Running from west to east, Wensleydale is one of the few valleys in the Yorkshire Dales which takes its name from a village (Wensley), rather than the river (the Ure) which flows along it (although the valley has in past times also been known as "Uredale", or even by the Norse name of "Yoredale").
Villages and hamlets in Upper Wensleydale include Hawes (at the head of the valley), Hardraw (famous for what is arguably England's highest unbroken waterfall, Hardraw Force), Bainbridge, Askrigg and Aysgarth (where the River Ure descends a series of limestone steps at the famous beauty spot of Aysgarth Falls). Further down the valley are the villages of West Burton, West Witton, Castle Bolton, Middleham, Coverham and East Witton, the market towns of Leyburn and Masham, the pretty riverside village of West Tanfield and the cathedral city of Ripon on the edge of the Vale of Mowbray.
Tributary valleys of Wensleydale include Cotterdale, Widdale, Sleddale, Raydale, Bishopdale, Waldendale and Coverdale, while near the head of the dale the famous Buttertubs Pass leads up over the moors and down into Swaledale.
As a matter of convention, Wensleydale is often divided into what is arbitrarily known as "Upper Wensleydale" and "Lower Wensleydale" - lying approximately upstream and downstream of Leyburn respectively.
There are fine historic castles at Castle Bolton and Middleham (the former was one of the places where Mary Queen of Scots was interned, and the latter was the childhood home of Richard the Third). Other historic sites in Wensleydale include the ruined monastery of Jervaulx Abbey and the Preceptory of the Knights Templar near West Witton. There are also numerous follies including the Forbidden Corner, the somewhat mysterious Sorrelsykes Follies whose origins remain obscure, and the Druid's Temple near Masham.
The Wensleydale Railway runs along the eastern part of the dale from Redmire (near Castle Bolton) to Leeming Bar (near Northallerton in the Vale of York). Towns and villages along the line play host to the Wensleydale 1940s Weekend (which is usually held sometime in July).
Wensleydale is of course famous for being the home of Wensleydale Cheese.