Walk: White Scar Cave & Ingleton Waterfalls Trail
Time: 1h 48m
You could be forgiven for thinking our next Weekend Walks guest was unprepared for the near-two hour challenge ahead. Olli Ryder arrives at the start point donning a pair of Crocs, before being quickly told these might not be the best choice for navigating what lies beneath the surface in one of the north’s most spectacular beauty spots. But appearances can be deceiving.
Step-son of Shaun Ryder, he was raised in Manchester’s music scene, so he’s adept at throwing caution into wind and getting on with any situation that comes his way. Meanwhile, his own endeavours include summiting Mt Kilimanjaro, and Animal Crossing, a nomadic dance music party committed to putting events on in places most promoters would consider impossible. Take last year’s Summer of Love, for example, one of the first festivals held against a backdrop of post-lockdown nerves, he’s now opening up the huge warehouse site on Dantzic Street as Love Factory, a new multi-purpose arts and culture destination.
Situated in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, at Chapel-le-Dale valley, today’s journey begins at White Scar Cave, where cavernous is an understatement. This is Britain’s longest cave system, formed from Carboniferous limestone, and stretches a staggering 4 miles through subterranean tunnels and chambers, with dramatic rock formations around every corner. You’ll find the entrance located at the roadside of the B255, and will need to pay to access the underground network. Trust us, though: it’s worth every penny.
Metal bridges guide you over hidden ravines, water cascades from above, and daylight quickly becomes a distant memory as natural drama unfolds. Look out for iconic stalactites and stalagmites carved into the wall from leaching lime, including the Devil’s Tongue and Witch’s Fingers, and famous sections such as The Squeeze, one of the narrowest passable parts of the tour. Far more spacious, The Battlefield is a huge cavern created by flooding during the last Ice Age. Whether or not there’s appropriate lighting to hand so you can act out a lightsaber battle, as per our video, is another point altogether.
Having explored White Scar, head back out to open air. Cross the road from the car park, pass through the gate and into the field, where the path towards our next waypoint should be clear. Soon you’ll find the Stepping Stones forging a direct route over the River Doe, and it’s worth noting these can get pretty slippy thanks to the fast-flowing stream they bridge. Again, appropriate footwear, and reasonable balance, are essential.
Once on the far bank, Oddie’s Lane reveals itself, a moderate incline up an open field littered with the same stones that make up the traditional walls around these parts. Racing to the top is, of course, optional. As is a trip to the ice cream van on Twistleton Road at the summit.
Taking its name from the River Twiss, you now need to take the wooden footbridge onto Thornton Force. Not a reference to the thunderous power of the waterfall itself, over which 55 tonnes of water flows each minute, instead ‘force’ comes from the viking word, ‘foss’, a nod to when the first Danish settlers arrived in this region. Digressions aside, the landscape feels plucked straight from one of those stick-fighting scenes in ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’. Almost as impressive is Ryder’s story about climbing Gran Paradiso, a 4,000m high peak in Italy’s Graian Alps that’s not for the faint-hearted.
Back to our own expedition, and we’ve reached the big sell: the bottom of Thornton Force. The eager and stable-footed can walk a thin rocky ridge, passing under an enormous overhanging rock, to get beneath the plummeting water itself. As Ryder shows us, it’s possible to refill your water bottles here, just in case you haven’t brought his backpack full of home-made ginger shots. However, the Ingleton Falls walk has earned the name for more reasons than this part alone.
As the route continues, you’ll also pass Pecca Falls, a collection of five individual waterfalls that together drop more than 30 metres. One can be seen back at Twiss footbridge, and the lowest in height is close enough to the path you can almost feel the spray. A little further, Hollybush Spout is the final falls we encounter. Here the surrounding rock squeezes the river into a steep drop, creating a water spout that even the average photographer can capture looking like a fairytale.
From there, it’s homeward bound, with just over one mile left to the finish line. Not quite as quick as that sounds, the path meanders along the riverside through lush Swilla Glen, allowing plenty of opportunity to appreciate countryside that can only be described as stunning. Don’t forget a few coins, either, because the Money Tree is on this section of the walk. According to Pagan beliefs, sticking a coin into the branches or trunk heals the ill of all their ailments. Not a bad deal, for a penny or two. Be warned, though: it might be tempting to take a piece home with you, some coppers date back a long time. However, doing that risks facing the wrath of a curse capable of rendering healthy people unwell.
Three miles or so from where all this began, we leave the gushing water features behind, but there’s no need to go thirsty. The appropriately-christened Falls Bar & Kitchen sits in the centre of Ingleton, which is itself as pretty as Yorkshire villages get. Kick back, pint or soft drink in hand, with snacks and full meals also served here daily — an ideal spot to reflect on a truly varied, jaw-dropping, and memorable Weekend Walk. It’s worth noting this can also be your start point, as the pub is next to an access point for the Ingleton Falls walking route, incurring a small fee, in case you prefer to do everything in reverse.