The quiet, unassuming community of Timble – long the favourite of Washburn Valley aficionados - forms the delightful centrepiece of this perfect little adventure through Yorkshire’s own mini-Lakeland, shaped in Victorian times with the construction of the three reservoirs of Fewston (1879), Swinsty (1876) and Lindley Wood (1875).
These paths, mostly, are well off the beaten track and you will find that solitude is the welcome main ingredient. Peace and tranquillity by the bucketful!
Timble is a Domesday Book settlement recorded in 1086 as part of the Honour of Knaresborough, one of the biggest Norman estates in the country. Later, it was incorporated into the Forest of Knaresborough, a Royal hunting chase administered from Knaresborough Castle. Timble formed one of the outer reaches of the huge forest which stretched beyond the hamlet to the distant Greenhow Hill.
The hamlet will always be associated with the so-called Witches of Timble, a strange saga of unexplainable happenings from the first part of the 17th century. In 1622, the poet and scholar Edward Fairfax, a member of one of Yorkshire’s most illustrious families, who lived at Newhall Farm - now lost beneath the waters of Swinsty Reservoir - claimed that two of his daughters, Helen and Elizabeth, had fallen under the spell of a coven of witches from nearby Timble.
Fairfax said the girls had collapsed to the floor in a deep trance and had seen visions. The “witches” were tried twice at York Assizes but were acquitted on each occasion on the testimony of their fellow parishioners and the Vicar of Fewston.
In the centre of the community, near the Timble Inn, is the Robinson Library which is named after a local man who emigrated to America in the latter half of the 19th century and became a successful businessman in New York. He had the library built in 1891 as a gift to his home village and a lasting memorial to himself.
SWINSTY and TIMBLE
5½ miles. Allow: 2½ – 3½ hours. Map: O/S Explorer 297 Lower Wharfedale
Use the free Swinsty Moor Car Park (toilets) at the eastern end of Fewston Reservoir. Exit the first bay of the car park – just beyond the toilet block – at its north-east corner, passing a red sign reading: Blue green algae bloom.
Turn right along the stout path through the Swinsty Moor Plantation and follow it for a short half mile to a fork with twin arrows and with the garden and buildings of Swinsty Hall ahead – take the right branch (yellow arrow) to bypass the hall.
The hall is one of the most spectacular Elizabeth buildings in the county, dating from the 1570s and resting on the site of a medieval manor house. It is difficult now – with the heavy screen of trees – to picture Swinsty Hall as it once was. Long before afforestation and reservoir work blighted this valley, the hall, perched upon its hillside, enjoyed a commanding view down the valley.
The Wood family acquired the medieval manor in the mid-1300s and stayed for more than 200 years until Francis Wood brought about his family’s demise. He embarked upon an over-ambitious plan to update his home and although his plans were brought to fruition in 1577 - with the completion of the magnificent house you see today - the expense crippled him.
He was forced to borrow heavily and his debts slowly dragged the family down. In the 1590s, his moneylender, Henry Robinson, foreclosed and took possession of the hall. The Robinsons stayed for some 300 years, since when the hall has passed through a number of hands.
At end of this path – old wall ahead – turn right to exit the wood, go over a stile (gate) and straight ahead over next stile (gate). Go straight up field to a gate and stone stile and onward up right edge of next field, through a gate (stile) and now go slightly left up next field to spot a gate (open, on our visit) in wall at end of field.
Pass through and go straight ahead to next gate with the houses of Timble beyond. Now follow the walled track to enter a tarred lane and turn right through Timble, passing cottages, to a fingerpost on your left (don’t miss it!) just before the tiny lane enters the road at a small triangular green with visitor information board.
Turn left at fingerpost, over stone stile and go down side of wall, soon following a sunken track. At end of this track, go through a gap stile and press on in same line. At bottom of field, pass to the left of a yellow-painted post to a metal walkers’ gate and footbridge over the Timble Gill Beck.
1: Go up the far steps into field and go half right over field (no path) to far field corner. Do not turn left along field edge. On gaining the far field corner – to left of an opening in the wall – you will find the tightest of gap stiles.
Squeeze through (arrow) and continue with wall on your right and then, within 50 yards, turn right (arrow) through gate and go straight ahead, past a field barn, and through the next gate ahead (arrow). Go straight on across the field with the field edge a few yards to your left. A waymarked gate pops into view ahead (not the open gateway to your left).
Go through the gate and continue with fence on your left along a narrow green strip with ditch on your right. Go through the next gate (open, on our visit) with stone gate posts with slots and onward to the next gate (arrow) and then go a quarter right (diverted path) up right edge of field with Shaw Hall to your left.
Half way up the field, go through a walkers’ gate (stile) at arrow and turn left up to the Otley-Blubberhouses road. Cross it to the ladder stile opposite and go a quarter right up the field (arrow), aiming just to the right of a wind turbine. A gate pops into view to right of the wind turbine – go through and straight across the next field to a leaning stone gate post and metal gate with house to your front right.
Negotiate the gate by striding over the low wall immediately to its left and putting your foot on the remains of the broken stile. Now go half left to a ladder stile in field corner, cross it and a ditch and turn half right across the field to a collection of gates and a broken ladder stile.
Negotiate this lot with care to enter vehicle track and turn right and then, on striking another vehicle track, turn right again, past a parking area at underground reservoir. After about 250 yards, turn left (fingerpost on right of track) over a stone stile and go down right side of wall with the “golf balls” of Menwith Hill away to your right.
You will approach two open gateways at end of field – go through the righthand one, although you should really use the stone stile between the two. Continue down right side of wall. Go over a stone stile at field bottom and then turn right and left along enclosed path and then cross a stone stile on your right and turn left along field edge to a prominent ladder stile.
2: Cross it and continue down field with wall and hawthorns on your left to black hay bags. Pass to right of hay bags and then turn left to hidden gate (stile to its left), enter track – farm to your left – and turn right. This track soon turns right to pass a property with a tarred section of track leading to ornamental gates.
Pass to right of the gates and continue out to the Otley-Blubberhouses road. Turn left along grass verge for 80 yards to fingerpost at Rues Barn and turn right, through metal gate, to pass to left of the property along a walled track. At end of walled track, go through the gap ahead to a waymarked stile giving access to the Beecroft Moor Plantation.
Go straight ahead for a few yards to enter a mountain-bike course with obstacles and spot the immediate yellow arrow across on your left. Just past this arrow – at the second obstacle (three wooden humps) – turn left to enter a vehicle track within a few paces, cross it and go straight ahead down a grassy track through the trees (painted white arrow and horse shoe on tree to your left; yellow tape on tree to your right).
Follow this track all the way, passing a yellow blob on stone gate post, to emerge in a broad forest track and turn right. After a few hundred yards, at fork with arrows, take the right (main) branch with yellow arrow.
On arriving at T-junction of tracks at the end of the Beecroft Moor Plantation with wall ahead, turn LEFT along a gravel track with Fewston Reservoir ahead. At end of this track, take right fork – ignore the immediate path on your right at wall corner – and continue down the vehicle track to enter the Fewston Reservoir lakeside track and turn right.
Follow this for about 600 yards to a prominent fork – just past a bench – at a green pooper-scoop bin. Take the right branch out to the road and cross it to the car park and the finish.