Walking: From wild moor to sedate canal

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Here’s a bright-and-breezy little outing which could be combined with a browse around the attractions of Skipton to make a full day out.

Variety is the essence as the route climbs out of the northern edge of the town through Skipton Castle Woods to wild Tarn Moor before rushing down hill through the hamlets of Stirton and Thorlby to a satisfying finish along the towpath of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal.

Skipton must be a contender for the title of the most vibrant market town in Yorkshire. To drop in on the community for the Saturday market is akin to being jostled by the crowds on the seafront at Scarborough in the middle of summer.

The High Street is awash with visitors, the shops and cafes overflowing. Add to that the splendour of a medieval castle, museum and historic parish church and you can understand the town’s immense pulling power..

Skipton’s roots run deep; the Saxons called this place Sceptone or Sciptone, the sheep town. Domesday Book of 1086 records that it was “king’s land” but, before his death in 1088, the Conqueror had granted the estate to his supporter, Robert de Romille.

De Romille, a powerful baron who was also Lord of Harewood, built the castle which - now much altered and enlarged - still dominates the northern end of the town. A market charter was granted in 1204 leading to a prosperity which has continued down 800 years, turning Skipton into an important trading and administrative centre.

The parish church of Holy Trinity at the top of the High Street is a spectacular survivor from the early 1100s containing some remarkable relics. Here are to be found several marble tombs of the Cliffords, an illustrious northern dynasty which acquired the Manor of Skipton in 1310.

As Earls of Cumberland, the Cliffords became important players in local and national politics. They stayed at Skipton for more than 350 years, the last of their line being Lady Ann Clifford who restored the castle after the ravages of the Civil War. Lady Ann, who was also responsible for renovating another Clifford property, Barden Tower, died in 1676.

THE WALK

SKIPTON and the LEEDS-LIVERPOOL CANAL

6 miles. Allow: 2 ½ – 3 ½ hours. Map: OL2 Yorkshire Dales Southern and Western areas

From which ever car park or side street you use for your vehicle, make your way to the High Street in the centre of Skipton and walk to the top (northern) end of High Street and exit along the road to left of church (signposted Settle, Kendal etc) and then, at pedestrian crossing at the Celebrated Pork Pie Establishment, turn right across the road (if you haven’t already done so).

On crossing road, turn right for a couple of yards and then turn left, down steps, and continue along an extension of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal with the walls of Skipton Castle up to your right. The castle itself then appears.

This canal cutting, dating from 1836, was built to serve as a wharf to carry out Dales limestone by barge.

The man-made path runs between the two streams of the Eller Beck until it finishes at a footbridge – turn left over bridge to emerge in access road and turn right to a gate with map. Go through gate and straight on into Skipton Castle Woods to the next map and, here, bear left up the slope.

Plough on to a fork where the main track goes right over a bridge. Ignore bridge! Go straight on past a stone marker for Sougha Gill, crossing footbridge over gill and then go steeply up steps and, at top, bear left to strike a strong cross track at another stone marker (wall ahead).

Turn left, soon exiting wood into a vehicle track and go straight ahead for 50 yards to a 4-sided fingerpost and turn right, over the stile, and follow the diagonal path up to the Skipton bypass. Cross with great care and take the stile ahead. Go straight over the field and over next field on to Skipton golf course. Pay attention to the safety notice and then go straight across the course following the marker posts and keeping your eyes peeled for flying golf balls.

1: Exit the course and go straight on by fence on your right with the whole of Flasby Fell to your front left, the main feature being the shapely little peak of Sharp Haw in the centre.

Sharp Haw, since the days of pre-history, has been a signal beacon. It formed part of the chain of beacons strategically placed around the country to give warning of the Spanish Armada. Flasby Fell itself, until the end of the 17th century, was the abode of the red deer, forming part of a huge hunting chase known as the Forest of Elsoe.

Go through an open gateway and half left to gain edge of field and turn right along it. As you descend, spot the single track railway ahead.

This is the old Skipton-Grassington railway which opened in 1902 to carry tourists into the Dales. Passenger services ceased in 1929, killed off by the new age of motor travel. The part of the line you see today was maintained to take out limestone from the giant Swinden Quarry at Cracoe.

On entering Brackenley Lane, turn left and follow it to the B6265 Skipton-Grassington road with the Craven Heifer to your left. Cross the road and take the path opposite and go up left edge of field, although most people appear to go up middle of field, judging by the well-worn path.

Near field end, go half right to gain a stile at telegraph pole. Now follow the fence on your left up Tarn Moor. At end of this large field, enter a minor road (Bog Lane) and turn left.

Dash down Bog Lane to its end to arrive at crossroads in the middle of Stirton and turn right. Follow this quiet road into Thorlby, sweeping right and passing a triangle of grass on your left.

2: Continue to the A65, cross this racetrack with extreme caution and take the signposted track opposite to cross the Leeds-Liverpool Canal via Thorlby Bridge. Turn left.

Construction of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal began in the 1770s and was completed some twenty years later. The canal follows a tortuous, 127-mile route between Leeds and Liverpool. But why 127 miles when the road distance between the two cities is only 70 miles? The answer is that the canal finds the easiest way through the hills of the Pennines, utilising the Aire Gap. It is a “contour” canal, following a level course as near as possible and thus avoiding the great cost of building locks and tunnels.

The opening of the canal gave a new lease of life to nearby Gargrave. The lead mines of Wharfedale and beyond sent ore to the village by pack train and this was carried out by barge from five specially-constructed wharves. The barges returned with cargoes of coal, corn and other goods, reviving Gargrave as a bustling trading and transport centre.

Follow the towpath for a short mile until forced out into a road and continue along the footway, protected by a barrier, to re-enter the canal at Niffany Bridge (ignore fingerpost pointing left). Go straight on towards Skipton past a sign for Niffany Farm.

Stride out for just over a mile to arrive in the centre of Skipton at the canal basin. Now spot the road bridge ahead with Ultimate Outdoors and Bizzie Lizzie’s fish restaurant on your left. At this point, exit canal on your right – do NOT go under the bridge – to enter the main road (A6069).

Turn left, past Bizzie Lizzie’s and Boyes’s store on your right, to gain the High Street. Now regain your vehicle (wherever it may be!).

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Walking: Journeying back through the ages to Yorkshire’s monastic days