THERE have recently been many press reports about the possible growth in numbers of red squirrels across the Dales but the best place to see them is probably at Snaizeholme in Widdale, near Hawes.

A short but pleasant walk through the woods adds to any sightings (never guaranteed).

Snaizeholme is a quiet side dale, rarely visited before the introduction of red squirrels by the owners of Mirk Pot Farm where they are now protected.

To get there you can either get the local bus from Hawes or book one of the few car parking spaces at the farm through the National Park Centre in Hawes. However, there is also some limited parking near Widdale Foot which we used (any parking up Snaizeholme is discouraged).

From Widdale Foot a dead end road climbs in to Snaizeholme with excellent views down dale towards Wensleydale and beyond.

Four hundred metres up road there is a turning on your left in to Mirk Pot Farm. Walk past the farm and the parking places and join a path heading downhill in to the woods. The path drops down towards the valley floor and is the first opportunity to look for the red squirrels.

The woods are mainly conifers and the squirrels are usually seen running amongst the cones or sat still in the branches of the trees. The squirrels feed on the seeds within the pine cones. The best way of seeing them is to stop at a point near a clearing, be quiet and wait.

On approaching the foot of the valley the path turns right and follows the line of the trees above the dale floor.

The trees on the right hold the attention for the potential of the squirrels but also there is some private estate houses, one of which has at present a statue of the Madonna outside. The mountain slopes on the other side of the dale belong to Dodd Fell Hill, one of the Dales 30 mountains, and half way up the slopes is a remote section of the Pennine Way.

After a gate there is a side path that heads up the hill for a few metres to the official viewing point. All this is, is a clearing with a couple of benches and a feeder 20 metres away on one of the trees. However this is where we saw our red squirrels, four or five of them racing along the ground. They came close as if tame, probably because they were fed (wrongly) by previous visitors. They were great.

From the viewing area drop back down to the main path and carry on up the dale, past the front of a house which looked like a small country retreat, until it met a large farm road. Turn right and head up the hillside until it meets the tarmac road.

At this point it is possible to walk a little way up the dale by turning left. The road stops but a track continues for a mile. It is truly a remote place in a remote place. Turning right on the road leads back to Widdale Foot after just over one mile.

It is however a pleasant walk with the woods on the right and open hillside on your left. The views down Widdale are also good.

* Fact Box:

Distance: Roughly three miles

Height to Climb: 120m (395 feet).

Start: SD 826979. There is some parking on the main road at Widdale Foot near a gate.

Difficulty: Easy: The route is well signposted and easy underfoot.

Refreshments: Hawes is three-and-a-half miles away with a choice of cafes and pubs.

Be Prepared: The route description and sketch map only provide a guide to the walk. You must take out and be able to read a map (O/S Explorer OL2) and in cloudy/misty conditions a compass (essential on this walk).

You must also wear the correct clothing and footwear for the outdoors.

Whilst every effort is made to provide accurate information, walkers head out at their own risk.

Please observe the Countryside Code and park sensibly.

* Jonathan Smith runs Where2walk, a walking company in the Yorkshire Dales. He has published two books on the Dales, ‘The Yorkshire 3 Peaks’ and ‘The Dales 30’ mountains. Available direct from the Where2walk website.