Start Green Dragon pub Hardraw
Distance 9½ miles
Time 3-4 hours
Total ascent 490 metres
An important truth was established some time ago when that celebrated bar room pundit Aristotle proved beyond all reasonable doubt that any decent walk undertaken in the British Isles must end at a good pub.
His formula, never disproven, goes like this: the protagonist (you) commits a fatal error (going walking despite iffy weather) that leads to a reversal (it was a circular walk) in challenging conditions (torrential rain after a bright start), that leads to the nearest temple (pub). Arriving there, shivering and nithered (Yorkshire only), you stand dripping in the doorway, wondering if such a forlorn wayfarer can possibly be welcome. But you are indeed, and before too long, fuelled by divine nectar (any real ale will do), and in front of a sacred fire (logs or peat, no electric flame stuff), you will be blessed with a mystical insight, part of which is the conviction that you’ve had a lovely day and must plan the next one.
Google map of the route
Clearly the pub is the more important element here, so let’s start with a great one: the Green Dragon in Hardraw in the Yorkshire Dales, an ancient cave-like inn. As you enter, your eyes adjust to the subdued lighting, catching the gleam of brass and glass amid all the dark woodwork. Laughter and voices are heard from distant hidden corners and then you spy the bar, like a beacon of hope and friendliness, calling you forward. However – Aristotle’s ghostly hand catches your arm – before you get settled in, let’s get things in the right order: bar room catharsis cannot be achieved without some prior effort, namely walking.
What really makes the Green Dragon stand out is one of its more unusual features: Hardraw Force, a waterfall over 30 metres high, the longest single drop in England. Sadly, the madness that is health and safety dictates that this aquanormous attraction is not actually allowed inside the building, but must be kept a short distance from the pub, up a winding path in a mysterious green grotto of its own making. On a wet day, and they do get a few, the force is an impressive sight. (After a dry spell it’s hardly worth the bother.)
In previous times the only route to the waterfall was through the public bar, which means both JMW Turner and William Wordsworth passed this way, as both visited the waterfall.
Hardcore Green Dragon buffs will say that this modest walk is a perfectly sufficient amount of exercise before the settle down inside, but there are those hiking fanatics who require a longer stretch. Thankfully the entire area is riddled with opportunities to knacker yourself. Down the valley is the town of Hawes, where you can load up with vittles such as Wensleydale cheese, sausage rolls and pies at Elijah Allen’s grocery. The town has become a pit stop for motorbikers and can be a bit hectic on a summer’s day (there is certainly no shortage of small cafes and trinket shops). The Wensleydale Creamery does tours and sells myriad flavoured varieties, none of which come close to matching the superlative deliciousness of the original.
The big geographical division here comes at about 400 metres. Below that altitude is the valley, where most inhabitants live and where long processional lines of traffic are often led on impromptu tours by an imperturbable tractor. Never imagine you will get far quickly in Wensleydale: it is possible to come here looking for rural tranquillity and beauty and spend all your time staring at the rear end of the car in front, cursing motorised transport. The only sensible solution is to dump the car as soon as possible, then walk up above that 400-metre division into a very different world, a place of tussock grass, sheep, grumbling grouse and massive panoramic vistas.
From Hawes, the quickest route into this magical upper realm is to take the Pennine Way south up the long, slow ridge via Ten End to Dodd Fell, which will bring some impressive views. Continue southwards, descending to the Roman road which will turn you east, up on to Wether Fell, from where it is a short descent back to Hawes.
Even better, however, is to start from the Green Dragon itself. Give it a good long stare, as entry to this fine temple of beer is the end goal of your walk. Now head west across the bridge and soon you will spot the Pennine Way sign. From here, an old green drovers’ path leads up above the tree line, where the path becomes a well-laid stone slab pavement heading north up the flank of Great Shunner Fell. The panoramas open up as you climb. You will reach the summit after around five miles (although Black Hill Moss at halfway would make an early finish). At 716 metres, Great Shunner is not to be underestimated: there isn’t a day in summer when gloves and a warm hat might not be welcome up here, but there is a drystone windbreak with benches. The vistas of great Yorkshire peaks such as Ingleborough and Great Whernside – and High Seat in the Lake District – are superb.
The route back depends on the weather and stamina: hardcore hikers will want to loop back to either west or east. If there’s a hoolie blowing, I recommend a safe return by the way you came and quickly into the Green Dragon. Ignore the sign at the door sending hippies around the back: it’s a typical bit of eccentricity. In fact, everything here is idiosyncratic: new landlords Ann Rennoldson and Chris Robinson were regular visitors before taking the place on, so they know.
“It’s been a steep learning curve,” says Ann, who was a teacher in Leeds until recently, “but we are loving it.” One particular peculiarity is that musicians can turn up at any moment and start “ticking”, knocking out a tune that someone else will join in. Before too long the bar is rocking. There are also regular organised music weekends to look out for. Find walk notes at mudandroutes.com
Taproom aficionados love the Green Dragon’s cosy nooks and corners with their ancient settles and spindle-back chairs: the warren of rooms dates back seven centuries in places. You are never far from a decent warm fire, or the beer pumps: Butter Tubs bitter (from Askrigg), Timothy Taylor’s Landlord (from Keighley) and Semer Water pale ale (by Wensleydale Brewery in nearby Leyburn) are regular offerings at this free house. Fish and chips can be had and curries are another speciality, but Yorkshire pudding is a notable absentee from the menu. (Connoisseurs are directed south to the Crooked Billet in Saxton, whose Yorkshire Pudding Challenge promises three courses all containing the paradisaical batter.)
The Green Dragon has en suite rooms (from £100 B&B) close to the pub or a little further away for countryside views. There are also bunk rooms that sleep between four and eight (from £30pp). Chris and Ann have plans for some rejuvenation, but the accommodation is comfortable, if a little old-fashioned, with quilted bedspreads and muted colour schemes. This will never be a swanky boutique experience: it’s all about the craic and the atmosphere in a friendly, ancient hostelry.