In late spring, Swaledale’s hay meadows burst into life – a colour bonanza best absorbed after a cup of Yorkshire tea and a slice of cake.
Like so much in Swaledale, the name Muker is of Norse origin. The village sits on the banks of the River Swale as it emerges from the deep valley between Kisdon Hill and Black Hill, swinging east on its journey to the North Sea. Solid, stone lead-miners’ cottages gather protectively around the tea shop, the Farmers’ Arms, the Victorian Literary Institute and St Mary’s Church.
Muker has some of the most important upland hay meadows in Britain – so good, in fact, they provide seeds for the restoration of other meadows in the area ©Getty
The landscape today is largely unchanged from the late-18th and early 19th century, and those iconic features of the Dales landscape – the field barns and the drystone walls – radiate from the village. Muker is also famous for its species-rich hay meadows. We’ve lost 97% of our flower hay meadows since the Second World War, making those around Muker internationally important.
The site is so significant, in fact, that it is now protected as a SSSI where farmers receive grants to grow and cut hay by traditional means and without the use of artificial fertilisers. May is the optimum time to visit if you want to make the most of this flower spectacular, complemented by screaming swifts, zipping swallows and burbling curlews. Get down on your belly to gain a flower-level view of this wonderful carpet, a superb foreground to a classic Dales landscape.
1. A Pennine Journey
Seek out the path that leads out of the back of the village between attractive grey limestone cottages and follow the route Alfred Wainwright famously took for his 1938 book A Pennine Journey. Swaledale was Wainwright’s favourite Yorkshire dale and the meadows have barely changed since he was here.
A flagged path leads through a series of tiny wicket gates and Muker’s famous upland wildflower hay meadows. Look for wood cranesbill, crosswort, melancholy thistle, cat’s ear, pignut, lady’s mantle, yellow rattle, rough hawkbit and sweet vernal grass, all found among the more familiar buttercups, clover, speedwell and daisies.
2. Swaledale swoon
Cross the River Swale on Ramps Holme footbridge, turning briefly left and then right on the rough track that climbs through the lower section of Ivelet Wood and then contours along Ivelet Side, passing above Ramps Holme Farm. The track soon becomes surfaced, then climbs again. Stride out along the vantage point with superb views along the length of Swaledale. The single-track lane with wide grassy verges continues below Kisdon Scar, passing a small group of cottages at Calvert Houses.
The quiet lane runs above attractive farmhouses at Ivelet Heads to Gunnerside Lodge, where you turn left to cross Shore Gill on an arched stone bridge. Descend on the lane past Dyke Heads to the former mining village of Gunnerside, and drop in to Mary Shaw’s Café for a welcome break.
An old corpse road, now known as Corpse Way, once crossed Ivelet Bridge on its way to nearby Grinton ©Getty
3. Buttercup fields
Follow the ‘A Pennine Journey’ west out of the village, past the small school and through fields of bright yellow buttercups. Traditional hay meadows lie beyond, each with a barn (or laithe) where hay would have been stored in the upper storey as livestock overwintered on the ground floor. The path runs on high above the Swale at Marble Scar then strikes out across fields to cross Shore Gill into the tiny hamlet of Ivelet.
Turn left down the lane, looking for wildflowers on the bank, as far as the graceful arch of Ivelet Bridge.
4. River return
Don’t cross the bridge, but head through a small wicket gate to join a delightful path that stays faithful to the north bank of the river, all the way back to Ramps Holme Bridge. Retrace your outward steps back into the heart of Muker.
Muker Village Stores and Tea shop
Relax in the sunshine outside the Village Stores and Tea Shop; don’t forget, you can buy the cake and cheese to take home, too.
The tea shop also offers en-suite accommodation. Open Wednesday–Monday, 11am–5pm.
The Village Stores, Muker, Richmond, North Yorkshire DL11 6QG. 01748 886409
Click on the map below for an interactive version of the route.