Bolton Abbey – Walk
by Dennis and Jan Kelsall
Well-made paths run along both flanks of the Wharfe between Bolton Bridge and Barden Bridge and, with several other crossing points between the two (but not at The Strid), there are various possibilities for circular walks, from a simple two-mile (3km) stroll to a satisfying eight-mile (13km) circuit. The route described here combines the best stretches of the river with a taste of the open moors above.
Leaving the Strid Wood car park go right along the lane, crossing to a stile from which a path is signed up the field edge to Broad Park. Over another stile in the top corner, turn right and follow a clear path contouring the hillside above the wall. Ahead lies the expansive sweep of Barden Moor while to the right is a picturesque view along Wharfedale to Barden Tower, from here looking more like a baronial castle than the ruin of a mere hunting lodge. Keep with the main path as it describes a gentle arc across the moor, eventually rising at the far side to a wooden stile blocking a gap in a stone wall. Carry on to a gate beside a lane.
Remain inside the wall, turning left and following it up some 250m to a stile. Now strike a left diagonal line up the hillside to meet a clear path running along the top. Follow it left through a gateway, rising over Middle Hare Head and then swinging left beside a wall below old workings on Little Hare Head. Continuing downhill the prospect opens across the lower reaches of Wharfedale to Barden Fell.
Well trodden line
Leaving the moor through a gate, walk away along a trod. Ignore a crossing track by concrete covers pertaining to an underground pipeline from the reservoir, and stay ahead to another gate in the far boundary. Bearing left, the bridle path continues to Westy Bank Wood and descends pleasantly through the trees. Going out at the bottom, cross a small field to the nearer of two gates in the far corner. A well trodden line leads you on at the edge of grazing pastures, eventually emerging onto the main road opposite the former priory gatehouse. Follow the road through the low, narrow arch, leaving just beyond onto a drive towards the church and ruins of Bolton Priory.
Just before reaching the church, a path leaves to skirt the ruins on its way to meet the River Wharfe at the Friar’s Steps, once the only means of crossing the river. As you climb up the far bank towards Cat Crags, there are some splendid atmospheric views back through the trees. At a junction, keep left along a high path above the steep bank, ultimately coming out onto a lane at the foot of Pickles Gill. Cross the ford (or use the bridge just upstream if you don’t want to risk wet feet), but then abandon the lane just beyond for a path signed to Posforth Bridge. Returning to the riverbank, follow it up to a wooden bridge opposite the Pavilion Café. Cross there to continue upstream through Strid Wood, the fragmenting paths reuniting to lead to The Strid itself, a mile (1.6km) up the valley.
Rich in bird life
Suddenly forced into a narrow gap, barely two metres across, the river abruptly drops its innocuous appearance to become a thundering torrent at The Strid. Its very narrowness attracted the daring to leap across, earning it the name ‘strid’ or ‘stride’. But the stakes are high, because a slip means almost certain death in swirling pools up to nine metres deep. And when the Wharfe is really in spate, the fury of the deluge overspills the banks to sweep across the rocky platform. The rocks can often be slippery, so take care.
Ever since the Devonshires opened the woods to the public at the beginning of the 19th century, the spot has been a popular haunt, with a network of paths leading to striking viewpoints and vistas, laid out by a former vicar of Bolton Priory Church. Strid Wood is now a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and contains native sessile oak, ash and beech as well as other trees. In spring, the ground bursts into colour with snowdrops, bluebells and wood anemones and over 60 different types of plant have been recorded. The wood is also rich in bird life with over 40 species breeding here, including nuthatches, tree creepers, dippers and wagtails.
Taking the lower of the two onward paths, carry on up the valley to enjoy some spectacular views into the ravine before rejoining the main trail. After some 800m, bear left at successive forks, following signs to Strid Shop and Car Park. The path climbs to a break in the trees that reveals a last dramatic view along the valley before returning you to the car park.
Start: Strid Wood (SE 058563)
Distance: 6.5 miles (10.5km)
Height gain: 320m (1050ft)
OS map Explorer: OL2 – Yorkshire Dales (Southern & Western areas)
Parking: Strid Wood car park
Terrain: Rougher paths over Middle Hare Head
Refreshments: Dusty Bluebells Tea Room at start and Pavilion Café at Posforth Bridge
Toilets: Beside car park and at Posforth Bridge
Walk taken from ‘Walking in the Yorkshire Dales: South and West’ by Dennis and Jan Kelsall, published by Cicerone Press, ISBN: 9781852848859