Discover lost worlds of industry and spirituality in Swinner Gill and Gunnerside Gill.
This surprisingly strenuous walk favours streams over summits, and shuns natural wilderness for the desolation of forgotten industry. For lovers of the hills, though, their geology and human history are just as relevant as peak-bagging and idyllic views, and this route illustrates perfectly the contrast between the quintessential Dales meadowland and the bleak mining landscapes of Swaledale’s uplands. The area’s limestone features extensive lead seams – which 19th century miners tunnelled intensively – generating a raft of geological knowledge and a real, tangible history lesson in the abandoned ruins, mine shafts and levels (tunnels), spoil heaps and huge, bare gullies called ‘hushes’. Dams were built then released, scouring off the top soil and exposing lead veins in the bedrock. Many see the unnatural landscape as ‘scarred’. But the sense of human abandonment, and of nature reclaiming the land, only enhances the wildness a century later. And, if you know where to look, there’s a natural haven just metres from the mines. The name Swinner Gill Kirk – Norse for ‘church’ – may derive from a secret Catholic refuge, or simply recognise its spiritual nature; either way the scramble to this secluded waterfall and cave is well worth the effort.
Distance 17.7km (11 miles)
Total ascent 645m
Time 7 hours
Start/Finish Muker village car park (SD910978)
Nearest town Hawes
Terrain good paths, steeper bits, often loose and/or rough, may be wet; many stiles. Detour is an easy ‘scramble’ via a mostly dry but slippery river bed
Accommodation Chapel House B&B, Muker (01748) 886822; Muker Village Teashop B&B (01748) 886409; Usha Gap campsite, Muker (01748) 886110
Public transport Little White Bus Swaledale Shuttle (summer) Richmond - Gunnerside & Muker www.littlewhitebus.co.uk (01969) 667400
Tourist info centre at Reeth (01748) 884059
SD910978 From the car park, go left over the bridge to the toilets (left) and Farmers Arms (right). Take the snicket right of the pub, continue on asphalt to the top of the village and follow the furthest signpost into the meadows (not the lane). A flagged path leads to the river. Go right, cross Ramps Holme footbridge, then bear left up steps to join a track, which you follow upstream to cross a footbridge by old workings at the bottom of Swinner Gill.
NY909005 Continue through a gate and up track through and beyond trees. Take a sharp right up to the abandoned Crackpot Hall (note track on its left) and a great view down the dale. Take the track up to a large barn and continue, traversing the top of Swinner Gill, to a bridge above the stream fork (NY911012, also point 3). Optional detour: To visit Swinner Gill Kirk, when the riverbed is dry, go left from the bridge – after briefly traversing the right-hand side, it’s essentially a dry gorge walk requiring hands and knees in places. It is very slippery when damp so do take care. After 100m you emerge at the picturesque, secluded waterfall next to a small cave entrance. Retrace your steps to the bridge.
NY911012 Take the main path south-east off thebridge this time, past Swinner Gill Mine ruins (spot the level entrance above the stream fork), then up the rest of Swinner Gill on a steep, boggy path with occasional rocky steps, until it emerges on a wide stone track. Turn left to follow it north-east then east-south-east across the moors. After almost 1.5 km, at the start of an obvious, wide bend, look out for a small worn path on your left, marked at the time of writing by four small cairns. This takes you along the top of the huge North Hush, and down to Gunnerside Gill. Look for a zigzag to the right, near the bottom; take this, then go left to a stream crossing and footbridge by Blakethwaite Smelt Mill (Blakethwaite mine is out of sight up the valley).
NY936017 Take the faint zigzag path behind the lower building to a bridleway 50m higher. Turn right (keep straight on at a signpost) above Gunnerside Gill, through the hushes, levels and ruins of Bunton Mine, with views back across to North Hush and Lownathwaite Mine. At a large cairn, go right on a lower footpath, and after a high wall on your right, descend a path to a stile in a drystone wall above the river.
SD940999 Cross a stile and follow footpath left, roughly following the river downstream, through trees, then past the riverside Sir Francis Mine, and eventually onto an often rough path mostly through woodland. This leads you eventually to a narrow snicket on your right, with steps down to the riverside lane, and in turn the main road through Gunnerside.
SD951982 Turn right over the bridge, then right again past the bench enclosure. Go through the waymarked gate at Flatlands, emerging on a footpath through meadows. Follow this; when you near the river, keep right above a fence and cliff. Continue after the bridge into Ivelet hamlet, keep left to follow the road to the main road bridge. Turn right before the bridge, signposted Muker, and follow this mostly riverside path back to Ramps Holme bridge. Cross, and retrace your earlier steps back to Muker – take a left when you reach the houses to see more of the village, then right at the bottom to the pub and tea shop!
Updated: October 10, 2016
SD 91070 97810
30U 555930 6025667
Book recommendations for this region:
Push the arrows to change the view