Into the unknown! You won’t get much farther off the beaten track in Yorkshire than this varied and very enjoyable expedition around the Cinderella lands separating Upper Nidderdale from the lower reaches of Wensleydale.
This vast area of high ground is made up of a number of moors and begins above Ramsgill in Nidderdale with Dallowgill Moor and stretches northwards towards Masham to include Fountains Earth Moor, Kirkby Malzeard Moor, Masham Moor and the one that interests us, Ilton Moor.
This is rarely-visited walking country – we saw not a soul on the crossing of Ilton Moor – and the peace and quiet is palpable. On a day of summer sunshine, the heather springs to life and everything seems well with the world.
The starting point, Leighton Reservoir, lies some five miles west of Masham on the lonely road leading from Masham over the top to Lofthouse in Nidderdale. Leighton and its adjoining neighbour, Roundhill Reservoir, must be two of the least-known Yorkshire Water sites, their isolated position off the tourist trail ensuring their tranquil status.
However, there is one group of outdoor enthusiasts who know all about Leighton Reservoir – fly fishermen; this is one of their favourite locations in North Yorkshire, stocked with rainbow trout from the Swinton Estate, the local landowner. The fishermen have their own lodge and car park at the point where this circuit begins.
Leighton Reservoir was completed in 1929 to serve far-off Leeds; Roundhill came on tap 18 years earlier, in 1911, to quench the thirst of Harrogate.
Note to dog owners: Please keep your pet on a lead on the crossing of Ilton Moor to protect ground-nesting birds.
APPROACH and PARKING: Leighton Reservoir can be approached via Ripon and Masham. Take the A6108 out of Masham, past the Jet filling station, and turn second left (signpost: Leighton Reservoir, Fearby, Healey etc). At the reservoir, go past the fly fishermen’s car park and, within a few yards, park in the layby on your right. If full, use the grass verge.
LEIGHTON RESERVOIR and ILTON MOOR
6 ½ miles: Allow 3 – 4 hours. Map: O/S Explorer 298 Nidderdale
From the layby at Leighton Reservoir, set out along the road in a westerly direction – away from Masham – and turn left over the road viaduct and then left again with the road. Ilton Moor opens up on your left with its prominent sighting tower.
The sighting tower is one of three built during surveying operations associated with the laying of the reservoir pipe line from Roundhill Reservoir to Harrogate. It is said that when the pipe line met in the middle after construction work over a number of miles, it was only an inch out of line.
Climb the hill to a “No through road” sign on your left at a cattle grid and a blue Yorkshire Water sign: No unauthorised vehicles beyond this point. Bear left along this access road and follow it for half a mile to the dam separating Leighton Reservoir from Roundhill Reservoir.
Turn left across the dam. On crossing the dam, go through the lefthand one of two gates (fingerpost) and then turn right up the field towards a tin shed, gaining a wall corner before the shed. Go through metal gate at wall corner (arrow) and turn left up the field on a decent path. Stay close to the wall on your left at first and then bear right to a gate in the top wall and cross the unusual stile built into gate. You have now entered Crow Act Access Land where you have freedom to roam.
Bear half right up the diagonal track to pass – eventually – a gritstone crag on your right and then another on your left with the unknown wooded ravine of Arnagill to your front right with its stone tower (the tower has nothing to do with the waterworks - it is a folly built in 1824 by the landowners, the Swinton Estate).
The path levels out to run in splendid fashion along the edge of Ilton Moor with the hidden White Lodge Crags to your right. A wonderful interlude! Press on, eventually passing through a line of grouse butts.
1: Next, go past a vehicle barrier to an immediate fingerpost and turn right along a vehicle track with Arnagill opening up to your right. This is Arnagill Moor.
After half a mile, at fingerpost for The Six Dales Trail – a 39-mile long-distance walk linking Otley with Middleham - turn right along a vehicle track, past a gate, and soon descending with Combs Crags – known to rock climbers as Ash Head Crag – and its shooting lodge to your right.
Sweep right below the crag and then, when level with end of shooting lodge – and before the stone barn/outbuilding - go off half left along vehicle tracks towards the valley, passing a marker post after 100 yards. Continue down the hill towards a ruined farm (Low Ash Head) with Roundhill Reservoir to your right.
You will pick up a wall on your right – follow it down towards the ruined farm to arrive at a new gate in field corner. Pass through and turn a quarter left (arrow) down to another new gate. Go through and a quarter left aiming for the centre of the ruins. Pass across the front of the ruined house to your right – more ruins to your left – and turn right, past gable end of house, go past a small stone building and then go half right across the field to a stone gap stile.
Cross it and go half right through the bracken to gain a wall corner. Turn right round the wall corner to continue with wall on your right and bracken on your left. There is a bridge ahead. After about 100 yards, with a wall corner on your right, turn LEFT down the vehicle track, through gate and then turn right along a vehicle track.
Now stay alert! Follow the broad track up the slope, sweeping left - and spot a footbridge on your right about 50 yards before a gate across the track (if you reach the gate, you have missed the footbridge).
2: Turn right over footbridge and stile and then go half left up the huge field (as per arrow). As you cross the field, spot the rusty tin roof on building on skyline and aim well to left of this.
As you approach the wall across to your right, look left to spot a fallen tree - adjust your aim for the fallen tree, crossing a footbridge and stile to gain it. Now go diagonally across the middle of the field on a vague path aiming to the left of the rusty tin roof and to the left of three trees in a row.
At the last of the three trees, bear left up to a gate to the left of the shallow grassy ravine. Go through the gate, go forward a few yards and turn right, with wall to your right. Soon, the sketchy path leaves the wall to approach the rusty tin roof. Go past a wall end, past the rubble the former premises on this site (Summer Side) and turn left up to a gate at building with the tin roof.
Now turn right along the wall, go past a tin barn and a house to enter vehicle track and go straight ahead, ignoring Six Dales Trail fingerpost. Follow this access road to emerge in the Masham-Lofthouse road (Pott Moor High Road) and turn right.
Race down Pott Bank admiring the extensive views – to the right is the sighting tower on Ilton Moor while ahead, across the Vale of Mowbray, are the Cleveland Hills with the conical peak of Roseberry Topping visible.
Go past Pott Hall and then the access track of the outward leg on your right. Follow the road back to the finish, sweeping left and then right over the viaduct to regain your vehicle.