The middle section of Wharfedale – centred around Ilkley and Addingham – has some superb walking country.
This little outing is testament to that, comprising a network of interesting paths squeezed between the high ground of Beamsley Beacon to the north and the long ridge of Ilkley Moor and Addingham High Moor to the south.
When you throw in the cosy meander along the River Wharfe for starters – and a little bit of summer sunshine – you have all the ingredients for a great day out.
Ilkey has a long and fascinating history stretching back to the days of the Roman occupation of these shores. The Roman fort at Ilkley, dating from the 1st century AD, was substantial and is believed to have comprised a garrison of 1,100 foot soldiers and 130 cavalry.
The importance of Ilkley during the Anglo-Saxon period is emphasised by the parish church. Ilkley is thought to have been a place of worship since the very beginning of Christianity in the north, following the conversion of the Northumbrian king, Edwin, at York in 627AD.
Historians claim that the first church at Ilkley was built from materials from the abandoned Roman fort during the 7th century. What is known for certain is that a Saxon place of worship existed at Ilkey from the late-8th to early-9th centuries. The present church has three fine stone preaching crosses from 800-850AD.
Throughout the Middle Ages, Ilkley’s most illustrious family, the Myddletons, lived on the hillside on the northern edge of the town, at Myddleton Lodge. The Myddletons (or Middletons) are thought to have arrived in the Ilkley area in the 12th century and they remained at Myddleton Lodge until the early years of the 20th century, a link with the area stretching back 800 years.
ILKLEY and HEBER’S GHYLL
6 miles: Allow 2 ½ – 3 ½ hours. Map: O/S Explorer 297 Lower Wharfedale
Park in New Brook Street in the centre of Ilkley, in the vicinity of the bridge over the River Wharfe, and enter the parkland (Riverside Gardens) on the western (Skipton) side of New Brook Street through metal gates and down steps (sign for toilets, cafe and boating).
At a flagpole, take right branch by the Wharfe passing to right of playground, cafe and toilets to emerge at the Old Bridge, built in 1673 to replace a structure swept away by floods.
Turn left for 20 paces and then turn right at fingerpost for Dales Way. This path leads to an access road – go straight ahead (fingerpost: Dales Way and Addingham) down the tarred drive to Ilkley Tennis Club.
On arriving at tennis club buildings, turn left through kissing gate and follow a strong path over field, pass to right of a redundant kissing gate and onward with line of hawthorns to your left to a kissing gate with mesh netting at a huge tree.
Press on by wire fence with Addingham High Moor on left skyline. The path becomes enclosed between fences. At end of this section, continue with fence on your left – all obvious. Press on to regain the river – Ilkley golf course on far bank – and then wander by the tree-lined riverbank on a lovely interlude.
Cross a footbridge, go up steps and turn right to leave the trees and continue over a meadow – river to your right – to emerge in the old A65 which now leads to the tiny settlement of Low Mill. Turn left for 50 yards – until just before a bus top – and spot the “No tipping” sign on righthand side of road. Take the path to right of this sign and follow it up to the modern-day A65, cross with extreme caution – it’s a race track! - and go up Cocking Lane opposite.
1: After about 500 yards, turn left at fingerpost (Reynard Ing) for Cragg House. Go up fence on your left for a few yards and then go through waymarked walkers’ gate ahead and then up the cut grass with fence on your right.
At end of fence, turn right along wall for 80 yards to approach a waymarked gate and cross the stone-step stile just before the gate. Put your back to the stile and go across the field (no path) slightly left and aiming for a section of wooden fencing to the left of a large tree.
On gaining the fence (arrow), turn left for about 100 yards to a gap stile on your right, cross it and go half left over the field on vague quad-bike tracks to arrive at a wall corner with old metal gate and a hawthorn bush.
Go past the hawthorn to a new metal gate ahead, pass through and continue in same diagonal line across the field to a wooded gill (Rams Gill) and turn right along the gill looking out keenly for a stone bridge across the beck and an arrow and yellow tape on hawthorn tree before the descent to the stone bridge.
On crossing the beck, turn right for a few yards to a metal gate (arrow), go through and go half right to a waymarked gate at the properties at Netherwood Farm. Go through to emerge in tarred access road in centre of properties, turn right into the grounds of Rams Gill Cottage and follow the gravel drive to a walkers’ gate to the right of a garage/shed. Turn right to a stile and then turn left up the field, staying to the right of the tree-lined beck. Stay alert!
On passing a telegraph pole by wall on your right, spot the stone gap stile on your right. Pass through, follow wire fence on your left to a stone-step stile, cross it and go half right up the field (no path) aiming to the right of a huge tree. There is a gap stile in wall corner to right tree (or use gap in wall to its right).
Turn half left up field towards a large stone barn with farmhouse to its left. On nearing barn, you will strike a vehicle track with concrete strip – follow it as it bears right through a gate with Cragg House Farm ahead.
Again, stay alert! Follow the old wooden-and-wire fence on your right for 50 yards to where it finishes at a wall corner. Now count out 20 paces and then turn LEFT across the grass to a gate at telegraph pole – do not enter farm premises.
Go through the gate into a gravel access track and turn left to properties (Hardwick Cottages). Go through gate into premises and exit along vehicle track and continue to the next property, Hardwick House, with its red post box. Pass house on its right to a seeming dead-end – spot the not-so-obvious narrow path to your front right (next to a trailer, on our visit).
Go through a metal walkers’ gate, through reeds and a stone gap stile, and continue by wall on your right and then by wire fence. Go through a gate with stile to its left and then slightly left over next field to a stone gap stile.
Go a quarter left down the big field (no path), aiming to the right of a property, Briary Wood Farm. As you near the property, ignore a metal walkers’ gate with arrow in wall to your left – instead, aim for a stone stile in the wall ahead (yellow tape) to the right of the property.
Cross the stile and go straight ahead, past the backs of properties, sticking by the wall on your right to enter a tarred access drive. Press on for 100 yards to pass the gates of Brackenwood on your right – don’t miss them. Now count out 50 paces and step up the grass bank on your right and follow hedge, through an opening, into wood to a fingerpost and go straight ahead.
2: Now enjoy a delightful woodland interlude, eventually passing a tiny stone building and crossing a footbridge over Heber’s Ghyll. Just before entering road – 2-sided fingerpost and waste bin on your right – turn right up steps (sorry!) and then turn left at top through Panorama Wood.
Follow this stout path to its end, running alongside a high stone wall in the latter stages, to enter a gravel vehicle track and go straight ahead, soon passing nameplate for Hollin Hall Drive. Go straight on along the dirt road (Queen’s Drive) which becomes tarred. Continue past upmarket homes, eventually passing Thorpe Hall, built originally as Ardenlea in 1881 for the Bradford draper George Thorpe.
The hall became a convalescent home during the First World War and then a Marie Curie cancer-care centre before being converted into apartments in 2003.
At end of Queen’s Drive, peek over wall on your left for a dizzy view of impressive Spicey Gill. At T-junction, turn left along Queen’s Road, soon sweeping right (ignore fingerpost on your left at Parish Ghyll Walk). Press on to pass – eventually – St Margaret’s Church on your right and Panorama Rocks on your left with their prehistoric stone carvings.
Keep going to a T-junction (modern block of flats) and turn left down Wells Promenade into Ilkley town centre. At crossroads at M & Co, cross over and go straight on down Brook Street to traffic lights. Cross the A65 and go down New Brook Street opposite to regain your vehicle.