Sunday 11th October – Bolton Abbey and Strid Wood

As autumn had truly arrived, Mrs Boots and myself decided to have a short stroll around Bolton Abbey, the ruins of a 12th Century Augustinian monastery on the banks of the River Wharfe, in Yorkshire. Previous experience here, and from when we did the Dalesway, showed it could be quite glorious and a riot of colour when the trees were in peak form.

Autumn Leaves near Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire

As the walk was along very well made paths through woodland, the usual outfit of ‘walking gear’ was discarded and the Country Gent look of a window pane check Harris Tweed jacket and jeans came into play although I did stick to a pair of leather walking boots as a nod towards practicality. It was like I was walking straight from the page of a Barbour catalogue, and all that was missing was the chocolate Labrador dog and flat cap. In all fairness, it made a nice change from a pair of walking shorts and my well travelled, (and well worn) Berghaus ‘Windstopper’ fleece that is usually covering me in the cooler months.

Total Distance – 5 miles
Total Ascent – 690 ft

OS Map of the Route

3D Route

3D View of the Walk

Route Profile
The Elevation Profile of the Walk

It had been a few years since we last came here, and the places for car parking are quite abundant due to there being several car parks available, so we decided to stop at the Bolton Abbey village car park and walk down to the ruins of the priory. We drove past the Devonshire Arms coming from the A59 and turned left into the village car park. I did remember to bring some change along with me as I thought it was a ‘pay & display’ type of arrangement, however I was wrong and we had to pay on entry, or to be more accurate we were robbed on entry by a kind faced, pleasant elderly chap in a wooden hut who was masquerading as Dick Turpin without the garb of a Regency fop. The chap didn’t even wield a pair of flintlocks and demand that I ‘stand and deliver‘ either, but one thing is certain is that it was Highway Robbery. This car park attendant relieved me of eight quid whilst keeping a gentle smile on his face…yes, that is no typo, EIGHT ‘EFFIN QUID! – Having no choice to park elsewhere as we were hemmed in to the rear by other vehicles, we entered the car park, found a space and stopped the motor. We thought it prudent to avail ourselves of the facilities provided in order to maximise our value for money, although I didn’t really need to go. For some mistaken reason I had thought the car park was a National Trust one, and had the anticipation of smugly using our membership to avoid laying out the cash. It transpired that the car park actually belongs to the Bolton Abbey Estate, part of the Duke of Devonshire’s back garden, and we know that Chatsworth House, in Derbyshire, does cost a few bob to maintain so who can blame them for getting as much as they can – supply and demand and all that malarkey.

We left the car park and its facilities and strolled through the ‘village’ of Bolton Abbey towards the ruins of the Priory. Calling it a village is a tad ambitious really, as it seems to be no more than a collection of about twelve houses. I’m not an expert on the collective nouns of dwellings and the numerical thresholds, or other criteria that dictate what they are called, but it is definitely not a village in my book. In the same way that people who live in the suburbs of big cities call their own areas villages, such as “Didsbury Village” in the endless, sprawling, monotonous suburbia to the south of Manchester. The last time this area could have been close to a village would have been at the start of the industrial revolution; how can it be a village when it is completely surrounded by masses of housing and urban sprawl and there is no demarcation of a Green Belt?… Pfff! I rest my case m’lud.

We continued to head towards the Priory ruins, and passed through a very rough looking opening in the old, but nevertheless impressive Priory boundary wall which appeared to have been made by some builders I’m sure I have mistakenly tendered work to in the past. We followed the well made gravel path downhill towards the river Wharfe and the Priory ruins.

Ruins of the Augustinian Priory adjacent the village of Bolton Abbey

As we got closer to the ruins we could see the masses of people gathering down by the river and stepping stones. I had forgotten how busy this place gets at weekends and we should have known what it would be like from our second experience visiting here  which was more than twenty years ago, and an episode in our life that we still talk and laugh about to this day. We first came here late one evening in summer in the early 1990’s and not long after Mrs MB and myself had met. The area was deserted and had an air of romantic dereliction about it, so we decided that we would come back during the summer with a picnic hamper and blanket and sit by the river relaxing in the sunshine and admiring the ‘picturesque’ in the manner of late eighteenth century aesthetes such as Wordsworth at Tintern Abbey. Later that year we proceeded to do exactly this. We made a good range of picnic type comestibles, packed into a wicker picnic hamper, complete with leather straps, fine porcelain crockery and silver cutlery and set off to Bolton Abbey. We arrived there mid morning, and found a decent spot close to the river. There was just us and a couple of others walking dogs. We laid out our blanket and settled down on it under the growing heat of the morning sun in anticipation of relaxing solitude whilst languidly nibbling on the treats we had made. Visions played through my mind of a scene from a Merchant Ivory film production, all dappled sunlight and soft focus cameras. During the next two hours the whole of Bolton Abbey transformed from an oasis of beautiful and quixotic solitude to a Yorkshire Dales equivalent of Blackpool beach in the 1930’s, and then to further ruin our day, we had placed the wicker basket on an unseen ant-hill and they were now happily crawling all over its contents. We quickly packed up and despondently trudged back to the car in dismay, vowing never to go back to Bolton Abbey, or more veraciously, never to go back on an August Bank Holiday weekend.

We had a wander around the Priory ruins and studied them in greater detail than I have ever done before. As I work in construction I always look at these ruined buildings with the thought of the physical labour and cost that went into putting them together, and how much the outlay would be today to build such a monument, if it could get built at all with the restrictive planning laws we now have in force. After a lengthy mooch we left the Priory behind and crossed the river Wharfe by the footbridge (we avoided the famous stepping stones on which there was a large queue forming due to a woman in a burka who had got two thirds of the way across and then panicked and had frozen) and followed the Dalesway footpath along through the woods which run beneath Cat Crags. Whilst there were a number of people around, it was certainly less crowded than the Priory ruins. We ambled along the well made path which snakes its way roller coaster-like through the mature deciduous woodland until we started to drop downhill to a ford in the road and crossed Pickles Beck by the adjacent footbridge and picked up the Dalesway to continue walking along the riverbank again.

Bolton Priory from Cat Crags above the River Wharfe
Remains of stone tracery in the North Transcept
The Roofless Chancel at Bolton Priory

We soon crossed the wooden bridge over the Wharfe and approached the Cavendish Pavilion where we decided to stop for tea and scones. The Pavilion has undergone a large transformation in the twenty-odd years since we first came across it. It is also a wedding venue now and scrubs up well for an old girl (the Pavilion was originally built in 1890). Now, I don’t want to be a whinger, but the price for two teas and two scones with cream and jam seemed to have come from the same “How to Fleece Your Customers with a Smile” book as the car parking charges. It was about sixteen quid for two. One of the reasons we go to Yorkshire is for Yorkshire prices, and these were not Yorkshire prices.

Wooden Bridge over the Wharfe at Cavendish Pavilion

We decided to sit outside to eat and drink and to watch the world go by as the weather was quite pleasant. It was interesting to note that about 85% of the people walking past were young families who appeared to have come from the same mould as each other. The Dad was late thirties dressed in a nylon down jacket, jeans and Hunter wellies. The ‘missus’ was also dressed similarly but with blonde hair in a pony tail, and it felt like I was sat watching an Ark building convention due to the large number of “Noah’s”  running around. A name that seems to be the male equivalent of Chelsey, fashionable now, but a hinderance to its owner in future when it comes to getting your CV on the ‘must interview’ pile when applying for jobs. The Cavendish Pavilion car park was visible from where we were, and they we all getting into and out of the same type of Audi / BMW. What came to mind was that they were all trying to be so different from their contemporaries, but have ended up being the same, even down to their choice of children’s names. Identikit Families – maybe there is a section in Ikea where you can get one?

We finished our tea and continued on our way along the Dalesway footpath and continued up through Strid Wood. The ultimate objective of the stroll was to get to the Strid. This is a narrowing in the bedrock of the river and the whole of the river Wharfe tries to pass through this narrow cleft in the rock. Imagine the river being twisted through ninety degrees for a short distance and then back again and this will give a reasonable representation of the Strid. The Strid is only about two metres wide, and foolhardy visitors have in the past tried to jump across this roaring chasm. Failure is invariably fatal, however, as there is no recorded incidence of anyone having survived a fall into the swirling dark waters of the Strid which mercilessly sucks its victims into the underwater caves and eroded tunnels which lie hidden underneath each side of the rocky channel. It has even been immortalized by William Wordsworth in his poem, “The Force of Prayer

“The Strid” on the River Wharfe

We had a lengthy pause at the Strid before turning around and walking back the way we had come. The path was much quieter now with the majority of the families having headed home, no doubt to get their evening meals and get little Noah ready for school. This is one of the reasons we always set off later than most on our walks because the crowds tend to have a herd instinct and will all vanish around the same time of day. The sun had started to lower in the sky and the light was fading as we approached the Priory, and we continued past back through the gate in the old priory walls and across the road to the car park. Again, we maximised our value by taking advantage of the facilities on the car park again and eventually got back to the car.

The River Wharfe at Strid Wood
The Bodgers Camp near to Cavendish Pavilion
Bolton Priory and The Stepping Stones

All in all it was a pleasant stroll and the autumn trees were truly magnificent in their varied hues. The walk is very accessible and could partially be done by those with limited mobility, however they may struggle on the steep sections through the woods nearest the Priory. Give it a go, but try to get there on a quiet sunny day in mid Autumn.


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