In the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the interaction of people with nature has produced a landscape of remarkable beauty and distinctive character that is loved and cherished by the nation. The area’s unique landscape character is created by the particular combination of many elements: the managed moorland, pastures and valley grasslands; small woodlands; dispersed villages and farmsteads; the local building materials; strong field patterns; and drystone walls and field barns. This is what makes it such a special place. This has led to us recognising the ten special qualities of the National Park.
Reeth is the main settlement in Swaledale, but in Norman times, the tiny village of Grinton just to the south was the most important settlement in the valley. For hundreds of years, it had the only church and Christian burial ground in upper Swaledale. You may hear locals referring to Corpse Ways. These were routes taken by people carrying coffins down the valley to Grinton for burial. The journey sometimes took several days.
It wasn’t really until the local lead mining industry took off in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that Reeth grew to be the village you see today. It stood at the junction of roads up Swaledale and Arkengarthdale and became an important service centre for the mines and smelt mills based in these two valleys.
The iconic pattern of barns and walls in Upper Swaledale is recognised as being one of the most distinctive agricultural landscapes in Western Europe, furthermore, over a quarter of England’s flower-rich upland hay meadows and pastures are here in the Yorkshire Dales National Park- outstanding examples can be found here in Swaledale such as the glorious Muker meadows. See them at their best in the early summertime.
Some of the best examples of classic limestone scenery can be found in the Yorkshire Dales. In the north of the Yorkshire dales national parks, this can be seen in the form of dramatic rocky scars and in the remnants of the rich mining industry strewn around the Yorkshire Dales, including Lime kilns, disused mines and mills. It wasn’t really until the local lead mining industry took off in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that Reeth to the size it is now even.
There are many mining remains scattered throughout the area, such as Old Gang Lead Mine and Grintopn Smelt Mine which are a testament to its former industry. Find out more about this story at Swaledale Museum in Reeth or Keld Resouce Centre in the nearby village of Keld.
There are dozens of spectacular waterfalls in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Swaledale certainly has its share! A short walk from the village of Keld is Wainwath falls, Kidson Force, East Gill Force and Catrake Force as well as other smaller falls.
Livestock farming is still deeply interwoven into local life. Livestock sales and agricultural shows play an important part in the lives of local people.
Local agricultural Shows such as Muker and Reeth show occur in the summer months and are a fantastic way to spend the day and immerse yourself in rural life.
Swaledale is of course the namesake of the Swaledale sheep, iconic to the Yorkshire Dales and the emblem of the National Park. Look out for these hardy Swaledale sheep on the moortops throughout the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Around 42% of the area of the National Park is moorland, which is internationally important for wildlife, and plant species and the carbon they store as peat.
In the western end of Swaledale, you can find the Tan Hill Inn – the highest pub in Great Britain – The inn is a Dark Sky bikDiscovery Site, designated as a great spot for stargazing.
The stunning dark sky of the Yorkshire Dales National Park is one of its very special qualities, and each year we support a special festival to celebrate it. The Dark Sky Festival is all about discovering, learning and enjoying the galaxies and stars you don’t normally get to see. See our Dark Sky events page to find out dates and events near you.
Yorkshire is the home of cycling thanks to the 2014 Tour de France ‘Grand Depart’ and Le Tour de Yorkshire. The Dales offers some of the best cycling in the country – from gentle routes in the valleys to challenging climbs over the moorland that separates them.
The Swale Trail is a 20km (12 mile) route for mountain bikes starting from Reeth, and a great way to experience Upper Swaledale and test your off-road cycling skills. Bring your own bikes, or hire them from The Dales Bike Centre in Reeth which also has an excellent cafe and bakery.