Area Guide

Area Guide

Gunnerside, Swaledale


Swaledale is found at the northern tip of the Yorkshire Dales National Park bordering both Arkengarthdale to the north and Wensleydale to the south. It is an enchanting and picturesque dale, with its winding valley, famous wildflower meadows, heather moors, waterfalls and pretty villages.

The Swaledale Valley
The beautiful, winding, u-shaped valley has been formed over thousands of years and creates the intimacy and contrast that exists within Swaledale. The River Swale has a stepped appearance to its valley sides. The landscape is diverse, farmland with lush green fields and meadows are found on the lower and gentler slopes. Woodland is scattered on the steeper slopes with the occasional protruding isolated rocks forming prominent scars.

The Swaledale Geology
There are three main rocks that form the geology of the Yorkshire Dales, these are limestone, shale and sandstone. It is the sandstone that we see prominent in the uplands of the swale valley. This particular type of sandstone is known as gritstone and is identifiable by the dark purples, tans, greys and blacks that dominate the landscape and the vegetation that grows around it.

Swaledale, can boast a number of waterfalls at different points of the River Swale. Much like the rest of the Yorkshire Dales, the geology is perfect for waterfalls. During the ice age there were natural land shifts and since subsequent erosion of the softer stones that have caused the rivers to form waterfalls throughout the Dales.

Upper Swaledale is home to four beautiful waterfalls Kisdon Force, Catrake Force, Wain Wath Force and East Gill Force. Kisdon force is a gorge created by the River Swale between Kisdon Hill and Rogan’s Seat. The drops of Kisdon Force is not as dramatic as some of the others found in the National Park but the series of cascading drops are very pretty and popular with canoeists as it is a very aggressive part of the River Swale.

Upriver from Kisdon Force is Catrake Force, a waterfall series that is made up of four steps, each creating its own distinctive waterfall and especially dramatic after heavy rainfall. Each of the drops vary in size with the largest said to be around 20 feet high.

A little upriver from Catrake is Wain Wath Force. Wain Wath Force is a small waterfall only around 1.5 metres high but is very picturesque as the backdrop is the limestone cliffs of Cotterby Scar. Due to its location on the coast to coast route, it proves to be one of the more popular waterfalls in the area. The road also passes by on the south bank of the River Swale allowing those with limited mobility an opportunity to appreciate its beauty from the roadside.

The East Gill Force is a result of East Gill Beck joining the River Swale. The conflux has created two strong and fast moving streams with two drops. The upper drop is an impressive 4.5 metres and the lower section has a more calming stepped cascade that flows 3 metres into the River Swale.

Swaledale Trees
In Swaledale there are two types of conifers that survive the composition of Swaledale, they are the Ancient Yew and the Juniper.

Ancient Yews
The Ancient Yews are prevalent in the limestone crags of Swaledale, and could be aged up to 300 years old and are now protected by the Tree Preservation Order.

In Swaledale Junipers are found in either single bushes or isolated populations of no more than 4 bushes in one spot – the SWAAG have recorded Juniper in 40 locations on the River Swale.

Large leafed lime and English oak are also present.

Swaledale Heather Moorlands
Britain has 75% of the world’s moorland, which is why the heather moorlands of Swaledale are extremely important. The further significance of the heather moorlands is the provision of a safe habitat for many rare ground nesting birds within the Yorkshire Dales such as curlews, lapwing, merlin, golden plover and black grouse.

Management of the heather moorlands is vital to help maintain the rich wildlife haven, and, of course the much loved appearance of the heather covered moorlands.  The Gamekeepers who manage the estates carry out planned, controlled fires to burn the heather. This is done on a rotational basis throughout Autumn and Spring.

The controlled burning is to keep the heather young. Through burning the heather the roots are left undamaged and the process encourages new shoots to grow in place of the old heather. Because the burning is carried out on a rotational basis it means that old heather and new heather grow side by side along with other moorland plants to give a mosaic effect across the moorland.

But more importantly, the variety of vegetation provides the rich habitat for the wildlife to thrive – the old heather provides the cover for grouse and other birds while the new shoots offer appealing food for birds and sheep.

Towns, villages and hamlets in Swaledale

Low Row
Tan Hill

Keld, Swaledale
Fremington Edge

See also