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A well known Yorkshire valley, which is also the largest, and the widest, making it one of the most popular destinations for visitors to the area

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This valley used to be known as either "Uredale" or "Yoredale", and some old maps can still be seen to use one of these old names. They both derive from the valley's main river, the Ure, which is the usual way for dales in Yorkshire to receive their names. It's current title of Wensleydale is unique in the area, in that it is taken from a local village, rather than a waterway. Nevertheless, this is the most well-known of all the valleys in Yorkshire Dales National Park. It is also the largest, and the widest, making it one of the most popular destinations for visitors to the area.

Wensleydale near Hawes
Photo Dave Dunford
The River Ure is close by to many of Wensleydale's biggest attractions, from its towns, to its castles. In fact, on one occasion it becomes an attraction in itself, as it tips over a series of waterfalls called the Aysgarth Falls. There are three sections, the upper, middle, and lower, but it's hard to tell which is worth most of your time. They're all renowned for their beauty, with poets such as Wordsworth raving about them from as early as 200 years ago. They were even featured in the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

Aysgarth Middle Falls
Photo Andy Hawkins
Another scene in that same film featured Kevin Costner's Robin Hood bathing himself in the waters of another waterfall called Hardraw Force. This claims to be the highest unbroken waterfall in the country, with a drop of over 30 metres. If you want to see it though, you have to use a slightly unusual route. The entrance is through the bar of the nearby Green Dragon pub, which charges a small entrance fee.

Hardraw Force
Photo Andy Hawkins
As well as rivers and waterfalls, Wensleydale is also the home of the county's largest lake, Semerwater. This is a good spot for fishing, canoeing, sailing, and other watersports. Legend has it that there used to be a large town here, which met with an unhappy fate. According to the story, an angel came down to earth, disguised as an old man. He went from door to door, asking for food and shelter. Every single house in the town turned him away, save one, which belonged to an old couple with barely a penny to spare. They took him in, and offered what kindness they could. As the angel left, he placed a curse on the rest of the town. As soon as he spoke, Semerwater rose up and engulfed both the houses and their residents, drowning every single one of them except the two old paupers who had shown him pity.

Photo aldenchadwick
Wensleydale is served by its own railway, which spreads out over 27 kilometres. The route eventually aims to extend itself in both directions, so it can join up with the National Rail network. Meanwhile though, it's a still a great way to travel, as it offers great views of the valley, and its surrounding slopes.

Wensleydale Railway
Photo Paul Alison
One of the terminals is close by to another big attraction, Bolton Castle. In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned here for around six months. According to legend, she escaped from the castle, and fled towards the town of Leyburn. In her haste, she dropped a shawl on the ground. This simple action caused a nearby cliff edge to become known as "The Shawl". It's now a popular spot for its walking and views.

Bolton Castle
Photo Bob Weyker
Another castle with royal connections was at Middleham. King Richard III was brought up here, and made it his main residence after his marriage. The building is now in ruins, but its walls are mostly intact. It's now a peaceful place, surrounded by grazing animals, but you can still imagine the grand military fortress that it once was.

Middleham Castle
Photo CJW
Of course, the name "Wensleydale" is also known as being the title of a popular cheese. It's made locally, using milk from cows and ewes that were raised in the area. The product has a long history, stretching back hundreds of years. Today, however, it's probably best known for being the favourite cheese of the animated characters, Wallace and Gromit. These two Yorkshire residents can regularly be found guzzling down a few crackers topped with Wensleydale. After one of their recent films was released, sales of the cheese rose by over 20%!

Wensleydale Cheese
Photo Haydn Blackey
Visitor Information
Hardraw Force is open all year when the pub is open, usually from 9am to 9pm. Entry costs around £2 for adults, children go FREE. Green Dragon Inn, Hardraw, North Yorkshire DL8 3LZ. Tel: 01969 667392
Bolton Castle is open April to October, from 10am to 5pm. Entry costs around £6.50 for adults, £5 children. Bolton Castle, Near Leyburn, North Yorkshire, DL8 4ET. Tel: 01969 623981

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