Lower Wharfedale and Lakeland

Lower Wharfedale and Yorkshire’s Lake District

The drive covers around 70 KM, 45 Miles of driving on generally good roads, though the back road from Ilkley to the A59 is quite narrow. It could be described as a good introduction to the Dales, taking in some of the most easily accessible locations, and the most popular in Bolton Abbey, Grassington and Burnsall. On most weekends, expect the roads between these villages to be busy. The return leg offers a contrast, with generally quieter, less travelled routes through a more remote moorland landscape. The drive showcases some of the best scenery in the lower Dales, all within easy reach of the main towns and Cities of North and West Yorkshire.

For some unique photographic perspectives of the Dales and villages covered by this drive , have a look at our sister website- Yorkshire-Photography.com.

Start –Ilkley Railway station

Ilkley is a sizeable community (around 14,000 residents) situated on the banks of the River Wharfe to the North of Bradford. The arrival of the railway in the early 1800’s led to it becoming a popular Victorian spa resort .Today, the town centre is still characterised by Victorian architecture, wide streets and floral displays. Ilkley Moor, to the south of the town, is the subject of a folk song, often described as the unofficial anthem of Yorkshire, “On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at”. The song’s words are written in Yorkshire dialect, its title translated as “On Ilkley Moor without a hat.”Ilkley Moor is also famous for its ‘Cow and Calf’ rocks, which are popular with rock climbers .

Ilkley as seen from the moor

The area is also renowned for its prehistoric rock carvings. The area around Ilkley has been continuously settled since at least the early Bronze Age, around 1800 BC; more than 250 cup and ring marks, and a curved swastika carving dating to the period are visible high on the moors. A druidical stone circle, the Twelve Apostles Stone Circle, was constructed 2,000 years ago and can be visited via a footpath leading along the Moor’s edge. More recent rock carvings can be found on the rocks above the Cow and Calf, with carved Victorian graffiti providing an interesting window on our recent past.The view from the road leading from the Cow and Calf hotel towards the town is breathtaking and is one of the iconic views of the Yorkshire dales. 

Turn right at the main cross roads in town , through the traffic lights and across the bridge. Turn left along Denton Road, then Langbar Road , and Nesfield Rd, which becomes West Hall Lane. Follow this small country lane through the hamlets of Nesfield and Beamsley.Nesfield to Beamsley It’s a very narrow road which is popular with cyclists – be on your guard for oncoming vehicles or cycles. Eventually arrive at the main A59 road, which runs between Harrogate and Skipton.Turn left then right at the roundabout and follow the B6160 to Bolton Abbey.

Bolton Abbey is a tiny village just off the A59 at the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The village takes its name from the ruined 12th-century Augustinian monastery now generally known as Bolton Priory. The monastery was originally founded at Embsay in 1120. The land at Bolton were given to the Augustinian order by Lady Alice de Romille of Skipton Castle in 1154 and the Black Canons of the Order of St. Augustine founded their Abbey on the banks of the River Wharfe . In the early 14th century Scottish raiders caused the temporary abandonment of the site and serious structural damage to the priory. Building work was still going on at the abbey when the Dissolution of the Monasteries resulted in the termination of the priory in 1539. A tower, begun in 1520, was left half-standing, and its base was later given a bell-turret and converted into an entrance porch.Bolton abbey The Bolton Abbey Estate is mentioned in the Domesday Book and comprised of Bolton Abbey, Halton East, Embsay, Draughton; Skibeden, Skipton, Low Snaygill, Thorlby; Addingham, Beamsley, Holme, Gargrave; Stainton, Otterburn, Scosthrop, Malham, Anley; Coniston Cold, Hellifield and Hanlith. During the Norman Conquest the land was granted first to The Clamores of Yorkshire , then transferred to Robert de Romille around 1090, who moved its centre to Skipton Castle. Ownership then passed to Robert Clifford and in 1748 Baroness Clifford married William Cavendish so Bolton Abbey Estate thereafter belonged to the Dukes of Devonshire, who’s name is maintained on a number of pubs in the area. The 11th Duke of Devonshire passed ownership to the Chatsworth Settlement Trustees who steward the estate to the present day.

The Estate is just under 30, 000 acres in size made up of 14, 000 acres of heather moorland, 14, 000 acres of agricultural land and 1, 500 acres of woodland and is responsible for 198 residential properties, 54 farms and 27 commercial properties.  54 of these are listed properties.  It employs more than 80 people and supports a community of over 1500 people. It has five areas designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, including Strid Wood, (The strid is the name for the section of the River Wharfe which runs through these estate).The railway reached Bolton Abbey in 1888. Special trains brought visitors in their Sunday best from the industrial towns to the South for a day out. The Embsay & Bolton Abbey Steam Railway still runs to Bolton Abbey station one and a half miles from Bolton Priory. 

Follow the B6160 as it winds its way towards Upper Wharfedale. A short distance from Bolton Abbey, the road climbs to reveal glimpses of the valley’s hills as you travel along a narrow two-lane road bordered by the dry stone walls for which the Dales are famous. You’ll pass Strid Caravan Park and a turn off to the hidden hamlet of Thorpe before arriving at Barden Tower.

Barden TowerBarden Tower The 15th century ruin of Barden Tower on the B6160 was once a hunting lodge for the Lords of Skipton and the Earls of Cumberland. For 40 years it was the home of Henry, the 10th Lord of Skipton, who preferred the seclusion of Wharfedale to his main home at Skipton Castle. Henry was known as the Shepherd Lord because, as a child, he was sent into hiding with Shepherd families during the Wars of the Roses. The tower had fallen into disrepair by the late 1600’s and by 1800 its roof had been stripped of lead, leaving the ruin still visible from the road today.

The road then carries on up the dale to Burnsall.

Burnsall Burnsall burnsall

Burnsall is situated on the River Wharfe in Lower Wharfedale,  and its five-arched bridge over which the Dalesway passes, is a much photographed Yorkshire icon. The village is situated between Bolton Abbey and Grassington and sits in a picturesque valley, with great views of the village from the road as you approach from Bolton Abbey and from the hills looking down upon it.  The 2001 Census quoted a population of only 112, but the village has a  church, a chapel, a primary school , two hotels with restaurants, and a pub. With its village green facing the river, Burnsall is generally classed as ‘The Dales’ to the people of Leeds and Bradford and can get quite busy on a Summers day. Most maps won’t highlight a campsite but a farmer does allow camping on his land – follow the road towards Grassington and the farm is a left turn near the Church Hall. 

The road carries on up the valley with the river to the right before passing the turn off to Linton.

Linton Falls Linton is one of the most picturesque of Dales villages. Set just off the B6160 the village is set around a village green surrounded by an historic almshouse, a pub, the Fountaine Inn, and three stone bridges over its beck. North of the main part of the village is Linton Falls, a row of stone cottages set by spectacular falls cascading over erratic limestone formations.  A 14th Century packhorse bridge, ‘Little Emily’s Bridge’, crosses the falls and heads up the field to the car park at Grassington. A few minutes’ walk from the falls is  Saint Michael and All Saints church, on the banks of the River Wharfe as it flows towards Burnsall. The river can be crossed at most times of the year at this point via stepping stones. 

Back on the B6160 the road arrives at Threshfield

Threshfield is a village of around 1000 inhabitants at the junction of the B6265 road which leads from the A65 to Grassington and the B6160 from Bolton Abbey North to Upper Wharfedale. It has a small ‘old style’ petrol station and garage, one of the few not to have been taken over by one of the oil company chains. The village is home to a Georgian pub with cottage accommodation,  The Old Hall, named after  the 14th century hall at its rear, which was built by monks and is reputedly the oldest inhabited building in Wharfedale. 

At Threshfield, turn right along the B6265 which drops down to the river, crosses the stone bridge and heads up towards Grassington.

 Grassington could be classed as a large village or small town. (it was granted a Royal Charter for a market and fair in 1282 giving it market town status. grassington roadsignThe market was held regularly until about 1860) It’s situated in the heart of Wharfedale and, along with nearby Burnsall, is one of the locations best known to visitors from the big Cities to the South. Grassington grew as a village in the 17 Century when it became an important centre for lead mining. Evidence of its mining heritage can be seen on the moors high above the village near Yarnbury with the signposted Grassington Moor leadmining trail. Visiting on a cold day gives a hint of the harsh conditions the miners had to cope with. Grassington was the unlikely location for an 18th century murder mystery.  In 1766 Dr Richard Petty was murdered at Grass Wood near Grassington. grassington main streetThere is a good deal of intrigue around what actually happened but it seems that the Grassington Blacksmith Tom Lee shot the doctor as he returned from a cock fight at Kettlewell, in order to steal his winnings . Lee was a publican and sometime Blacksmith and his blacksmiths workshop or ‘smidy’ is marked today by a plaque in the village. Lee was originally acquitted of the murder but re-tried and hanged at York . His body was left suspended at Grass Wood in an iron gibbet until it decomposed and the bones fell to the ground. Not surprisingly, Lee’s ghost is said to roam Grass Wood to this day!  

From Grassington continue along the B6265- you are now on the opposite side of the River Wharfe. After a couple of miles the road passes through the hamlet of Hebden.

DSC_0272 Hebden is a small village on the B6265 road between Grassington and Pateley Bridge.In 2001 it had a population of 216 and 133 dwellings. Hebden has a church, a chapel, a hotel and a pub- The Clarendon Hotel , a tea room, a community hall, a post-office and general store.. The main road crosses a stone bridge over Hebden Gill, built in 1827. Main Street, forming the high street for the village, continues south as Mill Lane, towards the bank of the River Wharfe .The road to the north runs to the small hamlet of Hole Bottom, location of some stone holiday cottages situated in an idyllic location. From there the route continues as a track onto Grassington Moor, with the remains of an old lead smelting works still visible high on the moor and affording great views over the surrounding countryside.

Wildflowers in a meadow near Hebden

Wildflowers in a meadow near Hebden

Lead mining  and Cotton milling were important industries for the village and from the early 19th century Hebden served as a dormitory village for the miners, helping the population rise to over 500 in the 1830s. As a result of the success of the mines a number of the mine owners were involved in the promotion of the Grassington to Pately Bridge turnpike road, which was begun in 1760 and was to provide an all-weather route across the moors for wagons. Green Terrace, which includes the Post Office, was built in the 1870s, and Main Street was transformed from a humble back lane into the high street. The village school, with working clock and bell tower, was built by the community in 1874,and the community hall, was completed in 1903.

The accessible ore was largely exhausted by the late 1800s, and the population steadily declined and has now reverted to its sleepy roots, with many visitors whizzing through on the main road, therefore missing the gold post box outside the post office, installed to commemorate the 2012 Olympic Games rowing gold medal won by Andrew Triggs Hodge, who grew up in the village. 

The road climbs steeply from Hebden, passing through farmland before dropping down to Dibbles Bridge at the bottom of the valley.

 Dibbles Bridge is a stone bridge on the B6265, on a steep bend,at the foot of a 1:6 gradient Fancarl Top.

Road leading to Dibbles Bridge Near Hebden

Road leading to Dibbles Bridge Near Hebden

On 27 May 1975 the bridge was the scene of an horrific accident when a bus full of pensioners from Teeside, en route for Grassington, failed to negotiate the gradient and severe bend in the road and crashed through the bridge, landing on its roof in the beck below. Thirty-one elderly passengers and the driver were killed, and thirteen others injured. It remains one of the worst-ever road accidents in the United Kingdom by number of people killed.


The B6265 continues to climb to the harsh moorland surrounding Stump Cross Caverns.

 The limestone caves at Stump Cross are located beneath Greenhow hill, 1275 metres above sea level on the B6265 road from Pateley Bridge to Grassington. Their name was taken from Stump Cross, which in ancient times marked the limit of Knaresborough Forest. One mile of the caves are open to the public but the entire system extends more than 4 miles and  has not yet been fully explored.

Stump Cross Caverns on the B6265

Stump Cross Caverns on the B6265

The caves were formed around half a million years ago but were only discovered in 1860 by lead miners from nearby Greenhow. Inside one of the first caves explored were the whole skeletons of reindeer,wolverines and bison which had been trapped in the caves thousands of years before. The area around the caves and particularly the road towards Greenhow are reputedly haunted and many people claim to have heard the sound of ghostly clogs of ancient miners tap tapping their way home on the windswept road on a dark night. Today the caves are owned by the Bowerman family, who also part-own the Richmond Brewery Company, which in 2008 released an ale named after Stump Cross. They are designated as a site of special scientific interest and are open to the public every day in Summer and at weekends in Winter.

A couple of miles beyond Stump Cross Caverns, you arrive at the village of Greenhow.

Greenhow is one of the highest villages in Yorkshire, at an altitude of between 400 and 420 metres (1,300 and 1,380 ft), and one of the few villages in the United Kingdom lying at over 400 metres.Its situated on the B6265 road between Pateley Bridge and Grassington and is at the end of the unnamed 8 mile road linking the A59 with the B6265. 

View from the B6265 near Greenhow

View from the B6265 near Greenhow

The first recorded settlement of the site was by the monks of Fountains Abbey, who were the first to mine lead in the area. Sir Stephen Proctor bought the Manor of Bewerley, including the mineral rights in 1597, and founded the current village Joseph Kipling, the grandfather of Rudyard Kipling was the minister at the Methodist Chapel at Greenhow and Rudyard himself is known to have visited the village though it’s unclear whether the family home was situated on the site of Kipling’s Cottage which is currently a house in the village near the Miners Arms. To the east of the village is Coldstones Quarry, operated by Hanson. A large public artwork, The Coldstones Cut, has been created by the artist Andrew Sabin, and was opened in 2010 and affords great views of the surrounding area.

Look out for the church on the left hand side of the road as you dip down into the village.Turn right here and embark on a glorious 7 mile drive on the good, long, mostly straight and traffic free Greenhow Hill Road with fantastic moorland views. You eventually arrive at the isolated Stone House Cross Roads and the Stone house Inn. This marks the start of what could be referred to as Wharfedale’s Lakeland.

 Wharfedale Lakeland In the late 19th century, the Washburn Valley in Wharfedale was turned into a mini Lake District to provide the rapidly expanding industrial City of Leeds with a water supply. The first reservoir, Lindley Wood, was completed in 1875, followed by Swinsty in 1876 and Fewston in 1879.

Fewston Reservoir at Blubberhouses

Fewston Reservoir at Blubberhouses

In 1966, a fourth reservoir was required and Thruscross was developed, though it entailed flooding the small village of West End.In the 18th century West End was a thriving cotton producing village, with a church, post office, workers cottages and textile mills. The last mill closed in 1889 and the population dwindled and the decision was taken to demolish the village and flood its location. Some of the structures are still visible when water levels are low, including parts of the old church. All the reservoirs are popular with walkers nowadays and there are a lot of great walks on good paths in the area, many along the banks of the reservoirs.A sad post script to the flooding of the valley is the fate of those buried in West End’s Holy Trinity churchyard.The last service at the Church was held by candlelight on Monday 11th October 1965. Over 140 people came to share in this final farewell. Arrangements were made to commence the macabre but necessary task of exhuming many of the bodies in the graveyard of Church.

Cross marking graves relocated from West End churchyard

Cross marking graves relocated from West End churchyard

The bodies were re-interred, along with their old headstones, in a bleak location in a field beside Greenhow Hill Road, marked by a plain wooden cross. The site today is easily missed as you speed by, but it’s worth slowing just before the concrete water tower to notice the cross and the graves in this lonely location. Opposite the Stone House Inn is a road leading to Thruscross Reservoir, the previous location of the church.

Eventually Greenhow Hill Road reaches the main A59 Road. Here, you have a choice of 2 routes.

Option 1 – Turn right and immediate left just past the car park for Fewston Reservoir at Blubberhouses.

Blubberhouses is  a small village situated on the A59 road in Nidderdale, at the head of Fewston Reservoir and on the banks of the River Washburn, to the South of the Dales. The origins of the unusual name are uncertain with a number of theories. One is that the name came from an ancient tavern –The Blue Boar Inn which existed in the village.

Moorland heather near Blubberhouses

Moorland heather near Blubberhouses

Another is that it was named due to the profusion of Blueberries in the area. Less likely is that it gained the name in the 18th century, as the site of a workhouse which housed orphans from Leeds and Bradford. Worked to death, these poor wretches filled the valley with their cries, and the village was named after their ‘blubbering’. Blubberhouses has a church, St Andrews, and a cricket team who play at a very picturesque ground on the banks of the River Washburn, which is popular with canoiests and other water sports enthusiasts.

From Blubberhouses, the road climbs, offering great views of the reservoir and the surrounding valleys. Just past the turnoff for Timble is a right turn, signposted Asquith and Ilkley. Turn here if you want to return straight to Ilkley in order to miss the traffic which often queues over the bridge and into Otley.

Menwith Hill Golf BallsOption 2 – Turn left at the A59 at Blubberhouses and follow the road for a couple of miles. After a steep dip and upward incline, you’ll arrive at a cross roads. The left turn heads towards the RAF Base at Menwith Hill. This site is mainly run by the US Air Force and has been decribed as the biggest electronic monitoring station in the world. Its well know for its huge ‘golf balls’ which are actually radomes -domes protecting sophisticated radar antenna. The domes are actually best viewed from the surrounding countryside including the route we will take which is the right turn, signposted Otley at the cross roads. The road dips and swerves through farmland and past the Sun Inn, and access road to Swinsty reservoir. If you look back at the highest point of the road, you get a good view of the domes and Menwith Hill plus Swinsty and Fewston reservoirs in the valley to the left. The road eventually drops down and crosses a causeway at Lindley Wood reservoir. It then passes through the hamlet of Farnley to arrive at a T Junction. Turn right here and follow the road to the bridge at Otley.

Otley is a small town of around 14,000 inhabitants, which straddles both sides of the River Wharfe just North of Leeds. The town grew in the first half of the 13th century when the Archbishops of York, who were then Lords of the Manor laid out burgage (rental )plots to attract merchants and tradesmen to the area.A Royal Charter was granted in 1222 for the town to host a weekly market.It became a centre of woollen industry trade in the Industrial Revolution when over 500 people were employed in its mills. Otley is famous for its Chevin which is a Gritstone escarpment to the South of the town, popular with walkers and affording fine views across the valley. It’s also famous for its pubs, one of which , The Black Bull in the Market Place, was allegedly drunk dry by Oliver Cromwell’s troops on the night before the battle of Marston Moor during the English Civil War.

Otley isn’t actually within the Yorkshire Dales National Park but is close to the boundary  and is likely to be en-route if travelling from Leeds .The main roads through the town are the A660 to the south east, which connects Otley to Bramhope, Adel and Leeds city centre, and the A65 to the west, which goes to Ilkley and then onto Skipton and the ‘actual’ Dales. The A6038 heads to Guiseley, Shipley and Bradford, connecting with the A65. To Harrogate, the A659 heads east to the A658, which is the main Bradford-Harrogate road.

Arriving in Otley, take a left turn over the River and head up into the town Centre.From here follow signs for the A65 and Ilkley, where you return to the start of the drive.

Circular walks which can be completed in conjunction with this drive –

Grassington and Hebden

Burnsall and Appletreewick

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