A Walk from Austwick to Norber Erratics
Rocks and a Hard Place
by Matt Callard
Crummackdale might be one of our lesser-known dales but it plays host to one of Yorkshire’s more intriguing geographical anomalies.
Take an upwards walking route from the classic Dales village of Austwick and eventually you’ll come upon fields upon fields of giant boulders, many of them incongruously and precariously balanced upon smaller, different coloured rocks.
It’s a genuine geographical head-scratcher – and you might have to dodge various students who’ve come to witness, ponder and work out how this strange phenomenon could have happened.
Older boulders of Silurian basement rock sit on top of younger limestone – the result of a mighty ice age glacier sweeping them from an outcrop half a mile away and depositing them across the limestone shelf.
Thousands of years of erosion have since helped to produce some extraordinary natural sculptures. Mainly down to the Silurian rock being much less prone to erosion than the limestone beneath. Hence, there are some fairly extraordinary two-tonne balancing acts on show.
So, beginning in Austwick centre and passing the Gamecock pub, turn left up pretty Townhead Lane for 20 minutes of winding but pretty road walking. Eventually you’ll meet a small crossroads of lanes – take the left turning. About 50 yards on, leap a stile and you’ll find a well-defined cart track over a field.
After crossing the field, take the steep (and sometimes slippery) slope upwards, following the wall, until you can wind back clockwise up the bank toward an easy-to-see guide post – take the Norber direction. Soon (50 minutes) you’ll find yourself below a green shelf of limestone that’s littered with blocks of ancient Silurian rock. Find your way upwards until the slope levels out and you can feast your eyes more conveniently across this remarkable plain.
There’ll be plenty of ‘seat shaped’ boulders for a hot coffee. Keep a keen ear out for wheatear, pipit and curlew, active in these parts.
After contemplating the ancient rocks, retreat back downhill to the stone wall in the lower part of the field. Look for a group of larches and you’ll find a step stile. Thus, begin your descent back into Austwick via a clear alternative route.
The path will skim along another rocky feature, the non-conformity of Nappa Scars. Truly a geologist’s dream, this walk! Then you will meet Crummack Lane (90 mins). Follow the road back to the aforementioned crossroads and descend into the village.
Norber Erratics Walk – Need to Know:
- DISTANCE: 4 miles
- DIFFICULTY: Fair
- TIME: 2 hours
- WHERE: Austwick village lies off the A65 between Settle and Ingleton.
- REFRESHMENTS: There’s a good pub, The Gamecock, in the village, with food a speciality.
- WHAT ELSE: In Harry Sleight’s Craven and North West Yorkshire Highlands he alludes to a bygone tradition in Austwick of ‘the failings and lack of ordinary intelligence of its inhabitants.’ It seems one medieval local could be seen relentlessly pushing an empty wheelbarrow in and out of his barn – apparently he was wheeling sunshine into it to dry his hay!