GEORGE WILKINSON goes in search of sand martins at Littondale.

ARNCLIFFE means ‘eagle’s cliff’, a Norse name, and is ‘one of the most beautiful villages in the dales’. So wrote Ella Pontefract and Marie Hartley in 1938. They also thought Littondale a valley ‘wilder and more untamed’ than Wharfedale, ‘the mother dale’.

Arncliffe is still very beautiful and sustains an untamed pub, The Falcon.

Swallows skimmed over the village greens on the warm still day. A local woman said they were early and hoped they’d manage two broods. I was here for their relatives, the sand martins.

First though, a climb, a good angle up the side of the valley. From meadow, up over pasture, through scattered ash to thickening woods, to a rocky path, a short easy scramble and, the other side of a gate, the high grasslands. That’s about it for effort.

I strained to see Yew Cogar Scar, which is optimisticaly renamed Yew Cougar Scar on the Falcon’s website. The white banks of the River Skirfare curved in the valley, mountain pansies flowered, and chats with walkers were quick.

I got a move on, got down to Hawkswick, got through that in a blink of holiday cottages, and crossed the river that was the colour of a peaty whiskey on limestone and, most crucially, was producing a lot of insects.

The meadows passed in a blur, some were yellow with buttercups, one was ringed with marsh marigolds, others were creamy with pignut flowers, and my rare acceleration brought two rewards.

First, the sand martins were putting in the maximum effort, zinging over the water, hoovering up the insects and delivering them to their nest holes in the steep riverbanks. Second, a mile after that, The Falcon was still open.

A party of youngsters lined up on the green, their leader lifted a camera, said “one, two, three” and they said “knackered”.

Their vans were loaded with backpacks. Littondale’s tight, sharp walled roads are not much tamed, and will be jammed on Saturday, July 5 when the Tour de France races up Wharfedale.


When in doubt look at the map. Check your position at each point. Keep straight on unless otherwise directed. (wm=waymark, fp=fingerpost).

1 From Falcon, right to road, left to road (Litton 2¼), over river and immediately right to gated squeezer (fp Kettlewell 2⅓), meadow side path. Steps and snickelgate.

2 Cross road, snickelgate (fp Kettlewell 2¼), diagonally uphill, wallstile, gate, rocky path, short scramble.

3 Snickelgate and right, keep by or near wall to right, metal gate that was locked, wall gaps and wall remnants. Path sometimes faint.

4 Just before dry gully, left uphill for 100 yards and right to track. At junction ignore fork to left and contour 200 yards to gate, track with fence to left.

5 Below small building, stone ‘gate posts’, track, downhill.

6 At junction (fp Kettlewell), right, gateway, fork right, gateway, left to road in village. Right to road bridge, 400 yards.

7 Walled path on right (fp), at footbridge left to ladderstile (fp Arncliffe), riverside path at first, gates (wm), gated footbridge (wm), snickelgates (wm).

8 Gate with concrete posts, across meadow, NB steep riverbanks, snickelgate, footbridge, by barn, gate (wm) and left(fp), snickelgates, squeezers, stile and snickelgate, one o’clock to corner (fp), riverside path, yellow top posts, gate, between houses, drive, left to road.

Fact file

Distance: Five miles.

Car parking: Roadside in Arncliffe.

Right of way: Public and open access.

Terrain: Valley and tops.

Tourist information: National Park, Grassington 01756 751690.

Date walked: May 2014. Refreshments: The Falcon at Arncliffe.

Map: OS Explorer OL30 Yorkshire Dales northern and central.

Difficulty: Moderate.

Please observe the Country Code and park sensibly.

While every effort is made to provide accurate information, walkers set out at their own risk.