A Circular Walk from Rylstone Up to Cracoe Fell
Ridge to the Skies
by Matt Callard
As far as world famous locations go, the pretty Dales village of Rylstone is fairly unassuming. There’s a duck pond and a manor house and, for such a small hamlet, an incongrously imposing 19th Century church. In many ways it’s your standard country village – which makes the Hollywood glamour and the faint whiff of controversy that accompanies it all the more enticing.
Rylstone was the location that those feisty Calendar Girls hailed from. Those women-of-a-certain age who happened upon the genius fundraising idea of getting their kit off for a good cause and have so far raised nearly £5m towards lymphoma and leukaemia research. Cue Hollywood movie, Helen Mirren, Julie Walters and a piece of eccentric English immortality.
It also happens to be a great start-off point for one of the Yorkshire Dales’ most famous walks – the Cracoe Fell Circular or, as you may know it, the War Memorial Ridge Walk.
Park next to Rylstone’s glassy pond and glance up to the high ridge in the distance – you’ll see two famous landmarks on the crest, a few miles apart, jutting prominently towards the sky. Both are war memorials – and they are our destination.
Most guides will start you on an anti-clockwise route, taking in a fairly gentle uphill ascent, but we’re taking the clockwise route necessitating an ultra-steep and lung-busting climb towards Cracoe Fell but avoiding a perilous and knee-jarring descent. What do those guide books know anyhow, eh? Our way also means the tricky part is over first, with a huge reward once the ascent is negotiated.
So we’re heading towards Cracoe village, which means crossing the B6265 and heading up a pathway. You’ll pass lovely cottages, a farm on your left and a trio of peculiar fish ponds which were, apparently, once the local village green!
Follow the path, keeping the ridge on your right and ignore a promising looking right turning pathway – don’t divert yet – we need to flirt with the outskirts of Cracoe. Eventually you’ll find a Fell Lane Track (30 minutes) winding gently right towards some sheep pens – traverse them and prepare for that aforementioned lung-buster!
This is a ‘Right To Roam’ area – you can see the obelisk war monument at the top of the slope – so it’s up to you how you get there! This is a tough, tough climb over reeds and drainage ditches (watch that step!), sharp rocks and spongy moorland. Do not attempt this in damp weather or, come to think about it, very hot weather (halfway up you’ll probably be thinking why you attempted this at all!) and this is not suitable for the unfit, underage or under-prepared. Yes, it’ll make you sweat!
Once you’ve reached the top (50 minutes – although it will seem much longer), enjoy your rest.
The solemn obelisk stands on a gritstone plinth and was erected in honour of the local fallen in the Great War, but a more recent plaque now honours the dead from both World Wars.
From the obelisk you’ll see the other monument, the cross, in the distance. Head off towards this, choosing either side of the obvious nearby wall, and as you take in the staggering views across Great Whernside, revel in the fact that from here on in, it’s a treat and a breeze!
And oh, thank goodness for the fresh breath of spring. Regular readers of this column will remember some sodden adventures over the recent months – so the new lambs, the bright red heads on the active grouse and those multitudinous snowdrops are a more welcome sight than ever.
Continue along the craggy ridge, traversing occasional peat, until you reach the cross (1 hour). This commemorative memorial was erected to mark the Paris Treaty of 1813 following the Battle of Waterloo, although it has been replaced over the years. Here, there are terrific views of Flasby Hill to the west, the Malham Hills and Buckden Pike to the north.
Soon after the cross, the hill will begin to gently decline and meander back towards Rylstone (40 minutes). Keep an eye out for the numerous birds of prey teasing the ravens. You might also find fields of riotous land-lubbing gulls auditioning for the remake of The Birds. Does anyone know if these creatures ever find the sea at all?
Once back in Rylstone glance back towards the ridge and the faraway monuments. Why not give yourself a pat on the back. You’ll see a signpost for the nearby Angel Inn. It’s a three minute car journey and serves truly excellent and hearty pub fare. You know what to do from here.
Rylstone Walk: Need to Know
- Distance: 6 miles.
- Time: 2 hours 45 minutes.
- Difficulty: Fairly tough. Although easy once the initial climb has been negotiated.
- Where: Rylstone is adjacent to the B6265 between Skipton and Grassington.
- The pub: Stops serving at 2:15pm.
- Anything else: Between Cracoe and nearby Burnsall there a series of Limestone Hills known as the Cracoe Reef Knolls. These geological remnants of an ancient coral reef were formed in a prehistoric sea millions of years ago.