Despite the predominance of the great reservoirs of Angram, Scar House and Gouthwaite in the landscape of upper Nidderdale, much remains of the striking scenery of the earlier dale with its pattern of neat valley farms surrounded by high moors.
Distance: 10 miles
Time: 5 hours
Conditions: well signed rights of way, three short climbs
Refreshments: Lofthouse, Scar House car park -seasonal caravan, Middlesmoor, How Stean Gorge
OS Explorer Map OL26
Originally published: 30 July 2010
This 10 mile walk, mainly along the the line of the long distance Nidderdale Way, follows the river upstream from Lofthouse and then climbs to the dale's northern flanks to reach the imposing dam of Scar House Reservoir. The return is by the ancient packhorse lane over In Moor to Middlesmoor.
We start from the Memorial Institute in the centre of Lofthouse, (GR 102734). Turn right out of the car park towards Masham and in next to no time you will have left the tiny cluster of houses. In 200 yards we go left, leaving the road to climb to over 1200ft. over High Ash Head Moor.
Our path runs along a limestone shelf high above the river to Thrope Farm, where Fountains Abbey once had a mill. It then continues to a crossing of the Nidd. For most of the year the passage is dry for here the river is at about the half way point in its two mile long underground course through limestone caverns and tunnels. If the river is running, however, then you should retrace your steps some 200 yards and turn left, (signed), uphill for half a mile to Thwaite House.
Our walk continues on the far bank close to the scoured rocks in the river's mini gorge. We then pass through Limley Farm, recross the river bed and climb steeply to Thwaite House where there are excellent vistas back down the valley.
From here it's easy going for the next mile and a half on the access track linking the half dozen farms which cling to the northern slopes of the valley. In about 500 yards the track curves gently through 90 degrees and heads westwards with magnificent views ahead of the upper dale, Scar House Reservoir and the looming bulk of Whernside some 6 miles away.
The next farm is Bracken Ridge where the old house survives with its mullioned windows and the proud date of 1626 over the lintel. Continue past the scattered settlements under The Edge. Beyond the last farm the track continues as a green lane and fords a tiny stream.
About 100 yards after a small plantation we arrest our gentle descent towards the valley floor and turn right, through a gate. For a few yards we share the stony track with a busy little stream before climbing steeply through two gates and on to North Moor.
The right of way is then marked, left, by a line of white tipped posts and in 150 yards reaches the track which runs along the high edge of the dale. Bear left along it. Two deep gills are crossed, one by a ford. From the stout bridge over the second one the track climbs to a wall. Bear right along it for a few paces before turning sharp right uphill. The track then goes left and heads across the high ground of Carle Fell.
Continue ahead at the first crossing of tracks, directly above the dam. In about 100 yards our walk doubles back at a junction and drops down to the dam, (though on a fine day you may be tempted by 'Minerva', a sturdy and very stylish seat some 80 yards up right from the junction).
The reservoirs of Scar House, (1936), and Angram, (1919), which changed the character of the upper valley forever, were built to supply Bradford with water. Scar House is said to have had the largest masonry dam in Europe when completed and holds 2,200 million gallons of water.
Our walk continues across the dam and then turns right along the south bank. In 200 yards, and just before a gate, go sharp left on a stony track which was once a packhorse route between Wharfedale and Nidderdale. It climbs steeply past the jumbled gritstone rocks perched on Rain Stang and has excellent views of the quarries on the far side of the valley which provided the stone for the dam.
We then continue across a short stretch of moorland before entering the walled In Moor Lane, named for the 19th century enclosure of what was once open moorland. From here it's all downhill with glorious views of Gouthwaite Reservoir and lower Nidderdale unfolding with each step.
The panorama is even finer when you reach Middlesmoor, one of the finest of Yorkshire's few hill villages. The best viewpoint is from the popular seats on the edge of the churchyard, which itself is worth exploring for its elaborately carved tombstones. In the church is a 10th century Anglo-Saxon cross head dedicated to St. Chad.
From the churchyard a path descends directly to Lofthouse, half a mile away. The main walk, however leaves Middlesmoor by the road. In 150 yards go over a stile on the right down into the valley of How Stean Beck. After two more stiles go left and follow a series of large red arrows across the beckside fields.
The path brings you directly into the grounds of How Stean Gorge where the beck has cut deeply into the rock, carving out and polishing the limestone in a narrow cleft some 80ft. deep. Much of this can be seen from above. The energetic however can pay to follow the path which descends into the gorge and crosses the swirling waters by three slender bridges. The highlight for many is the 100 yards long pitch black tunnel leading to Tom Thumb's Cave. Torches and helmets are available!
To complete the walk follow the lane down left from the entrance to the site, turning right when you reach the Middlesmoor road. At the first sharp bend in 100 yards a short cut leads off left back into Lofthouse.