George Wilkinson enjoys a seasonal trek up Colsterdale.

You will love this, a smashing walk up Colsterdale, which is just right for winter, being sound underfoot and interesting in any season. The valley is not too big and not too small. So you get open space and views but also a feeling of exploration that lasts all day, and indeed started in the car on the narrow dead-end lane to Gollinglith Foot.

At the hamlet there is a car park, but a small one, so avoid sunny Sunday congestion. I had sacrificed a Saturday shopping day (no sacrifice) so the area was quiet, except for a hunt somewhere to the north. Five miles east, Masham was heaving on a market day.

An enticing white footbridge spans the River Burn, there's an island of sedge, the water runs clear and vigorous on its way to Masham. Coal Road, a good stone-based track, starts to draw us west, up Colsterdale. We loose sight of the river though get to see plenty of the valley.

The far flank is scattered with farms, and its small square pastures are scattered with boulders. There are sharp crags on the horizon and a wedge of softly-wooded side valley. A stoat popped up, bright white fronted and perky, and nipped into a pheasant patch.

On our side of the valley pasture rises towards Masham Moor, a near skyline occupied by sheep or cattle, until we have climbed to nearly a thousand feet and the heather furls over the edge and down to meet our track. A grouse zoomed overhead.

We close on the river, still well above it, at a dramatic canyon of mossy boulders and trees. The crowns of lichen crusty oaks and purple birch emerge from the depths, a haven for small birds. A tree creeper scuttled up a silver trunk, a mobile flock of long-tailed tits squeaked like a tight hacksaw.

The track descends to waterfalls at High House Farm, a possible turnaround point. I would recommend continuing up the river for a look at the top end of the valley. We are encouraged to stay on the Coal Road by Swinton Estate signs that warn of mine workings, and discourage wandering. So we leave walls and pasture for emptiness and springs and cascades, and then finally a stylish 1898 shooting lodge.

Back at the farm we take the dead-end road on the north side of Colsterdale. There was one vehicle. Again the feel is very open because you do not walk by hedge, wall or fence, instead by the pasture edge.

Things to see from the road include long views down the valley, Masham Moor with two slim standing stones of cairn construction. Closer by there is an old farmyard pump, a rather sad 1784 ruin, woods, and a fenced disused mineshaft. Again there was water everywhere but always lovely, never a nuisance, running up, through and over the sandstone and sparkling through pastures, trees and pond.

Fact file

Distance: Six miles.

Time: Three hours.

General location: Eastern edge of the Dales.

Start: Gollinglith Foot, Colsterdale. GR 154 810.

Right of way: The complete route is along public rights of way, and 'usage' track.

Date walked: Saturday, December 2 2000.

Road route: Masham, three miles to Healey. Half a mile out from Healey, right fork with dead end and single track signs, for one mile.

Car parking: Small area near ford, more on verge further up valley.

Lavatories: None.

Refreshments: None.

Tourist and public transport information: Harrogate TIC 01423 537300.

Map: Based on OS Pathfinder 630 Middleham.

Terrain: Valley.

Points of interest: Masham market days Wednesday and Saturday. Short bike ride.

Difficulty: Moderate.

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.


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

1. From parking area, footbridge over River Burn and right, left to track by ford and cottage.

2. At sharp left-hand bend (100 yards after house), go straight on (fieldgate) to track.

3. At stone bridge EITHER over River Burn, right, through farmyard to dead-end lane OR carry on upstream on track up to Shooting House (actually the bridleway switches to north side or river after few hundred yards, but people stay on the track) then retrace steps to bridge.

4. Road rises after wooded valley/stream, electricity wires overhead, 20 yards, one o'clock across rough grass to stile, across field in front of bungalow, join track, fieldgate and right to road back to Gollinglith Foot.

Click here to view a map of the walk