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Park House Campsite, Keld, Swaledale, North Yorkshire
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Park House Campsite, Keld, Swaledale, North YorkshirePark House is situated in the wild upper reaches of Swaledale, in the least-visited area of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and in a place many folk consider to be the most unspoilt and emptiest chunk of scenery in northern England.

The campsite at first seems to be in a very isolated spot, and for this reason may not suit the kind of camper who requires ready-made entertainment or the bright lights of a city in the vicinity. Or any lights, in fact, with a night sky here that can be astounding. So why is there such a well-organised small campsite so far away from civilisation - besides the obvious attraction of being so far away from civilisation, of course?

It's all down to a bloke named Wainwright, who was a very successful Lake District guidebook writer. When he'd completed his Lakeland masterpieces, he decided to invent a walk right across England from St Bees in the Lake District, to Robin Hoods Bay (see pp264-267) on the North Yorkshire coast. The book, which he aptly named A Coast to Coast Walk, sold in lorry-loads, and the walk proved so glorious that it caught on like wildfire.

Before long, hungry, bedraggled disciples of the route were seeking sustenance and lodgings all along the walk, and a small industry was bom to service the needs of these intrepid hikers. Park House, where the wild, wet, deserted moors of the North Pennines drop into the lovely upper reaches of Swaledale, is in just the right spot for exhausted trekkers to rest and receiver their strength overnight, and thus a campsite (and bunkhouse) was born.

Park House Campsite, Keld, Swaledale, North Yorkshire

One of the blessings of this site's origins is that the facilities and services on offer here are geared towards making life easy for the lightweight backpacker. So for us wimpier campers, the provision of real meals and alcoholic refreshment in the warmth and shelter of the barn makes Park I louse something ol a sybarite's paradise. And, despite the seeming solitude of the surroundings, a short stroll up the lane leads to the village of Keld which, besides being one of England's cutest hamlets, also accommodates a very civilised restaurant.

So while that first impression of Park House being purely a place for walkers to swap whoppers about their outdoor adventures is true, it isn't the whole story, and the real reason for bringing your camping contraption here has little to do with the hearty food or cockle-warming booze on offer, nor the interesting characters who drop in from the misty hills above. No, it's more to do with where the site is, and the scenic delights of upper Swaledale itself — especially so in early summer, when its famous meadows are ablaze with colour for a few short weeks.

Park House Campsite, Keld, Swaledale, North Yorkshire

The site is situated immediately next to the River Swale, and there are a couple of excellent pools in the river within a few hundred metres for that invigorating dip after a lengthy walking expedition or, m midsummer, a longer acquaintance with the smooth peaty waters of the Swale. Park House may be a vital servicing point on the Coast to Coast Walk, but it isn't quite as cut off as first impressions suggest, and the main appeal here is the scenic situation of this stunning little campsite, and the ease with which the scenery can be accessed straight from your little sliver of the easy life. Most of all, make sure that you bring your boots, and a will to use them. Oh yes, and the bikini too - for those temptingly cool, clear pools in the River Swale.

COOL FACTOR A tiny campsite in huge and beautiful surroundings.

WHO'S IN Tents, campervans, caravans, dogs - yes. Croups - weary walking ones only.

ON SITE With just 12 pitches normally (backpackers are never turned away), the site is small and its facilities reflect this. There are toilets, 2 free showers, clothes-drying facilities (besides the wringer), and a warm, dry barn with tables and chairs for campers' use. There are also 6 electric hook-ups for power-crazed campers. Perhaps the best facility here though is Heather, who runs the campsite. This lovely, bubbly lady from Lancashire cooks the meals, pulls the pints (well cans and bottles), and generally just makes everyone feel welcome. Campfires are not allowed in a general sense, but there is a fixed fire grate.

OFF SITE This part of Swaledale is probably the prettiest place in the Yorkshire Dales, which you'll discover upon walking to the ruined remains of 17th-century farmhouse, Crackpot Hall, and then down to Muker village. The best time for walking here is mid June, when the famous Swaledale meadows are awash with wild flowers, and turn a walk through this place into an emotional experience. Further afield, there's the impressive Richmond Castle (01748 822493) just over 15 miles away. Over a high pass into Wensleydale you'll find the Wensleydale Creamery (01969 667664; www.wensleydale.co.uk) of Wallace and Cromit fame. At Aysgarth (also in Wensleydale) you'll discover a lovely set of waterfalls in the River Ure, alongside the National Park Visitor Centre and a nice cafe. Bolton Castle (01969 623981; www.boltoncastle.co.uk) is an awesome apparition, with its own cafe and restaurant.

Park House Campsite, Keld, Swaledale, North Yorkshire

FOOD AND DRINK Heather's onsite culinary offerings include bacon, egg, or egg-and-bacon baguettes in the mornings, and for dinner beef or veggie curry, beef stew, or chip baguettes. Should you fancy a little more choice, a Уг-mile stroll along the lane brings you to Keld Lodge (01748 886259; www.keldlodge.com), where good food is dished up with a great view. A bit further back down the valley (about 2 miles), in Thwaite, is Kearton Country Hotel (01748 886277; www.keartoncountryhotel.co.uk), where the food is sensational, though advance booking may be necessary. Beer fiends claim that the Old Peculier at the Farmers Arms (01748 886297; www.farmersarmsmuker.co.uk) in Muker is the best in Britain, while 4 miles from the site is the famous Tan Hill Inn (01833 628246; www.tanhillinn.co.uk), which is the highest pub in England. During the 2009/10 winter the customers were trapped here for several days after heavy snow one evening, so take spare clothes, a toothbrush, and interesting company, just to be on the safe side.

GETTING THERE The site is next to the B6270 (Kirkby Stephen to Richmond road), ½ mile west of Keld. The route over from Kirkby Stephen (accessible by the A685) in the west is a high, narrow, and exposed road. If you're coming from the east, access Richmond from the A1.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT The nearest train station is at Darlington, and bus no. X27 runs from there to Richmond, from where bus no. 30 goes to the campsite twice daily, and from the campsite to Richmond thrice daily.

OPEN All year.

THE DAMAGE Adult £6 per night; child £3; electric hook¬up £3. Dogs free.

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