IN 1968 an Act of Parliament, the Countryside Act, gave local authorities powers to create public access to riversides.

Members of West Riding Branch of the Ramblers Association (today called West Riding Ramblers) approached the old West Riding County Council with a plan to create a path that followed the banks of the river Wharfe and the idea of the Dales Way was born - a long riverside trail from Ilkley to the source of the Wharfe high on Cam Fell.

Colin Speakman and the late Tom Wilcock took on the job of surveying and planning the route and Colin went on to write the first guidebook which has been in continuous publication ever since (

Tom and Colin quickly realised that Cam Fell isn’t the best place to end a walk so continued across the watershed and followed the Dee down Dentdale and the Lune to the shores of Lake Windermere creating an 80 mile walk from the edge of the industrial West Riding to the Lake District through the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

On Monday, March 10th 1969 an article appeared in the regional press about this new path inviting readers to join members of the Ramblers Association to walk the first section from Ilkley to Burnsall on Sunday, March 23rd returning by bus.

Colin said: “We expected a dozen or so walkers to join us. We were amazed when around 120 turned up. The bus company had to put on extra buses to get everyone back.”

Now in 2019 The Dales Way Association is planning a series of events to celebrate 50 years of the Dales Way, including an exhibition in the Manor House in Ilkley later this year. As well as displays of the route and the history of the Dales Way, the exhibition will feature stories of the people who have walked the Way.

There will be a re-enactment of the first walk on Saturday August 3rd when Colin Speakman will once again lead walkers out of Ilkley.

The Association is asking for anyone who was on the first walk to get in touch, especially if they have photos to share or tales to tell. The Association can be contacted by email at or by post c/o Friends of the Dales, Canal Wharf, Gargrave BD23 3PN.

The Dales Way is not a National Trail although it is one of the UK’s most popular long distance walks. The paths are maintained by the local authorities in the areas the walk passes through and the route is promoted and supported by the Dales Way Association. Today between 3,000 and 4,000 people walk the Dales Way each year.

For more information about the 50th Anniversary events and about walking the Dales Way see