In the all-too-short days of deep mid-winter, a cosy circuit close to home through easy, accommodating countryside is always a bonus.
This is just such a circuit. At a little over seven miles, it may seem a bit on the longish side to some of you, but the paths are so easy to follow – and the ground so undemanding – that it feels more like a six-miler.
There is a chance to take time out for a pub stop at the half-way mark at Spofforth and another opportunity at journey’s end at the Scotts Arms in Sicklinghall.
Sicklinghall, nowadays a popular commuter village of attractive, upmarket homes, was described as King’s land in the Domesday Book survey of 1086. About that time, only a year or two before his death, William the Conqueror gifted the manor to his staunch supporter Robert de Romille, Lord of Harewood and Skipton, whose grand-daughter, Alice, founded Bolton Priory.
By the early 13th century, Sicklinghall had passed to another illustrious Norman dynasty, the Vavasours, of Hazlewood Castle, near Tadcaster. The Vavasours linked themselves by marriage to yet another well-known Yorkshire family of the Middle Ages, the Middletons, of adjoining Stockeld Park, whose main seat was at Middleton on the hillside above Ilkley.
It was Peter Middleton of Stockeld Park who built the Catholic church of the Immaculate Conception in Sicklinghall’s Main Street in 1852. He and his wife are interred there. The Holy Family Convent, next door to the church, was built in 1872 by the Roman Catholic Church as a rest home for retired and invalid nuns.
The village local, the Scotts Arms - a welcoming retreat in winter - is named after a wealthy Leeds family which also gave its name to the Scott Hall area of the city. The Scotts moved to the Sicklinghall area in 1750 when they bought the nearby manor of Wood Hall. Their descendants, the Johnstone-Scotts, built Sicklinghall’s Anglican church, St Peter’s, in 1881 to save the journey to the mother church at nearby Kirkby Overblow.
There are only nine graves in the churchyard at St Peter’s - all members of the Johnstone-Scott family. The Johnstone-Scotts sold Wood Hall in 1911 to Leeds soap manufacturer Joseph Watson, known to generations of Leeds people as Soapy Joe. Wood Hall is now a hotel.