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One of the longest and most attractive valleys in Yorkshire

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Wharfedale is one of Yorkshire's longest valleys. Its river, the Wharfe, flows north to south along its entire length. Along the water's path, the scenery changes dramatically. It begins in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, one of the county's sparsest landscapes. The valley ends 97 kilometres later on the outskirts of Leeds, Yorkshire's biggest metropolis.

The view over Wharfedale
Photo Robbo-Man
The river and valley are generally separated into the two halves of "Upper" and "Lower" Wharfedale. The upper section begins at the small village of Hubberholme, where the more northern valley of Langstrothdale ends. It then starts to make its way south, past other small settlements like Buckden and Kettlewell. This latter village was the setting for the film Calendar Girls, a true story about a group of Yorkshire women who stripped off to raise money for leukaemia.

Photo cooljinny
On its journey south, the River Wharfe passes through lush green fields and thick woodlands. It's surrounded by eye-catching limestone outcrops, like Kilnsey Crag. This popular climbing spot is over 50 metres high.

Kilnsey Crag
Photo Harry Potts
Just south of here is Grassington, the dale's main settlement. Despite all its shops and facilities, it has hung onto its old village-like charm. This traditional atmosphere is best captured in December, during the annual Dickensian Festival. The whole village dresses up in appropriate period costume to enjoy 19th century food and entertainment.

The centre of Grassington
Photo Neil T
After Grassington, the valley opens out somewhat. You'll still find plenty of small villages, but here they're closer together. These include Burnsall, with its attractive old packhorse bridge, and Appletreewick, with its leafy streets. The area around these villages is known as the Barden Triangle. It's supposedly the habitat of various supernatural creatures. There are faeries in the hills, ghost dogs in the ravines and gnomes in the caves! Even the Devil himself visits from time to time. At some point in the Barden Triangle the upper half of the valley ends and Lower Wharfedale begins. There's no official border though, so no-one is really sure where the change occurs.
At any rate, from here the River Wharfe carries on south, towards its most famous features. The first of these is The Strid, where the entire river is forced through a tight rock gorge. At its narrowest point it's only 2 metres wide, and the temptation to try and jump across can get pretty strong. Even so, make sure you don't try it! Anyone who falls is instantly sucked underwater by the strong currents, and trapped in one of the caves beneath the surface. The Strid has claimed many lives over the years.

Admiring the Strid
Photo heena_mistry
Another famous location is Bolton Abbey. This 12th century monastery was once one of the grandest buildings in Yorkshire, but it has long since been reduced to ruins. Nevertheless, the open lawns in its shadow are amongst the most picturesque spots in the whole valley. In the surrounding estate you can enjoy woodland walks, or cross the river on stepping stones.

Bolton Abbey
Photo John Armagh
Wharfedale finally ends a few kilometres further on, at the towns of Ilkley and Otley. The former is a Victorian spa town, with ancient Roman relics and several interesting museums. Otley is of a similar age, and is known for having an incredibly high number of pubs for such a small place. This makes it a good place to rest weary feet after a full day's walking!
Visitor Information
Bolton Abbey is open daily from 9am to 6pm (9pm in high summer). Entry is around £6 per vehicle. Skipton N. Yorks BD23 6EX. Tel: 01756 718009

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