A great walk from Downholme skirting the Bellerby Range on Ellerton Scar with a return via Marrick Priory, Marrick village and Low Oxque. It is important to read the report below before attempting this route as it includes a river crossing.
|Parking:||Downholme, roadside parking|
|Route:||Download Route [GPX]|
The aim of this walk was to explore the section of Swaledale between Marske and Reeth, an area I’ve driven through a number of times but never really visited on foot. The plan was to make use of the public footpath skirting the northern fringe of the Bellerby Range to visit Ellerton Scar before returning along the opposite side of the valley via Marrick Priory and the village of Marrick.
What I hadn’t properly factored in was that this route required crossing the River Swale by a ford below Marrick Priory, a fact that renders this route largely impractical unless in the driest of conditions – more of which later.
“The next section of the walk, heading south-west above Ellerton Scar, was an absolute cracker with more superb views across the valley to the village of Marrick, as well as down to the ruins of Marrick Priory and Ellerton Priory.”
Having parked carefully on the roadside in Downholme, a small village situated high above the Swale near the head of Church Gill, we crossed the Walburn Head road and set off down the enclosed Stop Bridge Lane. After descending to cross a footbridge over the blandly named Gill Beck, the track climbed back up to reach the minor road to Wathgill Camp.
Turning right on the road we descended a short distance before taking a steep path up on our left alongside a wood. Here we reached the edge of the Bellerby Range with flags and numerous signs warning people to stick to the path. At the top of the bank the path turned right, again following the edge of Scar Spring Wood.
After half a mile of following the wood edge we crossed a stile and after a few short steps found ourselves above Ellerton Scar and a quite breathtaking view up Swaledale towards Reeth. The forecast for the Dales had been one of mist and fog but we had struck lucky and for the first half of the walk were treated to ample blue sky and sunshine.
The next section of the walk, heading south-west above Ellerton Scar, was an absolute cracker with more superb views across the valley to the village of Marrick, as well as down to the ruins of Marrick Priory and Ellerton Priory. After passing the circle of trees called Ellerton Scar Clump we reached the western end of the scar.
Shortly after the path dropped down in to Juniper Gill before climbing back up the other side and continuing along the northern edge of Ellerton Moor. Upon reaching Hags Gill we took a thin path climbing up through the heather to eventually emerge on to the Leyburn to Grinton road at Hags Gill Bridge.
Crossing over the bridge we took a bridleway, initially unclear at first, heading towards James Raw’s Rake. Merging with a track it became much clearer as we dropped back down into the valley to pass Hags Gill Farm.
Having crossed over the main valley road we reached a signpost at the top of Mill Hills Lane. It read ‘Marrick Priory with a difficult river crossing’ so you can’t say we weren’t warned about what was to come!
There are two crossings of the Swale below Marrick Priory, we opted for the left hand one which is marked as a ford. Although it hadn’t been a particularly wet couple of weeks we were confronted with a wide but relatively shallow section of the river but with no sign of an actual ford.
With the only alternative a three mile detour up to Grinton in order to cross the river I felt fairly bullish about tackling the river. With Paul less sure about how practical it was I decided to go first. With the river reaching up to knee height I’d only taken a few steps before my boots were full of water. All in all it wasn’t too bad, there was only one slightly tricky section in the centre where I felt the current tugging against my legs.
Having made it across it was now Paul’s turn. With the aid of a couple of walking poles and a lot of care he too made it safely across. Despite, or perhaps because of, the risks we both thoroughly enjoyed the river crossing. However, it is not something I could recommend to other people so unless attempting this walk after an extended dry spell in the summer be warned!
On the other side of the river it was just a few minutes to reach the remains of Marrick Priory. Originally founded in the mid-12th century as a Benedictine nunnery, it continued to used a place of worship long after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. After a stint as a farm building the Priory has now been converted into an outdoor pursuits centre for young people.
After pausing for a bite to eat, and to wring our socks, we took a flagged path climbing up through Steps Wood. This path is known as Nuns’ Causey or Nuns’ Steps and obviously has historical associations with the priory. At the top of the wood we reached an enclosed path that led us into the village of Marrick.
Marrick is a pleasant little village situated high up on the hillside over 100 metres above the valley floor. Passing through the village we took an access to track heading towards Old Vicarage Farm. This track was to be our route for the next few miles as we passed Marrick Park (where there were some grazing Highland cattle) and the farm at Low Oxque.
Not long after crossing Oxque Bridge we arrived on the road to Marske. Turning right along this we enjoyed a much drier crossing of the River Swale over Downholme Bridge. Turning right again we walked carefully along the road edge before forking right yet again on to the B6270. Finally we turned left on a path climbing up past the delightful little parish church which is dedicated to St Michael and All Angels. Crossing the road one final time we crossed a couple of fields to return to Downholme.
This had been a superb walk, Ellerton Scar was something of a revelation, paticularly in terms of the panorama it offers of Swaledale. The river crossing was also memorable, if a little risky. It is certainly a walk I’d do again – though hopefully the next time the river level will be a bit lower!