We began our walk by taking the Dales High Way along the shallow River Ribble, which meanders through fields and meadows for a few miles until you reach the hamlet of Stackhouse. Our intended target was Stainforth Force, the first of three waterfalls to be encountered on our journey. The clement weather and adjoining campsite had encouraged hordes of folk to leap from various natural platforms into the plunge pool below, with enthusiastic onlookers applauding each individual spladoosh. We hastened onwards up the steep road and bridge over the train tracks towards Stainforth itself, joining the Pennine Bridleway in the process and beginning the steep, rubbled ascent towards Carrigg Force, the second waterfall of the trip.
Carrigg had also drawn a reasonable enough gathering to be called a crowd, with most of the attendees accessing the remote falls by a decidedly easier route than ours, arriving in a car along the bridleway and parking in a field. An un-signposted dirt track led down through a patch of woodland to the base of the falls, where a bit of sliding over slippery rocks and photobombing of tourists’ shots allowed access to the plunge pool, and a view of the falls in all their glory.
As we continued along the Pennine Bridleway the views were at first of expansive rolling moorland hills, which then became the farmland and nature reserve of Winksill Stones. The stones are an example of limestone pavement famous in these parts, and are protected from plundering for the decoration of garden rockeries by its nature reserve status.
Sunshine gave way to cloud, and stillness to wind, as we approached Victoria Cave, an important archaeological site that has over the years yielded finds such as mammoth bones, 11,000 year old harpoons, and Roman artefacts from as far afield as Africa. We however missed the turnoff and stomped straight past it, so rather than turn back and investigate we settled for a lunchbreak whilst watching a determined fell runner make chaotic patterns through the grass below. We had reached the almighty Attermire Crags, a dauntingly striking series of limestone crags that loom over the path below, with tumbled boulders enticing scramblers and climbers to scale the 450m above sea level crown of Attermire Scar itself.
After quick dash along High Hill Road, we arrived at the third and final waterfall of the day, Scaleber Force. We had these falls completely to ourselves, and scampered down the muddy bank to their base for some uninterrupted peace and calm next to the gently tumbling water of Scaleber.
We re-joined the Pennine Bridleway and followed its easy course back to the town. The sun had replaced his hat and the afternoon was still with us, so Settle was busy with daytrippers supping beer and coffee at tables in the street, shoppers milling in and out of independent stores buying ethically sourced lamps and vintage vegetables, and our drained limbs trudging past them all, clattering walking poles into chair legs as we passed.