Official website of the Dales Way Association (DWA)

Dales Way Association


The very first public walk on the Dales Way was organised by the West Riding branch of the Ramblers and took place on Sunday, March 23rd 1969. Colin Speakman led 130 walkers along the first 12 miles of the brand new long-distance trail from Ilkley to Burnsall, returning by bus. It was a great success.

This inaugural walk has been celebrated every decade since. The 50th anniversary walk is planned for Saturday, 3rd August 2019.

Colin Speakman & Tom Wilcock

The creation of the Dales Way was the result of a lot of hard work and planning by the West Riding Ramblers,  in particular 2 officials: Tom Wilcock (footpaths secretary) and Colin Speakman (access and transport secretary).

The impetus had come from the Countryside Commission, who produced the Countryside Act (1968) which encouraged local authorities to create new footpath access to riversides. Tom Wilcock had worked diligently to develop a dozen possible new riverside footpaths in the region. In the end, it was decided to focus on a single long-distance riverside route.

In October 1968 the General Council of the West Riding Ramblers received a report from the Action sub-committee on progress with the Dales Way: "Tom Wilcock outlined the scheme and the progress so far. A deal of publicity had been obtained and he asked members to push this as much as possible through M.P.s and local councillors. He had spoken to the Westmorland County Planning Officer who was in favour."

A resolution was moved by Mr. Willson and seconded by C. Speakman:

"This Council Meeting of the West Riding Area of the Ramblers Association draws the attention of the West Riding County Council to the extensive press coverage, both national and local, afforded to the proposal for a long distance footpath to be known as the Dales Way, from the Dales to the Lakes, with possible future extensions to the Leeds, Bradford and Harrogate areas. This Association sincerely believe that few projects could give so much pleasure to so many people at so little expense. It therefore urges the West Riding County Council to accept the proposals and to take the necessary steps to implement them forthwith."

By January 1969 the West Riding Ramblers Executive committee noted in its footpath report: " Mr. Wilcock reported that the County Council's consideration of the Dalesway is continuing very favourably. Also that all Authorities outside the West Riding are satisfied with the route in their localities. Progress is being watched eagerly."

The first Dales Way walk from Ilkley to Burnsall on that cold March Sunday had to make use of a "diversion" beyond Addingham, as the riverside path there had yet to be established. The route climbed high via Haw Pike and Highfield House before descending through Lob Wood to Bolton Bridge. From there the Way followed the familiar route of today.

This historic walk had been advertised in advance with a major article which appeared in the Yorkshire Evening Post two weeks earlier on Monday, March 10th: "A new Dales Way .... from Ilkley to Lakeland" (The article is reproduced in full below).

The success of this walk was quickly followed by the first recorded walk of the entire route by a group of young Venture Scouts from Bradford Grammar School.

Bradford Grammar School Venture Scouts - April 1969

They completed the 73 mile trail in just 4 days, in early April, and in good spirits despite enduring appalling weather conditions. See a full account of their adventures here.

In May 1969 the West Riding Ramblers published a 6-page pamphlet outlining the new Dales Way route, produced by Colin Speakman and Tom Wilcock. In January 1970 the Annual General meeting of the West Riding Ramblers reported that the pamphlet "has sold several hundred copies and has allowed many of our members to pioneer what is going to prove one of the Area's most exciting projects." (A copy of the pamphlet can be seen on the DWA Members area of our website here - Username and Password required).

Colin Speakman with first and eleventh editions of his guidebook

In Spring 1970 the first edition of Colin Speakman's book "Dales Way", published by Dalesman Ltd., appeared.

The book is now in its 11th edition (2nd reprint), now published by Skyware Press, and is without doubt the longest running trail guide in constant publication by a living author.

The rest, as they say, is history...

Yorkshire Evening Post - Monday, March 10 1969


Magnificent walk may link Leeds, Bradford and Harrogate

A new Dales Way ..... from Ilkley to Lakeland



Photo: The Dales Way follows the Wharfe from Ilkley to within a few miles of its source. One of the loveliest stretches is pictured here, where the infant river runs through Langstrothdale.

Map: The map shows the track of the Dales Way from Ilkley along the most beautiful stretch of the Wharfe and on through equally picturesque country to Bowness-on-Windermere. It is hoped to link the Way with Leeds, Bradford and Harrogate by footpath routes.


Leeds, Harrogate and Bradford may soon by linked to the Lake District by footpath. It is all part of a projected new Dales Way mapped out by the West Riding branch of the Ramblers Association.

If you are interested, if you have a longing for fresh air after this long dark winter of discontent, now is the time to polish your best walking boots and get out your rucksack.

You can become involved in this wonderful scheme by presenting yourself at Ilkley Post Office on Sunday March 23, at 10.15 a.m. On that day members of the Ramblers Association are to walk along the first 10 miles of the new Dales Way from Ilkley to Burnsall, and members of the public are invited to take part.

Rights of way

The complete walk from Ilkley to Bowness-on-Windermere covers 73 miles through the valleys of Wharfe, Dee, Lune and Kent. Rights of way exist along 65 miles of the path.

There remains 10 miles for which the West Riding branch of the Ramblers Association is fighting. The branch has nearly 1,000 members and all have played a part in creating this new route into beautiful parts of Yorkshire and Westmorland.

Mr. Tom Wilcock, joint footpath secretary for the branch, has worked more than any other to get the new way established. He describes it as one of the most scenic walks in the country and easy to follow because so much of the way is along river banks.


Mr. Colin Speakman, a teacher of English at Lawnswood High School, Leeds, and the branch's access and transport secretary, is another of the originators of the plan.

"The route can be walked already for a good deal of its length" said Mr. Speakman, " and where it cannot we have arranged suitable diversions."

Committees of the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District National Parks have approved the scheme in principle and it is being considered by the Countryside Commission.

"Planning Officers of the West Riding and Westmorland have also shown great interest and been most helpful" said Mr. Speakman.

Under 1949 and 1968 Countryside Acts National Park Authorities (now the Countryside Commission) are empowered to create long-distance footpaths and access agreements to riversides.

Scouts first

"We aim to make use of these facilities," said Mr. Speakman. "With so much of the route right of way we believe the footpath will come into being before long, not because of the decision of the planners but because people will be travelling the route and walking on the path."

The first walking of the entire route will be made in April by Bradford Grammar School Scouts. They will take four days on the 73-mile trek, spending the nights in youth hostels.

"This is an easier walk than the Pennine Way and we hope it will attract family parties" said Mr. Speakman. "There will be some accommodation at guest houses in villages along the route, and at youth hostels in Linton, Kettlewell, Dent, Kendal and at Windermere where the footpath ends."

Beauty plus

It would be hard to imagine a more delightful route for a ramble. The path follows the Wharfe almost to its source, climbs over Cam Fell along a Roman road (joining the Pennine Way for a short time) before crossing the Ribble and entering Dentdale.

"From there," said Mr. Speakman, "the path leads to Sedbergh, up to Crook of Lune, over the Westmorland hills, along the river Kent into the Lake District National Park and so to Bowness."

Apart from its beauty the route covers many historic corners of Yorkshire: ruined Bolton Abbey; Barden Tower, originally a Clifford hunting lodge; Burnsall, where Sir William Craven, Yorkshire's Dick Whittington was born; historic Hubberholme in Langstrothdale Chase; Dent, home of the "terrible knitters"; Sedbergh with its famous school, and so over the border to Westmorland.

From cities

Most important of all is the plan to link the start of the Dales Way at Ilkley with footpaths to Leeds, Harrogate and Bradford.

"From Leeds," said Mr. Speakman, "the route would be via Meanwood Valley, Adel, Bramhope, Otley and Ilkley Moor.

"From Bradford it would be via Shipley Glen, Baildon and Ilkley Moor, and from Harrogate along the valley of the Nidd, over by Scar House and Little Whernside, joining the Dales Way at Kettlewell."

Working party

Details will have to be worked out, but a party from the Leeds branch of the Ramblers Association will shortly investigate possible routes from the city through the suburbs.

"It seems likely," said Mr. Speakman, "that a direct footpath through woodland and pleasant open spaces will be devised from Woodhouse Moor northwards.

"We shall then have a 90 mile-long path through some of the loveliest country in the North of England, linking Leeds directly with Windermere in Westmorland."

The Dales Way Association;