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Dalesway Link – Harrogate to Ilkley walk

Over the course of the last few months, myself and my wife have been working through the various Dales Way link stages.

The Dales Way walk is a long distance footpath which runs for 80 miles between Ilkley in Yorkshire and Bowness-on-Windermere in The Lake District. As well as the main trail, three Link routes have been developed between Leeds, Bradford and Harrogate to the start of the Dales Way at Ilkley.

We decided to tackle the Harrogate to Ilkley stretch with our black lab Bronte on an autumn Saturday. The route was 16.5 miles long so we guessed with stops and walking at 2 miles an hour that it would take about 8 hours. Details about the route and some photos of the days walk can be seen below, hope you find it interesting.

The walk starts at the Royal Pump Room in Harrogate. The historic building was built in 1842 to shelter the towns wealthy visitors as they took the waters and is now a museum. Before the building was there, waters were dispensed outside by Betty Lupton who was known as the “Queen of the well”. The site is famous for having one of the strongest sulphur wells in Europe and the faint whiff of sulphur (a scent of rotting eggs) could still be smelt as we departed!

We crossed the road and walked into Valley Gardens.

The gardens were built in an area previously known as Bog Field which contains one of the greatest number of mineral wells in the world. Originally built for the affluent Georgian and Victorian visitors to the Spa town to exercise, meet and promenade, today the gardens are used by the local community and it was great to see families enjoying the green space and people taking refreshments at the Magnesia Well Café.

Eventually we met The Pinewoods, a stretch of woodland with some breaks in the trees to give way to stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

The path which eventually came out at RHS Harlow Carr - a Royal Horticultural Society gardens with shop and tea room. We didn’t have time to stop, but skirted the gardens and picked up a path which took us into Cardale Wood.

We eventually came out on the B6161 a busy stretch of road which we had to walk along before picking up a path on the left at Pot Bridge Farm.

The next stretch of the walk was probably the most difficult. Not because of any climbing, but because of the mud!

This well signed stretch took us across fields of cows and sheep past a number of farms – Oatlands Farm, Whinhill Farm, Prospect Farm, Central House Farm and Long Liberty Farm. The path pretty much runs parallel to Penny Pot Lane but whilst you can hear the road it is out of view and the large wind turbines can be seen poking above the hill on the right.

The walking was tough and it literally felt like walking through treacle and as we say up here it was “right clarty”!

clarty (comparative clartier, superlative clartiest) (Britain, Northern England and Scotland dialect) Sticky and foul; dirty, filthy, muddy. 

We eventually met Yorkshire Water owned lands where the path noticeably improved (I’m not just saying that as my wife works for Yorkshire Water!). The path took us through woodland – where we spotted what looked like a floating tree! A tree whose roots at formed over a ledge which looked quite precariously balanced.

We eventually saw Beaver Dyke Reservoir through the trees and the path dropped down to the reservoir with fantastic views across the valley. We didn’t have time to head over and explore the ruins of John of Gaunt’s Castle – an old hunting lodge but it was clearly marked on the map over the other side of the valley.

From here we picked up an ancient trackway called Bank Slack, passing Bank Top House where we saw on the map that we had finally arrived in Nidderdale – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The path eventually comes out at The Sun Inn on the Otley to Pateley Bridge Road, but as we were not even half way and worried about walking across the Moors in the dark later on unless we got a move on we decided to skip having a beer and crack on (shame I hear you say!).

A short distance down the road we picked up a path on the right to Swinsty Woods. This path was pretty muddy too, but eventually brought us out at Swinsty Reservoir. We were now in the Washburn Valley.

We walked around the reservoir edge where lots of people were taking leisurely strolls, then across the reservoir dam with lovely views back across the reservoir.

At the corner of the reservoir at the end of the dam rather than taking the path around the edge of the reservoir, we took a path up the side of the bank before turning right and walking back into woodland until Swinsty Hall came into sight through the trees. This Grade 1 listed property is home to the England Football team manager Gareth Southgate.

At the Hall, we walked up hill through the woods before coming out at fields past Highfield Farm before ariving in the beautiful village of Timble.

Timble is situated on the slopes of the Washburn Valley with many old stone built cottages along the road through the village. We had worked out we were over half way now and so decided it was time to stop for our packed lunch. After 4 hours of walking, a 15 minute rest felt well deserved!

After lunch with energy levels supplemented with sandwiches and chocolate, we had a good stretch of road walking which after the muddy morning terrain meant we could get a good pace on. Menworth Hill's distinctive golf balls - a US Army listening station came into view on our right.

After reaching Sourby Farm we found ourselves at Timble Ings. This Yorkshire Water owned plantation was beautiful and with the autumn colours of the leaves and the low sun shining through the trees it was a magical place.

Ings is a Norse word meaning ‘temporarily flooded land’ and the site has been designated a SINC (Site of Importance for Conservation) due to its rich variety of habitats and wide range of flora and fauna. It is famous for its dragonfly populations and was recently the site of the release of a population of water voles.

In 2006, a series of ponds were created within the woodland to encourage wildlife and have now naturally colonised with plants, amphibians, insects and other animals.

At the edge of the woods, at a wall we turned left along the edge of the wood until a stile which took us onto the bleak moorland of Denton Moor.

The heather was no longer in bloom but the wild moorland had great views and you could start to see into Wharfedale and just make out Ilkley in the distance.

We followed a very rough path heading west along a ridge known as Lippersley Edge, passing many boundary stones. We continued across the moor past a number of grouse shooting buts and an old shooting lodge before climbing again to the high point of Heligar Pike.

Another reservoir comes into view here. Much smaller than Swinsty, March Ghyll Reservoir is equally stunning with its backdrop of Wharfedale.

From here the path descended first across moorland and then farmland down to Hollingley Farm. At the farm the path turned right before descending into woodland and across Bow Bell Gill at the magically named place of Fairy Dell.

After crossing a footbridge, there was a steep climb back up from the stream, which got our glutes going again after a long downhill stretch. Upon arriving at East Moor Farm, we travelled around it and then through West Moor House before meeting a path which descended steeply into Middleton.

Middleton, whilst only being a mile north of Ilkley, comes under Harrogate District Council. It takes its name from the Middleton family who owned the manorial lands around Ilkley since the late 1400’s.

At Middleton the final stretch of the walk was along the road passing Middleton Woods until meeting a short stepped path which brought us out at Ilkley Lido. From here the road takes you past Ilkley Rugby Club and up to the River Wharfe. A short walk along the river takes you to the official start of the Dales Way.

The walk was tougher than we expected, particularly the long muddy section late morning. After we finished, we hobbled back to the car to get home, warm up and celebrate with pale ale and pizza! We did manage the walk at a faster pace than predicted, including a couple of brief stops and two minor re-tracings of our steps where we had missed paths, it took 6.5 hours for what ended up being a 17 miler. Must be getting fitter!!

For more information about the route:

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