Wharfedale is a pretty and popular tourist destination. Classic Yorkshire Dales scenery of small pretty villages, drystone walls and great walks.

Bolton Abbey

Bolton Priory at Bolton Abbey

Wharfedale is one of the most popular of the beautiful Yorkshire Dales attracting large numbers of visitors throughout the year. The dale tends to get split into Upper and Lower Wharfedale but the whole runs from the village of Cray in the west to Wetherby in the East.

Upper Wharfedale include the pretty villages of Buckden, Starbotton, Kettlewell, Conistone, Grassington, Linton, Hebden, Burnsall and Bolton Abbey. It is generally thought to end at Addingham, and this section has a different feel, and geography, to Lower Wharfedale.

Lower Wharfedale passes through Ilkley, Burley-in-Wharfedale, Otley and Pool-in-Wharfedale before heading on through various villages to its end at Wetherby.


Map of Upper Wharfedale, Yorkshire Dales

Landscape … and a bit of history

Starting high up in the remote Pennines, Wharfedale is known for its limestone outcrops, lush, green landscape criss-crossed with drystone walls and dotted with sheep, barns standing in the fields and tranquil stretches of river. Lower down the valley, there are more wooded areas and the larger towns, such as Ilkley and Otley, start to appear.

It was Anglian pioneers moving up the valley from the east during the 6th and 7th centuries who established today’s village settlements. Tenth-century Norse settlers created the farm-hamlets of the upper dale beyond the village of Buckden, which is situated on the edge of a Norman hunting forest.

In medieval times the area was dominated by the great religious establishments of Fountains Abbey and Bolton Priory. These two powerful religious bases owned huge swathes of land in Wharfedale and it was the monks who created the twisting, narrow roads and green lanes through the valley and on the limestone uplands.

Between 1780 and 1820, the Enclosure Acts helped to create the characteristic landscape. The old common fields in the valley bottom and on the lower slopes of the hills were divided into rectangular pastures enclosed by hundreds of miles of walls using the one building material readily to hand – limestone.

The towns & villages – an overview

Buckden & Starbotton
Bolton Abbey