In winter, the near-to-home Washburn Valley can always be relied upon to provide good sport.
Here is a pleasant short circuit to get you back home before the lights go out.
The starting point is Yorkshire Water’s popular, but strangely-named, Blubberhouses car park at Fewston Reservoir. From the late 18th century and through much of the 19th, the valley of the River Washburn around Blubberhouses and West End supported a collection of flax and linen mills.
The biggest of these was Westhouse Mill, sited just north of the present-day A59 at Blubberhouses – we pass it in the final stages of this walk - which opened in the 1790s and which was pulled down in 1877, the stone being used in the construction of the walls round Fewston Reservoir.
The mill relied heavily upon child apprentices drawn from the waifs and strays of local workhouses. These children spent their miserable lives in long working days at the mill and lonely, troubled nights in two nearby houses - Low Prentice House for girls and High Prentice House for boys, both situated on Hardisty Hill which lies nearby at the bottom of the Blubberhouses-Greenhow road.
It is said that the weeping of the children in their beds at night gave rise to the name Blubberhouses (a good story but, actually, the name means the houses by the bubbling springs).
One of the child apprentices became a leading figure of the Victorian age. Robert Collyer fled the rigours of the mill when he was 14 and became a blacksmith at Ilkley. He emigrated to New York where he became a preacher and writer, enjoying friendships with Dickens and Longfellow.
Dr Collyer retained links with Blubberhouses and when, in 1877, Westhouse Mill was demolished, he asked for the mill bell, which had called him to his labours at dawn each day, to be shipped out to him “so that I might take my revenge upon the infernal thing”. The bell now resides in the chapel at Cornell University.
BLUBBERHOUSES and the RIVER WASHBURN
5 ½ miles: Allow 2 ½ – 3 ½ hours. Map: O/S Explorer 297 Lower Wharfedale
Use the free Blubberhouses car park at the western end of Fewston Reservoir alongside the A59 Harrogate-Skipton road. Exit eastern end of car park into the A59 and turn right along footway for 70 yards and then turn right on to the path round Fewston Reservoir.
Enjoy this peaceful lakeside adventure for a mile to a gate across the track and, here, go off left on the main track through the trees. Follow it to arrive at a lichen-covered wall with the old water board house just over the wall on your right and the road across Fewston embankment just beyond.
You will, almost immediately, spot two stone gate posts on your left with the back of a notice ahead and steps going down to the right to join the road – STOP! Turn left at this point on a good path through the trees.
On emerging in minor road (Busky Dike Lane), turn left, soon ignoring a fingerpost on your right. Press on along Busky Dike Lane for about 500 yards, down and then up a dip, to a fingerpost on your right with a stone-step stile.
Cross it and go up field by wall on your left. At top of field, turn left for a few yards and then turn right to continue up a wall and then up the side of a wire fence to gain the A59.
1: Cross this speed track with great care and turn left along the good grass verge – never step into this busy road! – and follow the verge past the end of Busky Dike Lane.
Keep on for another 200 yards to a fingerpost and turn right, up the banking, to a stone stile with waymarks. Now go up field along right side of a broken wall.
At end of broken wall, go straight on, over a stile, and up the line of hawthorns. A stile appears ahead in a wire fence – cross it and follow the wall towards a field barn (Meagill Park). Just before the barn, go through metal gate on your left and turn right, past the barn, then past a broken wall corner with drinking trough, and continue along left side of another broken wall.
Follow this up to a stile at Plane Trees Farm, cross it and go half left (arrow), past left corner of a wooden stable, when a stile and gate open up on your right. Go through and then go half left down the field to new gates between two properties.
Just before the new gates, spot a stile on your left – cross it and turn right, through a new riders’ gate, into house drive – STOP! We are now taking a permissive diversion arranged with the property owners to bypass Sykes House Farm (on your left) and Sykes House Barn (on your right).
So, turn right along house drive for a few paces to a wall corner on your left (Sykes House Barn) and, here, turn left (ignore gate on your immediate left with arrow) and go through two gates ahead, close together, to enter field and go across it half left, aiming to the left of the farm on the skyline.
A stile pops into view just right of a small wooden stable. Cross it and turn right to a stile (although you may first have to go half left to avoid the boggy reeds). On crossing the stile, go half left over the large field aiming for the righthand side of the farm (Meagill Hall).
As you near the property – wooden shed/stable to your left – spot gateway in field corner with a concrete gate post. Go through and turn left round corner of garden hedge, over the ladder stile ahead and out to the farm access drive. Turn left for 10 paces only to a gravel parking area on your right and go half right across it to gates to left of hay bags.
Go through the first set of double gates, past the black barn doors and through the second set of gates. Now go straight ahead by the old wall on your right (mud, caused by horses). Follow the old wall to gain a thick stone gate post and go down left side of wall ahead, bearing slightly left near field end..
2: At field end, spot the old rusty gate on your right with a not-too-obvious stone stile to its immediate left. This is Prospect House. Cross the stile to enter the house drive and go straight ahead along the gravel drive, through a waymarked walkers’ gate to the right of five-barred gate, and then continue along the tarred house drive.
On entering road - Hardisty Hill, setting of the old mill apprentice houses – turn right for 30 paces and then turn left (fingerpost), through a gate, and turn left by the wall down the slope. At bottom of slope, go through metal gate to gain a vehicle track just ahead and turn right and follow the track over a field, through gate on far side of field, and onward.
Follow the good path on a gradual descent, soon through a wood, to a gate across the track. Pass to right of gate, turn left to a three-sided fingerpost and turn left (Six Dales Trail; Blubberhouses). Follow this excellent path by the River Washburn, passing the old mill pond on your left which serviced the previously-mentioned Westhouse Mill.
This path leads all the way to the A59, in the later stages passing a playing field with pavilion, site of the old Westhouse Mill. At the A59, climb steps to gain the road and cross it with great care, striding over the barriers, to the car park and the finish.