At 260 metres above sea level Hawes is the highest market town in England.
The backdrop for Hawes is Wensleydale, the breathtaking valley of the River Ure, well-known for crumbly cow’s milk cheese that is made only in this part of North Yorkshire.
Cheese lovers need to head straight to the Wensleydale Creamery, where you can watch award-winning cheeses being made and taste more than 20 kinds at the shop.
The North Yorkshire Dales National Park is headquartered in Hawes, and the Dales Countryside Museum shines a light on the region’s traditions, while the Hawes National Park Centre can point you in the right direction for excursions into some of England’s most romantic natural scenery.
In Hawes you’re in a great position to see more of Wensleydale, which is the upper valley of the River Ure.
Mostly within the Yorkshire Dales National Park, this is a land of castles, waterfalls, picture-perfect villages like Bainbridge, Aysgarth and Middleham.
One easy outing is the 14th-century Bolton Castle, which has been in the same family, the Scropes, since it was built.
The ruins of Middleham Castle hold a great deal of fascination, because this was the childhood home of Richard III in the 15th century, while at Redmire, ten miles east, you can take a nostalgic steam train trip on the Wensleydale Railway through dreamy countryside down to Leeming Bar.
2. Wensleydale Creamery
Wensleydale cheese has Protected Geographical Indication from the European Union, which means that only cheese made in this dale can call itself “Wensleydale”. The origins of Wensleydale cheese go back to Medieval times, when Cistercian monks from the region around Roquefort-sur-Soulzon in the South of France, came to Wensleydale, bringing their recipe for sheep’s cheese with them.
Cows’ milk has been used instead since the 1300s, and the creamery in Hawes has been making cheese by hand for more than a century.
At the visitor centre you’ll get acquainted with Wensleydale cheese via infographics and audio clips, and get to watch master cheese-makers at work in person from the Viewing Gallery and at the new Demonstration Room.
In the cheese shop there’s a free tasting of more than 20 different varieties.
Afterwards you could treat yourself to something at the 1897 Coffee Shop, blessed with panoramic views of the Yorkshire Dales.
3. Hawes Market Place
Most of Hawes’ local businesses can be found on Market Place, in cute rough-hewn stone houses, framed to the west and north by tall hills.
There are cafes, inns, and a some enticing little shops selling handmade gifts, traditional sweets, second-hand books, outdoor gear or collectibles.
One way Hawes has remained so dynamic, despite being tiny, in through the Upper Dales Community Partnership (UDCP). This non-profit group has fought to keep services and amenities in small settlements in the area, and the Hawes Community Office on the north side, housing a small police station, library, post office, and offering free WiFi and a coffee machine for residents.
Make the short walk east to Gayle Beck, which has a small waterfall, and is crossed to the south by an 18th-century rubble bridge.
4. Dales Countryside Museum
You can get to grips with the Yorkshire Dales’ human history at this museum attached to Hawes’ old railway station.
This is the museum for the Yorkshire Dales National Park, documenting traditional livelihoods like shepherding, dairying and building drystone walls.
A stretch of the railway’s trackbed has been preserved, with a steam locomotive and vintage carriages.
There are also artefacts recovered from the Yorkshire Dales, like a Bronze Age spearhead and a remarkable gold Viking ring.
Smaller visitors can get hands-on at the Creation Station, while the museum has set up an outdoor trail through woodland.
5. Hawes National Park Centre
In the same building as the Dales Countryside Museum, the Hawes National Park Centre is a handy resource for the Yorkshire Dales, with leaflets and first-hand advice on walks, cycling routes, visitor attractions, natural monuments and more in the national park and in Hawes.
You can mull over your options with a hot drink or light meal at the trendy Firebox Café, which uses local produce and has an outdoor terrace.
The Firebox Café is joined to Stage 1 Cycles, which sells cycling equipment but also provides cycle hire and maintenance at its workshop.
6. Hawes Ropemakers
There has been a ropeworks in Hawes for at least 300 years, and the tradition is continued by W. R. Outhwaite & Son.
Their 1,000-square-metre facility has become a local tourist attraction, where you can watch barrier ropes, banister cords, dog leads and much more being made, twisted from narrow threads of yarn in an absorbing process.
There are live manual demonstrations, and further in, through a glass screen you can witness automated rope-making, which is surprisingly satisfying to watch.
The factory shop sells dog leads in a wide variety of colours, sizes and styles.
7. Pennine Way
This National Trail goes through Hawes on its 267-mile route from Edale in the Peak District up to Kirk Yetholm just across the Scottish border.
In Hawes you could journey south to Horton-in-Ribblesdale, crossing peat moorland on the Roman Cam High Road, which transitions to a craggy limestone landscape after the 16th-century Ling Gill Bridge.
From there you’ll venture through strange rocky terrain with cave openings and deep potholes all around.
Go north from Hawes, on the way to Keld, and you’ll pass Hardraw Force and Great Shunner Fell, both of which we’ll cover below.
Keld is in bucolic farmland, partitioned by drystone walls and scattered with traditional farm buildings like the two-level field barns unique to the Dales.
8. Hardraw Force
Right beside the Pennine Way at the hamlet of Hardraw there’s a marvellous waterfall rushing over a 30-metre limestone overhang.
Hardraw Force is claimed to be England’s highest unbroken waterfall, and has a narrow spout, which is all the more beautiful against the dark layers of limestone and sandstone behind.
The falls and gorge are in 15 acres of woodland belonging to the Green Dragon Inn.
To visit you’ll actually have to go through the bar, paying a fee of £2.50 for adults and £1.50 for children.
You may have seen these falls in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), while the poet William Wordsworth and painter J. M. W. Turner both visited Hardraw Force, and stayed at the Green Dragon Inn.
9. Great Shunner Fell
Roughly halfway to Keld on the Pennine Way, Great Shunner Fell is four miles north of Hawes.
At 716 metres this is the highest point in Wensleydale and the third highest peak in the Yorkshire Dales.
Despite Great Shunner Fell’s height, the walk from Hawes isn’t too demanding as the ascent is gradual and the steeper sections are paved with stone slabs.
The Pennine Way runs right over its summit, and from here the vistas north over Swaledale deserve a few minutes of awed contemplation.
In the distance you should spot Birkdale Tarn, the third largest body of water in the Dales.
10. Cotter Force
On Cotterdale Beck, one of the Ure’s tributaries, is another waterfall in easy reach of Hawes.
Cotter Force is on a flight of six steps, dropping ten metres in all.
Along its course, Cotterdale Beck broadens from a 4-metre opening in the gorge at the top to 13 metres at the foot of the falls.
One of many good things about Cotter Force is its accessibility, with a trail designed for pushchairs and wheelchairs.
From a bench by the path you’ll be able to look up the entire flight, traced by broadleaf woodland in the gorge.
11. Buttertubs Pass
One natural sight that doesn’t require a hike is Buttertubs Pass, a stretch of dramatic winding road between the nearby hamlet of Simonstone and the villages of Thwaite and Muker.
Buttertubs Pass gets its name from a series of 20-metre-deep potholes beside the road.
“Buttertubs” is thought to come from farmers lowering their butter into these cool hollows when they rested by the road on the way to the market in Hawes.
The moorland scenery along the way is sensational, to the point where it might be hard to keep your eyes on the road.
Cyclists love Buttertubs Pass, and the route was a King of the Mountains climb on Stage One of the 2014 Tour de France.
12. Aysgill Force
There’s another formidable waterfall just off the Pennine Way to the south of Hawes.
If you’re driving you can park in the scenic village of Gayle, and follow a track south to Aysgill Force, which makes a booming noise amplified by its gorge.
Even though you’ll hear the waterfall a long time before you see it you’ll still be surprised by the height of the falls and volume of water thundering into the gorge after a spell of rain.
The trail continues along the riverside for a short way, allowing you to gaze down into the ravine.
Afterwards, take some time to explore Gayle, well known for an 18th-century water-powered textile mill.
13. St Oswald’s Church, Askrigg
For a bit of history you could make the five-mile trip to the village of Askrigg, where you can visit the Grade I Oswald’s Church.
This dates mostly to the 15th century and is in the Perpendicular Gothic style.
In the moody graveyard you can check out some of the telltale signs of the Perpendicular style, like the clerestory windows, the embattled roof of the nave and the handsome east window with five transomed cinquefoil lights.
The oldest architecture in the nave is the south arcade, dated 1460 or 1470, with octagonal piers as opposed to the round ones on the north arcade.
Though tiny, Askrigg is lovable, with breathtaking landscapes all around.
Just across the street is the Syke’s House Tea Room if you want a break.
This 100-acre lake is in a smaller valley in Wensleydale, named Raydale, among mature trees, drystone walls and hillside fields dotted with sheep.
As well as its undeniable natural beauty Semerwater is distinguished by the River Brain that drains it to the north.
This is believed to be the shortest named river in England, travelling just 2.25 miles to the River Ure at Bainbridge.
There’s a small watersports centre at Low Blean Farm on the lake’s east shore, providing equipment for canoeing and windsurfing in summer.
Beyond that, Semerwater is untouched by tourism, and looks a lot like it did when J. M. W. Turner sketched it in 1816.
15. Hawes Market
Tuesday is market day in Hawes, and in a town that fosters a sense of community, this remains a weekly ritual, taking place in front of the Bull’s Head Hotel on the north side of Market Place.
People from surrounding villages and hamlets come to shop for local fruit and vegetables, herbs, flowers, eggs, jams, pies, fabrics and more.
Trading has taken place on this very spot since 1307 at the latest.
For a rare slice of country life you can attend the livestock auction on Burtersett Road, established in the early 20th century and trading mostly sheep.