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The track across Harkerside Moor from a ford over Grinton Gill near  the end of our walk
The track across Harkerside Moor from a ford over Grinton Gill near the end of our walk

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Route No. 434 - Wednesday 21 September 2011
Grinton, River Swale,
High Harker Hill circuit - 9km
Swaledale, Yorkshire Dales. . .

Route map from Ordnance Survey Open Space service.

Map: OS Explorer OL30 Yorkshire Dales Northern & Central areas


Looking across Swaledale to Reeth and Fremington Edge from the moor south of Grinton
Looking across Swaledale to Reeth and Fremington Edge from the moor south of Grinton

Setting off for Grinton at the start of the walk
Setting off for Grinton at the start of the walk

The path rejoins the roas by the cattle grid
The path rejoins the road by the cattle grid

Minor road out of Grinton
Minor road out of Grinton

We followed the road down through the village to the church where we turned left to walk along the road past the church for about 500m to a bend in the road at map ref. SE041985. At the bend we continued straight ahead along a walled track near the river Swale.

This morning a group of five of us met on a moorland road about 1km south of Grinton church at map ref. SE043974. There is room to park a couple of cars off the road on either side on the bend. We started walking just before 10.30am heading north along a footpath down the hillside to rejoin the road at map ref. SE045979 by the cattle grid.

The road into Grinton
The road into Grinton

Road junction in Grinton
Road junction in Grinton

Walled track following the River Swale
Walled track following the River Swale

Walled track following the River Swale
Walled track following the River Swale

Walled track following the River Swale
Walled track following the River Swale

The track leads to a path across the fields
The track leads to a path across the fields

Climbing up to a stile through a wall
Climbing up to a stile through a wall

Here the path from the suspension bridge crossed the track we had been following. Here we turned left to climb up the hillside to a stile through a wall.

After about 1km the walled track came out into the fields and over to our right was a pedestrian suspension bridge across the river Swale. We continued across the fields for about 200m to map ref. SE030987.

Stone barn by the track
Stone barn by the track

Pedestrian suspension bridge over the Swale
Pedestrian suspension bridge over the Swale

Looking back to the river Swale
Looking back to the River Swale

Climbing up through pasture land to Harkerside Place farm
Climbing up through pasture land to Harkerside Place farm

Looking across Swaledale to Calver Hill
Looking across Swaledale to Calver Hill

Looking back to Harkerside Place farm
Looking back to Harkerside Place farm

After about 600m, at map ref. SE019983, we came to a track on the right hand side of the road and a footpath off the track going straight up the steep hillside.

We continued up the hill across the pasture land to a farm called Harkerside Place at map ref. SE026984. From the farm we followed the farm access track out to the road where we tuned right to walk along the road.

The access road from Harkerside Place farm
The access road from Harkerside Place farm

Turning off the road towards Maiden Castle
Turning off the road towards Maiden Castle

Looking across Swaledale to Calver Hill
Looking across Swaledale to the village of Healaugh and Calver Hill beyond

Climbing up towards Maiden Castle
Climbing up towards Maiden Castle

There is a large oval ditch and tall rampart enclosing an area about 130m across. This fort dates from the Bronze Age or Iron Age when the locally mined lead was an ingredient of bronze.

Our route took us on the path straight up the hillside and after about 200m we came to the earthworks of Maiden Castle.

Ditch and rampart around Maiden Castle
Ditch and rampart around Maiden Castle

Ditch and rampart around Maiden Castle
Ditch and rampart around Maiden Castle

Ditch and rampart around Maiden Castle
Ditch and rampart around Maiden Castle

Path heading east above Maiden Castle
Path heading east above Maiden Castle

Climbing directly up High Harker Hill
Climbing directly up High Harker Hill

Near the top of the climb we found a gulley sheltered from the blustery wind where we sat for our lunch with a very pleasant view across Swaledale to Reeth and Fremington Edge.

We continued to climb up the slope until we were just above Maiden Castle and here we turned left to follow a path along the contour of the hill above Maiden Castle. After about 300m, at map ref. SE025980, we turned right to follow a path straight up the steep hillside of High Harker Hill.

Path heading east away from Maiden Castle
Path heading east away from Maiden Castle

A lovely delicate clump of lichen - Old Man's Beard
A lovely delicate clump of lichen - Old Man's Beard?

Looking up Swaledale from the top of High Harker Hill
Looking up Swaledale from the top of High Harker Hill

Track across High Harker Hill
Track across High Harker Hill

At this point we had just walked across a large ditch and rampart forming a defensive wall around an iron age hill top settlement on High Harker Hill. The scale of these earthworks is quite impressive.

We continued over the top of High Harker Hill where the path is not at all well defined until we came to a moorland track at map ref. SE017972. Here we turned left to walk eastwards along the track for about 1km to map ref. SE028974.

Track across High Harker Hill
Track across High Harker Hill

Iron age rampart on High Harker Hill
Iron age rampart on High Harker Hill

Track leading down from the Iron age rampart on High Harker Hill
Track leading down from the Iron Age rampart on High Harker Hill

Track across Harkerside Moor to Grinton Gill
Track across Harkerside Moor to Grinton Gill

Track away from the ford over Grinton Gill
Track away from the ford over Grinton Gill

The whole walk had been almost 9km with a climb of around 300m from the River Swale to the top of High Harker Hill. It had taken us, well me really as the others had to keep waiting for me to catch up, three and a half hours to walk including our lunch stop.

At the foot of the bank up to the earthwork we crossed a gravel track and continued straight ahead along a more grassy track which, after about 1km, brought us to a ford across Grinton Gill at map ref. SE038972. We crossed the beck and climbed up a short slope to walk the last 500m back to the cars on a wide track. The weather had been as forecast, light showers driven by the blustery winds and all of this ahead of a system of more persistent rain that did not arrive until after we had finished our walk.

Ford across Grinton Gill
Ford across Grinton Gill

Grouse shooting butt by the track
Grouse shooting butt by the track

Returning to the cars at the end of the walk
Returning to the cars at the end of the walk

Background Notes:
This walk is a circular route of 9km, just under 6 miles starting on a moorland road high above the village of Grinton in Swaledale. The start is only a few hundred metres from the Grinton Lodge Youth Hostel. It used to be a rather grandiose shooting lodge. We set off on a path down the moor to Grinton Village and turn left in the village to pass the village church of St. Andrew. A Norman church was built here in the 1200's probably replacing an earlier Saxon church and the Norman church itself was largely rebuilt in the 1400's. This church is called 'The Cathedral of the Dales'. In the past it served the whole of Swaledale upstream of Grinton and bodies were carried many miles down the valley along the so called 'Corpse Road', in wicker caskets for burial here. An earlier walk in this series of talks used the old corpse road between Keld and Muker. The River Swale is a very fast flowing river and Grinton is where it is because this was the first place upstream of Richmond (about 10 miles away) where the river could be forded and it became an important crossing point for trade. We walk upstream from the church along a riverside path to a pedestrian suspension bridge over the River Swale. Confusingly it's called 'Reeth Swing Bridge', not because it's a swing bridge, but because it wobbles when you cross it. This bridge was built in 1920 but was destroyed in a flood in 2001 and was rebuilt in 2002. Here we turn away from the river and begin a long climb up the hillside. All the way up this climb there are wonderful views developing along Swaledale and across the valley to Reeth and Fremminton Edge and Arkengarthdale. We cross a minor road and continue up the hill to Maiden Castle. In pre-Roman Britain this was part of the lands of the Brigantes and lead was mined here and there was silver to be had as well, so it was a valuable territory to hold. Maiden Castle is an extraordinary earthwork and a complete mystery. It's not known when it was built except that it's prehistoric and it's not known what it was used for. It looks like a fort in plan but it wouldn't have been much good because it's on a steep hill side and is overlooked from the hillside above. It has a 100m long processional entrance that was walled originally but just the debris of the walls remains. It's big, around a 100m square and the a ditch and ramparts are several metres deep even today. It's still an impressive structure after around 2500 years. and must have taken the sustained efforts of many people to construct. Maiden Castle is on the side of High Harker Hill and we continue up the steep hillside to the summit. This is wild heather moor and the path becomes rather indistinct for a while but we continue in the same direction until we come to a wide track heading east. We join this track and walk along the ridge of High Harker Hill to cross a large defensive earthwork called Long Scar Dyke that seems to be marking out the summit of High Harker Hill as an iron age hill fort. We continue eastwards across Harkerside Moor to cross a ford over Grinton Beck and climb up a short rise back to our parking spot on the moorland road and the end of our walk.

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