This wonderful walk circles the heather-clad limestone mass of Kisdon Hill. It has a good variety of terrain and scenery. The views are excellent and will certainly be memorable.
Keld is surrounded by some of the wildest countryside in Yorkshire. Nine Standards Rigg, Great Shunner Fell, Lovely Seat, and Rogan’s Seat are among the outstanding features. It is a sedate little village, with its collection of cottages huddled around a small open square.
People living in such wild places need to be sturdy and strong minded. This was demonstrated in 1789 when Edward Stillman became pastor of a ruined chapel at Keld. Needing funds for repairs, he embarked on a remarkable walk to London and back, raising £700 from preaching and begging. Another tribute to Edward Stillman’s character lies in the fact that his total expenses for the journey came to only sixpence. After rebuilding the chapel he served the people of Keld for forty-eight years. The chapel was rebuilt again in 1860 with the added features of a bell and a sundial. Near the road junction at the top of the village is the former Cat Hole Inn. This became a private house in 1954, and now serves only diesel from a solitary pump.
From Keld we follow the road down the valley for a short distance where a stile leads onto a meadow path below Angram. Across the valley of Skeb Skeugh Beck is the heather clad Kisdon Hill. This shapely hill, encircled with limestone scars, reaches a mere 1636 feet (499m), but it still gives access to some of the finest views in Upper Swaledale. It was formed during the last Ice Age, when glacial action widened the valleys and smoothed the hill tops. As the glacier retreated a debris of rocks and boulder clay blocked the valley, diverting the river Swale to its present course, leaving Kisdon as an isolated hill. On Jeffrey’s Map of Yorkshire, 1771, it is shown as ‘Kisdon Island’.
During our descent to Thwaite, the views are impressive. Lovely Seat directly ahead remains prominent throughout.
Thwaite is a welcome oasis for many thousands of Pennine Way walkers as they descend from the heights of Great Shunner Fell. It is a picturesque village with a small humpback bridge spanning a turbulent tributary of the river Swale. In 1899, a great storm drenched the dale and the normally placid Thwaite Beck became a raging torrent. Dogs, sheep, hen-houses and roofs were swept away by the force of the water. The cottage gardens near the beck were also engulfed by the deluge. It was said ‘the flowers planted at Thwaite bloomed the next year at Muker’, 2 miles (3km) away!
The village was the birthplace of two famous brothers, Richard and Cherry Kearton. They were pioneers in wildlife photography from the 1890s well into the twentieth century. The cottage in which they lived is marked by a stone lintel carved with animals and birds. The Kearton’s used many ingenious methods to get closer to their subjects including a papier mâché cow, which tended to blow over in strong winds and apparently it once encouraged the attentions of a bull!
Leaving Thwaite we follow the Pennine Way, climbing steeply to Kisdon Farm. Below is the attractive village of Muker with the river Swale disappearing into the distance. Great Shunner Fell, the Buttertubs Pass and Lovely Seat complete the panorama. Our route continues along the Pennine Way, traversing the higher slopes of Kisdon Hill. Across the valley there are excellent views of Ivelet Moor, Swinner Gill and the forlorn ruins of Crackpot Hall.
Less than a mile from the finish of our walk, we should, if time allows, make a detour to visit the spectacular Kisdon Force. This has the reputation of being Swaledale’s finest waterfall. Here the river Swale plunges 30 feet (10m) over two cascades. It tumbles down a small upper fall into a beautiful tree shaded pool, taking an encore over the lower fall. The area near the falls is often wet and slippery so extra care should be taken.
From the falls we retrace our steps and continue along the Pennine Way path returning to Keld.