At the eastern entrance to Wensleydale picturesque East Witton is at the centre of a network of paths. Planned in the early 19th century by the Earl of Ailesbury, the local landlord, its houses rise in two rows along the village street and face one another across a broad green. No house looks out of place and many still have their side-sliding Yorkshire sash windows.
At the eastern edge of the houses and out on the A 6108 towards Masham is the parish church with a huge plaque over the door proclaiming that it was built by the earl to celebrate the golden jubilee of George III in 1810. The nearby Blue Lion with its old wooden signboard takes its name from the lion on the Ailesbury coat of arms.
Distance: 9 miles
Time: 6 hours
Conditions: 2 sharp climbs, well maintained moor tracks and field paths
Refreshments: East Witton, Jervaulx Abbey
OS Explorer Map 302 and OL20
Originally published: 27 August 2010
Opposite the inn is Lowthorpe, (GR 144860), where we start our 9 mile walk over Witton Moor into Colsterdale. Follow the lane for 200 yards to the striking early 19th century Low Thorpe House where turn right. The steep climb up the side of the valley starts instantly. In another 200 yards look out for Tilsey Folly on the left, once adorned with what may have been tracery from Jervaulx Abbey, but now sadly in ruins.
There's a little more climbing to do past a welcome seat with fine views back across the dale to Spennithorne and Danby Hall. The lane then levels out before dropping to ford Sowden Beck, (there's a footbridge too).
Go through the gate beyond the farmhouse and bear right up the side of a wall on a raised green track. In about 300 yards the open moor is gained through a gate.
Our walk continues straight across the heather moor on an easy to follow path. It shortly passes No 2 of a line of shooting butts. The next marker is a large boundary stone carved with the letter A. From here you cross Agra Moor whilst enjoying the long line of flat topped hills ahead, from Little Haw, at 1,639ft on the left across to Little Whernside, 1,984ft, on the right, 7 miles distant.
Colsterdale now comes into sight ahead, a brilliant green in contrast to the browns and greys of the moors. The sandstone Slipstone Crags on the left add grandeur to the moorland crossing which soon starts a gentle though stony and eroded descent which could be slippery after rain.
At a gate the path joins another moorland crossing coming in on the right from Coverdale. On the other side either continue ahead on a turf path to reach the road through Colsterdale or turn right in a few yards down through bracken to join the same road. On either path go left along the road, soon in the company of the sparkling River Burn, to reach Gollinglith Foot in about half a mile. (Please note that the bridleway marked on the OS map past Body Close House seems to be impassable).
With its scattering of houses by a ford Gollinglith Foot is a delightful shady spot for a picnic. We start the return leg of our walk by taking the track to Low Agra Farm opposite the red telephone box. After two houses it passes through a gate. After a second gate and some 200 yards short of the farm, bear right, uphill, on a green track between two plantations, keeping close to a wall on the right. An ancient route, it was used by the monks of Jervaulx to carry coal from their mines in Colsterdale to the abbey.
After two more gates a field is crossed, leaving High Agra away to the right. The path then passes down the left side of another plantation and is then well signed through a gate on the left, followed by another gate in the wall on the right.
Continue on a green track across the next field after which the right of way bears left to cross a stone bridge over a tiny beck. It then climbs up to a gate.
From here do not follow the track ahead to Bales House Plantation, but bear left over a slight rise in the open field to a gate which soon comes into view as you reach the top.
From the gate ignore a track to the right and go straight ahead on a signed path down through the heather. This converges with a wall on the left marking the boundary between East Witton and Mashamshire. This is carefully recorded on the Tranmire Stone set into the wall between two rough ladder stiles.
Mashamshire was a Norman lordship consisting of Masham and Kirkby Malzeard parishes and in 1181 was given the rare privilege of having its own church court independent of the archbishop of York. This particular or special status is the reason for the area's title of Peculier of Masham, now used by the town's Theakstons Brewery for its famous beer.
Do not cross either stile but continue to the edge of Ellingstring Plantation where a gate makes for an easier passage through the wall. The path runs down the side of the plantation and the wall with at least three further boundary stones to spot before you reach the road at the edge of Ellingstring.
Cross straight over through the yard of Angram Cote Farm. The path then crosses the first field to a gate. Dramatic views up Wensleydale to Leyburn and Preston-under-Scar unfold as the way swings to the left down to a tarred lane.
There are two stiles to cross here, (the only ones on the route), and the walk continues across three fields well above High Newstead Farm to meet its access track where it joins Stark Bank Road.
Cross straight over and follow the lane up to Hammer Farm. Just beyond the house and first barn a path diverges to the right past a second barn. It then crosses one field to join a hard surfaced track. This descends in a series of sharp bends to meet another track. Go left here to Thirsting Castle Lodge, prettily situated by Deep Gill which once powered the estate's sawmill.
From here it's an easy third of a mile past the patriotically named Waterloo Farm to East Witton.