Yorkshire Dales Walks
Snaizeholme Fell & the Red Squirrel Trail
Date: 11th October 2015
Distance: 6.6 miles
Ascent: 1230 feet
Time: 4 hours 45 mins
With: On my own
Start Grid Ref: SD826878
A memorable walk to visit the red squirrels of Snaizeholme before returning via the top of Snaizeholme Fell.
Route Summary: Widdale Foot - Snaizeholme Road - Mirk Pot - West Field - Stone Gill Foot - Long Sike - Snaizeholme Fell - Snaizeholme Road - Widdale Foot.
Photos: Click on the photos below to enlarge.
Walk Detail: Several months ago I saw some fantastic close up photos of some red squirrels on Facebook. I've only ever been fortunate enough to see one red squirrel on my walks, in Smardale last year. When I discovered that these photos were taken in the valley of Snaizeholme, near Hawes, and that there was even a red squirrel viewing area I knew that sooner rather than later I would have to go there.
The perfect opportunity arose when I decided to spend a long weekend in Hawes. In order to extend the day, I decided against the short 3 mile Red Squirrel Trail, and instead use it as the start of a longer walk up the Snaizeholme valley before returning over the top of Snaizeholme Fell, a hill I last visited back in 2007.
After parking on the road side opposite the old phone box at Widdale Foot I set off up the quiet road heading up into the Snaizeholme valley. I continued along the road for half a mile before dropping down on the access track to the house at Mirk Pot where I joined the route of the waymarked Red Squirrel Trail. This proved to be a pleasant woodland walk with anticipation mounting as I neared the viewing area at West Field.
I had been preceded by a photographer and his wife and they had already done a fine job of tempting the squirrels out by laying out some nuts for them. The next hour and a half was quite simply one of the most enjoyable of my life. The squirrels were utterly delightful and seemingly not afraid of humans. Watching them was utterly mesmerising.
Extremely inquisitive they regularly ran up to check me out before disappearing quickly again. They moved so fast that out of the hundreds of photos I took most of them were of red blurs but with persistence I think I got some cracking pics. Certainly I've spent a lot of time looking at the pictures since I got back and thinking of how many people I'd like to take to see them.
Eventually, with the knowledge I still had a lot more walking to do, I had to tear myself away and continue up the valley. Almost immediately I left the woods behind and continued on the path until I reached Stone Gill Foot from where a track took me up to the rough continuation of Snaizeholme Road. Turning left on this I continued on deeper into the valley.
The track was generally quite obvious and was often quite wet as well but eventually led me to an area where a number of streams join to form Snaizeholme Beck. Without crossing any of them I followed Long Sike upstream passing some nice limestone including the overhanging lip of a waterfall which unfortunately was just a trickle, but which I imagine would look quite impressive after heavy rain.
By climbing up alongside Long Sike it conveniently led me to the crags surrounding the grassy limestone plateau that is the summit of Snaizeholme Fell. The highest point seems to a small upturned rock sticking out of the grass in surrounds that are reminiscent of the top of Woldside above Langstrothdale and the similarly named Snaizewold Fell between Dentdale and Garsdale.
My original plan had been to return to the car by descending straight off Snaizeholme Fell into Widdale and then taking the bridleway passing Swineley House to Widdale Foot. It looked a fairly straightforward proposition on the map but proved to be harder than expected due to the high drystone walls, topped with additional wire fence to the north and west of the summit. Eventually I found a hole in the wall to crawl through only to be confronted a 100m further on by another high wall with cattle in between.
I don't like cattle at the best of times and certainly don't like to pass them without an obvious exit route. Without this I finally gave up on my original plan and began to look for an alternative without the need to retrace the entire outward route.
Eventually, by passing through a gate into the enclosure immediately north of the summit I crossed over to the Snaizeholme side where I managed to clamber over the wall and contour below the summit plateau to reach a junction of fences. Leading away from this was a long 3m wide section bordered on either side by a fence. Following this 'ride' I passed above some plantations to reach a gate and back on to open access land. All that was left was a simple, if pathless walk following the wall back down to Snaizeholme Lane where I turned left and walked back down to Widdale Foot.
While the problems I had finding a return route took the gloss off the walk as a whole nothing could detract from the magical encounter with the red squirrels. As the vast majority of people will probably have no desire to explore the upper reaches of Snaizeholme or stand on Snaizeholme Fell's flat featureless top the much shorter Red Squirrel Trail would be my recommendation. For people who like to explore the lesser known areas of the Dales then there is much to enjoy about the clamber up alongside Long Sike. Indeed all it requires to be a highly satisfactory circular walk is the addition of a couple of stiles.