This little treat offers the chance to sample the delights of the Knaresborough water front with its boat landings and cafes which combine to present a lovely picture in the shadow of the great railway viaduct which carries the Leeds-York line.
Knaresborough is something of a treasure, one of the most important historical towns in the north of England containing, among its attractions, 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, the site of a 13th-century priory and 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 domain 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 the warrior king, 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 the work of that arch destroyer, Oliver Cromwell, who demolished the castle in 1648 during the Civil War after it was taken from the Royalists.
PARKING: Use York Place car park (£1.20 for 4 hours) in York Place (part of the A59) near Knaresborough town centre. Approaching from the direction of Harrogate, go up Knaresborough High Street (the A59), through traffic lights at the junction with Gracious Street and straight ahead for 200 yards to the Marquis of Granby pub and turn left into car park.
KNARESBOROUGH AND BIRKHAM WOOD
5 miles: Allow 2 – 3 hours. Map: O/S Explorer 289 Leeds
Exit car park into York Place – Marquis of Granby to your right – and turn left to pedestrian crossing and then turn right across the road into King James Road and go straight ahead with King James School on your left and swimming pool on your right.
At mini-roundabout, go straight ahead along Crag Lane. At end of street, turn left (fingerpost), soon sweeping right past an owl carving with the Nidd Gorge over hedge on your right. When the tarmac lane finishes, continue on footpath, ignoring steps on your right.
Stick with the main path at all times, ignoring any off-shoots. Eventually – have patience! - you will arrive at a brick bungalow with solar panels on your left and a fork in the track at an area of grass – take the right branch, passing Aspin Lane Play Area within a few yards. Next, cross over an entry drive and enter wood opposite.
A broad track leads through the wood. Exit wood, cross over a sunken path (brick house with red pantile roof to your front left) and go straight ahead into next section of wood. This is a lovely interlude. Follow the path through the wood – stay alert! - to arrive, soon, at the next cross path (two redundant wooden gates) and TURN RIGHT down to Abbey Road and turn left, soon passing the site of St Robert’s Cave which is well worth the short diversion.
Knaresborough’s hermit saint, Robert, lived in the cave on the banks of the River Nidd from 1180 until his death in 1218. He achieved fame as a healer and attracted many visitors to his cell. After his death, his cave and its tiny chapel became a shrine for pilgrims. Such was the power of this holy place that a group of Trinitarian monks built a priory nearby in 1252.
1: Continue out to the B6164 Knaresborough-Wetherby road and turn right across Grimbald Bridge and go straight ahead, passing to right of a bus shelter and using the path by the hedge. Go past the entrance to the Lido Holiday Park and continue to the end of this dead-end road and then follow the footway, passing to right of twin arrows, to gain a roundabout at St James Retail Park (Barker and Stonehouse to your left).
Sweep right with the footway along the Harrogate bypass (A658) and, within a few yards, turn right on to a bridleway (arrow) which gives access to the Lido. Go straight ahead by hedge on your left (arrow), cross over a park road and press on by hedge with caravans to your right. Next, there is a fork in the park road – take the left branch by the hedge (green caravans on your right).
Follow this park road all the way to exit caravan park at a yellow arrow, entering Birkham Wood. On arriving at a prominent fork in track, take the right branch. At next fork, take the LEFT branch (the right branch leads into a field).
After a few hundred yards – stay alert! – you will see a hedge coming up the field on your right to gain your path (yellow tape, on our visit). Now spot the stile in trees to right of path – don’t miss this vital turn!
Cross the stile and follow hedge on your left. When hedge finishes, go straight down the field, aiming just right of church spire. Descend to a kissing gate and continue on an obvious green path towards a wood. Go through kissing gate into wood and immediately turn right to gain the riverside path and turn left. Take care on this uneven path with its exposed tree roots.
2: The path leads to a house called Stepping Stones – pass along left side of tall wooden fence (arrow) to left of garden gate. Follow the stout path avoiding any leftward offshoots to arrive in a tarred access road at houses. Keep straight on to a road (B6163) and turn right to the Mother Shipton Inn.
Behind the pub is Mother Shipton’s Cave and the Petrifying Well. Mother Shipton, born in 1488, was a prophetess whose fame was built mainly on tales and legends introduced by the Victorians. She wasn’t important enough to be mentioned by John Leland, historian to Henry Vlll, when he visited the town and noted the Petrifying Well in 1540.
Cross the road bridge (Low Bridge) and immediately turn first left along Waterside. After a few hundred yards, you will arrive at the popular boat landings and cafes where you can take time out for an afternoon coffee. Continue to pass under the spectacular railway viaduct – built in 1851 to replace one which fell down in 1848 as it neared completion - and then, after 70 yards, turn right (fingerpost for rail station etc) up Water Bag Bank.
Water Bag Bank is so named because, in the Middle Ages, the town’s water supply was carried up here in leather bags strapped to horses.
At top of Water Bag Bank, use the subway to cross the railway and then go straight ahead up Kirkgate. At end of Kirkgate, turn left for a few yards and then turn right through the Market Place, exiting its top lefthand corner at Santander to emerge in High Street at bus station.
Cross High Street and turn right to traffic lights and go straight ahead along York Place to the Marquis of Granby and turn left to the finish.