In heart-melting scenery at the southern end of the Yorkshire Dales, Settle is a lovable stone-built town on the River Ribble.
The National Park will always be in your plans here in Settle, as you venture to waterfalls, cliffs, limestone gorges, far-flung caves and peaks over 700 metres.
You don’t need to become a mountaineer though, as the Settle-Carlisle line lets you ponder the savage beauty of the Yorkshire Dales from the seat of a mainline train.
Settle also has a few spots to keep you in town a little longer, like a museum in a 17th-century mansion and a stately Victorian music hall that is still at the heart of the community.
1. Museum of North Craven Life at The Folly
Settle’s grandest building is this Carolean mansion, built for the wealthy 17th-century lawyer Richard Preston on the southern approach to the town.
The Folly is now the venue for the top-notch Museum of North Craven Life, but in its day has been a lavish residence, farmhouse, warehouse, bakery, fish and chip shop and bank, among other things.
The house was restored and opened as a regional museum in 2001. This attraction shows off its large inventory in short-term exhibitions.
When we wrote this article in March 2019 there was an exhibition of prints evoking the Dales, a timeline for The Folly, creepy tales from the graveyard of Settle’s Holy Ascension Church and “Curiosity”, displaying the diverse treasures from the museum’s collection.
To ascend the 723-metre Ingleborough, the second-highest peak in the Yorkshire Dales, you can make for Ingleton, around ten miles north-west.
From this picturesque village under a Victorian railway viaduct there’s a 7.5-mile round walk to the peak, on which you’ll need to negotiate a field of potholes at Crina Bottom and battle up a sharp climb through limestone cliffs.
There’s another path from the opposite side at Horton in Ribblesdale, also easily reached by car from Settle.
At the top of Ingleborough is a slightly convex plateau, a mile in circumference.
On the northern and eastern edges are the ruins of a wall that goes back to a Roman camp and Iron Age hill-fort, while to the southwest you might spot Snowdonia, 103 miles away in Wales.
Ingleborough is one of the Yorkshire Three Peaks, a group of tall hills around the head of the Ribble River Valley, including Pen-y-Ghent (694m) and Whernside (736m), conquered in one trip by people who want to test themselves.
3. Stainforth Force
One of the closest of the many natural wonders around Settle, Stainforth Force is barely 5 minutes from the centre of town.
If you like you can walk there in 45 minutes or so on the Ribble Way, tracking the river back up to the village of Stainforth.
The waterfall is a marvellous flight of cascades, as the river slips over shallow limestone shelves, finally falling into a deep and wide pool.
You could linger on the ledges on the river’s west bank to watch the leaping salmon, and gaze upriver to a little stone connecting the village with a caravan park, both hidden from view behind the trees.
4. Scaleber Force
You can journey along the remote High Hill Lane, edged by drystone walls, to another of the spellbinding waterfalls in the Yorkshire Dales.
Scaleber Force wouldn’t be out of place in a Medieval romance, spilling over ledges of rock into a wooded gorge draped with ferns and mosses.
The water of Scaleber Beck has a beautiful clarity and if you’re feeling intrepid the stratified rock allows you to climb up (within reason) for the perfect shot of the falls.
Scaleber Force is just a couple of minutes along a path through woods from the roadside on High Hill Lane.
5. Victoria Hall
This beautiful 19th-century monument is put to all sorts of uses for Settle’s residents.
The Victoria Hall is opened in 1853 as the Settle Music Hall, which makes it the oldest remaining music hall in the UK.
During the day there are multiple things going on here every day of the week apart from Sunday.
This could be dance lessons, exercise classes, adult learning, a surgery by local MP Julian Smith and markets on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Come the evening there’s a feast of live music, spoken word, movies, live screenings from major cultural institutions, plays and stand-up comedy at this distinguished venue.
6. Victoria Cave
Easily done in a morning, there’s a 4.5-mile circular path to this cave up in the Dales among herds of Highland cattle.
Victoria Cave got its name because it was discovered in 1837, the same year Queen Victoria ascended the throne.
The route out of Settle is lovely, taking you along Constitution Hill, flanked by Georgian townhouses.
Outside the town the way is steeply graded, but you can recharge your batteries with heart-lifting views over Ribblesdale.
On its discovery, bones of elephants, hippos, rhinos and hyenas were found in Victoria Cave, dating back as much as 130,000 years.
The first evidence of humans in the Yorkshire Dales also showed up at the Victoria Cave in the form of an harpoon point embedded among the 11,000-year-old bones of a reindeer.
The Roman-era finds were also captivating, including coins, pottery and brooches originating as far away as Africa.
7. Hoffmann Kiln
At Langcliffe above the east bank of the Ribble there’s an otherworldly industrial relic erected by the Craven Lime Company in 1873. The Hoffmann Kiln, named for its inventor Friedrich Hoffmann, processed limestone blocks into burnt lime, which was vital for arable farms, as well as textiles, paper-making and producing mortar for construction.
This took place in 22 burning chambers, arranged in a circuit, with openings to the sides where the lime could be moved to railway wagons alongside.
The kiln has been abandoned since the 1930s, but the site is in good condition, with a thrilling tunnel eerily illuminated by the little portals on the side every few metres.
There are information panels outside explaining how the kiln worked.
8. Settle-Carlisle Line
Built in the 1870s, the Settle-Carlisle line was one of the last major railway lines to be laid in the UK.
Faced with the almost impossible landscape of the Yorkshire Dales the project was a feat of Victorian enterprise and ingenuity, as well as story of extreme hardship for the workers who lived in shanty towns during construction.
On 72 miles of track there are 380 bridges include 14 tunnels and 21 viaducts.
One is the mind-boggling 400-metre Ribblehead Viaduct, more than 30 metres over the Ribble Valley.
What’s great is that this is still part of National Rail’s mainline so you can catch a normal service for one of the world’s most scenic railway trips.
There are regular steam services by private operators in summer, and if you visit Settle Junction station on a Saturday make sure to call in at the Victorian timber signal box.
9. Malham Cove
There are a few reasons to head deeper into the Yorkshire Dales, setting a course for the village of Malham, a few short miles to the east.
One of these is to experience the majesty of the nearby Malham Cove, a curved limestone cliff topped with limestone pavement.
This is the result of a giant waterfall carrying meltwater at the end of the last Ice Age over 12,000 years ago.
It’s not hard to picture the size of this flow, 300 metres across and 80 metres high.
The cliff and its tough overhangs are a draw for climbers, and you may have seen this staggering natural monument in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1. A circular path connects Malham Cove with other wonders in the area like Janet’s Foss below, and Gordale Scar, a tight limestone ravine with walls 100 metres high.
10. Janet’s Foss
Directly downstream from Gordale Scar, Gordale Beck tumbles over the small but perfectly formed Janet’ Foss.
Pitching over limestone topped by volcanic tufa, this waterfall is in a peaceful green crucible that is covered in moss and cloaked with foliage.
If you’re coming here from the Malham side there’s a 20-minute walk to Janet’s Foss along the leafy valley from the car park.
And from here you can carry on up the trail to Gordale Scar.
If possible try to come after a period of sustained rain, which shouldn’t be too difficult in the Yorkshire Dales!
11. Gallery on the Green
Proudly calling itself the “smallest gallery in the world”, the Gallery on the Green is in the red Upper Settle phone box bought by the town council in 2009. This is a K6 type phone box, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1935 (who also designed the power station that became the Tate Modern). The space was soon handed over to the local organisation Cultivating Settle, who turned it into a one-of-a-kind gallery open 24 hours a day.
The Gallery on the Green relies on donations, and there have been almost 30 exhibitions in the ten years that it has been open.
At the time of writing in early 2019 there was a photography exhibition for the stately sycamore beside the phone box on the green.
Previous shows have included studies of Ingleborough (Big Hill in a Small Space), a mixed media celebration of the people of Canada (Canada Calling) and an exhibition about the evolutionary process (Archaos II).
12. Ribble Way
Settle is on a 73-mile footpath that follows or stays close to the River Ribble, starting at the river mouth on the Irish Sea in Longton and finishing at Ribblehead high in the Yorkshire Dales.
This of course makes it easy to hike to a couple of the natural landmarks in this article, not least Stainforth Force.
On the riverside are imposing former cotton and snuff mills, as well as Settle Hydro, a groundbreaking, community-owned hydroelectric scheme.
Walking to Stainforth Force you may be accompanied kingfishers and herons, or peregrine falcons circling and swooping overhead.
For a tough but rewarding detour you could scramble up the slope from Stainforth to another waterfall at Catrigg Force.
On the climb you can savour views of Ribblesdale, while the falls are in a magical sheltered gorge.
13. The Courtyard
The Courtyard is a shopping and dining destination at a constellation of stone barns just off the A65 outside Settle.
You can visit for fine tweed produced by the Abraham Moon woollen mill, luxury home furnishings by Dalesbred, beauty treatments at Bellezza Dentro and freshly laid free range eggs, bread, honey and conserves from the Roaming Hen Farm Shop.
Discerning diners flock to the Courtyard’s Brasserie, using local ingredients to cook British recipes with a modern twist.
The menu changes every two months according to the ingredients in season.
14. Settle Falconry
You could not choose a more suitable place for falconry than the stirring uplands of the Yorkshire Dales.
Based in the National Park, a few miles from the town, Settle Falconry is a small company offering birds of prey experiences for an hour or half-day.
Even in the hour-long session you’ll get to wear a falconer’s gauntlet and beckon a trained buzzard or Harris hawk down from the trees.
During the longer, more in-depth session you’ll get to handle falcons, kestrels, hawks and owls on an adventure in the Dales.
Settle Falconry has a farmhouse tearoom with home-baked cakes, as a cosy starting point for an unforgettable afternoon.
15. Settle Stories Festival
The biennial Settle Stories Festival is an arts event launched in 2010 and centred on the spoken word, creative ideas and digital art.
Over three days there’s a vibrant programme of performances, exhibition, outdoor story trails, plays, and workshops for things like writing, digital storytelling, weaving, enamelling and pottery.
For a taste of what to expect, the 2018 edition hosted the likes of Brazilian journalist and storyteller Ana Maria Lines, giving a live show inspired by Frida Kahlo, and the Sierra Leonean contemporary rhythmical storyteller Alim Kamara.
Settle Stories stays active outside of the festival dates, arranging creative writing and mindfulness retreats, as well as short term exhibitions at venues like Settle Library.