Walking: Taking in sights of famous spa town

Valley Gardens, Harrogate.
Valley Gardens, Harrogate.
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This interesting and intriguing circuit takes in several Harrogate attractions, including Valley Gardens, Harlow Carr Gardens and the Pine Woods.

It also explores the little-known Oakdale, a delightful interlude, where the route encounters what has been described as Harrogate’s oldest structure, a near-600-year-old packhorse bridge.

Almost from the off, the walk enters Harrogate’s “jewel in the crown” - Valley Gardens on which so much of the town’s early prosperity depended and which, today, is still a major magnet for tourists and locals alike.

In the centre of the gardens, in an area known as Bogs Field – marked nowadays by a plaque - 36 of Harrogate’s 83 mineral springs came to the surface. Bogs Field was first exploited in the early days of Queen Victoria’s reign when the waters were piped to the nearby Royal Bath Hospital and the Pump Room.

However, Harrogate’s link with spa waters goes back much farther than the Victorian era, in fact to the 1620s when the sulphur springs were brought to the attention of the world in a book published by Dr Edmund Deane.

During the next 100 years, the springs brought fame to the town as the water-cure craze swept Europe and visitors poured in. The Pump Rom was completed in 1842 and became a great centre for socialising. It dispensed 1,000 glasses of smelly-green water an hour in its heyday. The waters were said to help in the treatment of rheumatism, gout, digestive ailments, skin diseases and other ailments.

PARKING: Use the new tarmac parking area in Harlow Moor Road, Harrogate, at the western edge of Valley Gardens, next to the entrance to Harrogate Spring Water. Harlow Moor Road can be accessed from the B6162 (Otley Road) at Harlow Hill on the western edge of Harrogate.



4 ¾ miles: Allow 2 – 3 hours. Map: O/S Explorer 297 Lower Wharfedale

Set out along Harlow Moor Road towards the B6162, passing the entrance to Harrogate Spring Water on your right and crossing to lefthand side of road and ignoring the first entry into the Pine Woods on your left. Keep on along pavement for another 70 yards and turn left at the second entry into the woods (fingerpost).

Follow the strong path to emerge in Valley Gardens and turn left along the tarred path and follow it to the gardens’ centrepiece – circular flower beds with fountain – and go round this and continue on the main tarred path with cafe to your right and passing Bogs Field plaque.

Exit gardens between tall stone pillars – Pump Room to your front right – and turn left up Cornwall Road and cross to righthand side of road. Within a few yards, bear right along Clarence Drive, cross over York Road, and continue on Clarence Drive to emerge in Duchy Road.

Cross it, turn left along pavement for 100 yards to St Wilfrid’s Church and turn right along Kent Avenue. On arriving in next road (Kent Road), cross over and turn right for 40 yards and then turn left at fingerpost, soon descending steps into a street (Oakdale).

Go down Oakdale Glen opposite – stay on left side of road – to a fingerpost just before the car park at Oakdale Golf Club. Take the path going left (Ringway) through the wood, soon turning right, down steps, and passing the corner of a wooden garden fence with Oakdale golf course through the trees to your right.

Go up a short banking and bear left through trees high above the Oak Beck. Descend steps and bear right to join the Oak Beck and turn left along it. Follow this path throughout – sometimes climbing above the beck – to arrive at a huge fallen tree with an ancient packhorse bridge just visible to your front right. STOP!

This wonderfully-atmospheric span, now sadly overgrown, is a bit special to Harrogate – it is said to date from the 14th century, making it the oldest structure in the town. It sits astride an ancient, but long-defunct, trade route to Killinghall and beyond.

Oakdale was one of the three woodland preserves of the medieval Forest of Knaresborough to lie within the boundaries of modern Harrogate, the others being Fulwith and Harlow. Oakdale was first recorded in a Royal charter of 1227 when Henry III gave 30 trees from “our Forest of Okeden” for use in construction work on the tower of Ripon Cathedral.

A century or so later, in the 1360s, iron ore was being mined in Oakdale, but the operation died out in the 1390s. The packhorse bridge is thought to date from this industrial period.

There is a fork at the fallen tree – take the left branch and, within a yards, turn left round roots of fallen tree, go up steps and then straight on with wooden fence on your left to enter a path enclosed by wooden fences which leads out to Kent Road.

1: Turn right along pavement and then, at Oakdale Manor, go straight ahead along unmade road to emerge in road (Cornwall Road).

Turn left up the hill for about 100 yards to a cul-de-sac on your left (Oakdale Mews) and then, within a few yards, turn right, across the road, to an access drive at entrance to Girl Guide centre and take path into woods to right of gate. Press on through the wood – all very pleasant! - to pass below the scattered gritstone boulders of Birk Crag.

Eventually, you will arrive at bridleway fingerpost with stone steps just ahead – now stay alert! Climb the first five steps to tree with yellow arrow. Go up three more steps and then go off right into trees on a sketchy path which always opens up before you and which soon improves over the ground, soon negotiating moss-covered boulders.

The path is never without interest as it winds through the trees. At any suggestion of a fork, resist the temptation to slide off down to your right – always look half left or straight ahead for the continuation. Eventually, you will pass a post with red-and-white markings (No 14) on your left – keep going, soon arriving in a cross path coming up from the Oak Beck down to your right.

Turn left up this path to arrive at wooden fence and turn right, soon descending a boulder-strewn path to a footbridge with stream to its right. Cross it and then turn right over next footbridge, then turn left up to a fence with arrows and turn right, up stone steps, and then go half right along fence to Ringway fingerpost.

Bear right along fence to fork just before a bench and take right branch, past bench, to fingerpost within 20 yards and turn left (Ringway) with a wire-mesh fence now on your left guarding Harlow Carr Gardens.

2: Follow this long path to its end – Harlow Carr Gardens through fence on your left – to emerge in Otley Road (B6162) on edge of Harrogate and turn left along footway. Go past the RHS Harlow Carr signboard and turn left along Crag Lane to the garden entrance.

Harlow Carr Gardens, which enjoy world renown, took shape in 1949 when the newly-created Northern Horticultural Society leased 40 acres of land from Harrogate Corporation. The gardens, which were taken over by the Royal Horticultural Society 2001, occupy the site of a sulphur spring discovered in 1734 but not developed until 1840 when the landowner, Henry Wright, built a bath house and hotel to cash in on the spa craze.

The bath house now forms part of the Harlow Carr complex. The hotel became the Harrogate Arms, now closed (the building was purchased in 2014 by the RHS for future use).

Go past all the buildings and then past ornamental gates on your left and turn right at fingerpost just before a sign for Pinewood Farm. Stride out along the tarred path to arrive at a viewing platform with plan offering a vast panorama stretching as far as Buckden Pike to the north-west and with – to your front right – the Cleveland Hills, some 30 miles away across the Vale of Mowbray.

Keep going to emerge in Harlow Moor Road, cross it and turn left along pavement to the finish.