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The ultimate guide to the Yorkshire Dales holiday cottages

The ultimate guide to the Yorkshire Dales

Julie Smith 12 November 2020

The Yorkshire Dales National Park covers 2,178 square kilometres and the dramatic natural landscape is peppered with cobbled market towns, historic castles, pretty villages and classic country pubs.

The different dales of the Yorkshire Dales National Park include:  

  • Wensleydale - wide open valleys with lush green pastures, traditional villages and hidden waterfalls
  • Swaledale - the northernmost of the Yorkshire Dales has wild, unspoilt scenery and remote villages
  • Wharfedale - a U-shaped glacial dale with limestone scars towering high above the valley bottom  
  • Malhamdale - this popular dale includes distinctive natural scenery such as Gordale Scar and Malham Cove

This part of the world is very dog-friendly and you’ll find wide open spaces to explore and lots of pubs and cottages that will happily welcome four-legged friends.  

Take a stroll through the mesmerising countryside that inspired Turner and the Bronte sisters, discover farming landscapes that have remained largely unchanged over the years, admire the view from natural highs such as Buckden Pike and Great Shunner Fell, then tuck into some fresh local Yorkshire Dales food in a charming cafe or restaurant. Whether you’re visiting with family, friends or a partner there’s so much to see and do on a gorgeous getaway to the Yorkshire Dales.

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Natural landscapes

Towns and villages

Yorkshire Dales walks

Yorkshire Dales pubs

Where to eat in the Yorkshire Dales

Things to do

Plan your visit

Natural landscapes

The Yorkshire Dales is full of dramatic peaks, peaceful valleys and pretty waterfalls to seek out and admire. You’ll find challenging mountains to climb, becks and rivers to paddle in, spectacular viewpoints and scenic spots to stop for a picnic. 

Waterfalls

Aysgarth Falls cascades over three tiers and covers almost a mile of Wensleydale countryside. The gently flowing water is perfect for paddling and there are scenic walks along the course of the pretty falls.

For something a little more dramatic, head to Hardraw Force, England’s largest single-drop waterfall. Water tumbles down around 100 feet to Hardway Beck with walkways accessed through the historic Green Dragon Inn.

One of the Yorkshire Dales’ most magical waterfalls is Janet’s Foss which legend has it was the dwelling of Janet (or Jennet), the Queen of the Fairies. The tranquil waterfall is nestled in wonderful woodland near the village of Malham.   

Mountains

The trio of Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough are often tackled together as the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge and are all found at the western reaches of the Yorkshire Dales. The peaks are surrounded by spectacular scenery and limestone caves with the walk up Whernside, the highest of the peaks, starting at the famous Ribblehead Viaduct. 

Other notable Yorkshire Dales peaks include Great Shunner Fell, a 716-metre mountain on the route of the Pennine Way between Wensleydale and Swaledale, and Buckden Pike which lies at the head of Wharfedale with a trig point marking the summit. There’s a country pub, the Buck Inn, on the walk to the top of Buckden Pike where you can stop for a refreshing pint   

Rivers and lakes

The six rivers that flow through the Yorkshire Dales are the Swale, the Wharfe, the Ure, the Aire, the Ribble and the Lune. Good places to go for a paddle include the River Wharfe at Burnsall, the River Swale at Reeth and Kettlewell Beck (a tributary of the Wharfe). The River Wharfe is also a good choice for wild swimming and there are a selection of water sports available along the Wharfe, Ure, and Swale. 

The two largest natural lakes in the Yorkshire Dales are Malham Tarn and Semerwater. Malham Tarn is a peaceful glacial lake which is home to a unique array of flora and fauna and a wide variety of birdlife. Semerwater in Upper Wensleydale is a good choice for trout fishing and the tranquil waters are ideal for water sports such as canoeing, windsurfing and sailing.   

Wildflower meadows

The Yorkshire Dales are well known for glorious wildflower meadows with the National Park containing around a sixth of the UK’s upland hay meadows. You can see around 120 different species of wildflowers and grasses which include wood cranesbill, pignut, lady’s mantle and yellow rattle. Locations where you can see these wildflower-rich hay meadows in all their glory include Muker, Askrigg Bottoms, Grassington and Dentdale.  

Yorkshire Dales towns and villages

There are classic market towns and traditional cobbled villages dotted around the hills, rivers and valleys of the Yorkshire Dales landscape. Here are just some of the places that are well worth visiting.  

Hawes

Image credit: Duncan Andison

At 850 feet above sea level, Hawes in Wensleydale is England’s highest market town and home to the famous Wensleydale Creamery. The cobbled streets and historic marketplace are nestled between the Fleet Moss and Buttertubs peaks giving wonderful scenery as far as the eye can see. The Hawes Falls are right in the heart of town with a bridge over the stream where you can pause and watch the gently tumbling waterfall.  

Reeth

You can enjoy 360-degree views of the Swaledale countryside from Reeth village green, which is surrounded by a selection of pubs, cafes and shops such as Fleece which is a co-operative of local arts and craftspeople selling their hand-made giftware. Just a short walk from Reeth village green is the gently flowing River Swale which you can either follow to nearby Grinton or head into for a paddle. There’s also a regular Friday market on the village green and a family-run ice cream parlour selling locally made Brymor Dairy ice cream. 

Grassington

The setting for the latest Channel 5 version of All Creatures Great and Small, Grassington is a pretty Upper Wharfedale village that has remained virtually unchanged over the years. Traditional stone buildings are filled with quaint tea rooms and family-run shops and The Devonshire in Grassington is a classic country pub where you can stop for refreshments after exploring the village. Annual Grassington events include a 1940s weekend in September and the Dickensian Festival which takes place in the run-up to Christmas.   

Kettlewell

Another wonderful Upper Wharfedale village that has been featured on film is Kettlewell which was used as the fictional Knapely in Calendar Girls. The village lies on the banks of Kettlewell Beck and is surrounded by rolling green fields as far as the eye can see. There’s a choice of three village pubs along with cosy tea rooms and a traditional village shop. Once a year, the picturesque village is filled with a range of strange figures to seek out as part of the Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival which takes place in the middle of August and is great fun for children. 

Settle

Located in Ribblesdale, on the western edge of the Yorkshire Dales, is the historic market town of Settle which is filled with quirky independent shops and characterful buildings. There’s a Victorian music hall, a bustling market that takes place each Tuesday and a trio of dog-friendly pubs. Settle makes an ideal base for tackling Yorkshire’s Three Peaks and is the starting point for the famous Settle to Carlisle Railway.   

Middleham

On the eastern edge of the Yorkshire Dales is the popular village of Middleham, which is famously the home of a number of top racing stables and the ruined remains of Middleham Castle. You can watch racehorses being walked through the village on their way to the gallops and explore the 12th-century castle that was once the home of Richard III. Middleham lies between two Wensleydale rivers with lots of scenic walks to try in the surrounding countryside. 

Other towns and villages include:

The best Yorkshire Dales walks

There is no shortage of walks to try in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and, whatever your age or ability, there will be a walking route that’s suitable for you with plenty of country pubs and pretty villages to call at for a refreshment break along the way.  

Malham to Janet’s Foss


A fairly easy National Trust walking route to follow is the scenic route from Malham to Janet’s Foss. Follow gravel paths through fields and woodland on a 3-mile walk to the magical Yorkshire Dales waterfall that is named after the Queen of the Fairies.

Reeth circular

You can take a 3-mile circular walk around the Swaledale village of Reeth which starts with a riverside stroll to the nearby village of Grinton (where you can stop for refreshments at the Bridge Inn). Then the path heads back through sheep-filled countryside and passing over the Reeth Swing Bridge to your starting point.  

Muker to Keld

Another wonderful Swaledale walk to try is from the hay meadows of Muker up to the summit of Keld which has some of the finest views around. There’s a steep climb over Kisdon Hill during this 6-mile route but you can call in at The Farmer’s Arms in Muker for refreshments on your return to the village. 

Snaizeholme Red Squirrel Trail

If you like the idea of spotting some rare UK wildlife during your Yorkshire Dales ramble, the Snaizeholme Red Squirrel Trail could be the perfect walk for you. A special bus will take you from Hawes to the start of a 2.5-mile woodland trail to the Widdale Red Squirrel Reserve viewing platform and, if you’re lucky, you’ll see red squirrels and roe deer in their natural habitat.

Bolton Abbey Welly Walk

A great option for families is the Bolton Abbey Welly Walk, a 2-mile adventure trail with lots of challenges for kids to complete along the way. If you fancy a walk without the obstacles, there are also myriad riverside, moorland and woodland paths to follow around this grand estate near Skipton. 

Leyburn circular

The Leyburn Shawl is a 2-mile stretch of elevated limestone escarpment which is reputedly where Mary Queen of Scots dropped her shawl after fleeing imprisonment at nearby Bolton Castle. To make the most of the views from here, you can walk from Leyburn to Preston-Under-Scar over the shawl then circle back via Wensley in a 7-mile loop.  

Yorkshire Dales pubs

You’re never too far away from a cosy country pub on a visit to the Yorkshire Dales. Here are just a few of the places where you can stop for refreshments while exploring the area.

Tan Hill Inn

The Tan Hill Inn is Britain’s highest pub at 1,732 feet above sea level and is located just off the Pennine Way above Keld in Swaledale, with stunning views of the surrounding countryside. The building dates back to the 17th century and the pub has been featured in TV shows including Vera, The Inspector Lindley Mysteries and All Creatures Great and Small.

The Blue Lion

One of Yorkshire’s best-loved dining pubs, The Blue Lion lies just off the village green in the pretty Wensleydale village of East Witton. The 18th-century inn is accessed via an original cobbled driveway and oak beams, open fires and dark wood panelling give the cosy interior lots of character and charm.

The Queen’s Arms

The Queen’s Arms is a traditional 17th-century pub that’s a popular choice with walkers thanks to its spot in peaceful Littondale. This lesser-known dale is deep in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the locally run pub serves home-cooked food and real ale which you can enjoy in a comfy chair by the fire. 

The Craven Arms

Image credit: The Craven Arms Facebook


Nestled in the heart of Wharfedale is The Craven Arms in Appletreewick, a characterful country pub with a history that stretches all the way back to the 16th century. The pub is filled with interesting art and objects with an original Yorkshire range providing the heat for the oak-beamed main bar.

The Kings Arms

Located in Askrigg, the Wensleydale village used in the original BBC series of All Creatures Great and Small, The Kings Arms has lots of original James Herriot memorabilia in the flagstone bar. The Grade II-listed stone building is warmed by a large open fireplace and you can enjoy a local beer or fine wine in the traditional bar.            


Where to eat in the Yorkshire Dales

From homemade cakes to gourmet meals, with a little bit of Wensleydale cheese thrown in, here are some of the finest eateries to visit in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Wensleydale Heifer

One of the Yorkshire Dales’ most popular restaurants, the Wensleydale Heifer in West Witton has a dog-friendly dining area and a menu that’s full of locally sourced seafood with everything from fish and chips to an indulgent whole lobster to enjoy in the heart of Wensleydale.

Grassington House

This fine-dining restaurant has an award-winning chef, a state-of-the-art kitchen and a wonderful location that’s just off the market square in Grassington. Enjoy an elegant afternoon tea in Grassington House’s conservatory or sit down to a five-course gourmet meal in the sumptuous dining room. 

Townend Farmshop


Image credit: Town End Farm Shop FB

 

This Malhamdale farm shop was featured in the BBC show Top of the Shop with Tom Kerridge and sells fresh Yorkshire Dales produce, with everything from grass-fed beef in the butchery to Yorkshire chorizo and local cheeses in the charcuterie. The on-site tea room has views out to Malham Cove and serves a selection of their freshly cooked fare.  

Wensleydale Creamery

Image: credit Kev Gregory

 

One of the Yorkshire Dales’ most famous foods is Wensleydale cheese which has been made at the Wensleydale Creamery since 1897. You can visit the factory in Hawes and stock up on cheese supplies, plus there’s an on-site restaurant where you can treat yourself to an extra-special cheeseboard.

Ye Olde Naked Man Cafe & Bakery

Quite possibly the strangest named Yorkshire Dales eatery, Ye Olde Naked Man Cafe is located in a historic 17th-century building on the market square in Settle. The cafe sells a range of delicious homemade cakes and breads which you can wash down with a cuppa.

Things to do in the Yorkshire Dales

From taking a romantic jaunt through the countryside on a heritage steam train to exploring a historic Wensleydale castle that once housed Mary Queen of Scots, here are some of the things to do while on holiday in the Yorkshire Dales. 

Bolton Abbey

Set in 30,000 acres of wildlife-rich countryside on the banks of the River Wharfe, Bolton Abbey features a whopping 80 miles of footpaths to explore with waterfalls, stepping stones, towers and bridges to seek out during a visit. Visitors are free to wander around the famous abbey ruins and there’s seating in the Priory Church where you can rest awhile and enjoy the view. 

Cycling

The country lanes of the Yorkshire Dales National Park were the setting of the Tour de France Grand Depart in 2014 and have played host to the Tour de Yorkshire in subsequent years. If you fancy travelling through the countryside on two wheels, there are a range of cycle routes to follow, from challenging climbs to more easy-going trails. 

  • The Swaledale hills are a popular choice for cyclists; Reeth hosts an annual Ard Rock cycling event that takes in the challenging hills around the village, and the family-friendly Swale Trail is a valley bottom route that follows the path of the River Swale.
  • Stage 1 Cycles is a family-friendly bike hub that’s just outside the Wensleydale market town of Hawes. You can hire a bicycle, get details of local trails, and enjoy a cuppa and cake at their on-site cafe before you set off on your bike ride.    

Steam trains

There are a couple of heritage railways that travel through the Yorkshire Dales countryside. 

  • The Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway features vintage steam locomotives that whisk passengers along 4 miles of tracks between Embsay Station and Bolton Abbey. The Victorian and Edwardian train carriages have all been beautifully restored and, for added luxury, you can travel in a sumptuous first-class saloon.
  • Wensleydale Railway is a heritage line that runs for 22 miles between Leeming Bar and Redmire with stations at Leyburn, Bedale and Finghall Lane. There are special events throughout the year, vintage steam and diesel trains, and wonderful views as you travel through the scenic Wensleydale countryside.

Forbidden Corner

Originally created as a private folly, Forbidden Corner near Middleham has expanded over the years into one of Yorkshire’s most popular family attractions. Hidden surprises lurk around every corner with fantastic follies and mysterious creatures to seek out, and underground tunnels that lead to secret chambers and special passageways.

There’s no right way to explore Forbidden Corner, and you won’t be given a map, but not knowing what you will find next is all part of the fun.

Bolton Castle

Not to be confused with Bolton Abbey, Bolton Castle is a well-preserved medieval fortress near Leyburn which was famously used to imprison Mary Queen of Scots during the reign of Elizabeth I. Many rooms inside the castle are fully intact and you explore Mary Queen of Scot’s bedroom, the nursery, the Great Chamber and the dungeons amongst others. Formal gardens outside the castle include arbours, rose bushes, herb gardens and a maze – and a range of falconry experiences also take place in the grounds.

Dales Countryside Museum

This Hawes museum tells the story of the Yorkshire Dales with regularly changing exhibitions and interactive workshops to engage children of all ages. There are farming displays, traditional craft displays, a 19th-century Yorkshire Dales kitchen and a replica mining tunnel to walk through.  

The Dales Countryside Museum is set in an old Victorian railway station and visitors can see a classic steam locomotive and climb aboard the renovated carriages. 

Plan your visit to the Yorkshire Dales

There is more than enough to see and do in the Yorkshire Dales to keep visitors coming back again and again. If you have been inspired to plan a short break or getaway to this well-loved National Park you’ll find lots of gorgeous Yorkshire Dales cottages that combine original features with stylish design and stunning views.  

Here are just some suggestions of places to stay:

Fairlawn Garden Cottage | Sleeps: 2 guests

A romantic stone cottage located at the foot of Buckden Pike with a country pub just a few steps away.

Foxy’s Den | Sleeps: 4 guests plus 1 dog

This idyllic Yorkshire Dales cottage is located just off the village green in Reeth and comes with a handy porch to store muddy boots and a selection of dog-friendly pubs close by.

Station House | Sleeps: 6 guests

This ultra-luxurious holiday home has five-star interiors, a hot tub in the garden, and a spot that looks out over the heritage Wensleydale Railway line. 

The Old Sorting Office | Sleeps: 6 guests plus 2 dogs

A family-friendly property in the pretty village of Askrigg with two cosy wood burners, a sociable open-plan kitchen/diner and a south facing courtyard garden with views of the Dales.

Browse our collections of romantic, dog-friendly, and family-friendly Yorkshire properties to find the perfect base for your next getaway.


 

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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