Salar the salmon may long ago have turned up his tail fin, but kin of Henry Williamson’s feisty fish still return to the rivers of Britain in significant numbers, particularly in autumn.
Their aim is simple – to reach spawning grounds in the higher reaches of clean, fast-flowing rivers where they themselves were born. This is perfect for eggs and milt to intermingle to secure the next generation of this king of fish.
Countless obstacles block the salmon’s progress from sea to spawning beds; some, such as nets, otters and fishermen, are ephemeral; others are far more formidable barriers, of which waterfalls are the most spectacular and challenging.
Just outside the pretty Yorkshire Dales village of Stainforth, the River Ribble cascades over a series of natural limestone outcrops; a string of waterfalls where the determination of salmon to forge upstream is laid bare for all to see. October and November are the best months to witness this inspiring spectacle, particularly after good rain.
Further downstream, a fish ladder at Langcliffe Weir aids progress upstream, and is another good spot to linger. Should the salmon prove elusive, then the airy stroll back to Stainforth takes in some sublime moorland-edge countryside with extraordinary views across this Three Peaks area of the Dales. It drops in on a secret gorge and hidden waterfall, which provided inspiration for the composer Edward Elgar.
From Stainforth car park, join the nearby main road and turn right for Hawes. In 200m, go left along the narrow lane over the railway; then shortly cross the magnificent packhorse bridge over the Ribble.
Turn left on the riverside
path for Stackhouse to find Stainforth Force. Waterside vantage points abound, but beware – the limestone can
be slippery underfoot. Patience is the key, and salmon sightings aren’t guaranteed. Good to know, though, that salmon of over 13kg (30lb) are regularly caught in the Ribble; most will be 7-9kg (15-20lb).
Follow the well-used riverside path downstream. It passes the fringe of a caravan park, then rises over a low wooded bluff before regaining the bank, continuing alongside the Ribble to reach Langcliffe Weir.
Leap of faith
Cross the footbridge below the weir, where a fish ladder may offer further sightings. Bear left up the lane to the main road. Cross the railway bridge, go left on the green track for Pike Lane; then right in 100m through two gates. The field-edge path reaches a walled track; turn left. Where this ends, bear right on the well-used, initially wall-side
path, up through the scraggy woodland on Stainforth Scar, via several gates and stone step stiles to reach a rough lane 150m right of the white cottage. Turn right to Upper Winskill Farm.
Join the Pennine Bridleway Stainforth ahead, a wall-side track that, beyond old gates, soon hits a rough cross-track. Turn left, passing through two more gates into a walled track, left, for Stainforth. Take the footpath immediately right to nearby Catrigg Force. Catrigg Beck plummets into the gorge to the right. Taking the path ahead to the top offers stunning views. The gate on the left drops into the wooded cleft where there are further falls.
Sir Edward Elgar, one of England’s favourite composers, visited this tranquil spot many times a century ago; perhaps he gained inspiration for some of his flowing compositions here.
Back to the start
Return to the track and turn right to get to Stainforth village green. Bear left, then right at the junction to the Craven Heifer inn. Then it’s over the bridge and back to the car park.
HOW TO GET THERE
Stainforth is three miles north of Settle on the B6749 to Ribblehead Viaduct and Hawes. The village car park (pay and display) is at the entrance to the village. Infrequent bus service B1 links Settle to Stainforth, Mondays to Saturdays (Traveline 0871 200 2233)
FIND OUT MORE
Town Hall, Settle BD24 9EJ
OS Explorer Map OL2
Grid ref: SD819674
Distance: 4 miles (6.5km)