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Walking the Herriot Way

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James Herriot is well known to most of us country lovers because of his books and the popular television series based on them, staring Christopher Timothy and Robert Hardy. 

In May this year, my husband and I spent four days walking the Herriot Way which is a 52 mile route running through the gorgeous Yorkshire Dales including Wensleydale and Swaledale and I thought I’d tell you about it in case anyone else fancies the perfect week walking.

James Herriot was the pen name of James ‘Alf’ Wright, a British veterinary surgeon and writer who used his day to day experience to write a series of semi-autobiographical books about animals and their owners.  His books proved hugely popular, much to his shock and sold over 50 million copies in 20 countries.  He continued to work as a vet long after he became famous as an author, he was once quoted as saying “if a farmer calls me with a sick animal, he couldn’t care less if I were George Bernard Shaw”.

Originating from Glasgow and settling in Yorkshire in 1940 to join the practice of Donald Sinclair (on whom his character Siegfried Farnon is based).  He loved the Dales and lived there until his death aged 78.

The Herriot Way is based upon a walk described in the book James Herriot’s Yorkshire and it has been expanded and modified to include 4 days walking by Yorkshire devotee Norman Scholes.  It is now fairly well known and, following established rights of way along its entire length it crosses one of the highest points in Yorkshire, visits waterfalls and a castle and crosses moorland laid bare through lead mining.  It is quite simply, stunning!

We started our walk in Hawes, having spent the previous night at Loxley House B&B (super place) along with two of our dogs Digit and her daughter, Sprout.  I’m told, however, that it is more usual start in Aysgarth, but we do like to buck a trend!

The first day took us from Hawes along Wensleydale to Aysgarth, crossing through gorgeous paddocks, alongside the river Ure and we also spent some time on the old steam railway track.   Handily along this part of the route you arrive in Askrigg, having descended quite sharply through wild garlic filled woodland alongside a waterfall, about half way through the walk, so a perfect spot to stop for lunch and a drink.  The walking is mostly flat, just a few sharp climbs, on this day so fairly easy. 

We stayed that night at Stowe House, Aysgarth, which is the most ‘designer’ B&B I have ever visited, in fact it should really be described as a boutique hotel.  It has quirky, stylish décor, lovely gardens and views, an honesty bar and in our room, a ball and claw slipper bath looking out over the hills – a perfect spot to unwind!

Day two’s route took us about 14 miles from Aysgarth to Reeth.  This was a more challenging walking day and it was also incredibly hot (about 25 degrees) making the mileage seem much further than the day before. 


Again, though the scenery was stunning although completely different.  We started off walking past Aysgarth Falls (a series of several stunning waterfalls, well worth a visit in their own right) along the valley to Castle Bolton.  The castle is perfectly positioned at the top of a long steep climb – they knew what they were doing when they built it, any invaders would have been exhausted long before the got to the base of the castle!  The climb means that you feel completely justified having an ice cream stop at the top though!


After this you begin another long climb onto open moorland, following a very clear track past evidence of lead mining to cross High Carl fell and eventually drop down (again steeply) into Grinton and then a short walk alongside the river Swale into Reeth. 

Reeth is a lovely village, set mostly around a large village green, with a selection of shops, pubs and tea rooms.  We stayed at the Burgoyne Hotel, which, continuing the theme of the holiday was great……they mix a super g&t here! 

Reeth is a busy little spot, its also on the coast to coast path so gets a lot of walker, so if you want to stay there its definitely work booking accommodation well in advance.

From Reeth the official Herriot Way route takes you across fells to Keld, however, we decided to stay along the valley bottom by the river because the forecast was for it to be even hotter today and we wanted the dogs to be able to day cool and have easy access to water for them.  Its still 13 miles but was a much better option for us given how hot it was.  It also means that you get to visit Gunnerside, which has lovely pub and a super tea room. 

We finished the day in Keld, staying at the Keld Lodge, again another lovely place with a great choice of gin (spot the theme here?).  Keld Lodge used to the be Youth Hostel before being taken over and like Reeth its on the coast to coast path and the Pembroke Way so well worth booking early if you want to visit here.  Keld is a tiny village but the Lodge does great food so there’s nothing more you need really. 

Day Four – last day and this is billed as the hardest walking day from Keld back to Hawes by going over the top of Great Shunner Fell.  Luckily for us, the weather had cooled by about 5 degrees so it was actually a really lovely walking day and although you climb to about 716 metres it is a gradual climb and the views are so rewarding.  I have a lovely picture of Digit and Sprout at the trig point at the top of Great Shunner. 

You can see for miles from there 360 degrees with no sign of life, other than a few other walkers.  Gorgeous. 


From the top you descend gradually back towards Hardraw, then across the river Ure before you get to the village and back through fields to Hawes. 

We found the dogs were very welcome in all the pubs and accommodation we used along the route, they got biscuits and lots of fuss everywhere.  They were so tired at the end of each day that they were flat out unless food was on offer! 

It was a superb holiday and I would definitely recommend it to anyone with a love of walking and the countryside.  You need to be reasonably fit but having said that, there not really any rush to get the walk completed, you can take your time and stop whenever you like.

If you do want to go, I recommend getting the book by Norman Scholes along with the relevant OS map.  I’d also heartily recommend all the places we stayed in. 


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