Pocket Routes

The Swale Way

The 80-mile, six day Swale Way follows the length of the River Swale in North Yorkshire from its confluence with the River Ure near Boroughbridge to its source at the head of Swaledale, where Birkdale Beck and Great Sleddale Beck meet, in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It is a walk of contrasts – along the way it passes through the historic market towns of Boroughbridge, Thirsk and Richmond with their numerous tourist attractions. It passes famous battle sites and historic parkland; through lush meadows and dramatic gorges and travels the length of Swaledale, considered by many to be the most beautiful of all the Yorkshire Dales.

The guide book includes a planning section with accommodation guide, town facilities, advice and guidance. It includes a detailed route guide with walking directions and a set of annotated maps. The book is peppered with items of local and historical interest, helping to add context to the buildings, bridges and villages along the Way.

The Swale Way is the first book in the Rivers Trilogy – a series of three guide books that follow the course of iconic northern rivers that all spring from the same hillside in North Yorkshire. The other books in the series can be found on this page.

Swale Way Guide Book

The route is described in detail in the Swale Way guide book. You can order a copy of this pocket-sized paperback, using the [Buy me] button.

Route Overview

Day One:
Boroughbridge to Thirsk

Distance: Approx 16 mls / 26 km
Height Gain: Approx 300 ft / 90 m
High Point: Eldmire Hill (122 ft / 37 m)
Refreshments: Dalton (11 mls / 18 km)

Day Two:
Thirsk to Morton

Distance: Approx 12 mls / 19 km
Height Gain: Approx 300ft / 90 m
High Point: Fox Covert (194 ft / 59 m)
Refreshments: Maunby (8 mls / 13 km)

Day Three:
Morton to Richmond

Distance: Approx 15 mls / 24 km
Height Gain: Approx 900ft / 275 m
High Point: Richmond (430 ft / 131 m)
Refreshments: Bolton-0n-Swale (8 mls / 13 km)

Day Four:
Richmond to Reeth

Distance: Approx 12½ mls / 20 km
Height Gain: Approx 2,300ft / 700 m
High Point: Ellerton Moor (1,283 ft / 391 m)
Refreshments: Downholme (6 mls / 10 km)

Day Five:
Reeth to Keld

Distance: Approx 12 mls / 19 km
Height Gain: Approx 1,600ft / 488 m
High Point: Birk Hill (1,119 ft / 341 m)
Refreshments: Gunnerside (6½ mls / 10.5 km)

Day Six:
Keld to Kirkby Stephen

Distance: Approx 12½ mls / 20 km
Height Gain: Approx 1,800ft / 549 m
High Point: Nine Standards (2,172 ft / 662 m)
Refreshments: None

Swale Way Route Map

Photo Gallery

The gallery includes a selection of images from the route. The photos have been taken over a number of years, at different times of year and in varying weather conditions. They present the many aspects of the walk you can expect to see when you walk it. Click an image to open a larger slideshow.

Frequently Asked Questions

These are some of the most frequently asked questions about this walk, with answers.

Although it may seem illogical, the Swale Way is best walked in an upstream direction, from the end of the river to its source. The beginning of the walk is fairly flat, but will help get your legs in training for the more undulating sections towards the end of the walk. You are also walking towards the stunning scenery of the Yorkshire Dales; something no-one should be made to walk away from, unless you’re planning on joining the Swale Way with the Yoredale Way. Together these two walks form a 160-mile circular walk, but either one can be walked in isolation.

Although there is much to be admired in the scenery and history in the sections from Boroughbridge to Richmond, the scenery dial is turned right up to 11 once we enter the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The path into Keld beside the river is particularly special, as is the sight of the cairns that make up the Nine Standards on the final day, into Kirkby Stephen.

It would be hard not to find historical interest in any long distance walk in England, but the Swale Way seems to have more than its fair share. Battle sites, castles, country estates, an abbey, many lead mining remains and a White Horse to name just a few. The book covers all these in more detail and offers side trips to any that are not directly on the path.

Experienced long distance walkers will not be troubled by any of the stages on the Swale Way. Although a couple of sections are quite long, these days are fairly flat and the hilly sections are generally shorter in length. Navigation is typically fairly simple, using established paths and rights of way wherever possible. The ability to walk for six consecutive days will usually be the biggest shock to the system for someone new to long distance walking.

Each section finishes in close proximity to accommodation, or to public transport links that can be used to reach accommodation. Most stages finish in a town or village where you will be able to find a B&B, inn or hotel. Public transport links along the route are generally good. Kirkby Stephen at the end of the Way, has a train station and good bus links to get you back home, or you could turn round and follow the Yoredale Way back to the start!

This is quite a subjective question and really depends on your walking preferences. The section between Reeth and Keld is many people’s favourite; there’s even a bus service that runs between the two. The Swale valley north of Muker is absolutely stunning and as you progress deeper into the gorge, before reaching Keld, the river runs over a series of splendid waterfalls. Walk in the direction of the guide book for the best experience.

If you prefer hills, then the last day into Kirkby Stephen offers an ascent of the iconic Nine Standards Rigg; the peat haggs (bogs) you must cross have now been tamed by flag stones, thanks to the popularity of the route as part of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk.

If you don’t see the answer to your question above, or in the comments below, then please feel free to ask it. All questions will get a response and even if you’re completely new to multi-day walks, there’s no such thing as a silly question, so please ask away!

Tell Us About Your Walk

If you’ve walked any of our routes, please share your experience with other walkers, or tell us of any issues with a book or the route notes! Use the comments form below.

2 Responses

  1. There used to be information available about each section of the walk on the internet. Have you removed that so walkers have to buy your book?

    1. Hi Jane, the walk was originally provided as a series of PDF files with high level guidance notes, by the Boroughbrige branch of the Walkers are Welcome organisation. When these notes became badly outdated and work to maintain them became too much, they asked me to adopt the walk and take on the project to produce a guide book more deserving of this lovely walk. I updated the route where possible to take advantage of new access rights and added more detailed navigation notes and a set of annotated OS maps, none of which were previously available for the walk. The result is a modern, updated, full-featured guide book for the walk.

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