Kayakers on the River Wharfe near Kilnsey Copyright Paul Harris

What to do month by month

No matter the time of year there is always something to do in the Dales. From the depths of winter to the height of summer you need never be bored.

January

January is definitely the time to start putting your New Year’s resolutions into action. Even a short walk in beautiful countryside will cheer your spirits and put you on the right track for getting that little bit fitter. We have lots of short walks to choose from right here on our website or why not buy one of the excellent guide books that we sell in our online shop

We can’t pretend that January days will always be crisp and clear so you’ll need to come prepared. As a wise hill walker (Alfred Wainwright) once said, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing’. If you don’t have the right waterproofs and boots then why not call in at one of the many outdoor clothing shops that can be found in the larger towns and villages in the National Park. Each will have experienced staff who will match you up with the best kit for your needs.

After a bracing walk, then what better way to warm up than in front of a log fire in one of the many pubs scattered throughout the National Park. Most serve good food as well as local brews and it’s the perfect way to end your day in the dales – just don’t eat too much pudding!

February

The weather may still be wintery in February, but the days are lengthening and there’s new life popping up wherever you look in the Yorkshire Dales. Take a stroll along our gentle paths in Freeholders’ Wood to see hazel catkins fluttering in the breeze or look out for the special February weekend openings at Austwick Hall to see their carpets of snowdrops.

A walk through valley meadows might take you through flocks of sheep with their tiny new-born lambs. If the weather has taken a turn for the worse then you might see them wearing colourful home-made coats cut out from feed sacks. Watch out for the white blossom of blackthorn along hedges up in the north-west of the park – a sudden cold snap at this time is often known as a blackthorn winter.

It is often hard to find things for kids to do over the February half-term – but in 2018 we are running our third Dark Skies Festival with lots of activities, talks, a planetarium and even a night-time run or cycle for those so inclined.  You will also find attractions like Hesketh Farm Park open specially and there’s lots for the family to enjoy at our Dales Countryside Museum.

March

Spring will most definitely be springing by the time March rolls around in the Dales. The very first wild flowers like lesser celandine and primroses can be spotted along the field banks and roadsides. There will be lots of woolly lambs in the fields watched over by their anxious mothers, and birds will be in full song. The lapwings with their ‘drunken’ flight and the distinctive cry of the curlews will have returned to the Dales.

Visit one of several beautiful woodland reserves to get the full effect. Freeholders’ Wood is in Wensleydale and owned by us while in Wharfedale you will find Grass Wood which is owned by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. Both have well-made paths laid out for you to follow.

Many of the open farms in the national park will also be fully open by the end of the month with lambs to be bottle fed and calves to be spotted. Hazel Brow Farm has a wonderful location in Swaledale and Hesketh Farm Park is right at the other end of the National Park in Lower Wharfedale.

April

April is perhaps one of the best times of year to visit a special garden like those at Parcevall Hall near Appletreewick. You’ll find a range of beautiful scented spring-flowering shrubs and bulbs and at this time of year you will avoid the crowds. Thorp Perrow Arboretum is also worth a visit at this time of year as it has one of the finest collections of daffodils in the North of England with many old and unusual varieties. They also offer free tea and cake for your mum on Mother’s Day!

The first summer warblers will be arriving this month in Dales’ woods. Listen out for the distinctive call of the chiff chaff (just like its name) and the willow warbler’s melancholy song – a bit like a bowler running up to the cricket crease. If you’d like to learn more about bird song then see if you can find a local guided walk led by an expert in our What’s On section.

May

It can still be chilly this month but wait for a warm May day and you will think you are in heaven if you take a stroll along one of our many valley bottom walks. The grass will have greened up, spring flowers will be in full bloom along the banks and in the woods, the fields will be full of lambs playing and there will be meadow pipits and skylarks singing their heads off in the skies above. 

It’s a good time to try your hand at something new like geocaching which is guaranteed to take you exploring places you might never have found on your own. Or why not take a morning walk through Strid Woods on the Bolton Abbey estate admiring the fresh green leaves on the trees and listening to all the joyous bird song, followed by tea and cake at the Cavendish Pavilion beside the River Wharfe, sparkling in the spring sunshine.

June

June brings all the glamour and excitement of the Grassington Music & Arts Festival with its international mix of musicians and famous faces. If you prefer a quieter way to spend a day or two in the Dales, then why not join one of our volunteer-led guided walks. All our leaders are friendly and extremely knowledgable about the area.

Our famous hay meadows are also in full flower in June. Take a nostalgic walk back in time though one of our many flower-filled fields like Muker Meadows that have public rights of way running though them. Listen to the bumble bees busy foraging in the colourful flowers or see if you can spot a stoat or wren darting in and out of one of the drystone walls.

July

By the long summer days of July, the flowery hay meadows that the Yorkshire Dales are famous for, will mostly have been cut, dried and stored away as food for farm animals over the winter. If you want to see flowers then a visit to somewhere like Parcevall Hall gardens is recommended, with its magnificent herbaceous border and pool-side rockery being at their best this month. If you see anything you like then there is a little nursery next to the tea shop selling plants from the gardens.

If the weather is warm then take a hike up onto the tops where you are bound to catch a cool breeze along with fine views. Open Access areas allow you to walk where you like, so make the most of it with one of our suggested routes. If that sounds too energetic then take a walk alongside one of the many riverside footpaths that can be found thoughout the National Park. Look out for brown trout hanging lazily in the shadows or take off your walking boots and dabble your toes in the sparkling shallows.

August

August is the main month for Agricultural Shows, look out for dates and details in The Visitor newspaperKilnsey Show is the largest, spread out over the fields below Kilnsey Crag, but there are many other smaller shows where you can also mingle with local farming families and admire the finest farm stock, cakes and crafts in the Dales.

On a really hot day, a visit to one of the many ancient churches and chapels in the National Park can provide a lovely cool respite from the heat. Inside you will find stories of hundreds of years of Christian worship and there’s no better place to reflect in peace and quiet. At St Andrew’s Church, Grinton, you can read all about how the community have learned to love their resident bats and are turning their overgrown graveyard into a wildlife sanctuary.

September

A sight not to be missed in September is the heather in full-bloom on our high moorlands. Managed for grouse shooting over the past couple of hundred years, the heather is carefully burned off in a mosiac to provide both food and ground cover for the birds. Swaledale has some of the best heather moorlands many of which hide ancient monuments such as the enigmatic Maiden Castle above Reeth or more recent leadmining remains such as the flues above Cupola smelt mill on Grassington Moor. Explore with care though as there are many uncovered mine shafts also hidden on the moors.

The last agricultural shows of the year are held in September such as the one in Muker in Swaledale. Check out our What’s On calendar for details.

October

As the season turns, the Yorkshire Dales becomes an artist’s delight, clothed in gorgeous Autumn tints. A walk though the woods is a must as the leaves begin to fall or a stroll beside a river with the golden bracken on the hillside reflected in its surface. Malham Tarn has it all and there is a lovely family bike route all round it so you can enjoy it from all angles.

After a day out in all that crisp autumn air then an evening in a local pub in front of a roaring log fire is perfect. Most offer wonderful hearty food along with locally brewed ales.

November

November days can be a bit dark and depressing as autumn rolls on into winter. A lunch out in a friendly café or pub is just the thing to lift the mood, or maybe treat yourself to a relaxing spa day or a swim in the luxurious surroundings of Long Ashes Leisure Club.

Don’t forget that a rainy day has some benefits – for a start the many waterfalls in the Dales are at their spectacular best after a good wet day.

If you are well-equipped then there’s nothing better than a tough hike up one of the Three Peaks. You’ll feel an amazing sense of achievement afterwards, and that big portion of pie and chips at a nearby pub is exactly what you deserve!

December

As we go into December everyone’s thoughts turn towards the Christmas festivities. Looking for an original gift? The Dales is a great place for small independent shops, craftspeople and artists.

For the person who has everything you could consider making them a Friend of the Three Peaks  to support the work carried out in this wonderful part of the National Park to ensure it stays a special place.

There are also some great festivals at this time of year. At Christmas, Grassington is transported back to the time of Charles Dickens. See the Christmas lights, the village square and the streets transformed into a traditional market with shopkeepers, villagers and visitors dressed in Victorian costume. The Grassington Festival has been running for over thirty years.

Skipton’s Yuletide Festival and Market will be in full festive flow – running the full length of the High Street. Together with the market and great food stalls, there will be a full range of entertainment in the Town Centre throughout the day, both in the main High Street Arena and at locations across the Town. The whole of Skipton truly has a real Christmassy feel.

Of course, December is not just about shopping. It can still be a great time to go for a walk, or visit one of the many waterfalls.