Great Whernside via Nidderdale (backpacking) Route Details

Route Description

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A long hard walk, with a wild camp in the middle. If you were very fit, you could get around this in one summer day, but camping on the summit is more fun.


The first part is on well made tracks. After that it's trackless moorland which is hard going until the summit, where a rough path can be followed down to the dam.

Hazards and warnings

Open moorland is hard going, and wet feet are almost certain, and a twisted ankle is all too possible. Make sure you are correctly equipped for the prevailing conditions.

Detailed description

Follow the road up to Stean, then take various footpaths along the valley, until at High Riggs we picked up the good gravel track leading towards the moors. Although there was a footpath slightly further up the hill, as it was access land we decided to stay on the path to make up distance, as we had a lot of ground to cover before night fall.

Once past the grouse hut, turn on to the moor. The ground becomes rough, pathless and boggy. At the crash site, turn right and head along the fence line where there is a rough path parallel to the fence. The summit of Great Whernside is a bleak and cold place, and we camped among the rocks near the summit, as the actual summit offers no shelter. The rest of the ridge is easy to follow even in mist. When you reach the wall, follow the wall down to the saddle between Great Whernside and Little Whernside, then drop onto the bridleway.The bridleway gives way to a rocky track by the ruined farm above the reservoir.

Eventually you arrive at Scar House Reservoir dam. Cross the dam and take the steep rocky path up the other side, which after a really tough climb, gently descends to Middlesmoor and the welcoming pub in the village. We decided to stay on the road to save time and our shattered legs, but you can also walk across fields to the start point.


We arrived at the car park by the cricket ground at two in the afternoon, with enough kit for a night out on the the moors. Our progress was good along the valley past Stean, and the few isolated farm houses. We arrived at the grouse hut at 4 PM, having made good progress until then. With 2 hours before dark and 3 miles of very hard ground ahead of us, we had a lot left to do.

Once off the track and on to the moors, we started to slow down. Deep bogs, rough heather, and a total lack of pathslowed us down greatly. By this time we started to disappear into the mist, and had to trust the GPS (backed up with compass and map needless to say). Walking on a bearing is hard in such ground, so the confidence of a GPS gives you was helpful, although at times it's hard to trust the machine over your own inate (and often wrong) sense of direction.

By the time we stumbled onto the ridge line of Riggs Moor, it was very misty and getting darker by the minute. We then noticed some bright coloured metal. We stopped to investigate and found a wreckage field, with a few larger struts of metal (which looked like wings) scattered acorss the peat, and a few metres away, a large bare path of ground scattered with blobs of melted aluminium, and the odd bit of rusty ferrous metal. There was not enough to identify what sort of plane it was, but the style of the construction hinted at a World War Two aircraft (googling suggests this was a Wellington Bomber). You can't help feeling sorry for the crew of the hapless aircraft, which had it flown just a few metres higher, would have cleared the ridge. The small size of the fragments and the melted metal suggested a crash followed by a fiece fire,which presumably means that the crew would have been killed in the accident.

Once past the plane, we found the fence line, and were able to follow a rough path up towards the summit of Great Whernside. There was a brief steep section, and then in the gathering gloom we found ourselves on the summit plateau. Here the wind was really noticable. Although the weather forecast and conditions in the valley suggested a mild spring day, here we found high winds, and temperatures only just above freezing with patches of snow still left over 3 weeks before. By this time it was pretty dark as well. We found some shelter amid the rocks to pitch a tent. Even with down jackets and gloves on getting the tent up in the cold and wind was very cold work. Once the tent we pitched we retreated into the tent and got some food cooking and a had a welcoming beer. The wind whipped at the tent, but fortunatly the tent was pretty robust, and the rocks took some of the worst out of the wind. A few times I felt cold in the night even with a good warm sleeping bag easily warm enough for the conditions. The combination of wind and damp made for a cold but not uncomfortable nights sleep.

Once morning came, we got some breakfast and got the tent down. Conditions were much the same as the previous day. No visibility and temperatures just above freezing (but well below if you take into account wind chill). We walked the short distance to the trig point on Great Whernside, and didn't linger long there. We carried along the ridge, which was wide at first by Blackfell Top, which made navigation harder in the mist, but as the ridge narrowed we picked out a stronger path. After a while we reached the end of a stone wall, which we followed past snow drifts, and then headed downhill.

At the col between Great Whernside and Little Whernside we picked up a path which crosses the hills. We saw the first walkers heading up to the top at this point. As we descended towards Angram Reservoir the visibility improved and the sun even started to break through the cloud. We saw a group of 4 coming up the hill all wearing shorts. Presumably the fact it was march and the weather at the bottom of the hill was mild was enough to tempt them into wearing shorts. I couldn't help thinking that shorts on the top of Whernside would be very, very unpleasant with the wind and the cold, and downright dangerous if they became stuck on the hill. 

As we gradually descended the hillside towards the old farm above the reservoir, the steady stream of walkers passing us on the way up began in earnest. We must have looked a strange sight, carrying a full pack, hobbling slightly, and wearing a lot more kit than the eager ascenders. We crossed the dam, and decided to follow the most direct, but hilliest way back, over Inn Moor Lane, rather than the longer but flatter alternative via Nidderdale.

We arrived at the pub in Middlesmoor, weary but happy to sample a nice pint of Black Sheep before the final walk down to the start. By the end, our total distance was 18 miles, which was not bad for 24 hours, carrying everything for winter wild camping over rough ground.

Kit notes: Although the conditions at the time were mild at the valley level, on the summit especially at night it was going to be very cold and windy. So, warmth at the expense of weight was a priority. So, we took a decent sized tent rather than a much lighter Terra Nova Voyager I'd have used when solo backpacking, as a cramped tent and a long dark evening is no fun at all when sitting outside is not an option. Also, we took down jackets, as the bulk and weight of a down jacket is easily worth the warmth of being able to throw the jacket on as soon as we started to pitch the tent, as otherwise we'd have been very cold by the time we were in the tent. And, needless to say proper winter weight sleeping bags were the order of the day. Even then the combination of damp air, and chilly wind made the night less comfortable than the rating of the bag suggested. Although down is warm, sometimes synthetic is better in cold damp conditions, as condensation seems to make the bag less effective.Finally food. I'd rather take a bit more than I need, have go hungry to save weight. I have taken to eating these pouched means called 'Look What We Found'. They are pitched as gourmet food for those to tired/busy/lazy to cook, but to me at least seem to be the perfect camping food as they are tasty and slightly cheaper than wayfayers, and you can get them in supermarkets. When combined with boil-in-the-bag rice, you have a pretty good combination of taste,bulk and cost. 

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