GEORGE WILKINSON meets the black-painted Darlington Mummers on his way to a waterfall that inspired Turner

We pulled up outside the Green Man just as the black-painted Darlington Mummers boarded their coach. Folk festivals, for this was one - the inaugural Upper Wensleydale Gathering - are more about a huge intake of beer than walking, the two mutually exclusive. Please excuse the lack of miles this week, it was very hot.

When Turner came here in July 1816 it was to paint Hardraw Force which is said to be England's highest unbroken waterfall. Turner stayed at the Green Man, nowadays one must enter the inn (no hardship) to gain access to the falls and also one must pay £1.

We left the folkies singing and drinking and shuffled up to the waterfall. In the 19th century it was thought that the falls were "best seen before midday", were gloomy in the afternoon, and this was before all the modern trees grew up. As can be seen from Turner's watercolour there was far less vegetation in his day. He described Hardraw Force as a "cave of rocks... where the stream flows over the top of the rock in one sheet... making a most rumbling noise in falling, with a fierce foam at the bottom". In a hard winter the water can freeze into a column of ice, or as Wordsworth records his wife Dorothy describing it -"congealed froth".

Wordsworth also writes of scrambling behind the waterfall so "the water shot directly over our heads into a basin". A notice in the pub warns that this is dangerous. However, there is no warning of the very dangerous state of the path that continues up and round the falls, and this should not be attempted. So we returned to the folk festival, and set off for another little walk, up the side of valley.

This was a pleasant climb, past a farm and a hotel, through hay meadows, alternately flat then steep on the terraced slopes. Six hangliders, two dart-shaped and four scythe-shaped, drifted back and forth above us along the edge of High Shaw and they shared the air space with a pair of raptors that stooped now and then.

The ground on High Shaw is strewn with fragments of the laminated sandstone used for roofing hereabouts and there are some remnants of disused mine and quarry buildings, some dicey-looking horizontal shafts and a cluster of cairns that Andy Goldsworthy would appreciate.

If you have an hour or so and are artistically inclined make a sculptural cairn yourself, there is an abundance of material.

We dozed in the heat haze, and admired the lovely field patterned view of upper Wensleydale.

Coming down we were sent along the road a bit where a footpath has been closed since 1999 due to a landslip. Then came a pretty stretch of stream, a series of cascades and pools, and then the descent into the village, to the pub where the folkies were still singing an drinking in every room, in the car park, in every nook and cranny, perhaps in training for the "coracle regatta" the next day.


When in doubt look at the map. Check your position at each point. Keep straight on unless directed.

1. Hardraw Force only. Through Green Dragon Inn (pay £1) to path by right-hand side of river only. Return to inn.

2. Left out of inn, left to car park entrance then immediately small gate on right (signed Simonstone), through yard of cottage, steps/gate, stile, uphill on trod, stile.

3. Squeezer/fieldgate by house and left to track. Cross road to track (signed Low Shaw), 50 yards, right in farmyard then left between barns, fieldgate into field, track 25 yards, right uphill (wall to left).

4. Fieldgate, 1 o'clock, ladderstile, 1 o'clock uphill across field to stile/squeezer in high corner beyond tree to path uphill on open hillside which angles 1 o'clock for 200 yards to old workings/spoil heaps and cairn.

5. Left to path/track which contours. After cairn "group" stay up by wall to left, squeezer by fieldgate, path downhill, ladderstile and left to road. (Route across fields accessed 50 yards uphill closed till end of October).

6. At houses, right to dead-end lane, left to path before crossing river (signed Shaw Gill Gate), footbridges allow walk either side of river, path on left up to road, rejoin outward route.

Fact file

Distance: Three miles. Half a flat mile just for the falls.

Time: Two hours.

General Location: Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Start: The Green Man in Hardraw.

Right of Way: The route to Hardraw Force is on private paths, cost £1. The rest of the route is along public rights of way.

Date walked: Saturday, July 27, 2002.

Road Route: Via Hawes (signed).

Car parking: Inn car park for patrons or those doing walk. Nearby field, £1. Other parking in village - donations requested.

Lavatories: None.

Refreshments: Inn and The Cart House Tea Room (very nice and semi-organic).

Tourist & public transport information: Dales Countryside Museum/TIC 01969 667450.

Map: Based on new OS Explorer OL30, Yorkshire Dales North & Central Areas.

Terrain: Valley side and stream.

Points of interest: In Turner's Footsteps, Through The Hills And Dales Of Northern England by David Hill, published by John Murray 1984. Turner's fine watercolour of the falls is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Community Garden by bridge.

Difficulty: Very easy to the falls. Moderate the rest.

Dogs: Suitable.

Weather Forecast: Evening Press and recorded forecast 0891 500 418

Please observe the Country Code and park sensibly. While every effort is made to provide accurate information, walkers set out at their own risk.

Click here to view a map of the walk

Updated: 09:16 Saturday, August 03, 2002