Between the great reservoirs of Gouthwaite and Scar House upper Nidderdale is flanked by high moors. Their network of rights of way combined with the easier valley routes makes for excellent walking.
Distance: 8 miles
Time: 4 hours
Conditions: well signed field paths and bridleways, one steep climb from Thrope Farm, few stiles
Refreshments: Lofthouse, Ramsgill, Studfold, How Stean
OS Explorer Map 298
Originally published: 30 June 2017
Our 8 mile walk starts in Lofthouse and follows the Nidderdale Way before climbing up on to Lofthouse Moor. It then follows old trackways down to Ramsgill before returning along the valley.
We start from the Memorial Hall in the centre of Lofthouse (GR 102734). From the car park turn right opposite Holme Farm dated 1653. In another 100 yards you will have left the cluster of houses and be heading up the Masham road, made famous in the recent Tour de Yorkshire as the Cote de Lofthouse. Its notoriety is still emblazoned on the moorside above and scores of cyclists were trying its gradients as I surveyed our walk.
At the first bend leave the cyclists to their toil and bear left on the Nidderdale Way for half a mile, on a green track along a limestone terrace through woodland, high above the river. It was once used by the monks of Fountains Abbey to reach their mill at Thrope Farm.
At the farm we turn right through a gate opposite the farmyard and begin our own sharp climb of some 700ft up the valley side to Shooting House, perched on the edge of the scarp. At the top there are outstanding views of upper Nidderdale and across to Middlesmoor, one of Yorkshire's few hill villages.
Go right from the building along the scarp edge, following a rough access track to reach the Masham road at the top of the Cote de Lofthouse. Turn left for 100 yards and then right on a walled moorland track which heads directly across Fountains Earth Moor. The land was gifted to the abbey by the Mowbrays in 1175 to help finance a journey to the Holy Land. Bear right at a junction in about 400 yards.
Our track was built in the 19th century as an occupation or access road for the newly enclosed moor. The grazing land has now reverted to rough pasture. On the left look out for the huge monolith known as Jenny Twigg and the nearby smaller rock christened "Her Daughter Tib'. Then come the jagged teeth of Sypeland Crags before the lane descends to cross Lul Beck. At a junction go right and in 400 yards right again.
The track now descends steeply into the dale. In medieval times it was used to link Nidderdale's many monastic holdings with the abbeys further east. It also led directly from the dale to Kirkby Malzeard, once the medieval seat of the Mowbrays and centre of a huge parish which included upper Nidderdale. Kirkby Malzeard was also the market for the area, giving an added prominence to our lane which lasted well into the 19th century.
We reach the valley floor at Boustead, formerly a grange of Fountains Abbey. Continue ahead on a tarred lane and look out for Station House on the left where the trains of the Nidd Valley Light Railway called between 1904 and 1929. The line was constructed to carry workers and materials for the building of Scar House and Angram Reservoirs at the head of the dale.
At the end of the lane turn left over the Nidd into Ramsgill, once a grange of Byland Abbey. A gable end of the chapel the monks constructed for the settlement still survives in the churchyard. The church itself was built in Victorian times.
From the green opposite the Yorke Arms return some 50 yards to a smaller green and go left on a signed farm lane. The walk, part of the Ndderdale Way, makes for easy going, at first close to the river. Where the track swings left to Grindstone Hill House, continue ahead on a path which leads in half a mile to West House Farm.
Cross the farm access lane and continue on a green way for a further half mile to join the track to High Blayshaw farm. Bear right down the track and over Blayshaw Gill and in another 200 yards down a steep lane with cottages on the left to Studfold Farm and Activity Centre where there's a cafe.
In another 100 yards our track joins the lane into the valley of the How Stean Beck. The famous gorge is left some 200 yards up the lane to the hamlet of Stean.
Here the beck has cut deeply into the rock, scouring out and polishing the limestone to carve out a ravine some 80ft deep. A path descends into the gorge and crosses the swirling waters by three picturesque bridges. A variety of activities is on offer but the highlight for many is the 100 yards long pitch black tunnel leading to Tom Thumb's Cave, for which torches are provided. While an earlier description of the gorge as 'Yorkshire's Little Switzerland' is somewhat of an exaggeration, it is a rewarding visit if you still feel agile after 8 miles of walking.
The gorge can also be seen from a bridge on a public right of way to a caravan site which passes the front door of the cafe and visitor centre.
Our walk returns down the lane and over How Stean Beck to join the road to Middlesmoor. Bear right and where the road turns sharp right in a few yards go ahead on a path which passes in front of a barn. It then crosses the tarred lane up the valley to the reservoirs. Continue ahead, crossing the Nidd (which is often dry at this point) and climbing the bank into Lofthouse.