Outside the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Lower Wensleydale offers peaceful walking enhanced by early spring wildflowers and birdsong.
West Tanfield sits at the eastern end of the dale alongside the River Ure, where a graceful arched stone bridge spans the water. The 15th-century Marmion Tower sits squarely next to the older church of St Nicholas. Now in the care of English Heritage, Marmion Tower is three storeys tall, features a beautiful oriel window and was once the imposing gatehouse to a long-vanished riverside manor house.
West Tanfield walk
5 miles/8km | 3 hours | moderate
1. Willows over water
Cross the River Ure with care on the 18th-century Tanfield Bridge and take a moment
to enjoy the glorious view of pretty West Tanfield with its red pantiled roofs, honey-coloured stone cottages and weeping willows that gently caress the surface of the water. Follow the farm track as it heads away south towards Quarry House and then strike diagonally across a field to Quarry Hill, climbing steeply up the wooded slope of Lawn Bank.
2. Sensing spring
The footpath leads along the top of the wooded bank high above a sweeping bend of the River Ure, a great place to spot grazing roe deer on a spring morning. Fork right and drop back to the riverbank where drifts of snowdrops carpet the riverside scrub, snatching their brief moment in the limelight before the bracken takes over. This is a place to pause quietly in contemplation of the river, and to listen for the calls of dippers and kingfishers, announcing their imminent arrival.
The path leads infallibly on by fields and through pencil woodland near Old Sleningford Farm. Here, fluffy hazel catkins drift in the breeze and the developing buds of sycamore, beech and ash trees offer further clues that spring has truly arrived.
3. Farms and forest
The route heads across a parkland landscape to the hamlet of Mickley, then veers left on a quiet country lane that rises through Old Sleningford. Fork left to continue alongside arable fields until a sharp right-hand bend in the road sends the footpath striking out left to Piccadilly Wood. Rejoin the outward route at Lawn Bank.
Briefly retrace your steps to the farm track for Quarry House, where a permissive path heads left alongside flowering blackthorn to the banks of the River Ure and towards the grand finale.
4. Aconite light
Turn right for a riverside stroll through the beech woodland of Greensit Batts, which offers extensive drifts of porcelain white snowdrops and egg-yolk-yellow aconites. These early spring flowers with their Tudor ruffs add a welcome splash of colour.
Climb stone steps to the river bridge where, across the water, the former ferryman’s cottage now trades as the Bull Inn and offers a cosy retreat for a hearty meal and local Masham ales. Spare some time to seek out Thornborough Henges – ancient circular earthworks – which lie just over a mile north-east of West Tanfield.