From Village to Grass Wood
by Matt Callard
You know what you’re in for when you’re driving in and the ducks are swimming in the middle of the road. All you warm weather walkers, you sunny-day day-trippers, you hibernating lovers of the dry and the calm and the sure underfoot – welcome to your nightmare.
Driving through those winding roads of the Yorkshire Dales to pretty Grassington, with the fields in flood, the rivers raised-up and the clouds long-past ominous, you realise you must be a certain type of lover of The Great Outdoors. But, hey, walking has no off-season round these parts and the eternal thrill of the changing seasons is always better experienced with the wind in your face than from behind a rain-lashed window.
So take note: this 90 minute circular is rich in green exuberance during the fairer months but offers a squelchy and unpredictable walk on the wild side of the River Wharf during winter. So come on; it’s hats and gloves and wellies time (and the joy of leaping slippery cowpats).
Grassington Village is fairly touristy these days, which at least means there’s a large and useful car park off Hebden Road. From there, head straight through to the far left corner, to a thin track with a cottage on your left. This will lead (5 minutes) to Linton Falls, thunderously torrential on this particular winter’s day as the Wharf strained to cope with the worryingly frequent deluges. After you’ve spent time testing your vertigo by peering from the bridge into the rapids, don’t cross it – instead leave the path just before the bridge to the right and join the grass path keeping the river on your left.
So here’s that first squelch – in winter this route gets extremely sodden underfoot so, assuming you’re a mud lover and suitably equipped in waterproofs, follow the green until you cross the next bridge at Station Road (15 minutes) and rejoin the trail. Soon you’ll pass (25 minutes) Ghaistrill’s Strid (literally overwhelmed with white water as we passed nearby).
The vast open skies of the Yorkshire Dales should be reason enough to tempt anyone from their Playstations once in a while. Right then, on that soaking riverbank, the rain eased and a rare sun flitted a pale wintry light to reveal a gigantic rainbow – the biggest and brightest I’ve ever seen. Reminded of its Christian relevance as God’s covenant not to destroy the Earth with floodwater, this atheist couldn’t help but feel strangely relieved to see it this one wet day. A little bit of natural magic, no less, and already the sogginess was all worthwhile.
Eventually the riverbank can take you no further and you’ll be offered a right hand upward trail (40 minutes) into Grass Wood. This rare area of Dales broadleaved woodland is being carefully managed as it is something of a botanical treasure trove. Small coupes of invading conifers are being carefully removed in order to restore the wood to the ash-dominated open woodland that would exist in natural conditions and therefore allow the rare flora and fauna to flourish.
Keep to the track winding upwards and turn left when offered a 2-way crossroad (50 minutes). Before long there’ll be a long pull upwards on a well-kept path. At the top of the path head straight onwards. Shortly you should see a sign proclaiming you are now in a protected area of national importance. The area shows evidence of prehistoric settlements. But don’t expect to discover any masonry – the clues are beneath the ground you walk on. You may also notice a more modern relic – kilns. They are from when the nearby mining industry demanded dry wood to keep the smelt mills active.
Soon you’ll leave the wood (80 minutes) and cross a wide field. Follow the path, head for the sign post bang in the middle of the next field. Hop a few stiles until eventually you’re winding back over the top of Grassington Village hill.
A walk of contrasts and winter drama. A Dales classic – whatever the weather.
Grassington Walk: What else?
- GRASS WOOD: Some of the wood’s rare flowers include lily-of-the-valley, bloody crane’s bill and burnet rose. Birds such as the nuthatch, tree creeper, woodcock, coal tit and green woodpecker nest there.
- GRASSINGTON VILLAGE: Lots of tourist gift shops and a neat museum. There’s a pretty square that unfortunately becomes too easily choc-full of cars. A good selection of pubs all serving decent quality food.
- GRASSINGTON DICKENSIAN FESTIVAL is in December where the whole village steps back in time. Expect mulled wine and chestnuts, Christmas carols and street theatre.
- HOW TO GET THERE: Grassington is about 9 miles from Bolton Abbey on the B6265.