Total silence is a rare and precious thing. We found it on this outing, if only briefly, in a conifer forest high on a hill above Bishopdale.

We had begun our walk at West Burton, that sloping village with its long, broad green alongside Walden Beck, just off the B6160 road which runs over the top from Buckden into Wensleydale.

As we drove up there in the middle of one of those rare, glorious midwinter Sunday mornings when the weather is perfect, the car parks were already packed at Kettlewell and Buckden.

But there was still plenty of room in West Burton, slightly off the beaten track. The path we took from the village was an easy one, first across fields and then along a muddy track towards the hamlet of Newbiggin.

Actually, our route didn't take us all the way into that cluster of buildings, but we continued to few hundred extra yards to have a look at the place. Very nice too, with some splendid old houses, many of them created from barns, and others cottages which used to be the homes of lead miners.

We backtracked briefly then took the steep track up the hillside, soon leaving it to follow one of those paths which exist clearly on the map but of which there is no sign at all on the ground. Still, the map said it was there, climbing beside the stream.

And so we climbed too, pausing several times on the way to catch our breath and look back over Bishopdale towards the northern slopes of Wensleydale.

The sun shone. The January air was still. It was warm enough for me to take my cap off, which was exceptional for that time of year (it usually stays on from October to May). But a slight haze dulled the distant views, which was a shame because as we climbed ever higher the landscape opened up magnificently.

Eventually, rather breathless, we reached the stile into the hilltop conifer plantation and slid and slopped along up the muddy path through the dense, dark trees alongside a drainage ditch. At the top we crossed open land for a while, picking our way through coarse grass to the stile into another part of the wood. And it was there that Maureen said: "Just listen!" We stood there barely breathing. There wasn't a sound. No bird sang. No car droned in the distance. No breeze hissed through the trees. Nothing. Sweet, sweet silence.

It didn't last long – a minute at most. Then a farm dog barked down in the valley. And soon the air vibrated with the sound of a light aircraft somewhere between us and Coverdale.

The spell was broken. But it had been magical while it lasted.

It wasn't long before we emerged from the gloom of the trees to look down on Walden, that rather isolated, lovely dale served only by footpaths and a cul-de-sac road.

The route back to the car park was a delightful one, following a clear path over a stile and through field after field above the pretty Walden Beck until eventually we climbed to the road which took us back into West Burton.

When we came out of the village pub an hour later, the sun was going in and the sky was turning grey and it was looking like typical January again. But we had had a day to remember.

Step by Step

  1. Walk up West Burton village to Town Head at the top, looking for footpath sign (signposted to B6160) on right next to iron gate. Go ahead through one field and down next one to a stile at bottom left. Over stile, turn left and cross the stream then keep ahead via stiles through several fields into a lane. Follow that to Newbiggin if you want to see the village. Otherwise, where lane swings right to drop towards farm at start of village, go steeply left into another walled lane.
  2. Go through the gate and soon veer left to cross small stream, then turn right and follow the stream up steep hill towards plantation. Keep straight ahead, crossing stream eventually as it swings left in front of you, to stile in fence into track beside a plantation. Turn right, then soon go left over stile into wood. Follow path through wood (it can be muddy) and at top go over stile then through gate.
  3. Continue in same line across coarse grassland to the next stile back into wood and keep ahead to the far end, emerging above Walden. Continue down to the road then turn right. Follow road down dip to cross stream, then where the road rises just round a bend go left on farm track, taking left fork to Cowstone Gill Farm. Stay to left of farm, following signpost across stream.
  4. Go through gate stile and climb with wall on left to stile and signpost beside gate. Go over stile and then turn right down fence side, turning left at the bottom to come to stile in the far corner. Over this, soon go left over another stile and then keep going along a clear path to stile with TV aerial beside it. Swing half right over this to stile into road. Turn right and walk down road to Cote Bridge.
  5. Across bridge, turn left on the riverbank path and then through riverside trees to stile just before a footbridge. Cross bridge then swing right with a grassy track to cross field to stile into road. Turn right and descend back into West Burton.

Fact File

  • Time for 6½ miles three hours including sandwich stop.
  • Map: OS Outdoors Leisure 30, Yorkshire Dales North and Central.
  • Going: one uphill pull, a few muddy stretches.
  • Parking: alongside village green in West Burton.
  • Getting there: drive up past Grassington and Kettlewell to Buckden and then take the right fork up into Bishopdale, looking eventually for West Burton sign to the right.
  • Refreshments and toilets: at pub in West Burton.