The Herriot Way is a 52 mile (84 km) long distance path that runs through some of the best scenery in the Yorkshire Dales; including the world famous Wensleydale and picturesque Swaledale.
Along its length walkers will visit beautiful valleys, high, open fells and rolling, heather-clad moorland. The route crosses one of the highest points in Yorkshire, visits historic monuments and passes through a barren industrial wilderness; laid bare through lead mining. Anyone walking the Herriot Way will have had a fantastic introduction to the Yorkshire Dales.
The walk is named after James Herriot; the fictional name given to the real-life veterinary surgeon who lived and worked in the Dales for many years. In life James Herriot was really Alf Wight and parts of this walk are first described in his book “James Herriot’s Yorkshire”, a coffee table book with stunning photographs by Derry Brabbs.
From that informal beginning as a short narration in a book, the walk is now a well known long distance path, following established Rights of Way along its whole length, either footpaths or bridleways and these are nearly always signposted clearly.
The Walking the Herriot Way guide book provides a detailed, step-by-step route description and a series of hand-drawn, annotated maps, as well as a wealth of information to help plan the walk.
The Herriot Way is approximately 52 miles (84 km) long, with an overall height gain of around 7,700 feet (2,350 m) and an equal amount of descent of course, as it is a circular walk. The toughest section is likely to be the day that includes the ascent of Great Shunner Fell and although this involves a long steady climb, it is not steep, the path is generally good and is even paved for long sections to protect the peat bogs.
The walk should be well within the limitations of a regular walker or someone with a good level of fitness. The individual day walks themselves are not too arduous, but the fact that they come one after the other in quick succession does mean you need to be adequately prepared.
The route is designed around the four villages of Aysgarth, Grinton, Keld and Hawes and as such is generally considered to be a four day walk. This four day itinerary also means it is broken down into four equal stages of about 13 miles (21 km) each day.
The traditional starting point of the Herriot Way is Aysgarth. This guide describes the walk as starting and ending here, however as a circular walk, you could start at any point along its length.
Herriot Way Products
These are some of the most frequently asked questions about this walk, with answers.
The Herriot Way is a circular walk, so you could walk it in either direction. However, the guide book describes the walk in a clockwise direction, following the path of the original walk by James Herriot. This is also the direction supported by the walking holiday providers and baggage transfer services.
So few people walked the anti-clockwise route that it became impractical to continue supporting it. Rather than continue to provide route notes and maps that have not been updated for several years, the decision has been made to drop support for an anti-clockwise guide.
If the weather is fine use the traditional high route through Swinner Gill and lead mining remains above Gunnerside. In bad weather you may want to use the low route, beside the Swale. You could do both of course, making for a 5-day walk, and the book has instructions on how you can extend your walk to accomplish this.
There is something to delight all walkers on the Herriot Way. If you love walking beside rivers there is the wonderful section beside the River Ure in Wensleydale. If high remote hills are your idea of heaven then the ascent of Great Shunner Fell will be your highlight. Lovers of grouse-filled, heather moorland will revel in the crossing of Melbecks and Harkerside Moors.
The diversity of the scenery encountered along the relatively short 52 miles of the Herriot Way are what set it apart from the other long walks in the UK. The feeling of remoteness while still being within easy reach of civilisation every day and the mix of easy strolling through the dales and the strenuous ascent of Great Shunner Fell make it a perfect candidate for your first long distance walk.
The barren wasteland above Gunnerside, created by the lead-mining industry of the 19th Century is not to everyone’s taste; likened to a moonscape it will be a long time before Mother Nature reclaims it.
Walkers will visit a diverse array of remains from the Lead Mining industry that was prevalent through this area of the Dales for many years. Subtle information boards provide an insight into how hundreds of miners lived and worked in this desolate environment, changing and shaping it forever.
The Herriot Way is the perfect walk for a first-time long distance walker, or for an experienced walker looking for a leg-stretcher. The 52 miles are broken into four approximately equal 13 mile days, each one ending in villages with plentiful local amenities.
The good mix of strenuous sections and easy walking through lowlands, beside the wide River Ure make for an interesting walk, giving you a taste of the different kinds of walking available in Northern England.
Accommodation is plentiful at the end of each of the 13 mile section and some days have villages perfectly positioned for a pub lunch. The route could be wild-camped or make use of camp sites along the way.
Some sections are supported by local bus services but the nearest train station is about 8 miles from the route, so getting to the start requires planning.
If you like to walk high, then park in Keld and catch the bus to Reeth, walking back to your car over Melbecks Moor and down the wonderful Swinner Gill. If you prefer a low level walk then use the bus between Hawes and Aysgarth to walk beside the Ure.