On day seven of his walk the length of the River Ure, BOB ADAMS encounters waterfalls, grouse moors - and a proper Yorkshire squall

River Ure Walk, Day Seven: Hardraw to Upper Wensleydale and back

I decided to start at Hardraw, a small village just a mile north of Hawes, and then head off up Cotterdale. Why? Because I could then do a circular walk and visit this beautiful dale, before crossing High Abbotside and descending back into Upper Wensleydale to return to Hardraw along the Ure. And besides, there are no buses west of Hawes so it had to be a circular walk.

We parked next to the Green Dragon Inn, which controls access to Hardraw Force. Gus had brought his long lens to capture birds. It was a glorious October day.

Leaving Hardraw Force until later, we headed northwest up the Pennine Way before turning off left to descend to the winding Cotterdale Beck.

There had been gales the previous night and the rivers were high and branches were down; the best conditions to view waterfalls. Gus spotted a stoat, a merlin, two young buzzards in a copse, and a dipper in Cotterdale Beck. We stopped at the picturesque hamlet of Cotterdale for elevenses. If you want isolation this is the place. Cotterdale itself ends just after the houses, and beyond, at the head of the valley, there is only moorland.

We crossed the beck and gradually ascended, through wind-damaged conifers, to the top of the ridge. On the way we came across a new stone road, for shooters, and a very posh grouse butt. A sign announced that we were now entering the largest moorland regeneration scheme and black grouse recovery project in the Pennines. At the top we lost the footpath and passed through an area where trenches had recently been dug to aid drainage. This may help re-generate heather but what about flooding further down the river in York? Peat and sphagnum moss can hold great reservoirs of water, before gradually releasing it, like a glacier.

When we reached the top, Upper Wensleydale came into view. Far away, on the other side of the valley, we could just see the lonely track of the Settle/Carlisle Railway as it passed Garsdale Station then ascended, following the course of the Ure to reach its highest point at Aisgill (356m). It then descends through Mallerstang, to Kirkby Stephen and beyond. We could also see the course of the line to Hawes, now disused, and the entrance to Mossdale Tunnel.

As is common at this time of year we spotted many different kinds of fungus growing by the path. One example looked like radishes, good enough to eat. We also spotted a fat frog.

It was time for lunch. We settled on high limestone crags, with spectacular views. Nearby was a menacing ‘shake-hole,’ a depression in the limestone caused by the collapse of its surface layer. The sun was now covered by cloud. A storm was on its way.

We headed back east along The High Way, an ancient track/drovers route across the Pennines. A sign showed the way to Hell Gill Bridge, to the west. But that was for another day. Today it was time to head back before the rain started. A jet screeched down the valley below us, running away from the approaching storm. We passed a flock of Goldfinch, feeding on insects while clinging onto bushes swaying in the wind, like riding on bucking broncos.

We saw the squall approaching from Mallerstang and had just enough time to put on waterproofs before the rain arrived.

But it was over in no time. Heading down Cotter Riggs towards the Ure, the sun came out and the storm shot off down to lower Wensleydale. For a brief moment we experienced that lovely sharp light you get, just after a storm passes, and the sun breaks out again. We passed a limekiln at the top of the ridge. There must have been trees up there in the past to justify building such a large one.

At the bottom if the hill we reached the place where Cotterdale Beck meets the Ure. It was well worth the short detour up the beck to view Cotter Force. JMW Turner visited this secluded spot in 1816 during his tour of Yorkshire. He apparently stayed at the Green Dragon Inn when he also sketched Hardraw Force. After a rest we had a mile of what I call ‘proper’ river walking, up and down along the south bank of the Ure, before taking the B Road back to Hardraw.

And yes, there was just time to visit the Hardraw Force, before it closed at dusk. We paid our £2.50 and dragged our tired limbs up the gorge. Hardraw Force is England’s highest single drop waterfall, and it looked spectacular in the early evening sun. Sings posted dire warnings about the danger of walking behind the falls. Kevin Costner certainly did, in the 1991 film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. Maid Marion spotted him bathing naked there, a long way from Sherwood Forest. We didn’t. It would have been a bit dangerous to bathe in the falls today, given the recent rains.

Finally we ought to mention our visit to the Green Dragon Inn for refreshments, at the end of a long day’s walk. The Inn dates from the 13th Century, is built of stone, and boasts flagged floors and several open fireplaces. You can smell history within its walls, as well as wood smoke. Not only Turner, but also William Wordsworth stayed there, with his sister Dorothy, in 1799.

Only one more day to go. I am hoping to find the perfect day, and weather, to complete my journey along the Ure before end of the year.