This much-loved long distance path runs right across the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Gradients and terrain are easy, but the going may be muddy underfoot in wet weather. There are also a large number of "stiles" and "kissing gates" to negotiate. The itinerary follows Wharfedale (where there is time to admire the ruins of Bolton Abbey) and then Langstrothdale, gradually gaining height upstream to reach the Pennine watershed at Cam Fell (1700 feet). The way then runs down Dentdale to the market town of Sedbergh and across sheep pastures to Bowness on Windermere.
Stage 1: Ilkley to Burnsall 13 miles
This is entirely a valley walk, following the River Wharfe upstream from the lowland scenery of Lower Wharfedale to the more hilly surroundings of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Those who prefer a slightly shorter day can opt to stop at Appletreewick (12 miles from Ilkley); while the really fit and ambitious might consider continuing to Grassington or Linton. In any case the main highlight of the day for most walkers is the ruined Augustinian priory at Bolton Abbey, in a fine setting close to the River Wharfe. It can be crowded at summer weekends, but still, near the half-way point of the stage, makes a pleasant spot for a picnic lunch. There is also a cafe serving lunches a mile earlier at Bolton Bridge. Appletreewick (a short walk off the Dales Way itself) and Burnsall are both characteristically pretty stone-built Dales villages, with pubs where you can obtain evening meals without booking in advance.
Stage 2: Burnsall to Hubberholme 15 miles.
If you start in Appletreewick or Burnsall you could aim to reach Buckden (milepost 27) or Hubberholme (milepost 28) or Yockenthwaite (milepost 30) today. If you start in Grassington and are a moderate or strong walker you could continue beyond Yockenthwaite to Deepdale (milepost 31), Beckermonds (milepost 32.5) or Oughtershaw (milepost 33.5). The first and last sections of this stage again keep close to the valley bottom, but the middle section of 5 miles or so between Grassington and Kettlewell take you onto the high ground on the east side of the Dale, where you cross some good examples of the famous 'limestone pavements' (areas of bare rock with grooves or 'grykes' eroded by solution to a depth of up to a metre or more). The upstanding ridges between the grykes are called 'clints'. The views across the Dale take in the great rock mass of Kilnsey Crag, popular with rock gymnasts. The villages of Grassington and Kettlewell provide all the facilities that you could wish for en route, including shops, pubs and cafes, toilets and public phones, as does Buckden which is closer to the end of the stage. Hubberholme also has a pub (the last before Dentdale) where you can get an evening meal, but if you decide to stay at Yockenthwaite you will need to order an evening meal at your accommodation or be prepared to return to Hubberholme to eat.
Stage 3: Hubberholme to Dent Head (Cowgill) 18 miles.
This stage includes the highest and wildest ground of the trip, the area of bleak open moorland of reaching 430m/ 1410 feet, which you cross between the long ascent of Wharfedale and Langstrothdale and the shorter steeper descent into Dentdale. If you are not confident of your fitness or navigational ability you should consider breaking the stage into two and stopping for the night at either Cam Houses (milepost 36.6) or Gearstones (milepost 40). There is no shop en route between Buckden (milepost 27) and Dent village (milepost 50) so make sure you have all you need before embarking on this stage. Also there is nowhere to get a meal between Hubberholme (milepost 28) and Cowgill in Dentdale (milepost 45) so you will need to book an evening meal if you are spending a night between these two points. The pub at Dent Head (Cowgill) no longer provides evening meals, except to resident guests.
Stage 4: Dent Head (Cowgill) to Sedbergh 10 miles.
After a couple of fairly demanding stages most walkers welcome the opportunity of an easier day in the peace and solitude of the secretive valley of Dentdale. Especially attractive are the whitewashed cottages and cobbled streets of the pretty village of Dent (milepost 56 - 0.2 mile), where you can relax and enjoy a pub lunch a short distance off the Dales Way. Sedbergh makes a very good overnight stop and has pubs which provide evening meals without booking to all comers as well as a variety of accommodation. Sedbergh is 0.5 mile from the nearest point on the Dales Way at Millthrop.
Stage 5: Sedbergh to Burneside 15 miles.
It is no longer truly 'Dales' landscape, but this transitional zone of small hills (many of them 'drumlins' of glacial origin) and sheep farms between the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District National Parks has its own charms, only briefly interrupted by crossing the arterial M6 motorway and the London to Glasgow railway. This part of the Dales Way has few settlements or accommodation opportunities and so most Dales Way walkers will have spent a night in Sedbergh. You should obtain lunch (picnic materials from shops in the town or a packed lunch from your accommodation) before leaving Sedbergh as there is little or no opportunity for buying refreshment en route. The day's walk will inevitably bring you close to Burneside (3 syllables, with the first 'e' pronounced as if it were 'ey'). There are various accommodation opportunities both shortly before and shortly after Burneside itself; wherever you stay we advise making arrangements to include the evening meal at your accommodation tonight.
Stage 6: Burneside to Bowness-on-Windermere 9 miles.
This is no more than a half-day walk, but the probability is that you, like most Dales Way walkers, will find plenty to occupy yourselves for the remainder of the day in Bowness and its environs. After a possibly late lunch (no need to carry a picnic), you can take to the water and go for a cruise on Windermere lake (highly recommended) or visit the Beatrix Potter Centre in the town. For the evening there is an abundance of restaurants where you can celebrate your completion of the Dales Way walk.In the event that you are short of time and cannot afford to spend a night in Bowness you will be able to catch a late afternoon or early evening train from Windermere station (1.5 miles from Bowness) to Oxenholme, from where there are connecting trains to London, Manchester Airport, Glasgow, Edinburgh and elsewhere. To return to the starting point is more complicated, and involves changing trains in Lancaster and Leeds to return to Ilkley. There is also the possibility of a road transfer from Bowness back to Ilkley; please enquire if you require more information about this.
Convenient Major city and international airport: Manchester Airport. 2 hours to Ilkley via Leeds.
Outward journey from London: Train from London King's Cross to Leeds, then change trains for Ilkley (3 - 3 1/2 hours).
Inward journey to London at end of tour: Train from Windermere to London Euston (change trains at Oxenholme).