Walking: Nidderdale at its glorious best

Walking by the River Nidd towards Glasshouses.
Walking by the River Nidd towards Glasshouses.
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This is a delectable little circuit which climbs high above the eastern limits of Pateley Bridge where the exertions of the ascent are then suitably rewarded with a high-level contouring path offering magnificent views all around Upper Nidderdale.

Across the valley to the west is the tortuous climb of Greenhow Hill while directly ahead is the sparkling expanse of Gouthwaite Reservoir. The highest part of the route takes us through the former industrial setting of the Scot Gate Ash quarries, now silent and forlorn, but which once provided stone for famous buildings all over the country.

Pateley Bridge, the capital of Upper Nidderdale, was little more than a paved ford across the River Nidd when Domesday Book was compiled in 1086. The important settlements in the upper dale at that time were Dacre, Bewerley and Heathfield – all mentioned in the Conqueror’s great land survey – and of those, Bewerley became the most significant. It was gifted to Fountains Abbey which then built a major grange (a farm with chapel) there to manage its extensive Nidderdale estates.

Pateley first appears in documents of the 12th century as Patleia, the path through the glade or clearing. The bridge which gave the community its full name – replacing the ford that had been in use since Roman times – wasn’t recorded until 1320. The first bridge was made of wood; a stone bridge did not appear until after the Reformation. The present structure dates from the 18th century.

Lead mining, quarrying and agriculture have played prosperous roles in Pateley’s history. Lead mining around Greenhow Hill was started by the Brigantes some 2,000 years ago and then taken over by the conquering Romans who put the native Celts to work in their own mines. In the Middle Ages, the industry was developed into a money-spinner by the monks of Fountains Abbey and their successors, the Yorkes, who were the leading landowners in the upper dale for nearly 400 years from 1547.

When lead mining waned in the late 19th century, stone quarrying filled the gap. A huge operation got under way at Ashgate Quarry (at Scot Gate Ash) on the hillside to the north-east of the village. From there, massive gritstone slabs were despatched all round the country to make railway platforms, dock quays and steps for public buildings.

PARKING: At the bottom of Pateley Bridge High Street, just before the road bridge, turn right into King Street and park in the side streets or, alternatively, turn left into Nidd Walk and use the pay-and-display car parks. The first car park (Southlands) is £1.20 for 4 hours, but if you continue along the road, the long-stay car park is 70p for 4 hours.



5 miles: Allow 2 – 3 hours. 
Map: O/S Explorer 298 Nidderdale

From the bottom of High Street, Pateley Bridge, enter Nidd Walk and stride out, past Wilding’s Tea Room, and onward along pavement with the River Nidd over the wall to your right. Follow this fine riverside path for three-quarters of a mile to spot a footbridge on your right across the river .

The footbridge leads to a manor house, Castlestead, which was the home of the Metcalfe family, builders of the flax mill at Glasshouses in 1812. The Metcalfes, who also owned the old brewery in Pateley Bridge, were looked upon as model employers and great benefactors. The Glasshouses flax mill flourished, employing 250 people, until 1899 when it was converted to hemp spinning and rope making. That finished in 1972. The old mill complex is now used by a variety of businesses.

Just before the footbridge – don’t overshoot! - go off left (arrow), through tiny wooden gate and up the slope and then straight across the field, passing under telegraph wires and passing to left of a telegraph pole. At field end – gate ahead – curl left to a metal walkers’ gate and continue by wooden fence on your left. Go through next gate and turn left over the defunct Nidd Valley Railway.

The railway opened in 1862 and ran, initially, as far as Pateley Bridge, bringing in the first influx of Victorian tourists to admire the beauties of Nidderdale and the grandeur of How Stean Gorge. Horse-drawn coaches were laid on to carry the visitors up to How Stean.

In 1908, the line was extended to Lofthouse, at the head of the dale, to carry in building materials for the Scar House and Angram reservoir projects. It was also available to tourists, making How Stean more accessible. The line to the upper dale closed in the 1930s and the service to Pateley in 1964.

Now follow the walled track as it soon sweeps right. Stay alert! After a couple of hundred yards, spot a white notice on your right reading: Private road: Meadow View and Westfields and then spot Hollins Cottage on your left and immediately turn left at “No fouling” notice, past stone gate posts, and strike out up the enclosed track.

Go through kissing gate and onward, using a flagstone path, to enter the B6165, cross it with care and turn left along pavement.

1 After 150 yards, turn right up road for Knott and flog up the hill through the scattered community. At top of hill – big house up to your right – ignore the fingerpost and track on your right to Hole House. Stay on the road, bearing left and then sweep right at bridleway fingerpost (Cross Lane House).

Go past the first properties and then, as gravel track turns left into garden, go straight on along a green lane past 17th-century Cross Lane House. Continue up a stony path between walls and follow this to its end to emerge in a minor road and turn left.

Follow the road to T-junction and take the path opposite (old box-top sign), over a stone-step stile, and onward along house fence and then descend a green track for 50 yards to a fork and take the left branch, down through gorse, to a wall and road and turn right along the wall to a broken stile to enter road.

Turn right, soon with Pateley Bridge laid out in the valley below. Continue to a fork just before a house (yellow bicycle) and take the left branch, past house (Lower Wild Carr) and onward in terrific fashion with extensive views across Nidderdale to Greenhow Hill. Follow the vehicle track to the next property (Mooredge) to enter the massive quarries at Scott Gate Ash.

The stone quarries of Scot Gate Ash, like the lead mines on Greenhow Hill opposite, provided much-needed local employment in the 1800s. Massive gritstone slabs were taken down a steep incline on a tramway operated by steel cables. The line of the tramway is still visible.

The slabs were then loaded on to the new railway which had arrived in Pateley in 1862 and sent to locations all over the country. The huge blocks were used as railway platforms, quaysides and as steps for public buildings, such as the National Gallery in London. The quarries closed during the First World War.

Within a few yards, when the green track sweeps left, go straight on by the wall on your right for a few paces and then, when wall turns right, go straight ahead, up a short banking and straight on past a sign reading: Keep to footpath. Continue to pass a yellow-topped post to arrive at a fork – take the left branch by wire fence.

2 The stout path is obvious through the quarries. Near end of quarries, Gouthwaite Reservoir pops into view. Eventually, you will arrive at a gate across the track – ignore gate up to your right – pass through and cross the final field to enter Wath Lane and turn left.

Now enjoy the arm-swinging descent for about 500 yards and then turn first left down another minor road heading straight for Pateley Bridge. Scoot down this road at a great rate of knots for about 600 yards to cottages at a T-junction and turn right down Wath Road.

Descend to bottom of hill, go past cottages at Silver Hill and then, after about 100 yards, turn left at fingerpost. Descend steps – take care if wet – and then turn left, down more steps, to cross a footbridge (can be slippery!). Turn right for a few yards and then turn left through a kissing gate.

Now follow the river bank to Pateley Bridge, ignoring a footbridge over the Nidd after a short half mile. Always stay by the river to emerge in road at bottom of High Street at the road bridge - regain your vehicle.