A fascinating exploration of the valley of Cowside Beck walking above and below the spectacular Yew Cogar Scar with the optional extra of a visit to the top of Parson's Pulpit.
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The deep steep-sided valley of Cowside Beck is one that I’ve had a mind to explore for quite some time now. Found to the south-west of Arncliffe in Littondale the valley is dominated on its southern flank by the limestone crags of Yew Cogar Scar. I’ve walked above the valley on both sides but I’d never been down to the beck itself. This is not surprising as there are no public footpaths marked on the map with the exception of one climbing up from Darnbrook House towards Middle House Hill.
Almost the entire valley though is in access land and a year or so ago I saw a friend post some pictures of a trip he’d made into the valley to do some botanising. This then was to be a bit of an adventure and, something of a rarity nowadays, explore a bit of the Dales that I’d not visited before.
"The walk alongside Cowside Beck was simply superb. The limestone scenery of Yew Cogar Scar did not disappoint on closer acquaintance."
As with all the walks I’ve done in Arncliffe I parked alongside the village green. I didn’t remember to start recording my route until I was half-way to the church which is why anyone downloading the gpx file of the route will see that as the starting point. I’d visited St Oswald’s Church before but I couldn’t remember if I’d photographed the Ordnance Survey’s benchmark on the wall of the church. This accomplished I had a walk around the churchyard noting the interesting use of local limestone as headstones.
From the church I went and paid a visit to the bridge over the River Skirfare where I found another benchmark. I then took a path between houses and the river. A small detour brought me to a pebble beach at the confluence of Cowside Beck and the River Skirfare. A short distance further on I crossed Cowside Beck at another bridge (again another benchmark) and commenced a section of uphill walking on the Arncliffe to Darnbrook road. To start with the roadside verges were dominated by meadow cranesbill and further on there was plenty of harebell.
It was a very overcast day which made the views up Littondale look particularly moody. Eventually I came to a cattle grid, not marked on the map, at grid reference SD920711. Here I left the road to begin a descent into the valley. At first I picked up a trod heading almost straight down but when this faded I took another trod contouring to the right. I then went straight down again before taking another contouring path and so on until I finally reached the beck.
Here I was pleasantly surprised to find a thin path alongside the stream. This was to remain fairly easy follow all the way up to the point I climbed back out of the valley. The walk alongside Cowside Beck was simply superb. The limestone scenery of Yew Cogar Scar did not disappoint on closer acquaintance. Meanwhile there was plenty of interest in terms of summer wildflowers. On the way down to the beck I encountered some St John’s Wort. In the pastures alongside the stream I came across lots of wild thyme. In places there was swathes of it together with scattered hawkbit. Meanwhile I also saw quite a lot of selfheal close to the stream.
After a wonderful walk upstream I crossed the beck just before where Yew Cogar Cave is marked on the map. This was so I could explore the stream on the south side of the beck in the region called Cowside on the map. Almost immediately I came across a small waterfall which, despites its relative lack of height, would certainly look good after a lot of rain. Continuing on I traced the stream uphill on fairly easy grassy slopes.
Although not named on the map I’ve seen this stream called Cowside Gill and the head of the gill is a fantastic spot where a large waterfall is set in a steep limestone scar with a large cave opening just to the left of the waterfall. In normal conditions the waterfall is dry and on this occasion there was only a trickle coming down. I’ve seen pictures of what it looks like after heavy rain and it looks stunning. The other interesting thing about this waterfall is that it is formed of tufa. For more about this and about the area check out Stephen Oldfield’s A Three Peaks Up and Under blog.
I noticed a thin path slanting up to the cave so I followed this up to take a look. The cave proved to be shallower than its dramatic entrance suggested. It would also be rubbish as a shelter as the ceiling seemed fairly porous with water dripping through in numerous places. I didn’t fancy trying to scramble up around the crag so I dropped about halfway back down the gill before contouring left (westwards) across the pastures of Cowside.
I picked up what was probably a sheep trod which led me most of the way to the previously mentioned path from Darnbrook Farm. I turned left and followed the path uphill to eventually pass the area marked on the map with an ancient settlement. Just before reaching the nearby wall I left the path to make a detour on to the limestone pavement covered top of Middle House Hill. I visited both the 481m spot height and the 480m contour line to the north. Of the two the latter seemed higher. The 481m spot height did however coincide with a nice limestone outcrop with biting stonecrop growing on it.
It was while I was on Middle House Hill that the grey clouds began to break and patches of sunshine began to appear. It had been a warm muggy day and my plan at this point had been to gain the nearby path called the Monk’s Road and follow it back to Arncliffe. With the promise of better weather however I was tempted into a detour up on to the summit of Parson’s Pulpit.
To do this I walked in a generally south-eastern direction, crossing over the Monk’s Road, and for a time following a faint quad track. I climbed up to where there was a very large limestone boulder set in a drystone wall. A few metres to the left of the boulder was a broken bit of wall which I carefully clambered over. I then made a direct approach to Parson’s Pulpit scrambling up alongside some modest limestone outcrops to gain the summit.
The summit itself features the site of an old OS trig point. Nearby is also a rock with an earlier benchmark set in it. I could tell from the dark clouds to the south that the sunny spells weren’t going to last long. Therefore after taking a few photos I dropped down to the wall to the north-east. Following the wall I spotted a deer in the pasture to my right. Coming to a cross wall I crossed over a stone step-stile and kept on descending with a wall on my right. This eventually brought me back to the bridleway called the Monk’s Road.
Turning right it was then a simple case of following the bridleway all the way back to Arncliffe. Before the final descent back to the village the path passes close to the edge of Yew Cogar Scar and allows for some dramatic views back down to Cowside Beck. Near the path I also came across more wildflowers in the shape of fragrant orchids and small scabious.
Although much of the walk was not on the beaten track there were no real difficulties (other than steep ground) and the scenery was everything I hoped it would have been. I certainly intend to go back sometime and hopefully either on a sunnier day or after a lot of rain so I can witness the waterfall in Cowside Gill in all its glory!