The area explored during this walk has a good contrast of scenery; heather-clad moors, lead mines, beautiful meadows and woodland. The charm of Arkle Beck provides us with an impressive return
Reeth is the capital of Upper Swaledale, occupying the loveliest of positions below Calver Hill, with views of the surrounding hills and wild heather moorland. It is an attractive village with a large sloping green, enclosed on each side by housing, hotels and shops. Reeth used to be a busy market town with a charter granted in 1695 permitting six fairs each year and a weekly market held on Friday. The fairs have long since gone, but a small market still takes place each Friday. The Reeth and District Annual Agricultural Show is held every year for one day at the end of August.
After leaving Reeth we follow a meadow path to Fremington, a peaceful little village with its small scattering of stone cottages dotted about on the hillside. Most of the dry-stone walls which extend straight to the tops of the fells are the result of the Parliamentary Enclosure Act of 1778. Enclosure of land for the purpose of scientific management was recommended by Sir Thomas Elliot of Fremington, acclaimed as one of the greatest improvers of the moors in Yorkshire. He advised ‘never to attempt any improvement without enclosing.’ This action transformed the countryside and contributed to the unique character of the Dales.
From Fremington we follow a narrow tarmac lane which climbs up behind the aptly named White House, passing some former chert quarries to Fremington Edge. Chert is a hard, flint-like stone, which was quarried in both black and white forms. It was ground to a fine powder and used in the making of fine china and pottery. As height is gained we are favoured with splendid views of Reeth, Arkengarthdale and Swaledale. Approaching the ancient settlement of Hurst, its two imposing chimneys come into view. Despite army attempts to knock them down with artillery during the last war, they remain well preserved.
Hurst is a secluded hamlet surrounded by a bleak and rugged landscape, a legacy left behind by the lead mining industry of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. During the Roman occupation, the Hurst mines were used as a penal settlement. After the defeat of the Brigantes by the Ninth Legion under Petilius Cerialis in AD 74, many of the prisoners were sent here to work in the mines as slave labour. In 1855, a pig of lead was found by miners. Its cast-on inscription bore the name of the Emperor Hadrian, indicating that it was smelted during his reign, AD 117-138. Alas, the location of the pig is unknown, so the authenticity of the find cannot be verified. Lead from Hurst is also said to have been used to roof buildings in Jerusalem and St Peter’s in Rome.
The village was once known as Red Hurst owing to the discoloured waters of a nearby spring and Redshanks was the nickname given to the Hurst men. According to legend, a traveller was passing by the spring when the guardian spirit snatched him up, dyeing the spring with his blood. The villagers went to pray for his soul and saw a vision of the Virgin, thereafter the Well of Roan ‘flourished with blessings and streamed with health’.
Our route from Hurst passes through a large area of mining spoil heaps, pausing to visit the cairns at Fell End. Here spectacular views extend across Arkengarthdale to the tiny hamlet of Booze and the more prominent landmark of North Rake Hush over the side valley of Slei Gill. From Fell End we descend to the delightfully positioned cottage of Storthwaite Hall, which may sound very grand, but the actual translation means ‘the bullock field’.
The track along Arkle Beck is the highlight of our walk, with beautiful woodland, lush meadows and superb views to enjoy during our return to Reeth.
Arkle Beck rises on the wild moorland near the Tan Hill Inn. It is a fast flowing tributary to the river Swale, which it joins near Grinton Bridge. Do not be misled by the gentle look of Arkle Beck. In 1986 when ‘Hurricane Charley’ passed, it became a powerful and destructive force rising 12 feet (3.5m) above normal. Further upstream, the top of Whaw’s bridge was washed away and cottages at Langthwaite were flooded to a depth of 2 feet (0.6m) on the ground floors.
As we continue downstream the bird life is abundant. The dipper will no doubt be one of the first to appear, grey wagtail, pied wagtail, oystercatcher and heron are also often seen. Heron are usually spotted standing patiently in the shallows, poised to move forward and strike at prey with their pick-axe bills.