Walk off all that Christmas pud

Threatening skies over the fields on the way to Forest Moor Lane.
Threatening skies over the fields on the way to Forest Moor Lane.
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Looking for a bit of exercise after the excesses of Christmas Day?

This circuit should fit the Boxing Day bill, being just the right length for family members of all ages. What’s more, it manages to avoid the winter mud almost completely, seeking out firm ground at every opportunity. Just stick the kiddies in wellies and enjoy an entertaining family experience.

Looking back down the path which climbs out of the Nidd Gorge near 'the finish.

Looking back down the path which climbs out of the Nidd Gorge near 'the finish.

Knaresborough is one of the most important historical towns in the north of England containing, among other treasures, an Iron Age fort and earthworks at Scotton Banks, a 900-year-old Royal castle (still owned by the Queen), an early-12th-century Norman church, St John’s, with a remarkable collection of marble tombs, and the site of a 13th-century priory. It even has its own saint, the hermit Robert, who lived in a crude cave carved out of the rock by the River Nidd near Grimbald Bridge.

The town has been a royal property for almost a thousand years since the time William the Conqueror established a hunting forest in this area with Knaresborough as its administrative headquarters.

The proud castle, perched high above the Nidd Gorge, started life as a modest fortification, erected by one of the Conqueror’s ablest commanders, Serlo, a baron from Tonsberg in Normandy, who took the surname de Burgh, and was given the manors of Aldborough and Knaresborough for his services at the Battle of Hastings.

Over the next 150 years, Serlo’s wooden castle developed into one of the major strongholds of England with a huge keep and twelve staunch towers built into the curtain wall.

In the 14th century, the castle was presented by Edward lll - victor of Crecy and Poitiers - to his Queen, Philippa, and it became one of her favourite residences. After Philippa’s death, Edward gave the fortress, in 1372, to his son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and the castle has belonged to the Duchy of Lancaster ever since.

The ruins you see today are due to that arch destroyer, Oliver Cromwell, who demolished the castle in 1648 during the Civil War after the great Parliamentary general Sir Thomas Fairfax had besieged it and taken it from the Royalists.

PARKING: Use the Town Centre Car and Coach Park (£1.20 for four hours) which is situated in York Place (the A59) near Knaresborough town centre. To access car park from direction of Harrogate, go up Knaresborough High Street (A59), through the traffic lights at the junction with Gracious Street and, after 200 yards, at the Marquis of Granby, turn left into the signposted car park.


4 miles: Allow 2 - 2.5 hours. 
Map: O/S Explorer 289 Leeds

Exit car park into the A59 at the Marquis of Granby, turn right along pavement (York Place) to the traffic lights, cross the road ahead (Park Row) to continue down High Street to a pedestrian crossing and turn left across the road.

Turn right to continue past the shops to gain the Crown Inn and Finkle Street, turn left along Finkle Street to its end and turn right (Kirkgate) down to the railway and cross it via the gates (or use underpass if gate is locked).

Immediately, go off left down the cobbled street which becomes Water Bag Bank. At bottom of Water Bag Bank, turn right along the access lane to emerge in the main road (A59) at Bond End.

Cross the road via the pedestrian crossing and turn left over High Bridge and immediately turn right at fingerpost for the Ringway path and Conyngham Hall Trail. Continue on tarred path to cross a stream (ignore fingerpost pointing left for Mackintosh Park) and sweep left for ten paces to metal barriers and a fork and take the right branch past a Ringway fingerpost (or stick with tarred path which is drier).

Follow this path up the slope and onward to rejoin the tarred path and go straight ahead, over a narrow cattle grid (or use gate to its right). Press on along the fine tarred path for a short half mile - with the chimneys of Bilton Hall appearing to your front right – to emerge in access road with entrance to Bilton Hall on your right.

Bilton Hall was a residence in Tudor times of Knaresborough’s most illustrious family, the Slingsbys, whose main seat was Scriven Park, a mile to the north-east. It was William Slingsby of Bilton Hall – later knighted for his services as a diplomat – who, in 1571, discovered the Tewit Well on rough moorland on what is now Harrogate Stray and so started the area’s connection with spa water.

The Bilton Park Estate was bought by Thomas Stockdale in 1631 and he rebuilt the original Tudor hall. Stockdale supported the Parliamentarians during the Civil War and became a powerful figure in Knaresborough, being chosen as the town’s MP in 1645. However, the family’s fortunes took a dramatic downturn two generations later when Stockdale’s grandson, Christopher, invested heavily in the South Seas Company in 1720. When the bubble burst, he was left with huge debts and had to sell the Bilton estate in 1732.

1: Turn left and follow the road all the way to the A59, cross it, turn right along pavement, past Maple Close, and then turn left at traffic lights along Forest Lane. After about 300 yards, at fingerpost, turn left.

After 100 yards, at fingerpost, turn right and then turn left along perimeter of Harrogate Golf Club, passing through a wood. This lovely section leads with no diversions to the Harrogate-York rail line. Cross with care – STOP! LOOK! LISTEN! - pass through a couple of gates and continue along left edge of field.

When the hedge on your left turns left, turn left with it for a few yards and then turn right along hedge and the continuation wire fence to field end. Enter vehicle track through kissing gate. The vehicle track soon becomes tarred – go straight ahead past Three Gates Farm.

Follow the lane (Cass Lane) out to Forest Moor Road and turn left along pavement to the T-junction with Thistle Hill at The Union pub at Calcutt.

2: Cross the road with care to The Union and turn left to an immediate fingerpost on grass verge next to pub car park – now take the tarred access drive (Well Lane) past a former church.

At end of tarmac – a square, stone house on your right – go straight ahead along grass track (old tractor and trailer). The path becomes enclosed and leads to a fingerpost with wall ahead. Turn left for Low Bridge, soon entering a tarred access lane and follow it out to the road and turn right, using pavement, past the entrance to Mother Shipton’s Cave and the Mother Shipton Inn.

Mother Shipton, born in 1488, was a prophetess whose reputation was built mainly on tales and legends emanating from the Victorian era. Certainly, she wasn’t important enough to warrant a mention by John Leland, historian to Henry Vlll, when he visited and noted the petrifying well in 1540.

Go across Low Bridge and immediately turn right along Abbey Road and stride out past the House in the Rock.

The house was built between 1770 and 1786 by Thomas Hill for his family of 16 children. Hill, a sailor, copied his home from the cliff-top dwellings he had seen on his travels to Turkey.

Also notice the intriguing Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag, a tiny shrine which has survived since John the Mason carved it out of the soft limestone in 1408 as a thanksgiving for the life of his son who was spared in a rock fall.

Now stay alert! Pass beneath the towering crag and – at the second sign reading: Rock climbing prohibited – turn left up stone steps. On striking a cross path, turn left, soon passing beneath a crag, and go up more steps.

At top of steps, turn left, past bollards and a fingerpost, along access lane and then, at a tree with owl carving, turn left. After 40 yards, turn right along a street and follow it to mini-roundabout and go straight ahead along King James Road, staying on righthand side of street.

Go past King James’s School and the swimming pool to gain the A59 at a pedestrian crossing. Cross the A59, turn left for 70 yards and then turn right into the car park and the finish.