This walk is a gentle introduction to Wharfedale and is based around the centre of the upper dale, Grassington. It takes about three-and-a-half hours to cover the 4.7 miles/7.6 kilometres, with toilets at the start/finish and shopping in Grassington village nearby.
It is taken from Society members’ Amanda and Brin Best’s Wild flower walks of the Yorkshire Dales (Southern Region). It appears with the kind permission of the authors and their publisher Waterfront. Copies of their book are available via mail order from Kingfisher Productions. Tel. 0870 747 2983 or visit the website at www.railwayvideo.com .
Walk 3 Grassington
The jewel in the crown of this valley walk is the spectacular wildflower meadow that has survived changes in modem agriculture due to its location at the site of the old Grassington hospital. Elsewhere colourful flower meadows have given way to uniform green grassland, but wildflowers still abound on roadsides, forgotten field corners and on the riverbank.
From the car park at the National Park Visitor Centre, take the narrow, walled Sedber Lane path to Linton Falls . This old pack-horse trail is lined with sweet cicely, herb-robert, oxeye daisy and meadow crane’s-bill. Shining crane’s-bill grows in crannies in the dry stone wall. As you walk past the sweet cicely, or crush some of its leaves, you can smell the strong fragrance of aniseed. It is believed that the plant was introduced into Britain for culinary purposes, the strong flavour disguising less fresh ingredients.
Near the Bridge at Linton Falls look out for some of the flowers that enjoy the damp conditions near the River Wharfe. Monkey flower, meadowsweet and marsh valerian can usually be seen. Just before the bridge, take the left-hand stile into the grazed field and follow the footpath parallel to the river. Few flowers survive the intense grazing and it is interesting to note the variety of thistles that the animals have avoided, including creeping, spear and welted thistles. Over the second stile is a small area of exposed limestone that is probably the remains of an earlier river bank, before the water eroded down to its current position. Here mouse-ear hawkweed, wild thyme, black medick and parsley-piert have escaped the sheep.
Shortly the path joins a minor road where you turn right . The roadside verges are colourful with meadow crane’s-bill, lady’s bedstraw, meadow buttercup, water avens, crosswort, meadow vetchling and common knapweed. In spring you can see the unusual flowers of lords-and-ladies, and later in the year clusters of its bright red poisonous berries. The roots of this plant were collected in Elizabethan times for their high starch content, which was used to stiffen fashionable linen ruffs.
The road passes some houses and deteriorates into a rough track. Look out along the unmanaged edges of the track for meadow flowers such as yellow rattle. Take the footpath across the middle of the field avoiding the stone farm track on the left. The path soon joins the river bank where you will find quaking grass, betony and common restharrow. Restharrow’s name means literally ‘to stop the harrow’, and in the days of horse-drawn ploughs its matted stems and roots hindered progress considerably. It was also known as wild liquorice, as children in the north dug up the underground stems and chewed them.
At  the path crosses a spring where it is worth taking a closer look for some of the water-loving flowers. The large yellow monkeyflower stands out among the patches of water-cress and similar fool’s water-cress. Elsewhere there is water mint, devils’-bit scabious, eyebright, common scurvygrass, marsh thistle and great burnet. Wetter areas have the unusual three-lobed leaves and fringed white flowers of bogbean. Higher up are patches of the insectivorous common butterwort and the delicate bird’s-eye primrose.
The route now passes along the riverbank shaded by large trees , including horse-chestnut with its exotic-looking cream and pink spikes of flowers. Greater knapweed and water forget-me-not can also be found. Howgill Beck flows down a shady wooded gulley, with woodland flora including the garlic-smelling ramsons and dog’s mercury. At the suspension bridge, take the short footpath on the left up to the road. Follow the road right and turn immediately left after the bridge over Hebden Beck onto the footpath through houses and gardens. The large leaves of butterbur grow along the stream-side, the strange pink flowers having withered much earlier in the year before the leaves appeared.
Look out for damson trees before the fish farm, then keep following the path beyond it across Hebden Beck and through some fields that have ‘Countryside Stewardship’ signs. Eventually you reach the road where you turn right and then left onto the main Grassington road. At the edge of the village, past the hotel and the vehicle yard, take the footpath signed ‘Grassington via High Lane’ which follows a narrow, walled pack-horse trail. Make sure you do not take the vehicle track adjacent to the sheds. The tracksides and unmanaged edges of these fields are places to look for remnants of meadow flowers, including great burnet and field scabious. The great burnet is an elegant plant with a compact blood-red flower head. For centuries it was used to staunch wounds and as a remedy for internal bleeding, as ancient herbalists believed that plants advertise their medicinal properties through their outward signs.
After crossing the third wall you walk through a narrow plantation with pines and enter the grounds of the old hospital . The buildings have recently been demolished and new houses built, but the grounds remain as a colourful hay meadow. This diverse meadow is one of the best in the county, being designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Among the many flowers you will see are oxeye daisy, tufted vetch, melancholy thistle, meadowsweet, bugle, meadow buttercup, lady’s-mantle, red clover and many others including a wide variety of grasses, sedges and rushes.
Follow the stone flag path through the meadow, across the tarmac drive and out into the fields beyond. Pause in these fields to look across the valley where the long, thin, terraced lines of old field patterns called ‘lynchets’ can be readily seen, especially in the evening sunlight . Here the path hugs the bottom edges of the stone-walled fields and soon joins another walled lane called High Lane which takes you into Grassington.
In Grassington bear left down the hill to the main square, and left on to the main road and back to the visitor centre car park.
There are many birds to look for along the river Wharfe, among them dipper, kingfisher and goosander, a fish-eating duck. Sand martins have made colonies in the sandy river banks above the water, where trout and grayling live. Little owls are commonly seen in the fields between Hebden and Grassington.