A walk from Stainforth to Winskill Stones

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Watching sunset from the limestone pavement of Winskill Stones near Stainforth in Ribblesdale, in the Yorkshire Dales National Park

Stainforth village to Winskill Stones

It is rare when a planned photo shoot works out as expected, and when one does its worth writing about! As it happens one such lucky day happened recently.

I had never been been to Winskill Stones Nature Reserve before but I had seen plenty of photos taken there. After seeing a few spectacular ones I realised I ought to head there and see it for real, plus try to match others’ photos.

Digging through my collection of Frank Wilkinson walks I found a decent six mile long one in the area that, with a little detour, would take me to the nature reserve. And so on my next spare day with a decent forecast I was off.

The walk started from the Dales village of Stainforth which is only a mile or so from Winskill. Parking is available in the National Park car park on the edge of the village adjacent to the B6479 Settle to Horton in Ribblesdale road. Alternatively, if there’s room, grab a free roadside space. Luckily I didn’t have to spend a penny when I arrived.

Leaving Stainforth I headed north on the Ribble Way footpath, climbing out of the valley. Looking back over my shoulder the views opened out over the village towards a distant Pendle.

Stainforth village and Pendle Hill in spring
View over Stainforth village towards Pendle

As the photo shows the day was overcast but at least it was dry. I forged on, putting my trust in the good weather forecast for later on. As always I had allowed for a few breaks and reckoned I would be at Winskill about an hour or so before sunset. Having cut my timings fine in the past I didn’t want to do that again, especially as I hadn’t been here before.

Winskill Stones Nature Reserve

A couple of hours later I arrived at Winskill Stones Nature Reserve. In my haste to avoid being late I had skipped any real breaks, stopping only for a couple of photos. Consequently I arrived well ahead of schedule and with over an hour before sunset I could relax. And empty my packed lunch box.

Suitably refreshed it was time to explore the site.

The limestone pavement at Winskill is spread out over quite a large area of 74 acres but is very incomplete. Apparently the reason for so many gaps is partly down to people removing stone for landscape gardening. Vast areas have been lost across the country due to this since the 1950s. In response Plantlife International bought the site of Winskill Stones with a view to conserving it and protecting its rare flora.

Sunset at Winskill Stones

Having had a wander I soon found the view that most people take a photo of: a lone hawthorn tree in the middle of an area of limestone with Ingleborough in the background. There is one particular angle that seems popular with lines of limestone in the foreground leading the eye towards the tree. Sadly that photo was impossible at sunset in spring as it meant shooting directly into the sun. And so I had to try another view. I prefer trying to come up with a different angle from others anyway. Plus there was nothing I could do about it so no point getting upset! Here is my first attempt.

hawthorn tree at winskill stones limestone pavement at sunset
First shot of the hawthorn tree at Winskill Stones

Not bad but I wasn’t happy with the foreground – its a bit of a mess!

After a bit more of a wander I found a better angle and took the following photo. I was much happier with this as the stones are arranged into a more pleasing pattern and are catching some great light.

At this point I ought to point out that I wasn’t alone on this evening. Another photographer turned up and, between brief chats, I continued taking photos. This did cause a problem though as we both started to get in the way of each other: sometimes he was in my shot, sometimes I was in his.

To allow us both to get some photos I took a break from the limestone pavement and moved further down towards the hamlet of Upper Winskill. I’m kind like that! The sun was just disappearing and the view over the hamlet towards Ingleborough offered another opportunity for a picture. Below is my favourite of the resultant photos.

After a while the other photographer wandered off as the last of the light faded. I was determined to not give up quite yet though as the colours in the sky were great. Lying down on the grass I managed to grab this last photo of the lone hawthorn tree. Thanks to shooting almost directly towards where the sun had set it was nicely silhouetted. And I managed to get the tree and Ingleborough in the same photo. Result!

From Winskill Stones back home

It was almost dark now and, with the last of the colour draining from the sky, it was time to head back home. The short walk back to Stainforth didn’t take long and was all the more enjoyable as I knew I had got some photos.

All too often planned days out result in very little to speak of but this day was not one of them. Quite the contrary. After reviewing and post-processing all the images I ended up with quite a few additions to my Yorkshire Dales photo collection.

A walk from Stainforth to Winskill Stones was last modified: March 21st, 2021 by Gavin Dronfield

Further reading:

  • A visit to the wildflower meadows of Swaledale
    July 2016 : Wandering through the spectacular wildflower meadows near Muker in Swaledale in the summer when they were in flower

  • Wild camping on Wild Boar Fell
    May 2018 : A seven mile climb up Wild Boar Fell from Cotegill Bridge for a windy, sleepless night's wild camping. The dawn made it all worthwhile though!

  • Gunnerside lead mines from Gunnerside
    September 2016 : A walk from Gunnerside up Gunnerside Gill to visit the disused lead mines amidst a devastated landscape above Swaledale, in the Yorkshire Dales

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