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Walking in Yorkshire: Pastoral pleasures on the northern rim of Wharfedale

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The northern skyline of Lower Wharfedale, dominated by the rocky bulk of Almscliff Crag, offers splendid walking country, an oasis of fields, woods, streams and fine stone houses.

Pick a sunny day to enter this pastoral realm - and simply soak up the ambiance!

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But there is a caveat. At this time of year, there is a possible snag which could spoil your fun – and, yes, you know what it is. Soggy ground! Stout waterproof boots and gaiters are essential allies to keep the mud at bay in winter. It would be wise, perhaps, to save this one until after a spell of drying weather.

North Rigton is an attractive village with a famous hostelry, the Square and Compass, much beloved of rock climbers of my aged generation who slunk there for recuperation after an energetic day battling with the unforgiving gritstone of nearby Almscliff Crag. Today’s upmarket establishment has come a long way from the village local which accommodated us ragamuffin climbers.

North Rigton has a long history stretching back more than a thousand years. This Domesday Book settlement was acquired by the great de Mowbray family soon after the Conquest and they - generous benefactors of the north’s religious houses - donated substantial holdings at Rigton to Fountains Abbey.

This gift was confirmed in a charter of 1280 by the new Lords of the Manor, the de L’isles, who were also Lords of Harewood.

Following the suppression of the monasteries in 1538, the Fountains Abbey lands at Rigton were bought by Sir William Fairfax of Denton, Otley, forebear of the revered Parliamentary general Sir Thomas Fairfax. The estate was purchased by the Lascelles, Earls of Harewood, in 1796. By 1951, the Harewood Estate had sold off most of the farms and other properties it still retained in the area.

NORTH RIGTON CIRCULAR

6 miles: Allow 3 – 4 hours. Map: O/S Explorer 297 Lower Wharfedale

Park (with consideration, please) by the roadside in the centre of North Rigton in the vicinity of the Square and Compass – we parked in Church Hill opposite the pub. For ease of description, the walk starts at the Square and Compass.

Take the road signposted Beckwithshaw (Rigton Hill) up lefthand side of pub and climb the hill to end of village and turn right along Beeston Lane. At end of Beeston Lane, the track forks – take the right branch (bridleway fingerpost) and follow the path between hedgerows to its end.

Go through bridle gate and pass to right of a pond with wall on your right. Follow wall to pass through a bridle gate and onward, soon turning right through a bridle gate and then left to continue by hedge on your right.

At field end, go through bridle gate ahead and go straight across field, under telegraph wires, to a bridle gate with Horn Bank Farm to your right. On passing bridle gate, immediately turn LEFT along wall.

At bottom of field, ignore gate ahead into wood; instead, go through gate on your left and turn right, through the gorse, soon bearing half left down to a gate (in fence across to your left). Go through gate and turn right down to bridge over the Horn Beck.

Go through gate and up the slope with wall on your right. At top of slope – stay alert! - go through gate on your right and turn left up field by wall to enter Rudding Lane and turn right.

After about 500 yards, at a white house on your right, turn left at box-top sign along an enclosed path. Follow it to its end and go straight ahead through trees (ignore path signposted leftwards) and descend to cross the infant Crimple Beck.

Climb the far slope, go past a property and exit along house drive into Hill Top Lane. Turn right for about 300 yards to a Ringway fingerpost on your left.

1: Here, turn left along an enclosed path. At end of path, cross stile into field and go up its left edge for 50 yards to a fence corner with arrow. Now go slightly right up field, past a shattered tree, to a walkers’ gate with arrow to left of a farm gate. Pass through and go straight on by hedge on your left, through next gate in field corner and onward by hedge on your right.

Go through next gate – or bypass it! - and continue with hedge on your left into field corner and turn right and then left with hedge. Go through a gate and straight across field to a hedge corner with an opening, pass through opening, and continue by hedge for 70 yards to a fingerpost ahead.

At fingerpost, turn left across the grass (no path) – do not follow the vehicle tracks going up the slope. To your right is a beck protected by bushes – keep the beck 40/50 yards to your right. Go past two large trees in mid field to continue with beck a few yards to your right. Now stay alert!

When the beck starts to bear right, go slightly left across the big field (no path) to root out a metal walkers’ gate in the far field corner (yellow tape). Pass through and continue by hedge on your right, through next gate, turn left along hedge, through gate, to emerge in Hill Top Lane near the Squinting Cat pub (to your right in Whinney Lane). Turn LEFT.

After 80 yards or so, turn right at fingerpost into a field and follow its left edge, down the slope, into next field (passing a redundant stile) and onward by hedge on your left. Go through gate at field bottom (arrow) and keep on by hedge (ignore fingerpost on your left in hedge) for 50 yards to where the hedge turns left and, here, go a quarter right to a footbridge spanning the Crimple Beck.

Cross it and go slightly right up the middle of the huge field (no path), aiming well to the left of a wood (Lambert Wood) in distance. Gradually close with hedge on your right to gain it near top field corner, well to left of wood. You should pass a marker post in mid field (if it is still standing!) and a lone tree (a good marker).

As you approach the top field corner, ignore gateway on your right. On arriving in field corner (metal gate and arrow), bear right up edge of field with fence on your left. Just before top of field, turn left through waymarked gate and follow hedge on your left, soon past a small stone barn, to emerge in road at Brackenthwaite.

2: Turn right for about 600 yards (ignore fingerpost pointing left after 100 yards), passing Bracken Farm, to spot a box-top footpath sign on your left at telegraph pole. Turn left along access track and follow the track down to Blaberry Croft Farm. You are about to pass through a private property – please hurry through with no rubber-necking!

Enter the house grounds and follow the gravel track to the property and pass along its right side – still on a gravel path – to end of property and then go straight across grass to stile in hedge (remove board to cross stile).

Turn left along field edge to field corner and then turn right along hedge and follow it to arrive in vehicle tracks, turn left for 50 yards only and then turn right over stile – don’t overshoot! Go straight across the narrow wood, exit over stile and turn half right across field (no path), as per arrow. A gate appears in far field corner – now adjust your sights well to left of gate to spot a stile.

Cross stile and go half right to gain a fence – Almscliff Crag ahead – and turn left along it to gain a water trough, an ancient gap stile and a gate to its right. Ignore gate.

Go through gap stile at water trough and go down side of hedge, through double gates (just to left of hedge) and continue down the hedge to field corner (red metal gate on your right) and turn left to a stile in hedge on your right.

Cross it and go half right across field to a gate with a property behind it. Pass through and turn left, over stile, and go down hedge to near bottom of field and go half right to footbridge over the Nor Beck.

Cross it and go up left edge of field, enter road and bear left along it, over the brow, and down into North Rigton to the Square and Compass and the finish.