Blimey! Where did the summer go? The clocks have gone back, the days have drawn in at a rate of knots and, perhaps, it’s time to look at cosy countryside closer to home.
There is nowhere finer, to my mind, for the people of Leeds and surrounding towns than the exquisite Washburn Valley.
Yes, within 10 miles of the pulsating heart of Leeds, is a walking paradise, a firm favourite with the Great Outdoors movement since its inception during the inter-war years when ever-more-adventurous and independent office and factory workers sought escape in the wilds from their mundane labours.
Washburndale, so near at hand, offered the perfect antidote to a week of toil. The river itself is only 12 miles long from its beginnings on the moors near Greenhow village to its confluence with the Wharfe just south of Leathley. Yet the tiny valley through which the Washburn flows offers hours of delight, cramming in more interest, scenery and variety of terrain than many a bigger dale.
Leathley, our starting point, is a Saxon settlement, affluent enough at the time of the Norman Conquest to possess a corn mill. The Domesday Book survey of 1086 tells us that the substantial manor was shared between three lords - the Conqueror himself, his Standard Bearer, Gilbert Tison, and William de Percy, who sub-let his portion to a tenant called Ebrard.
The imposing village church with its four-square fortified tower is something of a mystery. It is early Norman, probably dating from about 1100, but tucked away inside is an ancient doorway, believed to be from the Saxon period, suggesting an earlier building on this site.
The tower was strengthened to fortress proportions, complete with arrow slits, at the time of the Scottish raids in the 14th century. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner in his monumental work, The Buildings of England, describes this edifice as “movingly primeval-looking”.
Just to the east of the village hall can be found the school and almshouses built in 1769 by the Hitch family, 18th-century Lords of the Manor, who lived at Leathley Hall (built 1715) on the eastern fringe of the community. Robert Hitch, who died in 1723, was MP for Knaresborough. Memorials to Robert and other members of the Hitch family can be seen in the village church.
LEATHLEY and FARNLEY CHURCH
5 miles: Allow 2 ½ – 3 ½ hours. Map: O/S Explorer 297 Lower Wharfedale
Use the village hall car park in the centre of Leathley, opposite the church (please contribute to honesty box). From car park, enter the B6161 and turn right along verge which becomes a footway. When the road sweeps right, cross to verge on other side of road and continue through village.
At end of village, turn left at fingerpost down side of The Mill House on an enclosed path. This is the site of the village’s medieval corn mill. Turn right over stile and follow the good path with the River Washburn to your left. Press on to cross a stile with a millstone dated 1790 and go straight ahead, ignoring path to your right, and passing remnants of the old mill venture on your right..
Follow this lovely woodland interlude to emerge at trout hatchery access track, go straight ahead by the old mill goit and climb steps to arrive in the road at Lindley Bridge. Turn left along road and then sweep right, gradually climbing. Go past gates to a Yorkshire Water works and sweep left up the hill for another 150 yards and then turn right over a stile (to left of gate).
Sweep left, past black hay bags, up grassy vehicle tracks with Lindley Wood Reservoir opening up to your right.
Lindley Wood was the first of the Washburn Valley reservoirs to be built to serve the ever-growing needs of industrial Leeds. It was completed in 1875 to be followed by Swinsty in 1876, Fewston in 1879 and, nearly 100 years later, Thruscross in 1966.
1: Continue to a stile and then press on with hedge on your left, still using grassy vehicle tracks, to emerge in the B6451 Otley-Pateley Bridge road.
Cross it half right to a box-top sign and a stile and then continue along left edge of field. Follow the field edge into a dip and go up other side, passing arrow on fence post, and swing left up the field by the fence. As you climb the field, spot the ladder stile to your front right – when near top of field, go half right to cross the stile.
Take the path going half right to gain the wall at a wooden gate. Do NOT go through – instead, follow the wall up the field towards a wood on skyline. On arriving in field corner, turn left for 30 yards to a gate with “Path diversion” sign, pass through gate and go slightly left (arrow out of line) to the ladder stile ahead (the stile is to the right of Haddockstones Farm and to the left of a shed/stable).
Cross the stile and go across the field corner to a gate, stile and arrow, enter the farm drive and turn right. On crossing a cattle grid, sweep left with the track and follow it all the way to the B6451 at Farnley church.
The original church on this site dated from about 1250 and was a chapel of ease of the mother church at Otley. That church was rebuilt in 1851 by the local landowners, the Fawkes family, of nearby Farnley Hall.
Turn right for 50 yards to a cottage on the bend and turn right towards the church for 20 yards and then turn left over a stile at the start of the church car park. Go a quarter right down the field (as per arrow), soon passing to right of a tree with boulders at its foot and then dropping straight down the field to pass through a gap between two trees with fence 10 yards to your right.
2: Continue in same line down the field with hedge a few yards to your right. When hedge on your right finishes, go straight on past a stone gate post and a tree with a pile of stones beneath it to gain hedge at old paving stones.
Follow the hedge down to Farnley Lane (B6451), cross it and turn left along pavement. Go past the end of the Norwood road and the entry to Farnley Hall (on right), cross to lefthand side of road and go past a property called The Square. Continue along the grass verge walking single file to avoid stepping into the busy road. After a few hundred yards, as road swings right (log pile on your left), turn left through hedge at fingerpost.
Go straight ahead and follow the field edge as it soon sweeps right downhill for a wonderful finale with the Lake Plantation – part of the Farnley Hall estate – on your left (hidden in the wood is Farnley Lake).
Near bottom of field, about 50 yards before the field edge turns right, go off left through a kissing gate and over footbridge spanning the River Washburn which, at this point, has almost run its course and is only a few hundred yards from where it enters the Wharfe at Knotford, between Otley and Pool.
Go straight across the final field to enter the B6161, cross it and turn right to the car park and the finish.