Walking: From lake shore to the wild moors

Hanging Moor with Thruscross Reservoir in background.
Hanging Moor with Thruscross Reservoir in background.
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This is the Washburn Valley at its rugged best.

The gentle path along the Thruscross Reservoir shore line leads to sterner stuff with a double crossing of heather-strewn, windswept Hanging Moor where you will experience majestic views over the man-made lake towards the far-flung Dales.

The River Washburn is only 12 miles long from the point where it rises on the high ground near Greenhow village to its confluence with the Wharfe just south of Leathley, but in those few short miles is crammed as much interest and variety of terrain as that found in many of Yorkshire’s bigger dales.

The Washburn Valley was turned into Yorkshire’s own Lakeland to provide the booming city of Leeds with water for both its soaring population and its expanding industries. The city first considered the area as a possible source of water as early as the 1850s when a number of surveys were carried out, but it wasn’t until 1875 that the first reservoir, Lindley Wood, was completed to be followed by Swinsty in 1876 and Fewston in 1879.

The demands for water continued to grow until, nearly a century later, a decision was taken to build a fourth reservoir, Thruscross, much to the dismay of walkers and other countryside lovers who were appalled at the prospect of the village of West End, with its lovely church, sinking beneath the rising waters. Thruscross came on tap in 1966.

West End, which still makes the odd, poignant appearance in years of severe drought, was once a thriving mill community with a sprinkling of cottages, church, post office and warehouses. The first mill opened there in 1791 producing cotton; the last, making flax, closed in 1889 due to its remote location.

From that day, West End slowly died, its population withering away in the search for jobs in Leeds and Bradford. The main casualty of the new reservoir was Holy Trinity Church which was rebuilt by Leeds Corporation in 1970 above the western shore of the reservoir - half a mile west of the car park - out of salvaged stone from the village. However, a drop in population led to the church’s closure in 1986 and the building became an outdoor centre.