A walk up Gunnerside Gill reveals so much about the history of Swaledale in the 19th Century. The lead mines have characterised the area, created a unique landscape and fortunately have left space for some excellent moorland walking.

Car parking is tight in Gunnerside but once there head for the path that starts just to the east of the river (signposted).

The path follows the river closely for 500 metres through some attractive woodland before emerging in to the tight V shaped valley of the gill.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Gunnerside Store house for the lead

The first signs of the industrial past appear herein the form a derelict storage building. For nearly one mile the path sticks to the river (with the odd diversion) before starting to climb up the hillside.

Read more: Incredible views from a hill many have seen, but few have climbed

It is at this point that the full character of Gunnerside Gill is revealed and the fascinating industrial history laid out. There is no place like it in the Dales, the deep sided valley itself no doubt key to the mining success.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Gunnerside Gill walk map

Mining was started here in the 15th Century but only became widespread in the 19th Century. The streams on the valley sides were repeatedly damned and the water released in floods revealing the iron ore below. This was dug out and transported to the crushers on the valley floor. Spoil heaps and preserved buildings remain, particularly on the eastern side where you will be walking.

Read more: Walk to find the hidden treasures of this stunning Yorkshire Dales tarn

After crossing a small stream the path emerges at a ruined smelting mill with perfect views across the gill. It is a fine picnic spot with two comfortable stones set up for the occasion. The views to the ruined small valley of Lownathwaite opposite sum up the desolation.

From here there is a choice of routes. A cross road of paths (signed) lie just beyond the building. If you want to spend more time in the valley continue up for half a mile towards Blakewith dam and cross the river.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Gunnerside. In the Gill

The return (marked on the map) climbs to a good track high above the western side of the gill. Alternatively (and more interestingly) turn right and scramble steeply up the shattered valley (signposted Surrender Bridge). Emerge in to a desolate and unique landscape, full of slag heaps and bare rock, reminiscent of a film set from Star Wars.

On reaching the flatter line walk 500m through the desolate lands to spot a gap in the wall on the right and a signpost saying you are entering moorland of scientific interest. The path (Right of Way) starts off clearly but this managed grouse moor has destroyed any remnants that might have been a path.

Head south across the moor (keeping the high land, point 578m, initially to your right) for three quarters of a mile 'til the land starts to steepen downhill. A path appears on the ground as you drop towards the rounded corner of a wall. Follow the path to a more substantial track near Whin Hall.

The track then heads left before doubling back as a tarmac road serving the various converted farm buildings. The houses all have outstanding views up Swaledale, one of the many pleasures of this walk is to descend to Gunnerside whilst enjoying these views.

Walk facts

Distance: Roughly 6.5 miles.

Height to climb: 390m (1,280 feet).

Start: SD 951982. Limited parking near the Smithy, on the west side of the stream.

Difficulty: Medium/hard. The walking is straightforward along the gill but rougher and largely trackless on the moor.

Refreshments: There is a cafe and the Kings Head pub but do check opening times.

Be prepared: The route description and sketch map only provide a guide to the walk. You must take out and be able to read a map (OL30) and in cloudy/misty conditions a compass. You must also wear the correct clothing and footwear for the outdoors. Whilst every effort is made to provide accurate information, walkers head out at their own risk.

Please observe the Countryside Code and park sensibly.

  • Jonathan Smith runs Where2walk, a walking company based in the Yorkshire Dales. He has published three books on walking in the Dales, The Yorkshire 3 Peaks, The Dales 30 mountains and Walks without Stiles. All these books (and more) are available direct from the Where2walk website. Book a navigation (map and compass skills) training day near Settle (next date October 14) or a bespoke day for a private group. All dates and details are on the Where2walk website. Where2walk.co.uk also features hundreds of walks across Yorkshire and beyond, from easy strolls to harder climbs.