Stainforth Force to Settle River Walk

A walk either to or from Settle to take in the beauty of the tumbling Stainforth Force, is a scenic and easy ramble in the Yorkshire Dales.

2.8 miles (4.5km) one way, the footpath follows the River Ribble and is a gentle and generally flat 1 hour walk, making it ideal for small children or anyone who deems themselves unfit. It can also be done as an out-and-back to return the way you came, making it 5.6 miles (9km) long.

The Settle to Stainforth Force riverside walk has basically everything a good walk in the Yorkshire Dales should have. A cascading waterfall, tiny stone bridges, dry stone walls cross-crossing green rolling hills and history-rich picturesque stone villages.

In autumn, as well as the beautiful autumnal colours from the trees, salmon can be seen jumping up the waterfall to reach their spawning grounds – a phenomenal natural spectacle!

If you’re looking for an easy and pretty walk around the Settle or Giggleswick area, it would be a shame to miss this very lovely riverside stroll.


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Stainforth Force Bridge

Stainforth Force Bridge
The Grade II listed Stainforth Force Packhorse Bridge, built in 1675

Approaching Stainforth Force from the Dog Hill Brow road, you’ll notice signs saying the tiny former monastic road is unsuitable for caravans. When you approach the little stone bridge crossing the River Ribble, it’s clear why!

Only just wide enough for a small car to slowly squeeze through, the arched bridge was originally built in 1675 by a local Quaker for pack horses to travel between York and Lancaster.

For nearly 350 years old, the charming bridge is in remarkably great condition. The grade II listed structure is now owned by the National Trust and offers access, and an attractive backdrop to Stainforth Force.

Stainforth Force Waterfall

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Just through the wooden gate beside the bridge is access to Stainforth Force. It’s not a massively impressive waterfall, but the undulating form with the water flowing over a series of small rock plateaus is very attractive.

The largest cascade is at the bottom and only around 4 metres high, with a large, deep pool at the end.

Despite the fact the waterfall is a little hidden and not clearly signposted, being next to a caravan park and small Dales villages, it gets popular in summer, especially for family picnics and BBQs on the grassy bank beside it.

Stainforth Force is a popular place for wild swimming too. For those brave enough, you can jump or dive into the bottom pool from the rock ledges. Though after heavy rain, the water crashes quite ferociously creating a sort of whirlpool at the bottom, so it’s best avoided in such conditions. 

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The pool at the bottom of the Stainforth waterfall is suitable for competent and brave swimmers (aside from after heavy rain like pictured and during salmon leaping season)

You will need to watch young children here as there is no barrier to the waterfall, and it is right next to the grass which is somewhat disconcerting.

Stainforth Force is one of four waterfalls in the Yorkshire Dales with the River Ribble as its source. Others on the Ribble include Force Gill Waterfall, Scaleber Force and Catrigg Force. Stainforth is the lowest of the four in terms of height, with the last cascade only a few metres high.

Walking from Stainforth to Settle (or Settle to Stainforth Force)

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A scenic spot on the River Ribble, just in front of the Knight Stainforth Hall caravan park

If starting at the waterfall to walk towards Settle, be aware parking is extremely limited. There is only enough space for a couple of cars beyond the historic stone bridge, so you may need to park further down the road or in Stainforth Village. If you walk from Stainforth, it will only take around 5 minutes to reach the waterfall.

In the town of Settle, there is plenty of free car parking, though in summer the small market town can get packed. 

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A view of the opposite riverbank with a cluster of terraced cottages
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You’ll need to cross through farmers fields via gates and stiles on this walk – remember to always close gates after you.

Following the footpath alongside the riverbank will mainly take you through fields and grassy pastures. There’s always an interesting or scenic view on the opposite side of the riverbank too.

Throughout the walk in true Yorkshire style, you’ll be required to step over a variety of characterful stiles to get between fields. Some are wood, but my favourite are the beautiful stone ones with seemingly levitating stone steps. The stiles and walls really are incredible for standing the test of time in the rugged and wild Yorkshire weather!

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stone stile in autumn

At one point you’ll reach a metal bridge across the River Ribble, which you’ll need to cross, ensuring you stay in the direction of the river and don’t walk away from it.

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You’ll need to cross over this metal bridge either before, or after you approach this small settlement of cottages

No matter which way you come, you’ll need to pass right through the small settlement of cottages and immediately turn left or right after the last house, to continue on the marked footpath. 

Just behind the Langcliffe Caravan Park is a large pond (or small lake – however you look at it!) with reeds and surrounded by wonderful foliage. Opposite is a farm and fields full of yet more sheep.

Though it’s around here that you’ll reach the least pleasant part of the walk – passing beside a disused commercial building, which appears to be a former mill and a company with haulage lorries in the yard. That being said, there is some interesting old machinery to look at on the abandoned mill side.

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A meander down the lane away from the caravan park will join you to the main B road into Settle. 

Just before the town you’ll walk past a very beautiful former cotton mill, now called Watershed Mill. The centuries-old building is now home to an outdoor clothing store, a cafe, visitor centre and an independent, family-run farm shop.

It’s especially well worth looking at Ribblesdale Farm Shop‘s selection of local Yorkshire produce, including meats, pantry goods and a decent array of locally distilled gin and brewed beer. 

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Watershed Mill – a former cotton mill, now a great place to shop for outdoor clothing and farm produce

A couple of minutes later on the same side of the road is Settle Hydro, a community owned hydroelectric station which has been generating clean, renewable energy since 2010. It’s worth popping over to have a look before turning left at the junction to walk into the centre of Settle. 

As you approach the town, note the beautiful arched railway bridge and the 19th century Settle Parish Church with its iconic Dales backdrop!

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In Settle, there are plenty of fantastic things to do aside from just walking around, such as visiting the laneway antique stores, the The Museum of North Craven Life and the intriguing Listening Gallery in an old telephone box. 

A day trip to Settle, including a riverside walk to or from Stainforth Force is a wonderful way to enjoy a popular part of Yorkshire Dales National Park.


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4 thoughts on “Stainforth Force to Settle River Walk”

  1. I love the idea of hiking along the tumbling Stainforth Force in the Yorkshire Dales. We would certainly enjoy a gentle walk along the River Ribble. Waterfalls definitely draw me on a hike. Although I would probably pass on swimming there. Good to walk and finish in Settle for some time wandering in the village.


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