WENSLEYDALE, the name given to the upper part of the valley of the river Ure in the North Riding, Yorkshire, England. It is celebrated equally for its picturesque scenery and for the numerous points of historical and other interest within it. The Ure rises near the border of Yorkshire and Westmorland, in the uplands of the Pennine Chain. Its course is generally easterly as long as it is confined by these uplands, but on debouching upon the central plain of Yorkshire it takes a southeasterly turn and flows past Ripon and Boroughbridge to form, by its union with the Swale, the river Ouse, which drains to the Humber. The name Wensleydale is derived from the village of Wensley, some 25 m. from the source of the river, and is primarily applied to a section of the valley extending 10 m. upstream from that point, but is generally taken to embrace the whole valley from its source to a point near Jervaulx abbey, a distance of nearly 40 m., below which the valley widens out upon the plain. The dale is traversed by a branch of the North-Eastern railway from Northallerton.
As far up as Hawes, the dale presents a series of landscapes in which the broken limestone crags of the valley-walls and the high-lying moors beyond them contrast finely with the rich land at the foot of the hills. Beyond Hawes, towards the source, the valley soon becomes wide, bare and shallow, less rich in contrast, but wilder. On both sides throughout the dale numerous narrow tributary vales open out. Small waterfalls are numerous. The chief are Aysgarth Force, on the main stream. Mill Gill Force on a tributary near Askrigg, and Hardraw Scaur beyond Hawes, the finest of all, which shoots forth over a projecting ledge of limestone so as to leave a clear passage behind it. The surrounding cliffs complete a fine picture. The small river Bain, joining the Ure near Askrigg, forms a pretty lake called Semerer or Semmer Water, 3 m. in length.
Following the valley upward, the points of chief interest apart from the scenery arc these. Jervaulx Abbey was founded in 1156 by Cistercians from Byland, who had previously settled near Askrigg. The remains are mainly transitional Norman and Early English, and are not extensive. Of the great church hardly any fragments rise above ground-level, but the chapter-house, refectory and cloisters remain in part, and the ivy-clad ruins stand in a beautiful setting of woodland. Above the small town of Middleham, where there are large training stables, rises the Norman keep of Robert Fitz-Ranulph, which passed to the Nevills, being held by the “King-maker,” Warwick. The subsidiary buildings date down to the 14th century. In Cover Dale near Middleham is the ruined Premonstratensian abbey of Coverham, founded here in the 13th century and retaining a gatehouse and other portions of Decorated date. Farther up Wensleydale Bolton Castle stands high on the north side. This was the stronghold of the Scropes, founded by Richard I.’s chancellor of that name. Its walls, four corner-towers and fine position still give it an appearance of great strength.