Starting from the sleepy village of Appersett, this walk visits two secluded valleys at the head of Wensleydale. Apart from a few steep climbs the walking is fairly easy and the views are absolutely superb.
Mossdale is Wensleydale’s smallest side valley, stretching from Appersett to the Mossdale viaduct. Appersett, lying in a sheltered position below the slopes of Widdale Fell, is a peaceful village with most of its cottages facing away from the main road. The green, enclosed between the road and Widdale Beck, was once overcrowded with ducks, geese, goats and children, but nowadays it serves mainly as a car park. Appersett, like many of the villages in the upper dale, is of Norse origin and the name means ‘The shieling near the apple tree’ – a ‘shieling’ was a farm or summer pasture.
Leaving Appersett we follow the road over Widdale Beck to New Bridge, where we descend to the bank of the river Ure. Our path continues through pastures, woodland and meadows to the farm road near Birk Rigg Farm.
From here, a detour to visit the most attractive waterfall of Cotter Force is highly recommended. A short and easy stroll along the tree-lined Cotterdale Beck leads us to the secluded waterfall, which cascades over a series of limestone ledges on its way to join the river Ure further downstream.
After returning from the falls, our route leads back to the river and then continues to Mossdale Head. The four-arched viaduct, crossing the ravine of Mossdale Beck, once carried a branch line of the Wensleydale Railway from Garsdale Head to Hawes. This route linked to the Settle and Carlisle line. The branch line was almost six miles in length. Climbing steadily from Hawes it attained a height of over 1000 feet (305m) at Garsdale Head. This new section of line, passing through beautiful but very rugged countryside, required the construction of several viaducts and a 245 yard (224m) tunnel near Mossdale Head. The views, after emerging from the gloomy tunnel, must have been inspiring.
The area around here is much quieter now and the silence is broken only by the cascading waterfalls of Mossdale Beck. The beck rises on Widdale Fell, whose summit stands at 2203 feet (672m) and is called Great Knoutberry Hill. The upper falls, painted by J. M. W. Turner during his tour of 1816-18, are about a quarter of a mile further upstream. Turner had been commissioned to make 120 watercolours which were to be used as illustrations in a grand, seven-volume General History of the County of York by Longmans. A Turner seat, near Mossdale House Farm, allows visitors to rest and enjoy a view of the lower falls, which are framed by one of the viaduct’s arches.
Our route continues to Thwaite Bridge where we follow a steep track over the ridge of Cotter End and into Cotterdale. As we begin our descent some of the most spectacular views of the walk are to be seen. Lunds Fell to the west and Great Shunner Fell to the east rise up from this peaceful and secluded side valley.
Cotterdale, ‘the valley with the huts,’ is also the name taken by the sedate little hamlet at the head of the valley. Being situated at the end of a narrow lane, it became the subject of a rhyme when three of its families were the Halls, Kirks and Kings; Three Halls, two Kirks and a King, Same road out as goes in. A survey, taken in 1603, shows that six titled or wealthy men occupied houses in the hamlet. They were descendants of men involved in Catholic plots in the reign of Elizabeth I, and their ancestors are likely to have been given the houses for refuge during times of persecution. There is also evidence of an Iron Age settlement in Cotterdale, a sword dating around AD 50 was found here and is now in the British Museum.
Leaving the village our path traverses the lower slopes of Great Shunner Fell, with exceptional views of Cotterdale and Wensleydale. To the south Wether Fell, Dodd Fell and Widdale Fell dominate the landscape. Cotter End lies to the west and winding its way through the valley bottom is Cotterdale Beck.
After crossing Bluebell Hill, we follow a section of the Pennine Way before descending through the fields to the road which we follow back to Appersett.