Wild Guide: Wild swims of Wharfedale
Wild Guide: Wild swims of Wharfedale

Date: Friday 3rd June 2016

Daniel Start, author of the new Wild Guide to the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales, tells about his favourite swimming river – Wharfedale.

The River Wharfe is the wild-swimming mecca of Yorkshire. Its wonderful pools, chutes and waterfalls are complemented by a wide range of pastoral riverside villages, pubs and campsites.

Ghaistrill Strid

The quaint village of Grassington is the epicentre for all this watery fun. Most people gather on the river meadows to the south of the village. You’ll find families in rubber dinghies and children wielding fishing nets. At the weir, people slide down the smooth chute or swim in the larger clear pool above. Further down there’s a waterfall by a footbridge and stepping-stones to a riverbank church. Connoisseurs, however, head upstream of Grassington to Ghaistrill’s Strid. Here a series of cascades and rapids make the perfect place to while away the day swimming in rocky pools, chasing minnows and ‘tubing’ down the chute.  

Grassington Weir

The walk from Grassington downstream follows an avenue of sycamores and oaks before arriving in the outskirts of Burnsall village, at Loup Scar, a faintly Jurassic-feeling limestone gorge. You might well be disturbed by the spectacle of young men throwing themselves off the cliffs of the scar into the plunge pool below as part of a well-known local rite of passage. The small pool is certainly deep enough for those who wish to test their mettle, but the full jump requires a degree of judgement, as an overhanging cliff must be cleared. Just below the rapids there’s a large area of grass and pools before passing behind the old Anglo-Saxon church of St. Wilfred’s and heading on to the village bridge. On hot days the village green in Burnsall heaves with families and a flotilla of kiddy dinghies, some sold from the village post office. 

Loup Scar


Next stop on the river journey is Appletreewick, with grassy fields and a river pool with an island. The Craven Arms is a particular eccentric delight, with excellent food and lovely views.  Further along again is the Strid, where the river has cut fantastical curving rock shapes, but when in flood the level rises quickly creating treacherous under-surface eddies. Although very narrow, it’s 6m deep, and there are many underwater caves in which you would not want to get trapped. But just below the gorge are calm beautiful pools surrounded by ancient woodland. You can even learn green woodworking, or ‘bodging’, from a tented camp, and enjoy homemade soup.  Or you could swim all the way down to the ruins of Bolton Abbey with its stretch of pebbly beach.

Below the Strid

Bolton Abbey

A few other things you can do in Wharfedale, from the Wild Guide:

  • Explore the chimneys and lead mine remains on Grassington Moor and swim in Blea Beck Dams
  • Explore the narrow ravines of Conistone Dib or Troller’s Gill
  • Wild camp at the remote and little-known ruins of Norton Tower 
  • Commune with the ancestors in Heights Cave or at the Druid’s Altar
  • Sleep under wooden beams at Skirfare Bridge bunk barn, surrounded by meadows


Wild Guide Lake District and Yorkshire Dales: Hidden Places and Great Adventures - Including Bowland and South Pennines by Daniel Start publishes 13TH June (£15.99, Wild Things Publishing) and contains over 800 wild and hidden places to explore.

For 30% off and free P&P go to www.wildthingspublishing.com and use discount coupon OSS at checkout