In his 'History of Knaresbrough' of 1798 E Hargrove describes Brimham Rocks as "a scene so magnificent, awful and rudely picturesque, as to astonish every beholder". Today's visitor too cannot help but be impressed even though Hargrove's fanciful notion that they were a place of worship for the Druids has long been dispelled.
Distance: 7 miles
Time: 4 hours minimum
Conditions: well signed paths and bridleways, few stiles
Refreshments: Brimham Rocks
OS Explorer Map OL26
Originally published: 15 July 2011
We start our 7 mile walk from the car park, (GR 208645), and head east across the slopes of Brimham Moor into the fertile lands once cultivated by Fountains Abbey. Our route then climbs gently to the hamlet of Warsill. The return is made from the northernmost outcrop of the rocks, providing an opportunity of walking along the entire escarpment through this astonishing geological landscape.
Return to the entrance to the car park and turn right along the road. In about 100 yards go left to follow the curlew sign of the Nidderdale Way for the next 2 and a half miles. The path descends gently across heather and bilberry moorland with wide ranging views ahead to the Vale of Mowbray and the Hambleton Hills.
In less than a mile it leaves the moor and joins the concrete track from Riva Hill House. In about 300 yards, where the track turns sharp left bear right through a gate on a green lane which has a well-built drystone wall on the left. This is Monk Wall and was originally erected by Fountains Abbey to mark the boundary of their land, to the east, from that of the Liberty of Ripon owned by the Archbishop of York.
In a quarter of a mile we reach a tarred lane. Turn left along the access track to Brimham Lodge, an imposing farmhouse of Nidderdale sandstone, with mullioned windows and decorated with stone balls, finials and other fine architectural features. It was built in 1661 on the site of the abbot's country residence and hunting lodge. At the front of the house is a striking sundial of the same date.
We now pass between the house and the farm buildings and, in some 300 yards turn right 200 yards from Park House. It's now easy going across rich grazing land. After crossing busy Thornton Beck we leave the Nidderdale Way. Turn left along the side of a wood with the garden of Woodfield Farm on the right. The bridleway is little used but well equipped with gates and in two fields brings us to Park House Farm.
Continue ahead along the access track for half a mile. Turn left at a T-junction. In 50 paces and just past a cottage on the corner, go right over a sturdy stone wall stile. After two fields the path crosses Thornton Beck and heads across the next field to a wall, keeping a lone tree some 50 yards away on the left..
Bear left along the wall and through two gates before picking up a grassy track which leads left to South East Farm, one of a number of scattered farms which comprise Warsill. There's no real centre to Warsill though at some stage of its history it must have had a commercial rabbit farming business. Across the road from the farm is The Warren, a walled rocky wooded hillside, now landscaped into a caravan park, whilst, nearby, is Rabbit Hill Farm.
Turn left at South East Farm and follow the tarred lane uphill to a T-junction. Go left on another quiet lane which climbs gently for almost a mile. There are extensive views south all along here to the domes on Menwith Hill and, to the right, glimpses of Brimham Rocks.
At the next junction we join the main route into the Rocks. Bear left along it and in 400 yards, where the road turns sharp left, go straight ahead on a farm lane. In about 50 yards, and just after the lane bends to the right, go left on an indistinct path which climbs up through bracken to the spectacular Mushroom, the first of the many weirdly eroded gritstone rocks, their strangely sculpted shapes caused by the sandblasting effects of fierce winds during the Ice Age. From its base there is a panoramic view of upper Nidderdale and the moors beyond.
From the Mushroom a path heads across the moor for a quarter of a mile to join the main tourist route though this bizarre landscape. You join the route at the top of the escarpment where it's worth having a look over the edge at the massive blocks of stone which have broken away and lie scattered below.
From here the path links some of the more distinctive rock formations which were given their names by Victorian and Georgian visitors. Hargrove writes about Idol, which you soon pass on the left, as "a very singular rock which must undoubtedly have been a rock-idol or a stone consecrated to some principal deity". However there's no evidence that the rocks were the site of any religious observances.
The path continues past the Druid's Writing Desk and the Dancing Bear to Brimham House, built in 1792 by "the noble owner of the estate, William, Lord Grantley, for the reception of company". It's now most appropriately been converted by the National Trust into a visitor centre.
From here and the nearby cafe it's a short walk past the Blacksmith's Anvil and the Cannon Rocks to the car park.