We were recently invited to visit How Stean Gorge in the Yorkshire Dales to write a review for What To Do With The Kids.
Situated in an area of natural beauty, the gorge is a deep limestone furrow with a wandering labyrinth of footpaths, caves and potholes on each side through the rock walls. Once a hideout for Highway men, the Gorge became more civilised 100 years ago when the Victorians began to visit it as a visitor attraction.
Today it's a destination for thrill-seekers, young and old. The range of activities on offer at the gorge includes Gorge Scrambling, Abseiling, Rock Climbing, Caving and the new Via Ferrata – one of only two in the country. The How Stean team also organise kayaking and canoeing on the nearby Scar House Reservoir or hill walks in the Nidderdale area. You can even stay on site at the How Stean campsite.
Full equipment is provided, so all you need to bring are shoes with a good grip, clothes which you don’t mind getting wet or muddy (swimming trunks /costume advised).
All activities are led by fully-qualified and highly experienced instructors, so while every effort has been made to ensure visitors enjoy a maximum sense of risk and excitement from their visit, you will be in safe hands.
How Stean is a totally unique visitor experience, and even though you are in the middle of the Dales, the site has a very different feel – a little bit like being in an Amazonian rainforest, or Jurassic Park – or Narnia. Stan and Ann, the present owners, have added the perfect touch to the entrance to the walkways – put on a hard hat and pass through wardrobe doors into the magical How Stean Gorge World. You might even spot Aslan along the way!
For those who are slightly less adventurous or differently-abled, a walk along the gorge path is a pleasant way to pass the time while the rest of your group take on the more strenuous activities. The paths are surrounded by lush, fragrant vegetation – ferns, wild garlic and harts tongue, and an abundance of wildlife, nesting yellow wag tails, grey wag tails, a ducks and a variety of insects.
Some areas of the walkway are steep and slippy due to moss on the rocks, and handrails are scarce (Stan and Ann have been careful not to over-develop How Stean Gorge, so it remains an experience of enjoying nature with all the thrills and spills that go along with it!), so there is a need to tread carefully or stick to the dry paths if you’re nervous.
At some points of the walkway you might need to crouch down as there are low rock ceilings (which is why you’re asked to wear a hard hat) and you can also explore the narrow rock crevices along the sides and even down in the gorge, if you dare. A torch is provided to every visitor for this purpose, and you can take it home afterwards.
If you’re not very surefooted and prefer to avoid any risk of a tumble, there are a couple of spots along the way where you can take a seat, catch your breath and enjoy the sound of the birdsong and the rushing water below or peer down to the gorge and watch the activities taking place and take a photo or two.
On our visit we did the Gorge Scramble – the signature activity for How Stean.
The adventure began with a descent down into the gorge by abseiling from the bridge. To avoid the usual scary climb backwards over the edge to start the abseil, a safety gate is opened on the bridge so you can just begin by lowering yourself down – much more achievable for children and first-timers.
Once in the water, instructor Monty led the group along the length of gorge, walking (actually clambering, slipping and falling) along the gorge floor, knee, thigh and sometimes neck high in the refreshing (icy) water. This is the essence of the activity – however it is by no means as easy as it might sound.
To add even more fun to the experience, the Gorge Scramble is not just a case of merrily walking down the Gorge - You will be set a series of tasks along the way – slide down a slope on your belly, headlong into a whirling pool, climb up the rocks and dive bomb into deep water, or plunge backwards from a narrow ledge into the stream below.
For adults, it can take a bit of time to build up the courage to do some of the activities (none of which are obligatory if you really are too scared to give it a try), but kids are fearless and given a unique opportunity like this, they absolutely love the chance to push themselves and try out the various challenges, with enough risk involved to make it exciting, but with the safety of being supervised by an instructor.
Monty our instructor was truly excellent. As well as making the walk challenging and exciting, he also provided encouragement, reassurance, and a helping hand when required, meaning that everyone felt just enough out their comfort zone to experience the thrill of the gorge, but not so much as to feel in danger.
The views from down in the gorge are stunning and a fantastic part of the experience, however best enjoyed when you are not on the move, otherwise you might find yourself taking a comical stumble under the water.
The gorge walk ended with a walk through a couple of tunnels carved out by the river through the rock and then up and out back to the facilities for warm, clean showers (with large cubicles with private change compartments for families), and a tasty hot lunch back in the café.
We thoroughly enjoyed our day out at How Stean, and spent the whole of the journey home revisiting the events of the gorge walk. It was made even better by our hosts and the people we met in our group. Make no mistake – the gorge walk is not for wimps – but if you’ve got a spirit of adventure (and you’re over 7) this is an awesome way to spend some quality time with family and friends and make a memory which will last for a long time (or which the forgetful can remind themselves of with their free take-home DVD!).
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