There is a mystical flavour about this backwater country where few venture and where peace and solitude rule.
The journey by the banks of the unknown River Laver is a delight, a wonderful interlude of gentle meandering through fairyland glades and dells hidden from the outside world.
The finale is the glorious parkland of the National Trust’s Studley Royal Estate which adjoins that perennial Yorkshire favourite, Fountains Abbey.
Studley Royal was inherited by John Aislabie in 1699. The son of a prosperous Yorkshire lawyer, Aislabie rose to become Chancellor of the Exchequer but fell from grace when he became embroiled in the South Sea Bubble scandal and was incarcerated in the Tower of London for fraud.
He returned to his Yorkshire estates in disgrace and set about turning Studley Royal into the beautiful landscaped park and ornamental gardens we see today. On his death in 1742, his son, William, carried on his father’s work, purchasing the adjoining Fountains Abbey Estate in 1768.
The Aislabies lived in a grand house in Studley Park, built on the site of a medieval manor. This house was called Studley Royal and the estate took its name from that. From the Aislabies, the estate descended in the 19th century to the lst Marquis of Ripon, a former Viceroy of India, who died in 1909 aged 82.
On the death of his son, the 2nd Marquis, in 1923 – he died childless and the title became extinct – the estate was sold to Cmdr Clare Vyner. It was during the Vyners’ ownership that the house at Studley Royal burned down in 1945.
The Vyners sold part of the Studley Royal Estate – including Fountains Abbey – to West Riding County Council in 1965 and it then came to the National Trust. The impressive, four-square stable block of Studley Royal House survived the 1945 fire and was later converted into a private home as it remains to this day.
FOUNTAINS AND THE RIVER LAVER
6 ½ miles: Allow 3 – 4 hours Map: O/S Explorer 298 Nidderdale
From the Visitor Centre at Fountains Abbey, return to the roundabout at the car park entrance and turn second right along the road for Ripon (or, safer, use footpath inside wooden railings on your right). After a few yards on the road, enter the broad track on your right and follow it to arrive at the park gates for the Studley Royal Estate with obelisk and St Mary’s Church on right.
The obelisk was erected in 1805 as a memorial to John Aislabie, former owner of the estate, who was responsible for laying out the parkland at the beginning of the 18th century. St Mary’s was built in 1871 by the Marchioness of Ripon, wife of the-then owner of the estate, the 1st Marquis of Ripon, in memory of her brother who was killed by brigands in Greece.
Turn LEFT across the road to a waymarked kissing gate and then go straight ahead over the field through an old crop. Continue with hedge on your right. After about 500 yards – stay alert! – on passing through a hedge line, spot the immediate kissing gate on your right, go through and then half left over brow of field using the faintest of paths to gain a fingerpost in far field corner.
Enter road and turn right to Aldfield and turn first left through the hamlet, recorded in Domesday Book as one of the many holdings of the Archbishop of York. Go past the church and a plaque remembering artist William Powell Frith who was born at Aldfield in 1819.
Frith lived at Aldfield from his birth until 1826 when his family moved to Harrogate to manage the Dragon Hotel. He moved to London in 1835 to begin his career as a painter, became successful and was elected to the Royal Academy in 1853. He specialised in social scenes of Victorian life and his work can be seen at Tate Britain. He died in 1909 and is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery, London.
Walk through Aldfield until just before a red phone box and turn right at fingerpost, across a narrow field, over two stiles close together and then go half left (as arrow) to gain a fence and bear right along it.
Press on, soon passing to right of telegraph pole with arrow and immediately turn left along field edge. Now stay alert! When within 30 yards of a large fallen tree (on our visit) and the field end, spot the half-hidden stile in hedge on your left – don’t overshoot!
Cross the stile and go half right (as arrow) over field, aiming to left of a house, to enter the B6265 Ripon-Pateley Bridge road.
1: Turn right along grass verge, past the house (unusual name of Clip’d Thorn) and then turn left, across the road, and over stile into property (house drive just to your right).
Go straight ahead, over drive, to exit property at a shed and then go half left over field – aim to the right of a power pole with box – to spot a new section of wooden fencing ahead with stile. Cross it and the paddock, go over next stile, and half left to a gate and stile.
Now go straight down slope by fence on your right with the tower of Winksley Church on skyline. Cross a stile and go straight ahead, picking up a fence on your right at a wood. Follow fence to enter wood and go straight through it on a strong path to emerge in a minor road and turn right.
After 400/500 yards, at a huge new plantation of saplings in plastic sleeves, turn left along a wide vehicle track which has tarmac showing in places. Follow this track to a T-junction, turn left to a prominent fork and take the left branch (arrow).
Race down the slope to join the River Laver and cross it via ornamental Woodhouse Bridge – built by the Aislabies of Studley Royal - and turn right. This fine track follows the river through an area known as Laver Banks.
The River Laver rises on the moors of Nidderdale near Dallowgill and runs for nine miles to join the River Skell at Ripon.
The path dawdles along the riverbank. Avoid any paths to your left. The path eventually enters a field to run along its right edge with river just to your right.
After about 400 yards, look out keenly for a marker post on your right – take this path to regain the river. Press on through wood to enter another field and turn right along its edge. Continue to the road bridge at Galphay Mill, turning left just before bridge to enter road and then turn right across the bridge with Galphay Mill to your left.
2: Trudge wearily up the hill to white houses on your left and, here, turn right at box-top footpath sign along a broad track and go straight ahead over the fields towards a wood (Square Plantation). Keep going to the huge farm complex at Low Lindrick and ever onward, soon along the farm’s tarred access road.
Follow this straight-as-an-arrow road to the B6265, turn right along verge for about 100 yards and then turn left across the road at postbox and go through small gate into the National Trust’s Studley Royal Estate.
Go straight ahead by side of bungalow on your right and then a high wall to strike a park road, turn left and then turn right with the road to gain the big house at Studley Royal which is based on the stable block of the mansion built by John Aislabie in the 18th century and which was destroyed by fire in 1945.
When level with middle of the house – at its short entry drive – go half right over the grass on a broad, cut track. On arriving in park road, turn right, soon passing the Choristers’ House.
The Choristers’ House was built at the end of the 19th century by the 1st Marquis of Ripon for use as a music school for choristers. Later, it became the estate office and has now been converted for holiday use.
Continue past St Mary’s Church and exit through park gates at the link-up with the outward leg. Turn left and retrace your steps to the Visitor Centre and the finish.