imagine the shepherds and farmers who lived in it – their constant struggle to eke out a living from a land that was not kind to them. In the early-1900s a pair of women authored a book titled Swaledale.

They wrote: “Once as we sat gazing at the distant view of Keld (the settlement nearby), there was a sudden rush from behind. Our caps and sticks were snatched away and hurled over the wall and a tiny figure clambered over them with a mocking, chuckling laugh. That was Alice with the madness of the moors about her and all their wariness. ‘Ah you are plaguing me,’ she said.”

That bit was reconstructed into a tale of haunting. Poor Alice. She actually lives near Carlisle, is in her 80s, and laughs a lot. I heard a podcast featuring her on BBC in which she reminisced about her years in Crackpot Hall. It made me smile to hear her recollection of her early years atop the hill. She was born in Crackpot Hall with her brothers and sisters and her father was a farmer. He kept cows, sheep, goats and farmed everything possible. She also mentioned the coffee her mum made and brought to the hay fields as being exceptionally flavourful – that you could relish that coffee even if it went cold. This was some time in the 1930s. The children had the freedom of playing in caves and abandoned lead mines and Alice’s favourite companion was her dog Moss. ‘Moss the dog,” she said, “would only work for my daddy.” They eventually moved to a farm near Hawes because it promised better land and earnings for her father. A shepherd did live in Crackpot Hall for some time after they left it. The building was abandoned in the 1950s.

The name Crackpot is considered to be Viking because of the presence of other Old Norse names in the area such as Keld (it means ‘spring’). Crack translated into ‘a crow’ and pot was a ‘crevice/crag’ in Old Norse. It could be thus deciphered as “a deep hole or chasm that is a haunt of crows”. It is said that there was a building there since the 16th century that served as a hunting lodge for a nobleman and baron who was a follower of Henry VIII. Thomas Wharton went to the dales frequently on red deer hunting expeditions.

It was a perfect day of sunshine and blue skies when we set on the walk, which turned out to be an average to easy one, with bits of steep portions thrown into the jumble. We walked past working farm sheds, met curious, frolicking lambs, flocks of poker-faced Swaledale sheep and a handful of other walkers. We did sit down once in a while to stare at the River Swale gushing by the meadows which we were treading. I have to remark upon the narrowness of the stiles and bridges during the walk. I promise you that a person with considerable girth would get wedged between those dry stone walls that ran through the meadows.

My dear husband felt extremely hot after a while and started taking off his hiking shoes and revealed hairy legs as he hiked up the cuffs of his jeans, moaning out, “Why did I not wear shorts? This is your fault”. With that blame on my head, I trudged ahead. My own shoes were not unlike clodhoppers. But once we were skipping down steep descents and hopping across the stones and boulders on the river, I wanted to give them a hug.

Along the walls of working sheds.
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Duh. I challenge you to keep in double file.

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River Swale

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Just as we saw this banner…
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…lo and behold, out popped a pheasant with an iridiscent coat upon him.

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Crossing the deliciously cold water of the River Swale.
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Adding the appropriate amount of crow to the backdrop in my all-black ensemble.
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That, my friends, is Crackpot Hall.

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Look at the view that the families who stayed at Crackpot Hall had.
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The kitchen with its fireplace, pots and pans.


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The valleys of Swaledale, with River Swale winding through it, lie behind me. You can also spot fresh patches of snow on the hills in the backdrop. It had snowed four days ago in the north.
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A snap of Alice with her parents and Moss the Dog. Courtesy: BBC
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Alice and Moss the dog. Courtesy: BBC
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Alice’s mother, the star coffeemaker, with their flock of Swaledale sheep and possibly her husband in the backdrop. Courtesy: BBC

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How to Get There: Start the walk from the village of Muker or from Keld. The walk from Muker is longer than the route from Keld. But Muker has a tearoom and better eating options, so we had to listen to the call of the gut.

Where to Stay:

At Keld Lodge (, a former shooting lodge, double en-suite rooms are available for £100 a night and breakfast is included within the price.

A double en-suite room on bed & breakfast basis at Bridge House ( is pegged at £90 per night.

Next up, more on the stunningly green Yorkshire dales and the barren isolation of the moors.