The uplands overlooking the old mill town of Silsden in the Aire Valley offer exhilarating situations as they climb to the rugged heights of Silsden Moor some 1,000ft above sea level.
Although not a match for the tougher terrain of the adjoining Yorkshire Dales, this landscape has a rough edge to it and is not to be taken lightly.
Today’s out-of-the-way adventure enters a tranquil, unknown world devoid of people as it climbs gently through hardy gritstone countryside with outstanding long-distance views. The finish is a dream – a straightforward, on-the-level reverie along the Leeds-Liverpool Canal where you can exchange nods with the boating fraternity.
The dark-stone mill town of Silsden can trace its roots back to a 6th-century Saxon warrior, Sighle who built his farmstead here deep in the fertile valley of the River Aire. Silsden was styled Siglesdene in the Domesday Book, William the Conqueror’s great land survey of 1086 - Siglesdene means Sighle’s place in the valley from the Old English denu (a valley).
After 1066, it was presented by the Conqueror to his staunch supporter Osbern d’Arcis whose many manors ranged across Yorkshire with several in the Tadcaster-Thorpe Arch area. He was appointed Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1100.
Like many West Riding mill towns, Silsden survived for centuries on agriculture and a cottage industry of hand weaving; there were more than 200 handlooms in operation in the community at one time in the early 19th century. The first textile mill was built in 1836, followed by others and the town’s population soared to more than 7,000 (it stands at more than 8,000 today).
Goods travelled in and out by way of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal which had arrived at Silsden in 1773. Although many mill buildings survive in Silsden, none continue in their original role of textile production.
SILSDEN AND THE LEEDS-LIVERPOOL CANAL
5 ¾ miles: Allow 3 – 4 hours. Map: OL 21 South Pennines.
Use the Wesley Place car park just off Kirkgate in the centre of Silsden opposite the parish church (great value at £1.50 all day). Exit car park into Kirkgate and turn right, past a bus shelter and the Memorial Gardens, cross the road and turn left along Bell Square at the King’s Arms. Cross Bridge Street and go up Hillcrest Avenue opposite, past the Co-op.
Go up this street to the very top when the tarmac finishes (Linton Avenue on your left) and continue on vehicle track to metal railings surrounding a culvert and go through metal gate to left of railings (arrow) and bear right along field edge.
At tree with twin arrows, turn left up field edge to gain gap in hedge and pass through via a stone-slab bridge. Bear left past a section of broken wire fencing to a stile, cross it and go up hedge on your left. Follow hedge all the way, bearing right at top of field with twin power poles to your right.
Pass into next field between hedge on left and a hawthorn tree to a marker post and continue by hedge to a gate and stile (arrow). Press on by hedge on left towards a barn at Hay Hills Farms. At barn, cross stone stile on your left with multiple arrows to a marker post and turn right.
Within a few yards, ignore waymarked gate on your left – keep on to arrive in farm drive and turn left. After 400/500 yards, at a telegraph pole on your right with road 50 yards ahead, spot the stile on your right with arrow – don’t overshoot!
1: Cross the stile and go straight across the field with Beamsley Beacon to your right. Aim for left side of a house (Upper Hayhills Farm) where you will find a stile. Cross it and turn left along house drive to a road (Horn Lane) and turn right, walking single file and facing traffic.
After about 100 yards, turn left at fingerpost (Beacon View Farm) along drive to a farm (Dixon Green Farm) and go straight through premises with a low, breeze-block building on your right and farmhouse on your left.
Pass to right of a pile of soil (on our visit) and drop down to gates and go on to the yellow gate ahead. Now go slightly right up the field – aim left of the caravans – to the next farm (Lower Heights) and pass to left of all the farm buildings, starting through a waymarked metal gate to the left of a red feeder.
Go past an arrow for the Silsden Strides 2 circular walk on fence post to exit premises over a concrete apron. Go past giant blue silo and then link up with hedge/fence on your right and follow it to arrive at gates in field corner. Cross the stone stile ahead with Silsden Strides arrow and follow wall on your right to a stone stile with arrow (slurry on far side of stile, so avoid it by using gateway to its left and then turning right back to the stile and then turning left up the wall to a stone-step stile).
Cross the stile and go straight ahead over next field to gate, enter road and turn left, walking single file and facing the traffic. Go past a fishery and continue on road for 30 yards and turn left down Dennis Lane for 30 yards to Hole Lane (ignore Hole Lane) and go straight ahead down the single-track road with the moorland monument above Cowling on the skyline to your front right, the line of the Aire Valley trunk road to your front left and Addingham High Moor in profile to left.
Go past Bridge House Farm and press on, up the slope beyond, past Hutter Hill Barn and onward along the road to pass Great Slack Farm. About 200 yards beyond Great Slack Farm, at a barn (Little Slack), turn left at fingerpost for Kildwick Grange.
Cross the stile to right of gate and go slightly right across the field to gain the righthand wall and root out a stone stile. Cross it, put your back against it and go half left across the field corner to a stile (yellow tape, on our visit) in the fence.
Cross the stile (awkward!) and go half right across the field (no path) to the far field corner to enter next field and turn right along the wall and follow the wall into a V-shaped wall corner. Cross the stone stile, turn left to a gap stile and turn right along a vegetated walled track.
2: Follow this track all the way, eventually picking up the Grange Beck on your right and a high banking on your left. Go through a gate and straight ahead, past properties, exiting along a tarred drive.
This is the tiny settlement of Kildwick Grange, once the site of a medieval monastic farm owned by Bolton Priory.
On emerging in the Farnhill-Silsden road, turn left for about 100 yards to a bus stop and, here, turn right along a vehicle track, passing through a gate at fingerpost. Race down the hill to bottom of track (gate on right with “Private” sign) and go straight ahead down the grass track to cross the Leeds-Liverpool Canal at Grange Bridge.
Construction of the canal began in 1770 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 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.
Turn left along the towpath for just under two miles into Silsden. On entering edge of town, go past a new housing development on your right and then a white barge shelter at a marina (Silsden Boats) on your left just before a road bridge – STOP!
Do not continue to the road bridge, but escape through the opening on your right and go up the cobbles between properties to emerge in road (A6034) and turn left, over the canal, and onward into the town centre, passing The Robin Hood pub.
Cross to righthand side of road at the zebra crossing and continue to the church and car park.