Wednesday, 7 March 2012

A Reminiscence And A Recce

Map: OS 297 - Lower Wharfedale & Washburn Valley

Total: 15.50 miles (over two days).

Sometimes, you can’t be allowed to look a gift horse in the mouth. At the end of last week Missyg and I found ourselves heading north on business, presenting us with an opportunity that seemed too good to miss. We decided to make a weekend of it and, after a few phone calls, had ourselves booked into a B&B in Ilkley.

We had last passed through this genteel market town almost five years ago, at the beginning of our Dales Way trip. Although at the time we had little opportunity to linger, we thought it an attractive place worthy of future exploration – in fact we decided we would far rather have ended our week’s walking there instead of amongst the heaving mass of humanity we actually encountered on a warm Bank Holiday weekend in Bowness.

By the time we had indulged in a leisurely breakfast the skies were clearing and the early rain backing off. With waterproofs on and toting little more than a light rucksack and a persistent hangover (don’t ask!) we picked up the Dales Way, first passing the backs of the houses before crossing the fields towards Addingham.

Before long, the sun came out and we shed our jackets as the temperature rose and spring-like conditions ensued. The green in front of Addingham church looked picture perfect in the sunshine, with the remnants of this year’s Snowdrops mingling with the yellow buds of impending Daffodils.

We pushed on a little further before deciding to turn back. There was even time to make use of a handily placed bench to stop and soak up the spring sunshine. The rain did return to deliver a brief soaking just as we re-entered Ilkley, but it didn’t manage to dampen our spirits.

Walking this stretch of Dales Way again proved easy enough, but it brought back happy memories of an April Saturday five years ago and the excitement we felt for the forthcoming week.

Next morning, even the second lengthy breakfast of the weekend couldn’t disguise the fact it was tipping it down. However, there was an upside; thanks to washing down last night’s delicious pizza with nothing more alcoholic than Diet Coke, I was hangover free – and all the happier for it!

In an effort to continue our reminiscences we opted for another stretch of the Dales Way, this time a there-and-back walk between Bolton Abbey and Bardon Bridge using paths on either side of the River Wharfe. With clear paths all the way and nil navigation required, walks don’t come much easier than this. At least the map could stay safely tucked away in the dry.

The ruins of the Priory at Bolton Abbey dominate the estate, this morning standing dark and brooding under slate grey skies. Despite the foul weather, we shared the grounds with a mixed battalion of dog-walkers, joggers and damp sightseers. After crossing the river by the bridge, we climbed the bank beyond to a high vantage point with commanding views across the valley.

Past the Cavendish Pavillion we entered Strid Wood, ancient woodland that is a Site of Special Scientific Interest renowned for it’s fauna and flora, and nature trails abound. This morning’s rain might have been keeping wildlife activity to a minimum, but we did spot a shy Treecreeper scuttling up a tree trunk, several Goosander on the river, and a pair of Curlew that flew overhead.

Besides being a haven for wildlife, Strid Wood is known for The Strid, a roiling channel where the broad waters of the Wharfe are funnelled through a narrow fissure only a few feet across.

Beyond the wood the path hugs the west bank of the river, passing a disused aqueduct (which can now carries the Dales Way path) and the ruins of Barden Tower high on the hillside above.

Barden Bridge was our turning point and we picked up another clear path on the east bank. A couple of interesting-looking permissive paths struck off up the hillside, something to note for future visits. Today, though, we kept things simple and stuck to our riverside route, which this time offered a high-level view over The Strid.

We retraced our steps for the final mile, heading back to the car. Though the rain had subsided slightly from time to time, it had never really relented - worse than yesterday, and definitely a far cry from the glorious weather experienced five years ago on a sixteen-mile day between Ilkley and Grassington. However, our waterproofs had been up to the task and we remained pretty dry underneath.

This short break offered plenty of opportunity to reminisce on our Dales Way trip, one of the highlights of our walking career. But as well as looking back on a great week, we were also planning ahead. A recent change in work circumstances has resulted in the opportunity to head north a bit more frequently. And, if we are lucky, it might be possible to plan things to our advantage, too: with prudence, this may be something we could do more often.

Another gift horse whose dentistry we would be well advised to overlook.


  1. I really liked the look of Bolton Abbey and the River Wharfe the time we visited that stretch. Looking forward to doing it again. In fact, you've made it a must. :-) Tracey

  2. @Tracey. Yes, definitely worth a visit. But the ruined Priory looks quite grim under the wet, grey skies - quite different from how it seems on a sunny day with kids playing in the river.