Lace your boots up for a proper day out on the Yorkshire moors

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Here’s something for you to get your teeth into – a majestic sweep of Barden Moor with its two sparkling reservoirs.

It is quite long and it is quite strenuous; a proper day out. However, as compensation for the length of the route, the going is easy because all the tracks on Barden Moor – they make up six of the ten miles – are vehicle tracks where you can fairly zip along and where there is no need to worry about route finding.

Barden Moor, part of the Duke of Devonshire’s Bolton Abbey Estate, is a grouse moor and it is essential to abide by the rules which apply when entering this Access Land. The most important point is that no dogs are allowed - unless the path is a public right of way - because of possible disturbance to ground-nesting birds.

As this circuit uses permissive paths well away from public footpaths, you must leave your dog at home.

Also, the landowner retains the right to close the moor on not more than 30 days between August 12 and December 31 for shooting, but never on Sundays. If shooting is taking place, closure notices will be posted at all access points to the moor.

So, if you intend to do this walk midweek or on a Saturday during the shooting season (August 12 – December 31), it could pay you to ring the Bolton Abbey Estate on 01756 718000 to check whether or not the moor is open; it could save you a wasted journey.

PARKING: Use the parking area on the eastern side of Barden Bridge, below Barden Tower, on the back road to Appletreewick. This layby fills up early! If full, park at the side of the B6160 at Barden Tower (visited by the walk at the end) by the telephone kiosk and walk down the road to the bridge to pick up the route.


10 ½ miles: Allow 4 – 5 hours. Map: O/S OL2 Yorkshire Dales Southern and Western areas

From the parking area on the eastern side of Barden Bridge, cross the bridge towards Barden Tower and the B6160 and immediately turn left into the Bolton Abbey Estate with the River Wharfe on your left..

Enjoy this lovely interlude, passing under an aqueduct after half a mile (it carries water from the reservoirs of Nidderdale to Bradford). Continue, soon over a footbridge, to enter Strid Wood.

After about 100 yards, at a fork, turn right up the slope. At top of slope, enter an estate access dirt road and turn right to the Strid Wood tea rooms. Go past tea rooms to enter B6160, turn right for 60 yards and turn left at fingerpost for Broad Park.

Go up wall on your right, over stone-step stile at top of field and turn right on a strong path. Turn right with the path and the wall – can be wet! - to a gate on your right and, here, turn LEFT through the reeds to a lone hawthorn tree and pass to its left.

Keep going to pass a wall corner on your right. Go straight on, soon passing to left of a small cluster of trees when the path becomes much stronger over the ground. It leads to a gate – pass through and continue to emerge in the Barden Tower-Embsay road and go straight across to enter Access Land belonging to the Bolton Abbey Estate. Now stride out at the start of a magnificent journey around Barden Moor.

Barden Moor covers about 25 square miles from Embsay in the south to Burnsall in the north and from Rylstone in the west to Bolton Abbey in the east. The moor has been providing man with sustenance for many centuries. The rich sea of heather was harvested for a number of uses, including thatching, bedding and besom (broom) making. The last besom maker, John Lister, was still working at nearby Howgill in the 1930s.

At the high point of the moor, Gill Beck Head, stands a lone chimney, the site of a 19th-century coal mine which produced low-grade fuel to power the smelt furnaces of the Grassington lead mines. Just south of the old coal mine is a large area of abandoned peat diggings which provided winter fuel for local people. These old peat pits are still marked on the OS map.

1: After three-quarters of a mile, go past the farm at Broad Park to a tarred reservoir access road – Broad Park House to your right – cross the road and go half right (fingerpost: Permissive Path) along vehicle track with Lower Barden Reservoir to your right.

Lower Barden Reservoir came into service in 1873 to supply Bradford. The upper reservoir followed a few years later.

Soon, ignore fork going off right – go straight ahead and follow this splendid track to the end of the reservoir and then turn right (fingerpost) across a footbridge and go half left up the slope, above a pond, to fingerpost on skyline.

Turn left along vehicle track to begin the gradual – but relentless! - climb to Upper Barden Reservoir, the reservoir house in view on skyline. The track leads unerringly in about a mile to the reservoir house and Upper Barden Reservoir. Cracoe War Memorial obelisk ahead on horizon.

Turn left with the tarred access drive (fingerpost for Eastby and Rylstone) to pass sluices to a building on your left and, here, turn right and then left across the dam. On crossing dam, continue on the fine vehicle track (fingerpost: Eastby). Take it easy on this steepish climb up to a fingerpost (pointing back to Upper Barden Reservoir) and a cross track – turn LEFT and stride out with Simon’s Seat to your front left and Barden Fell to its right.

Enjoy this downhill charge, pay-back time for the outward leg. After about a mile, at a fork with shooters’ hut up to your right, take the left branch. Follow the track for another mile or so to arrive in the Barden Tower-Embsay road at Halton Height.

2: Cross the road to a fingerpost for Halton East and immediately turn left through bridle gate with “ground nesting birds” notice. A lovely green track leads towards the rounded hills of Middle Hare Head. Now stay alert!

When within 50 yards of a wall and gate ahead, spot the green path on your left running down through the heather – take it. The path is vague in places, but just remains visible. Eventually, it runs into a broader path – keep on down to the road, aiming to the right of a circular air shaft where you will find a new fingerpost and a new gated stile.

Do NOT enter road, but turn right along the wall to arrive at a 2-sided fingerpost at the point where the outward leg entered the Barden Tower-Embsay road. Go through gate and turn right down the road for half a mile to the B6160 and turn left along the grass verge to Barden Tower.

Barden Tower was built as a hunting lodge by the mighty Clifford family, Lords of Skipton Castle and, later, Earls of Cumberland. It was the home for 40 years of Henry, the scholarly 10th Lord Clifford (1453-1523) who preferred the peace of Wharfedale to the bustle of court. Henry was known as the Shepherd Lord because, as a child, he was sent into hiding with shepherd families when his family was persecuted for supporting the House of Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses.

His mother, fearing reprisals against her son following the Yorkist victory at Towton in 1461, sent Henry to live among shepherds for more than 20 years, first on the Clifford lands at Londesborough in the East Riding and then at Threlkeld in Cumbria.

With the demise of the House of York after the defeat of Richard lll at Bosworth Field in 1485, Henry returned to claim his inheritance at the age of 32. He had endured a rough life “in a common hovel” and so preferred the quiet of the Dales to court.

After the Shepherd Lord’s death in 1523, Barden Tower fell into disrepair. In 1658, his descendant, Lady Anne Clifford, restored the tower. When she died in 1676, the tower once again fell into disuse and by 1800 it had been stripped of its roof, thus falling into decay.

Turn right into the grounds of Barden Tower, go through the parking area half left and go through a gateway to the tower ruins, pass to left of tower, over the grass, to spot a stile to your front right. Cross it to exit ruins and drop down the field to a stile and turn right down the road to Barden Bridge and the finish.