Maiden Castle above Swaledale

Maiden Castle & Grinton Smelt Mill

Walk Summary

A fascinating walk from Reeth visiting two interesting archaeological sites, Maiden Castle below Harker Hill and Grinton Smelt Mill in Cogden Gill.

Distance: 8.5 miles
Total ascent: 1600ft
Walk Rating: ****
Parking: Village green, Reeth
Route: Download Route [GPX]

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Walk Report

The weekend before this walk Paul and I had driven down Swaledale to climb Great Shunner Fell from Muker. Along the way, as we passed through Reeth, we saw the fabulous display of purple heather on High Harker Hill. There and then that pretty much made up my mind where I wanted to go the following weekend.

Initially I’d planned on a route I’d done ten years earlier from Grinton Lodge, over Harker Hill and returning via Apedale and Height of Greets. Instead I opted for this route so that I could see two features that I’d not visited before, Maiden Castle and Grinton Smelt Mill in Cogden Gill.

“The most memorable aspect of the walk though was the heather. It was like spending the day in a purple wonderland. Magnificent!”

Having parked on Reeth’s extensive green we passed to the right of the Reeth Evangelical Congregational Church and on to Back Lane. Turning right we followed the lane until reaching a gate. Withouth passing through the gate we turned left down another enclosed lane to reach a footbridge over a stream. Crossing over this we turned right to reach the Reeth Swing Bridge.

This fine structure was rebuilt in 2002 after the earlier bridge was severely damaged during a storm in 2000. Crossing over the bridge we briefly walked south-west to join a track only to leave this a few minutes later for another path leading us back to the riverbank. There followed an enjoyable stretch of walking next to the Swale including one particularly fine section on cobblestones right next to the river.

All too soon the path climbed up away from the river to pass Stubbins Farm and on to a back road. Turning briefly left on this we ignored a broader track to take a thin path climbing up through the heather to visit Maiden Castle.

Maiden Castle is the name given to a large area surrounded by a ditch and bank. Traditionally called a hillfort it is thought to date to the Iron Age period. One of the interesting features of Maiden Castle is the stone corridor-like entranceway on the eastern side of the site. A thin path can be followed around the site along the top of the bank. It is a fascinating spot with great views of the dale.

Leaving Maiden Castle behind we continued on a level path heading south-west through the heather. With High Harker Hill above us and good views of Swaledale, both up and down the valley, this was another nice stretch of the walk. Eventually we came to a track. Turning left on this we climbed uphill to reach another track to the east of a shooting hut.Turning left again we enjoyed a nice stroll across the flat-top of High Harker Hill.

Reaching the eastern side of High Harker Hill we passed through the remains of a massive earthwork called Long Scar Dyke. Continuing on we dropped down Harkerside Moor, to cross Grovebeck Gill. A thinner path then took us to the Grinton – Redmire road. Crossing over this we passed below Hirst Ridge to soon reach the Grinton – Leyburn road. Turning right over a bridge we then came to a wide track leading to the Grinton Smelt Mill.

The Grinton Smelt Mill is situated in the scenic upper reaches of Cogden Gill. One of the best preserved buildings of its type, the mill ceased smelting in 1895. The ambience was slightly ruined by the fresh corpse of an unfortunate ewe in one of the buildings. A couple of other sheep fled out the building when we arrived. It was almost like they were running from the scene of the crime!

After enjoying some lunch by the stream we climbed up on to Cogden Moor alongside the remains of the old flue. Sadly, unlike the flue on Grassington Moor, the chimney that would have once stood at the top is no longer extant. From the top of the flue we turned left to reach the limestone scar of Sharrow Hill and a grand view of Reeth and Fremington Edge.

From Sharrow Hill we dropped down to the nearby road. Crossing straight over we continued on a wide path before slanting down the next pasture to reach a corner gate. The subsequent path was overgrown to say the least and, together with the subsequent crossing of Cogden Gill, was probably the most adventurous part of the walk. On the other side of the stream a series of field paths brought us to Grinton from where it was a simple stroll back into Reeth.

This was a interesting and delightful walk. Though separated by a long span of time the remains of Maiden Castle and the Grinton Smelt Mill were both fascinating. The most memorable aspect of the walk though was the heather. It was like spending the day in a purple wonderland. Magnificent!

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