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Grassington is an attractive small town set amongst the rolling hills of Upper Wharfedale, a popular tourist destination due to its picturesque cobbled square, stone cottages and winding alleyways. From Grassington, our route follows the River Wharfe to the impressive limestone rapids of Ghastrill’s Strid (admire from a safe distance), before reaching Grass Wood. This ancient swathe of woodland once formed part of the much larger forest of Wharfedale and has many indigenous tree species and almost 400 species of flowers and plants, thus meriting Nature Reserve status. It is a truly magical place to explore in spring.
Beyond Grass Wood our path traverses the dry limestone gorge of The Dib, a glacial meltwater channel, before reaching Conistone, an attractive Craven village that boasts many fine old farmhouses, a large maypole and the oldest church in the southern Dales that dates back to pre-Conquest times. St Mary’s Church still has some pre-Norman arches as well as wealth of other interesting features including a poor box. In the graveyard is a sad memorial to a group of young men who were killed in a tragic pot-holing accident at Mossdale Cavern in 1967.
From Conistone, a footpath leads up through the spectacular dry limestone valley of Conistone Dib, one of the ‘natural wonders’ of the Yorkshire Dales. This deep steep-sided gorge was scoured out by glacial meltwaters towards the end of the last Ice Age when the permafrost prevented the water from seeping down through the limestone bed-rock. In places, Conistone Dib closes in to little more than a narrow passage beneath towering limestone crags. This whole area boasts some wonderful limestone scenery with pavements, dry valleys, crags and outcrops all around.
From Conistone Dib, the return leg of this walk crosses Lea Green and the remains of one of the largest Iron Age settlements in England. This was occupied from 200BC until 400AD, surviving throughout the Roman occupation because of its secluded situation high on the hills. Rectangular fields, hut circles and traces of roads can be clearly seen, although to the untrained eye it appears to be a very rough scattering of fields covered with lots of grassy bumps! As with many other archaeological sites, the true picture only really comes to life when viewed from the air.