Just beyond the western fringe of Skipton, heading towards the Forest of Bowland, is a wonderful, picturesque landscape largely unknown to the walking fraternity.
Here, below the brooding southern flank of Pinhaw Beacon, is a quite breathtaking mix of pasture, streams, forest and heather moorland.
It is scenery which compares favourably with the more renowned acres of the neighbouring lower Dales, only a long stone’s throw to the north-east. At the heart of this green oasis is the ancient, stone-hewn village of Thornton-in-Craven, five miles due west of Skipton as the crow flies, and a good launch pad for this delightful circuit.
Thornton-in-Craven is a Saxon settlement taking its name from the Old English “thorn” and the Old English “tun” – the farmstead among the thorn bushes. A Saxon holy well, a relic of those Dark Age times, is to be found on the extreme western edge of the village, close by the medieval church of St Mary’s. In 1764, the local rector capped the well with an ornamental stone structure.
After the Norman conquest, Thornton was gifted to William de Percy and the family stayed for more than 200 years. St Mary’s Church was built during the Percy tenure in the 12th century, but no-one is sure exactly when as a forgetful rector accidentally burned the records. Near the church stands a row of almshouses erected in 1815 by a local man, Joseph Smith, in memory of his wife. Smith made his fortune as a successful banker in the City of London.
Thornton found prosperity in the 19th and 20th centuries from stone quarrying – the quarry, now filled by a deep pond, lies just to the north-east of the community above the busy A56 and can be clearly seen from the later stages of this outing.
PARKING: Parking is tight in Thornton and requires consideration for residents. On entering village along A56 from Skipton, slow down and, just before traffic lights, turn sharp left into Old Road – along which the walk starts and finishes - and park on the right after 100 yards or so. Other spaces are available in Booth Bridge Lane which is the first on the left just after the traffic lights.
THORNTON-in-CRAVEN and ELSLACK RESERVOIR
7 miles: Allow 3 – 4 hours. Map: O/S OL 21 South Pennines
The walk is described from Old Road which leads off the main road (A56) at the traffic lights in the centre of Thornton-in-Craven. Walk down Old Road, away from the A56, and keep going to pass under the bridge of the old stone-quarry railway. Bear right at the fork (Pennine Way fingerpost) for Brown House Farm.
After about 70 yards, on sweeping right, turn off left along a stout path at a beck (Thornton Beck). Soon, cross a footbridge, turn right for six paces and then turn left up the field along right side of bushes.
At top of slope, go past fence-protected trees and press on along edge of field with Pinhaw Beacon - a centuries-old warning fire - forming the right skyline. Keep going until just before a large barn and turn right through metal gate (arrow), cross the bed of the old Skipton-Colne railway – passenger services finished in 1970 - go through gate and turn left along wall.
At rail bridge, go through gate ahead and then go a quarter right over field (as per arrow) to a stile in the far field corner. Go half right over next field in line of arrow to a gate in far field corner, enter vehicle track and turn left to approach Elslack Hall and farm.
Just before entering the environs of the farm, spot the “Route diverted” notice and arrow on your left. Go through the gate just beyond and go half left to a gate, pass through and turn right along fence, soon ignoring stile on your right. Go straight on (arrow), past a low barn, to a stile with Elslack Hall over your right shoulder.
Elslack Hall dates back, in its earliest part, to the 14th century when, according to records, Godfrey de Altaripa was granted a licence by Edward ll to “embattle his house at Elslacke”. Of that building, only a few lancet windows and the remains of a moat survive. Most of the present-day hall dates from the reign of Henry Vlll with many internal features surviving from the 18th century. The Grade ll-listed Great Barn at the hall dates from 1672.
About 400 yards across the fields to the west of the hall – to your left - lies a very important Yorkshire relic. Elslack Roman fort, known as Burwen Castle, was built by the Roman general Agricola in the 1st century AD during the subjugation of the North. It formed a vital stronghold on the Roman road from Ribchester in the west to Isurium (present-day Aldborough, Boroughbridge) in the east.
The fort measured 200 yards by 100 yards and consisted of a clay rampart on a stone foundation. It had a 24ft-wide double ditch and timber gateways. Sadly, the Skipton-Colne railway was built straight through its middle, although the earthworks can still be made out.
Enter lane and turn right into Elslack and go past left side of village green on road signposted Lothersdale to a house called The Grange and sweep right with the road for Lothersdale and Cross Hills.
1: Follow the road for half a mile, eventually passing Fern House on your left, to arrive at a sign for Standrise House where the road turns sharp left. Here, go off right (fingerpost), over cattle grid and up the concrete road. The road soon climbs steeply and then continues as a vehicle track.
When the cream-coloured Standrise House appears to your front left on crossing a cattle grid, leave the access road to go through the waymarked gate to its right; this is the access track to Elslack Reservoir, now de-commissioned, but still maintained by Yorkshire Water and used by an angling club.
Soon, sweep right with vehicle track below the reservoir embankment and follow the track all the way, eventually crossing the concrete reservoir outflow (if in flood, use footbridge to left). Enter the forest ahead – where you will get a good view of the reservoir – and follow the vehicle track up to a T-junction of forest tracks and turn left.
Follow the main forest road throughout, ignoring any tracks to right or left. This enjoyable section eventually offers fine views over your left shoulder down to the reservoir. After three-quarters of a mile you will arrive at a broad cross track with arrows to your right – sweep left for about 100 yards until just before the track sweeps right at a wall and go off right at a marker post through the pines.
On emerging in the Carlton-in-Craven – Colne road, turn right and follow the road over Elslack Moor. After about 500 yards, when forest on your right finishes, turn right along fence along edge of forest through Crow Act Access Land where you have freedom to roam.
After 400 yards, the broad track finishes in the heather – now continue tight by the wire fence on your right on a narrow, uneven path which opens up before you and is always visible over the ground. Note: Keep your eyes firmly on the ground over this section for hidden snags to avoid a tumble. Turn left with the fence and plough on with wood to your right.
2: When the wood finally finishes, continue with wall on your right. When wall turns right, turn right with it for a few yards and then go a quarter left on vehicle tracks to a pair of stone gate pillars on a country road (Clogger Lane).
Cross the road to a stile and gate, pass through on to Thornton Moor and go straight ahead with wall on your right along the Pennine Way. Soon, a terrific vista opens up across the valley to Thornton-in-Craven (quarry to its right).
Descend to cross a stone stile and continue to a footbridge, cross the footbridge and turn a quarter left down the field (fingerpost out of line) to spot a metal gate with walkers’ gate to its left. Go through and drop straight down the field, passing to right of a line of large trees with a deep ravine on your left.
Continue straight down towards the huge complex at Brown House Farm. At bottom of fields, go through kissing gate and then go half right (as arrow) towards the farm (no path) with a house up to your left.
Pass to left of a tree with arrow to gain a fingerpost to the left of a large circular silage tank at farm. Enter concrete track to approach a metal gate guarding the farmyard – do not pass through, but turn left to a waymarked stile to gain a broken fingerpost and turn right along the concrete, through farmyard, with farmhouse to your right.
Follow the farm access road all the way to Thornton-in-Craven, bearing left under the bridge of the quarry railway, as per outward leg. Finish up Old Road.