All’s Well In Kettlewell But Great Whernside Ain’t Too Clever (Trevor)

Great Whernside is a fell in the West Riding of Yorkshire,  England, not to be confused with Whernside, some 17 miles (27 km) to the west. Its summit is the highest point of the eastern flank of Wharfedale above Kettlewell. The curving escarpment above the pass between Wharfedale and Coverdale is known as Whernside, of which Great Whernside is the highest point; Little Whernside is a few kilometres to the north-east.

On the Dales Way footpath between Kettlewall and Starbotton, and situated in many locations within the area, the signs aren’t to be sneered at.

Great Whernside forms the watershed between Wharfedale and Nidderdale, and is on the boundary between the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Nidderdale.  Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Little Whernside forms the watershed between Coverdale and Nidderdale. The River Nidd rises on the eastern slopes of Great Whernside, above Angram Reservoir.

The summit of Great Whernside is a plateau strewn with rocks of millstone grit, from which the mountain takes its name (quern meaning “millstone”).


Until 1997 no public right of way was established to the summit of Great Whernside. In that year two public footpaths were registered, one from Kettlewell in Wharfedale to the summit and one along the summit ridge. Following the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 large parts of the fell became open access land. Great Whernside can be ascended from Kettlewell, or by a shorter route from Park Rash Pass on the minor road from Kettlewell to Coverdale. It can also be ascended by a longer, less popular, route from Scar House Reservoir. Routes from the East are often boggy even after prolonged dry weather.

Stream crossing between Kettlewell and Starbotton - Dales Way
Stream crossing between Kettlewell and Starbotton – Dales Way

Hag Dyke, half way between Kettlewell and the summit, is a hostel run by 1st Ben Rhydding Scout Group in Ilkley.

The fell is the site of several aircraft crashes.

Tor Dyke (situated on the north western flank) is an earthwork with ditch and rampart constructed in the limestone. It appears to have been built either by Iron Age tribes, perhaps in the 1st century AD, to protect themselves from the invading Romans, or in the Dark Ages.

There are thousands of great walks in Britain, hundreds in the Yorkshire Dales, ‘my neck of the woods’, so choosing which ones to take may be confusing for some, it is for me, but, one distinct feature on any route, one that definitely swings it in my favour, is it having something of historical interest on it’s route. On this one, not only was the attraction to Great Whernside an attraction on its own, but, en route, on the OS map, in Olde English typeface, was that magnetic attraction, ‘Tor Dyke’, never heard of it before, I knew nothing about it, but, it swayed my decision.

The route is well established, used by many and very well known, to me, that didn’t matter, it was a first for me.

The Starbotton bridge joining the village to the Dales Way footpath
The Starbotton bridge joining the village to the Dales Way footpath

Starting the walk in the outstanding village of Kettlewell, (origin – the Anglo Saxon name Chetelewelle, meaning spring or stream), I crossed the River Wharfe to walk the first stretch on part of the Dales Way before crossing the river again and entering the village of Starbotton. Only a couple of weeks previously I’d started a walk from Starbotton, that time my destination was Buckden Pike, with the walk terminating at Starbotton, this time, I was ascending the same village but on the opposite side of the valley containing Carn Gill Beck, where I’d previously descended down Walden Road (track), I was ascending Starbotton Carn Road (track), which, would take me to the elusive and mysterious destination for the night, Tor Dyke.

Looking south west from Starbotton Carn Road
Looking south west from Starbotton Carn Road

Where, after a potentially eerie night wild camping, continuing the following morning to the summit of Great Whernside and returning to Kettlewell. Weather permitting, a total of about 8 or 9 miles of great walking and magnificent scenery, at least,  that was the plan.

Once again, my companion on the epic adventure was my borrowed canine companion and mountaineer extraordinaire, the ever enthusiastic Meg. Unlike the previous outing with this wonderful, excitable canine, this time, being fully aware of cow attacks, we were staying close to the dry stone walls on the official footpaths, unlike Meg, I aren’t fast enough to outrun a distraught cow, but, you watch me clear a dry stone wall should the need arise,

Ascending the route was a sheer delight, it wasn’t too much of an incline or over severe, just pleasant and stress free. One of the real beauties of wild camping during the week and, departing later on in the day, is the pure isolation. Should there be other walkers in the area, by the time we pass, they’re descending and returning to their tents or homes, which, gives me the mountains to myself, an exciting and very stimulating experience.

Starbotton Road with Little Whernside looking, very tempting, on the horizon
Starbotton Road with Little Whernside looking, very tempting, on the horizon

Being solo is testing too, It’s not that I dislike company, far from it, but, I’m impulsive and once I decide to do something, I do it, and, going solo, the need for awareness of the surroundings, and the capacity to map read and preparation with the appropriate equipment becomes paramount. Receiving a phone signal is very unreliable, the need to think as though you won’t have one is the best approach, should one appear then it’s a bonus, but that’s all. On higher ground footpaths can disappear into boggy marsh and thick mist and cloud can suddenly surround you, shake holes appear from nowhere, not forgetting irate cows, there’s a great deal to be aware of. There’s one relatively modern gadget that I wouldn’t be without, and, the only spares for anything I carry are the batteries for it, my GPS, the one feature it contains above any other is it’s location finding, grid reference point, it’s better than any road sign or travel guide, it gives you your exact grid reference position regardless of where you think you are, so long as you can perform the simple task of locating the reading on the OS map, it’s job done. Some say that experience teaches fools, not an opinion I always subscribe to, each adventure teaches me something new, and I’m sure each forthcoming outing will do the same, there’s no end to learning and no termination of it.

Over the wall to the right, Diamond Hill, to my left, a deep looking shake hole and ahead, Tor Dyke, what more could you ask for
Over the wall to the right, Diamond Hill, to my left, a deep looking shake hole and ahead, Tor Dyke, what more could you ask for

It had taken me a couple of hours to reach my chosen location to set up the camp. There was no particular reason other than the warm summer evening had become early, cloudy dusk, and, I needed to exploit the remaining daylight to prepare the camp and feed myself and my loyal companion. The view into the valley below was outstanding, the people who decide on the top 50 views in certain areas are unique, because the views I find myself in are as competitive and wonderful as any of the printed ones, once moving, they change every few minutes.

The origin of the name Diamond Hill evades me, but, with a little research, Tor Dyke doesn’t. Basically it’s a linear earthwork, about 2 K in length across a valley guarding the access from Upper Wharfedale into Coverdale. It consists mainly of an artificial ditch cut into the base of a vertical limestone scar. Part way along the scar it finishes from where on it is strengthened and continued by a substantial artificial rampart averaging 1.8 mts in height. Gaps at both rampart and ditch at this point suggest the site of an original entrance.

Tor Dyke
Tor Dyke

The history of the rampart isn’t fully understood, the man power and intensive labour involved in it’s construction is clearly evident to see, it’s an incredible construction. It’s believed to have being constructed around AD 70 by the rebel Brigantian Chief Venutius as a defence system against Roman expansion. Despite their hold and the area and other local ones, Ingleborough and Gregory Scar (north of Grassington), Venutius and his forces were eventually overcome by the Romans. The presence of a legionary size marching camp a few miles away at Malham indicates an active role in the Roman advance around AD70.

View south from my tent, Kettlewell hidden by the wooded highland
View south from my tent, Kettlewell hidden by the wooded highland

It was about 21.30 when I finally bedded down, I’d used my groundsheet to sit on whilst I was cooking and eating, now it was being used to wrap around my rucksack and boots, thus leaving space inside the bivi for Meg, between us there was just enough room, I was settled in my sleeping bag, sorted the zip out for the front of the bivi and called over to Meg to come and join me, out of curiosity only, in she came, I was just about to close the front when she insisted on going back out, she wasn’t mincing her words, she wasn’t ready for bed, in her world, there was too much happening outside for her to observe, she had a job to do and I wasn’t the person to stop her, besides, the numerous paw prints on my head and face were sufficient for me to agree to her demands, so, reluctantly, I released her from the claustrophobic confines. Before long, I was almost asleep but I was feeling guilty about her being outside, so, I unzipped the bivi and called to her, she hadn’t gone far, she was sat outside at the entrance, on full alert, reacting to every single sound, her head and face were working hard, she was on guard, protecting us, if anything came close, she was there to defend us, as much as I tried to enhance her inside, she wasn’t having it, not a chance. I was both surprised and very impressed by her behaviour, and, her stubbornness and determination, I had no choice other than to leave her, she was obviously comfortable enough so I zipped the bivi up again and switched off. About 1am, I was woken by a soft pushing from outside, had Meg not being there I’d have being a little concerned, but, I knew it was her, she’d finally succumbed to the night, realised there were no potential threats outside, and decided it was time for some sleep, once again, I unzipped the bivi, and called to her, at last, in she came, dropped herself down adjacent to my head, and laid down, job done, bedtime, finally, the two of us had completed the day.

The following morning I awoke about 7am, Meg was fast asleep until she heard me open the bivi, but, thankfully, the usually over excited canine was still tired, and she hardly moved as I, like a caterpillar, pulled myself out of the restricted confines of bag and bivi, once outside, what did I see in the adjoining field, cows, cows and more cows, fortunately, they were on the other side of the drystone wall, thank goodness, a safe boundary between us. After having a good look around to check there were none on our side of the wall, and discovering there weren’t, it was breakfast time, on with the boots, out with the JetBoil and the start of the second day.

I wondered over to view the very close Shake Hole (Sink Hole), the dales are littered with them, they’re everywhere. Shake holes are the hollows left when boulder clay is washed into fissures in the underlying limestone. Non-specialists seem to extend the term to the hollows created above the collapsed roofs of near-surface cave systems, or by dissolution of surface bedrock, but that’s not strictly accurate; the latter are called dolinesIrrespective of specific term, the difference is that these depressions are in the overlying glacial drift deposits, whereas dolines are collapse structures in the bedrock itself. Regardless, they are deep and dangerous, usually deep and often filled with freezing water, and, once fallen down one, almost impossible to climb out of, not a good idea to visit too closely to the edge.

Unbelievable disappointment
Unbelievable disappointment

Breakfast complete, rucksack packed, cows and inquisitive dog maintaining a safe distance apart, Great Whernside here we come. The footpath took us over the edge of Great Hunters Sleets, Tor Dyke on our right with the view of the forthcoming destination, the intimidating ascent to Great Whernside. As we approached the wooden gate, crossing the bordering fields of Little Hunters Sleets and Middle Piece Pasture the feeling of apprehension and excitement burned. This was a beast just waiting to be conquered. On arriving at the wooden gate onto the summits base I noticed some attached notices fixed onto it, I couldn’t believe my eyes, I was shocked and stunned, was this for real. NO DOGS!

Who could I curse, I wasn’t sure, aristocrats for protecting their grouse, well, the glorious 12th had already passed, the local council for what ever reason I could think of, Meg, for being a dog, myself, for being unaware, I didn’t know, but I’m sure all of the previous received being accused at some point. In my younger days I can guarantee I’d have totally ignored it, especially with it being so early in the day, but, these days, being a peaceful pacifist, the order to obey the rules took precedence and rather woefully, I returned to the road I’d just crossed and, against all my personal rules, followed it down the valley, back to Kettlewell.

The period following Roman rule sees some agricultural land abandoned and returning to scrub, but the estates seized by the Normans from their Anglo-Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon owners seem for the most part to have been well-established agricultural holdings. The peasants who worked these estates cultivated the better soil on the valley bottoms and sides for arable crops and hay and grazed sheep and cattle on common pasture above. The open moorland was also grazed during the summer months.
The period following Roman rule sees some agricultural land abandoned and returning to scrub, but the estates seized by the Normans from their Anglo-Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon owners seem for the most part to have been well-established agricultural holdings. The peasants who worked these estates cultivated the better soil on the valley bottoms and sides for arable crops and hay and grazed sheep and cattle on common pasture above. The open moorland was also grazed during the summer months. Strip lynchets and ridge and furrow earthworks are some of the most characteristic archaeological features of medieval field systems in the Dales. Lynchets are terraces formed on sloping, usually south facing arable ground. The action of ploughing and collecting stones along the edge of the plot builds up ‘steps’ on the hillside. Ridge and furrow was also created by ploughing, this time around long narrow strips of land, throwing the soil up into a ridge in the middle. The ridges created a larger surface area for the cultivation of crops, and the raised soil in them was dryer and warmer.

So with the now ‘mystical’ Great Whernside still baying at me, I abandoned the day’s quest to ascend it, this being the second time in the last few months I’ve had to take such an option. I didn’t really mind too much, although, I failed to see how a happy dog, ploughing through marshy peat bogs whilst ascending a great mountain, would affect the local wildlife too much?

The intrepid culprit for us turning back from Great Whernside, the one and only, great companion, ‘Meg’.

Once I’d lifted Meg over the cattle grid, we commenced our ascent, the first thing I noticed was a road sign indicating how ‘smart water’ was being used in the area, it didn’t say as a deterrent to what, sheep rustling or general purpose, either way, it was loud and clear, and hopefully, successful. The views, even from the roadside were just as wonderful, the thing is, they are roadside views, and, easily accessible, that’s why I choose to venture away from them, the views I see are even better, and to see them, you are required to earn them, and, once earned, the rewards are dynamic.

About half way down, the gradient of the road is so severe, I can imagine timid or some elderly drivers panicking at the sheer sight of it, it’s close to a spot known as Park Rash, the road is covered in oil and it was here I took a good old tumble, my feet slipped on the oil and I was on my back before I could say ‘Jack Robinson’, I wasn’t hurt and the backpack absorbed my fall, but, it could only happen to me, covering dangerous terrain without a hitch, walking over a tarmacked road and I hit the deck, never mind.

Village bridge, Kettlewell
Village bridge, Kettlewell

Once back at the village, with it still being quite early, I didn’t rush to depart, I had a good look around this idyllic spot, I was quite envious of the locals who, in my opinion, live in one of the most beautiful locations I could think of. I didn’t consider myself beaten, far from it, I hadn’t achieved my target but I was lucky in a way, I had the good fortune of being able to tackle it again, from a new and different route, with different views and experiences, Meg certainly wasn’t bothered, she’d being wagging her tail all the way round, she was one happy chap. As I changed my footwear I made a little promise to myself, the same as I’d done on Kinder Scout, “I’ll be back!”


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Jurgen Tischler

My interests are mountaineering, buschcraft and leathercraft, not necessarily in that order. Being outdoors is the real buzz. I'm not trying to set any records or achieve any real targets, simply taking every opportunity to go out there and see what happens, this, is hopefully, a catalogue of the aforesaid pursuits.

3 thoughts on “All’s Well In Kettlewell But Great Whernside Ain’t Too Clever (Trevor)”

    1. I had no choice Denise, she’d decided she didn’t want to be inside, and, she’d also decided she had a job to do, for my constant calling her, she simply refused, I felt really guilty, but, there was no way she would come in


  1. Restrictions on dogs in access land are pretty common, however the restriction do not apply if you are on a public right of way within the access land. It only applies if you leave the footpath.

    You can find out what restrictions are in force on natural England’s website:

    It can also tell you if a land owner has decided to exercise their right to close the access land off on your chosen day to visit or if it hasn’t rained in the last 35 seconds, and been closed off because of the risk of moorland fires…


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