There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Reeth, the Arkle Beck and the River Swale

Some places make you feel better just for being there. Everybody has a personal list, but mine includes the Mekong Delta, the Backwaters of Kerala, Corsica, the Algarve and the Yorkshire Dales.

Like everywhere else, these places look their best in the sunshine. We arrived in the Dales on Wednesday, a midwinter day when the rain had been continuous and daylight hardly bothered to put in an appearance.

Reeth is the main centre of population of Upper Swaledale. It has 750 permanent residents, but seemed much busier this week as the village’s plentiful supply of holiday cottages were doing good business. Presumably, it will be even busier in the summer, but the next few weeks may be quiet indeed.

Francis had rented Fellsman Cottage and we joined him there along with Trevor and Mike and Alison. The cottage is a mid 20th century link built between two older buildings, but we only knew that because it does not exist in the 1920s photograph on the cottage wall. It looks tiny, but so does the TARDIS, and it accommodated 6 adults in reasonable comfort.
Lynne outside Fellsman's Cottage, Reeth

Like many Dales villages Reeth is built round a large village green, which would make it difficult to photograph even if the green was not a sloping plateau and the roofs of the houses on our side were level with the basements on the other.
Reeth Village Green
A firework display filled the green on Wednesday evening. The rest of the world had set off fireworks the previous night to welcome the New Year but Reeth preferred an early evening show on the 1st. I had watched them setting up in the afternoon drizzle and feared the event could be, literally, a damp squib, but when the time came the rain eased and the whole village turned out to watch half an hour of loud and colourful pyrotechnics.
Fireworks, a day late but dodging the rain
Reeth is barely bigger than Swynnerton, but where we have a post office and a struggling pub, Reeth has a post office, three pubs, two general stores, a gift shop, an outdoor shop and a Christian bookshop, not to mention a café and museum, though they were closed for the winter. One end of the village green even forms a mini central business district.

Reeth 'Central Business District'
Of the pubs, we selected The Buck for dinner on Thursday, though largely at random. Trade was roaring, as was the log fire. The fare was standard pub food, but done as well as it can be and very reasonably priced. Gammon steak, fish and chips and sausage and mash count as comfort food (see Dandly’s personal, idiosyncratic, unscientific and deeply prejudiced food classification system.), Mike’s Thai fish curry might be sliding towards pretentious but was redeemed by evident customer satisfaction and Lynne’s steak and ale pie, completely encased and cooked in short crust pastry, ticked the boxes for good food. It was substantial and she needed a little help to finish it. I didn’t mind.

Dinner at the Buck Inn, Reeth
Alison, Francis, Lynne, Mike & Trevor
There was a market of sorts on the green on Friday morning. Only three stalls, but at the butcher's half a dozen substantial slabs of local lamb looked perfect for our dinner while the greengrocer provided the wherewithal for an accompanying salad. The cheese stall offered a range of cheeses from across Europe as well as local favourites. Although my preference is for strong flavours, I appreciated the subtlety of the Wensleydale. Alison said that as pale, mild, crumbly cheeses go she preferred Cheshire, though there might be an element of native pride in that judgement – and why not (and I’ll put in a word for Caerphilly, the mild, crumbly cheese from Lynne’s native heath). Despite a willingness to appreciate subtle flavours, the Swaledale goat’s cheese – even paler than the Wensleydale – convinced nobody that it had anything to offer beyond a pleasing texture.

The Little Yorkshire Cheese Stall at Reeth
On Thursday, as storms and huge seas battered the west coast, Swaledale awoke to a morning of watery sunshine. We donned our boots and headed for Arkengarthdale, the most northerly of the Yorkshire Dales which conveniently joins Swaledale at Reeth. Arkengarthdale is a wonderful word, somehow capturing the essence of Yorkshire in four syllables.
We walked to the edge of the village where a used car showroom (or more accurately showfield) stands incongruously beside the fine old stone bridge over the Arkle Beck (for photo see end of post).

Crossing the river, we walked alongside the beck which rises at the head of Arkengarthdale and discharges into the Swale a few hundred metres downstream from the bridge. According to the map there are several paths which make their way up the dale, but few seem to be signed.
Lynne and Francis beside the Arkle Beck

We soon realised our path beside the river – or fallen into the river at one point – was too low, so we climbed the valley side. At this point the sole of Francis’ left boot detached itself. The boots - expensive and of a well-known brand - were not that old and he was less than delighted. The leather casing, though, continued to keep his foot dry and he decided he could press on despite one leg now being a centimetre shorter than the other and with no grip on the slippery mud.
Higher up the valley side, Arkengarthdale

The sky above us was blue, but clouds hung over the far side of the valley and waves of drizzle were blown across our path. We came as near to the end of a rainbow as I have ever been, but nobody wanted to bother searching for the pot of gold.
Nearly at the end of the rainbow, Arkengarthdale

Today, agriculture and tourism support the dale’s small population, but things used to be different. The population peaked in 1811 at around 1500 when coal and lead mining were thriving. Lead has been mined here since Roman times. An ingot stamped with the name of Hadrian was found in the early 19th century and given to the British museum, who have subsequently lost it. Lead mining was conducted by 'hushing'; dams were built on the hillside and when sufficient water had collected they were broken causing a deluge that stripped off the topsoil and exposed the deposits below. The results can still be seen on the valley side. Lead mining ended in 1914, but a little small scale coal mining continued until 1940.
The effects of hushing can be seen on the top of the hillside opposite

There was some suggestion we might take the bridleway up to Langthwaite near the head of the dale where the pub may or may not still be functioning, but to the relief of some (Lynne notably) the plan began to fade as we kept losing the path and having to track up and down the valley side to find it. Eventually even Francis admitted he was unsure where we were and after spotting a footbridge we made our way down to the beck. After some discussion we decided which bridge we were at, crossed it and climbed up the less complicated side of the valley to the minor road. We then discovered we were not at the bridge we had thought; our wandering up dale and down dale meant that in an hour and a half’s walking we had made remarkably little progress along the dale. The walk down the minor road back to Reeth took much less time.
Francis plods up the 'less complicated' side of Arkengarthdale
Friday afternoon seemed an appropriate time to make the acquaintance of Reeth’s other river. The River Swale rises at the head of the dale and has been joined by a multitude of side streams by the time it reaches Reeth. The name derives from an old English word for ‘rapid and liable to deluge’ and the river lives up to its name being capable of rising as much as 3 metres in 20 minutes. The village is set well above the flood plain and we walked some way to reach it. There was no rain, but it was bitterly cold with a biting wind.
The flood plain of the Swale, Reeth

The river occasional changes its route across the flood plain, and the tumbling mass of water resulting from the week’s downpours seemed to be busy seeking alternative channels to the current overworked mainstream.
The 'Swing Bridge', Reeth

A couple of hundred metres upstream is a footbridge. The ‘Swing Bridge’ as it is called for no obvious reason, was first built in 1920. It survived many floods but in 2000 was demolished by a large tree carried down in a torrent. The new bridge is identical to the old one.

Mike crosses the 'Swing Bridge', Reeth

Over the river we crossed the flood plain to a path on higher ground. Here it was sheltered and felt much warmer. Francis was making good progress in his wellies, but Trevor slipped over and dived gracefully into the mud. I had my camera raised, but waited for him to get up, I am far too much of a gentlemen to take advantage of a temporary loss of dignity – though not so much a gentlemen as to overlook it entirely.

Trevor is back on his feet

Just over a mile later we reached Grinton with its fine stone bridge over the Swale, welcoming pub, which we did not visit, and its long low sturdy church.
Past Grinton Church to Grinton Bridge

Once over the river we took the path across the flood plain back towards Reeth. Some of this path was above water, some of it not and various approaches were taken to deal with this.
One way to deal with damp conditions

We soon found ourselves walking along the bank of the Arkle Beck, which had joined the Swale between the Swing Bridge and Grinton Bridge.
Back to Reeth beside the Arkle Beck
Reaching the road we re-crossed the Swale over another of the stone bridges which are so plentiful in the region and made our way back to Fellsman Cottage. Nothing else remained of our New Year break other than to cook the excellent slabs of lamb and make a small but determined dent in the world’s wine lake. Saturday offered only packing up and the long drive home.
The Arkle Bridge, Reeth
A good time was had by all, and some thanks are due:
to Francis for organisation
Mike for cooking bacon and eggs for breakfast every day
Alison for ‘The Boer War’ and an excellent dessert
Trevor for the mud-surfing exhibition
and Lynne for the clean-up while the rest of us were walking along the Swale..


  1. A very enjoyable week and another well-written blog.

  2. Trevor and I would like to praise the Buck for their excellent fish and chips. We each had a superb piece of haddock covered in tasty, dry, crunchy batter and accompanied by proper home-cooked chips and home-made mushy peas. Superb!

  3. If you look at that picture of me plodding up Arkengarthdale, you can just make out the lack of a sole on my left boot!