This is the land that time forgot.
Here, only a short stone’s throw from the overcrowded, super attraction of Fountains Abbey, is a lost world of secret forest trails and unknown field paths winding their unhurried way through a rural backwater that rarely sees a footfall. Want to get away from it all? This is your big chance.
However, for all its solitude and isolation, this route is surprisingly-well waymarked, so this is not a journey into a nasty jungle of overgrown paths and nasty blockages.
Sawley, our starting point, is a lovely community of flower-strewn cottages with, at its heart, a famous hostelry, the Sawley Arms, and an expansive village green. The village has a long history pre-dating the Norman Conquest. Domesday Book records the manor as the property of the Archbishop of York both before and after the Conquest of 1066.
After the foundation of Fountains Abbey in the first half of the 12th century, Sawley came under the control of the abbot and it was the abbey’s most famous abbot, Marmaduke Huby – he who built the grand tower which dominates today’s ruins - who, at the end of the 15th century, built a chapel in Sawley. That medieval building was superseded by a church in 1769 and that church was rebuilt in 1879 and is the building used by villagers today.
Abbot Huby’s influence also extended to the second port of call on this circuit, the Dark Age settlement of Winksley. This, too, was Fountains property and, in 1502, Abbot Huby replaced the village’s early-Norman chapel with a new one.
Winksley’s current church was built in 1917 by the local landowner, the 2nd Baron Furness of Grantley Hall, who dedicated it to his father, the 1st Baron, who, as Sir Christopher Furness, made a fortune out of shipping.
SAWLEY and WINKSLEY
6 ¾ miles: Allow 3 ½ – 4 ½ hours. Map: O/S Explorer 298 Nidderdale
Park at the village green at Sawley and set out in a north-westerly direction – towards Grantley – soon passing red phone box on your left. Keep going for a couple of hundred yards to Hill Top Farm and a fingerpost on your right and turn right.
Follow fence on your right, go through gate and continue by fence/hedge on your right (ignore arrow pointing half left). Go through next gate and continue by hedge, soon sweeping right to arrive, eventually, at kissing gate with a farm (Hind House) ahead.
Continue by hedge on your right, go through a five-barred gate, bear right for a few yards into a field and turn left along field edge. After about 50 yards, as field edge turns right, spot the gate and yellow arrow through the ferns to your left. Go through the gate and straight ahead, through two metal gates (one open), to gain the farmhouse wall at Hind House and turn right.
After 40 yards, with fence corner on your right, go half left over field, as per arrow, to a marker post. Do not turn left as per arrow – instead, go half left over the field, slowing closing with fence on your left and then follow the fence to waymarked gates (one of them temporary).
Pass through and go straight down to Spa Gill Wood. Enter wood and carefully descend the banking (strengthened by wooden boards) on a diagonal path – path can be slippery in the wet! - and then keep going in same line when wooden boards finish.
Soon, descend wooden steps which have seen better days and then, at bottom of steps – the last step faces half left - go half left through the ferns. Follow the good path down through the wood to emerge from trees at an arrow – go straight on. Enter the next belt of trees and continue to cross a footbridge over the River Skell (the river which flows through Fountains Abbey).
Within a few yards, on striking a vehicle track, turn right, soon passing a large ruined building on your left. Immediately on passing this ruin, turn left over a gravel-covered culvert into vegetation on a path which opens up before you. At corner of ruined building, bear right up the slope, past a post with yellow tape, and continue on a surprisingly-good path through the wood.
Exit wood and ignore the arrow, which is out of line; instead of going a quarter right up field as per arrow, go a quarter left up the field to spot a large yellow disc and waymark on a gate (open). Pass through and go up field slightly right, leaving hedge on your left, to another big yellow waymark at a huge tree.
Go through gate and straight ahead towards the red roofs of a house to a waymark and a tall metal gate with an unusual weighted catch. Turn right along road into Aldfield to a fingerpost on your left. Take this path.
1: Go across the narrow field, through a strip of trees, and straight ahead through – on our visit – a crop field on a cleared, green path. This leads to a telegraph pole with arrow – go past telegraph pole and straight across crop field to a stile in hedge ahead. Go up next field a quarter right (as arrow), gradually closing with a house (unusual name of Clip’d Thorn) which appears to your front right. Aim for left end of house to enter road through gap in hedge.
Cross the road and turn right for 30 yards to end of house garden and turn left over stile at garden hedge. Follow hedge on your left, over house drive, to a wicket gate at shed. Go a quarter left over field to a marker post on top of a grass mound and go straight on, over stile, and half left, through orchard, over stile, and straight down the slope to a stile in fence corner.
Go straight on over next field to a wood corner and go down side of fence (fence on your right), past a fallen tree, to stile in field corner. Go through wood (Winksley Plantation) to emerge in a minor road, turn left for a few yards to the Grantley-Winksley road (Fountains Gate) and turn right, walking single file and facing the traffic.
Go down the dip and flog up the other side to arrive at a road on your left (sign: Kennels and Cattery) and turn left along this road. Follow road into edge of Winksley to arrive at T-junction at village hall – turn left along road, descending to cross the River Laver and go up the other side to a bridleway fingerpost on your left.
Take this vehicle track and follow it throughout on a delightful section over Winksley Moor, eventually past a blue arrow on gate post and then descending, through a gate. Press on along left edge of field, through a bridle gate, and onward, past a tree stump and blue arrow, descending towards trees. Cross the Holborn Beck, go up steps, through gate and follow the narrow path to enter minor road at Low Grantley and turn left to T-junction and turn right along road.
Go up slope, past a cottage, to a box-top bridleway sign at Hencliffe Grange and turn left into premises. Pass between buildings on a green track to a stile and arrow on your right at end of premises.
2: Now follow hedge on your right to a stile in wall ahead, cross it and TURN LEFT along wall, through a gate and go half right over field on a trod which then bears left to an arrow visible at a small wood. Go through wood, exit via stile and go half right to a metal gate with kissing gate to its right.
Go through and turn left along hedge and COUNT OUT 25 PACES until level with tree on your left and, here, turn right through the vegetation to gain a fishing lake and go straight ahead – wooden chalet to your right – and then turn left round edge of lake.
Follow lake edge to end of lake, go past blue feeder on your right, and straight on to enter Sunny Bank Wood via stile ahead (ignore stile to right). Turn right for four paces and then turn left along good path past a tree with yellow blob and, within 10 yards, at vague fork, take right branch, passing yellow blob after 10 yards, and follow yellow blobs to arrive at a tree with two arrows and “footpath” in yellow paint.
Go straight past this tree to another tree with yellow arrow and take this good path – ignore green break through wood on your right – and follow it all the way through the wood with yellow dots on trees at regular intervals.
Eventually, sweep right with the path and continue along the yellow dots to cross a footbridge at the driveway for Grantley Hall. Take the path opposite alongside a high wall, soon crossing a bridge over the River Skell.
Enter woodyard, turn left along its road for 30 paces to a green warehouse with “Grantley Saw Mills” and an arrow and turn right and then left round warehouse corner to spot an arrow to your front right.
Cross the stile and go straight ahead, over next stile, and straight across next field picking up a fence on your left with a white house to your left. Continue to stile ahead, cross the access drive and enter the wood opposite. Immediately, there is a path going off left - ignore it! Instead, go straight ahead into the vegetation to spot arrow on tree. Go past arrow and follow the sketchy path through the wood (occasional yellow tape) to emerge up steps in the Sawley-Grantley road.
Turn left along road, walking single file, facing the traffic, up the slope to T-junction with the Ripon-Pateley Bridge road (B6265). Turn right along the cropped-grass verge for 200 yards and then turn left along the road signposted Sawley and follow this back to the finish, walking single file, facing the traffic and using the wide grass verge when necessary.