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.
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
- Great starting points for walks
- Good pubs with restaurant and rooms in both villages
- Natural limestone pavements along the river
- Buckden Pike, the 2nd highest mountain in the Dales
- Memorial to wartime crashed bomber at top of Buckden Pike
- Popular and pretty dales village
- Good pubs, cafes and places to stay
- 2003 film, Calendar Girls, filmed here
- Well known annual Scarecrow Festival.
- Very popular village all year round
- Village is in centre of Wharfedale
- Plenty of places to eat and stay, plus range of shops
- Home of the annual Grassington Festival
- 2011 TV reality programme, Love Thy Neighbour, set here.
- Often thought prettiest village in England
- Lovely five-arch bridge across the river
- Good base for walking and touring
- Excellent cafe, pub & hotels and B&Bs.
- Well preserved ruins of Bolton Priory
- Great river spot for picnics, barbeques & family fun
- Plenty of walking and cycling routes
- 5 areas designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest
- Embsay steam railway close by
- Nearby Hubberholme is resting place of J B Priestley