Guide to the Southern Dales

The valley of the River Wharfe defines the southern Yorkshire Dales, although the river flows through both North and West Yorkshire on its way to the sea. The Wharfe can be seen at towns such as Boston Spa and Tadcaster, but it is at Otley where the Dales begin.


The market town of Otley is famous as the birthplace of Thomas Chippendale, and has a historic Buttercross and market place. The Wharfe flows though riverside parkland before heading to the former spa town of Ilkley.

Ilkley is overlooked by the Cow and Calf rocks on Ilkley Moor, inspiration for the Yorkshire anthem “On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at”. Ilkley is both a residential town and a visitor centre, with riverside gardens and a swimming pool.


Although on the River Aire, Skipton is the acknowledged ‘Gateway to the Dales’. This busy market town has a medieval castle, bustling market, independent shops, and is traversed by the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. A canalside wharf is the home of YorkshireNet in Skipton.

The River Wharfe has continued to Bolton Abbey, overlooked by the old Priory Church, a much painted, photographed and visited spot. At the nearby Strid the river channels through a narrow deep chasm as it heads to the village of Burnsall, home to a stout stone bridge.

Upper Wharfedale

Through the village of Grassington, the Wharfe continues to Kilnsey, overlooked by its monolithic crag, to Kettlewell and on to the villages of Starbotton and Buckden. Above Buckden the river becomes narrower, tumbling over rocks and pools in Langstrothdale.

The River Skirfare leaves the Wharfe just above Kilnsey, making a route through the idyllic landscape of Littondale. Over the hill from Littondale, a very scenic route leads past Malham Tarn to Malham Cove and the sights of the Malham area.

Ilkley Moor with Cow and Calf Rocks The Strid at Bolton Abbey Grassington
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