Illustration photo of Nidderdale AONB, North Yorkshire

Ian Battersby braces against the cold for a remote walk in Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

The sky was a cobalt canvas flecked with splashes of dazzling cloud riding high on wind that carried them south. It was already past noon, so I needed quick access into the hills on this inviting day, and quickly settled on a circuit of Pennine foothills that rise from vast plains around York. The vale is cut by rivers, fed by streams that divide these folds of Earth into discrete moors and hills. As they fall they swell, cutting gaping gills that harbour fragile threads of conifer and deciduous woodland draped between emerald pastures.

Dallowgill is one such refuge, and I began my venture at its head, whose viewpoint carried far over treetops towards the tiny city of Ripon, concealed in a dip, but betrayed by a tell-tale plume of white smoke. Beyond it the outlying high plateau of the North York Moors shimmered in midday sunshine. With impending autumn nibbling at day length, a threat of early nightfall prompted a fair lick along the track, passing Hambleton Hill to reach the top of Fountains Earth Moor. Bitter breeze ushered heat from thin layers, but the view was worth its bite. Ahead the land plunged into Upper Nidderdale, which yawned, stretching south, and snuggled east, unseen, into pillows of Pennine hills. As I dropped into this scene Gouthwaite reservoir dazzled beneath hills silhouetted by the glare of sunlight that flickered over land that cringed beneath ballooning cloud. Soon sun soaked pastures were swallowed by shadow, lit only by shafts of light that splintered through chinks in overbearing sky.

I turned north, passing conifers that sweetened the air with refreshing perfume, spurring me on beneath sombre crags to Ouster Bank, which signalled a withdrawal from Nidderdale back into obscurity and heather. Wildlife had been scarce up to now, but suddenly a kestrel appeared, balancing on a breeze that climbed the moor. Grouse grumbled at my passing, and partridges buzzed by in groups of up to half a dozen. I was surprised to see a late wheatear, presumably set to leave for warmer climes.

Looking at the map you may be curious about ‘Jenny Twigg and her daughter Tib’, a pair of distant columns of rock standing high, gazing jointly over Nidderdale. After
passing them I diverted to stand on sturdy crags at Low Ash Head Moor. A shooting house has been constructed within the shelter of the outcrop that overlooks alluring reservoirs that flood the valley.

Now the land fell slowly over Grewelthorpe Moor into gentle pasture and wild woodland. Light plumes of drizzle trailed like flamboyant robes over the eastern vale. The sun fashioned fragmented rainbows from them, they standing still as the rains swept through, then disappearing as I climbed again, returning along a rough track that wriggled by farmhouses squeezed between trees.


[1] Cross Stope Bridge and head WSW over Fountains Earth Moor then dropping towards East Side Wood.
[2] Through gate turn N, forking L after 1km to follow track NW to junction near Ouster Bank.
[3] Take track E, veering ENE after 1.5km.
[4] Divert N to shooting house if desired.
[5] Continue ENE along track to junction at Grewelthorpe Moor.
[6] Turn E then ESE to Newlands Ho, then lane E to road.
[7] S then SE on road to Bagwith Ho.
[8] SE along footpath for 1km to meet with farm track down a hill.
[9] Track W then SSE passing Hawset Farm to lane which returns SW.

Nidderdale AONB, North Yorkshire