Sunday, 24 October 2010

Barden Tower, The Strid & Bolton Priory

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Route: Bolton Abbey, Bolton Hall, West Bank Wood, Little Hare Head, Middle Hare Head, Hare Head Side, Broad Park Bridge, Barden Scale, Barden Tower, Barden Bridge, Holme House, The Strid, Strid Wood, Wooden Bridge, Dales Way, Bolton Priory, Bolton Abbey

Date: 24/10/2010
From: Bolton Abbey

Parking: Parking at Bolton Abbey
Start Point: Bolton Abbey
Region: Yorkshire Dales

Route length: 7.2 miles (11.6km)
Time taken: 03:40
Average speed: 2mph
Ascent: 257m
Descent: 266m

Points of interest: Barden Tower, The Strid, Bolton Priory

The River Wharfe flows through some of the finest scenery in the country, and almost certainly among the most picturesque in the Yorkshire Dales. As it meanders its way through the valley of Langstrothdale, it passes a number of the high 2000ft peaks that the Dales have to offer, gaining volume thanks to the significant number of shake-hole sourced streams that flow into it. As it flows into Wharfedale, it crosses over two sets of waterfalls, the impressive outcrops at Linton and the focal point of this walk, a dramatic narrowing at The Strid before snaking its way to the impressive Bolton Priory.

Admittedly, all of the above excitement arrives during the second half of the walk so I won't dwell too much on the first bit but that does not necessarily mean that it will fly totally under the radar.

As much of this walk is in the grounds of Bolton Abbey, we had to pay an entrance fee that also covered the cost to park the car in the official car park; the ideal place for the start of this circular walk. I'm sure that if you approached the route from a different direction (from the north perhaps) you could avoid paying the fee. Otherwise, this walk starts with a quick walk along the road, through the arch, before heading left up a track towards Bolton Hall and Westy Bank Wood.
The large-car worrying arch at Bolton Abbey
The path heading towards Westy Bank Wood
Built around the original archway leading to the 12th-century priory opposite, Bolton Hall has been extended to provide an elegant and comfortable shooting lodge for successive Dukes of Devonshire who have owned own the Bolton Abbey estate since 1748, when William Cavendish married Baroness Clifford. Bolton Priory is perhaps the most well-known part of the estate. Bolton Hall is now run by the Chatsworth Settlement Trustees, who were founded by the 11th Duke of Devonshire. The path leads into, and ultimately through, Westy Bank Wood, a large mixed woodland that is often carpeted by bluebells during the spring.

After negotiating the wood, a long 3km climb reaches out over the moorland to a trio of humps; High Hare Head, Little Hare Head and the largest of the three, Middle Hare Head. It is this section of the walk, and the descending arm back down the road to Barden that is fairly devoid of features so, sit back (so to speak), relax and enjoy simply being out in the fresh air of the countryside. It is possible to extend this walk to visit Barden Reservoir thus avoiding a large proportion of the road down to Barden Tower.
A splendid day in the Yorkshire Dales
Barden Tower in the distance
Climbing one of the Hare Heads
The expansive Yorkshire Dales
Before long, we had reached Barden Tower, a ruined hunting lodge on the edge of the road leading up Lower Wharfedale. The tower was the principle hunting lodge of the ancient Forest of Barden and home of the 10th Lord of Skipton, more commonly known as the Shepherd Lord. The ruined tower overlooks the Priest's House, built in the early 16th century which the Shepherd Lord built for his private Chaplain. The word 'barden' means “valley where the barley grew” and the tower was originally one of six hunting lodges within the forest of Barden.
Barden Tower
Barden Tower
Barden Tower also forms part of fabled 'Barden Triangle', an area around the head of Lower Wharfedale which includes a trio of places with supposed supernatural associations. These are the reputedly haunted limestone gorge of Troller's Gill, the strange conical knoll of Elbolton Hill (said to be the "Hill of the Fairies") and the Dibble's Bridge (which was allegedly built by the Devil). Barden Tower forms the southern apex of the triangle, with Cracoe and the top end of Troller's Gill roughly defining the northern-most edges.

We had to cross the picturesque Barden Bridge to join the Dales Way as it hugs the banks of the River Wharfe before crossing again shortly downstream. We'd reached the beginnings of Strid Wood, home to The Strid.
Barden Bridge
Strid Wood is an ancient woodland; a Site of Special Scientific Interest no less and one of the largest areas of acidic oak woodland in the Yorkshire Dales. It was opened to the public in 1810 by the 6th Duke of Devonshire and the Rev William Carr. The wood is set either side of the River Wharfe as it runs through the steep sided valley that creates The Strid.

The Strid gets its name from the Anglo-Saxon 'Stryth' meaning Turmoil or Tumult. This gives you a clue to the impressive nature of the feature, a narrowing of the River Wharfe through a tight, rocky chasm causing the waters to foam and froth in anger as they are squeezed through. The name has since been corrupted into Strid, from the possibility of being able to stride across the channel, though this is not recommended as it can be very slippery and is often wider than it seems.
The River Wharfe prior to entering Strid Wood
The Strid
The narrow confines reduce to around 2m
The Strid
The Strid was formed by the erosion of softer rock by the circular motion of small stones in natural river bed hollows, forming a series of potholes which in time linked together to form a deep, water-filled chasm. Geologically, these are known as rock-cut basins. At its narrowest point, the Strid is only about two metres wide, and foolhardy visitors have in the past tried to jump across the roaring stryth. Failure is invariably fatal, however, as there is no recorded incidence of anyone having survived a fall into the often thundering waters of the Strid - which mercilessly sucks its victims into the underwater caves and eroded tunnels which lie hidden underneath each side of the rocky channel. You have been warned. Doom mongering aside, it's a fantastic place to have a wander around.
The narrowness finally abates
Leaving The Strid behind, the path continues through Strid Wood, crossing over a wooden bridge after a couple of kilometres. The elevated path, above the river now, provides the perfect location to savour the view of the ruins of Bolton Priory, a short distance across the river.
Bolton Priory seen through the trees
Bolton Priory
Bolton Priory was founded in 1154 by the Augustinian order, though building work was still going on at the abbey when the Dissolution of the Monasteries resulted in the termination of the priory in 1539. Currently, the east end remains in ruins. The Priory is owned by Duke of Devonshire as part of the Bolton Abbey Estate. The estate covers an area of over 120 km², much of it being bracken moorland famed for grouse shooting and hunting.
A large footbridge crosses the Wharfe
We spent a good while wandering around the ruins, they looked especially appealing in the early evening light. The priory stands at the end of this walk so we were under no pressure to continue on. Incidentally, being October, there were a number of carefully positioned pumpkins poking out of the ruins of the priory, ready to catch out the unsuspecting passer-by. Including me.
Amazing how wide the Wharfe returns to a short distance from The Strid
The ruins of Bolton Priory
One of those pesky pumpkins
The impressive main arch 
Bolton Priory
As we had made it to Bolton Priory, so we had made it to the end of our walk, the car park is a short amble away. This short section of the River Wharfe is packed full on interest and makes a fine day out whichever way you tackle it, whether you just visit The Strid, follow this walk or devise your own route. In the future I'll be combining it with a climb up the wonderfully named Valley of Desolation (which apparently is not that desolate) to the fantastic viewpoint of Simon's Seat high above Wharfedale; a walk that really captures everything that's to be enjoyed about hiking in the Yorkshire Dales.