The northernmost of the Yorkshire Dales, home to the Swaledale Festival, villages like Muker, Reeth, Richmond and Richmond Castle.

Swaledale, named, as with most of the Dales, after the River Swale that runs through it, is the northernmost dale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

The area is steeped in a rich history from Roman times, through the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, the Normans, the medieval age through to the industrial revolution and the modern age. This coupled with a typical limestone-based Yorkshire Dales landscape, a narrow valley bottom flanked by lush meadows dotted with sheep and crisscrossed by drystone walls.


Landscape – and a bit of history

Limestone typifies the Yorkshire Dales and Swaledale is no exception. The narrow valley bottom, scoured out by an ancient glacier, is flanked by green meadows, hillside fields filled with sheep and crossed by white drystone walls, and limestone crags. Old limestone barns are dotted around the dale amid masses of wild flowers. The valley runs from the border with Cumbria through Thwaite, Muker, Gunnerside and Reeth before ending at Richmond, the largest town in Swaledale and home of a famous and important medieval castle.

There’s also a number of small, lovely waterfalls, like Catrake Force, Kisdon Force and Richmond Falls, to delight visitors who seek them out.

Lead mining

It was the Romans, arriving in c.70AD who started the development of the area. Before then, there’s little to show of the local population. Lead mining began to be important from this time, with the Romans also building their typical long straight roads to aid transport and travel. When the Romans left, Swaledale gradually succumbed to centuries of a tough, often violent existance. Whether it was the Anglo-Saxons, the Scots, the Vikings from Denmark and then Norway and, finally, the Normans, this was a difficult era for Britain and Swaledale did not escape.

Wool trade and farming

Lead mining continued to be important after the Norman Conquest, reaching its heyday in the 19th Century. A woollen industry also grew from the 12th century, the river providing a power source via water mills. Swaledale became well known for knitted gloves, sailor caps and stockings. And from the 1600s, farming began to grow in importance with cattle and sheep being reared on the land.

Swaledale today

Today, lead is no longer mined and the woollen industry has all but died out, but farming in Swaledale still remains important. Just as important nowadays is tourism, with thousands of visitors coming to enjoy the Dale’s landscape, walk the fells and learn about its history.

Major towns – an overview