DESTINATION GUIDE: Trail and Fell Running in the Yorkshire Dales

In his new book Trail and Fell Running in the Yorkshire Dales, author Peter Ellwood describes forty of the best runs in this fantastic and underrated area. Here are some of the highlights.

I'm never quite sure which way it is: You choose the routes or the routes choose you? Either way, the choice is a wide one if you head to the Yorkshire Dales. Running is one of the most popular sports in the country, reflecting its simplicity and ease of participation. Running in the hills and moors of the Dales is some of the best anywhere. Where else can you find such a wide range of backdrops in such a small space, all within an hours' drive of each other?

Looking across a cloud inversion to Ingleborough
© Peter Ellwood

What's so special about the Dales? Many people head straight past onto the heights and beauties of the Lakes; however, this is a huge and varied National Park in its own right, covering 800 square miles. Running here takes you through a landscape carved by the ice age and moulded by centuries of human influence: from the Roman legions, through ancient lead mining and cattle drives through to upland farming and the tourism of today.

The Yorkshire Dales encompasses iconic mountains such as Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent, and areas of high moorland. You can run sinewy paths, wide open spaces and magnificent views that only come when you are completely surrounded by the great outdoors. There are tracks, trails, moorland, mountains and even riverside routes. The Yorkshire Dales has a run to suit everyone.

Outstanding running in the Howgills  © Peter Ellwood
Outstanding running in the Howgills
© Peter Ellwood

The Dales can be split into four sections:

The South West Dales and Three Peaks are typically mountainous and the hills are criss-crossed by a good network of footpaths, tracks and bridleways. This is the most popular area of the Dales and caters for a wide range of outdoor sports: running, caving, climbing, paragliding, mountain biking, cycling etc.

The North West Dales and Howgills are also hilly, but they are grassier and rounder in nature. Noted for their steepness, they have a more remote feeling, and whilst there are paths and tracks, some of them need greater concentration to follow. Additionally there are fewer signposts.

The North East Dales – including Swaledale and Wensleydale - contain fewer mountains but have excellent running terrain, with some of the best trail running in the Dales. The two dales are rich in human history, especially lead mining. The hills have relatively few visitors especially the northern moorlands. There are rights of way marked on the map but they are often small and indistinct on the ground. A good degree of self-reliance and navigational ability is needed in poor weather.

The South East Dales and Wharfedale are a mix of mountain and valley runs on mainly good paths and tracks. Wharfedale and its subsidiary valleys display the classic limestone scenery that the Dales is famous for, two of the highlights being Malham Cove and Gordale Scar.

Yorkshire Dales map  © Cicerone
Yorkshire Dales map
© Cicerone

With so much variety, where do you start? Well' here's a quick whizz around the different types of route you can find.

The Dales boast some of the best hill running in the country   © Peter Ellwood
The Dales boast some of the best hill running in the country
© Peter Ellwood

There's an idyllic trail around every corner  © Peter Ellwood
There's an idyllic trail around every corner
© Peter Ellwood

The Yorkshire Dales has a run to suit everyone

Ancient Landscape: Maiden Castle

A 'Wizard of Oz' route; substitute a wide runnable track for the yellow brick road and you get the idea. An easy run to navigate and which follows a track high onto the moor before descending through the mine workings of Apedale and up over Greets Hill. A 'sting in the tail' ascent of Long Scar, possibly a Bronze Age fortification, starts the final section. A fast descent down a small bridleway finishes at the Iron Age Maiden Castle.

Open moorland on the way to Greets Hill  © Peter Ellwood
Open moorland on the way to Greets Hill
© Peter Ellwood

Industrial Heritage: Gunnerside Gill

This is a wonderful run full of geological and mining interest. The route follows the course of the magnificent Gunnerside Gill, passing through a rich lead mining heritage of old buildings and ancient mines. This is followed by a grassy traverse high above upper Swaledale following small paths on steep hillsides. The return is through hay meadows, rich in flora, following the beautiful River Swale.

The old lead mines in Gunnerside Gill  © Peter Ellwood
The old lead mines in Gunnerside Gill
© Peter Ellwood

Popular Hills: The Three Peaks

This is the classic long running route of the Yorkshire Dales. Climbing some of its highest mountains. Reaching the summits involves steep climbs and is rewarded by panoramic views of the Dales and beyond, including the Lake District to the north and Pendle Hill to the south. Not to be underestimated, the route is just short of a marathon, with three big ascents.

Ingleborough's snowy north face
© Peter Ellwood

The route starts with the smallest of the three mountains, Pen Y Ghent, before a long flatter section to Ribblehead. From here the Settle to Carlisle railway is followed for a short distance before climbing Whernside, the highest mountain in the Dales. A steep descent leads to Chapel Le Dale and the 'Old Hill Inn'. This is followed by a steep ascent of Ingleborough. The final section is the long gradual descent back to the start at Horton in Ribblesdale.

Classic Limestone: Malham Cove and Gordale Scar

Here's a short circular route visiting two of the Yorkshire Dales' finest geological features.

The uniquely impressive Malham Cove  © Peter Ellwood
The uniquely impressive Malham Cove
© Peter Ellwood

Start at the National Park Centre in Malham following the rivers and streams a short distance to the waterfall of Janet's Foss. Now cross to the stunning limestone gorge of Gordale Scar. Climb out via a short scramble alongside the waterfall into a steep dry valley. Whilst not a difficult scramble, make sure you have the skills and ability to tackle it. From here, easier grassy running brings you to Malham Tarn - a relic ice age lake. Head south down a dry river valley to limestone pavement at the top of Malham Cove one of the country's finest limestone features: an impressive, three hundred foot high limestone cliff. Descend to the bottom of the cove before returning to the start.

Wild Moorland: Keld and the Tan Hill Inn

This is a run with a truly remote and wild feeling. For all that it follows part of the Pennine Way, it is rare to meet any one on this route. Best run when the ground has had chance to dry out, the exposed nature of much of the route means it is most enjoyable in good weather. Head north from the ancient Norse hamlet of Keld and follow the clearly waymarked Pennine Way to the Tan Hill Inn, England's highest pub. Then head south-west across an area of remote high moorland before dropping down to the tiny hamlet of Ravenseat. Finally follow a small tributary of the River Swale and then the Swale downstream back to Keld.

Running up the Pennine Way to the Tan Hill  © Peter Ellwood
Running up the Pennine Way to the Tan Hill
© Peter Ellwood

The snowy path leading to Ravenseat  © Peter Ellwood
The snowy path leading to Ravenseat
© Peter Ellwood

Remote Beauty: Cosh

If you want a fantastic, if tough, run, take in the watershed of Wharfedale and Ribblesdale. Follow the ancient Cam Road and Dales Way out of Ribblesdale to remote Cam Houses. Continue along the Dales Way following Oughtershaw Beck to Beckermonds at the very head of Wharfedale. A steep climb out of the valley is followed by a westward traverse of High Green Field Knott to the lonely trig point of Cosh. Descend small paths across Birkwith Moor to meet the Pennine Way, which is followed north past Ling Gill to meet the outward route. This run is tough and requires a high level of fitness, route finding and hill craft in poor weather.

Welcome to Yorkshire, a paradise for runners  © Peter Ellwood
Welcome to Yorkshire, a paradise for runners
© Peter Ellwood

How to get there

Access to the southern Dales is best from the A65 through Skipton and Settle. The northern Dales are slightly more remote; either travel north from Hawes or South from Kirkby Stephen or Barnard Castle. The M6 motorway is close to the western Dales, while the eastern Dales can be reached from the A1M to through Leyburn.

Runners at the start of the Three Peaks race  © Peter Ellwood
Runners at the start of the Three Peaks race
© Peter Ellwood

When to visit

In spring, running in the Dales is fantastic. The return of the wading birds such as the curlew and golden plover make it an experience to savour - the air filed with birdsong. Running in the summer, with extra daylight, means that you can take advantage of the peacefulness of early morning or late evening and enjoy the quiet beauty of the Dales. Autumn and winter bring a shorter day length and the colder weather makes running more challenging. But the achievement at the end of a difficult route is well worth it.

Places to stay

There is a wide variety of places to stay in the Dales. You could easily find luxury hotels, pubs or B&Bs. There are also many campsites, pods, hostels and bunkhouses to suit all budgets. Towns like Settle, Hawes, Reeth and Sedbergh have a good range of accommodation, as well as camping in more rural areas. A quick visit to the web will provide plenty of choice.

Places to eat and drink

There are a few local Yorkshire dishes that you might want to try while you're here, with a good range of restaurants, pubs and cafes offering good quality food across the area. If you have time, a visit to a local brewery or the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes – famous for 'Cheese, Gromit!' – would be well worth your time.

For more information, visit the national park website:

Or to plan your stay and accommodation see:

The Guidebook

Guidebook to 40 of the best trail and fell runs in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Ranging from 5 to 24 miles, the graded runs start from bases such as Ribblehead, Dent, Sedbergh, Malham and Grassington and take in the region's diverse delights, from castles and waterfalls to iconic mountains such as Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen Y Ghent.

The routes are graded into five levels, ranging from well signposted tracks with straightforward navigation, to more difficult routes covering harder terrain, steeper gradients and requiring greater navigational ability. There are sections covering equipment and mountain safety that are applicable to all the routes.

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