Braving Bertha to reach the source of the River Nidd

The falls at Lofthouse

Scar House Resevoir dam

Bob Adams at the source of the River Nidd

Mia runs through the mud at Gouthwaite

The churchyard at Ramsgill

First published in Features
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This summer, we’ve been following BOB ADAMS’ occasional meanderings to find the source of the River Nidd. Today he describes the last few miles of his journey.

Day 5, Pateley Bridge to Lofthouse, eight miles

I HAD company today, a group of friends and a dog called Mia. My friend Gus now had his binoculars fixed, but seemed to spot more birds when it was a monocular. I chose Sunday as the Nidderdale Rambler, service number 825, only operates on Sundays and Bank holidays.

There was no sun and an occasional spot of rain. We set off on the Nidderdale Way with the Nidd on our left and the path of the Nidderdale Light Railway on our right. This railway was constructed in 1907 by the Bradford Corporation Waterworks Project to supply materials and provisions to build the two reservoirs beyond Lofthouse, the Angram and Scar House reservoirs.

It also operated as a passenger railway. One of its steam engines, the Illingworth, has recently been discovered in a garden in Norfolk and is being restored.

The walk took us past the old Wath station and up to the dam of at Gouthwaite. This reservoir was built between 1893 and 1901 with the sole purpose of maintaining the flow of the Nidd in times of low rain fall. The original Gouthwaite Hall, an Elizabethan manor house, was submerged beneath it. The reservoir is now a nature reserve.

The path along was wet in places which was great for Mia. At the end of the reservoir we took a detour to visit Ramsgill, passing a field of shorn sheep, to have our sandwiches on a bench in front of Michelin-starred Yorke Arms. I don’t think they would have appreciated our muddy boots if we'd asked for a table.

The churchyard of St Mary the Virgin has a beautiful view of the reservoir and includes the end gable of a 12th century chapel built by the monks of Byland Abbey who had a grange at Ramsgill. One of the graves had a tree thrusting out of it.

Gus encouraged me to visit the church. I opened the heavy oak doors and disturbed a service in full flow. As I opened the door the vicar quoted, "Fill them with the light of our presence". I assumed he wasn’t talking about me and as left as quickly and as quietly as I could.

From Ramsgill we crossed the valley back up to the Nidderdale way and the final two miles to Lofthouse.

So far it has taken five days of superb walking to get to the end of the penultimate stage of this expedition before the final assault on the slopes of Great Whernside to discover the source of the Nidd.

Day 6, Lofthouse to Kettlewell, 12.5 miles.

LIFE has been busy but after a lot of diary juggling I finally found a day to complete the expedition to discover the source of the Nidd.

The forecast was changeable with the remains of Hurricane Bertha still exerting her influence as we left Lofthouse at the head of Nidderdale mid morning.

This time there were five of us in the party, plus Mia. She had requested to join us after enjoying day five so much. So we had relented, despite her constant hunger and need to munch on whatever rotting dead creature we passed.

A complicated transport arrangement had been designed to leave a car in Kettlewell for the return journey. With rain and gales forecast, bivouacking high up on Great Whernside didn’t seem so attractive, so a linear one day route had been proposed and agreed.

The sun came out for a bit as we walked up the dale with the river on our right. We followed the path of the old railway, occasionally leaping to the side to avoid farmers tearing down the hill on quad bikes. We discussed the fact that farm vehicles seemed to travel at much faster speed on these lanes than on main roads when they drive at 25mph with queues of cars behind.

During this stretch the river goes underground at Manchester Hole. This cave system is regarded as ideal for beginners but is extremely flood prone. In November 2005 a terrible disaster occurred on a school trip when a boy was drowned. The cave is prone to flooding when excess water flows over Scar House Reservoir dam. I went down it many years ago and remember the sound of the river roaring by as I scrambled over the slippery rocks.

Just to out left we passed a short section of railway tunnel that is now bricked up. We then turned west and headed up to the Scar House Reservoir dam, a truly impressive structure.

We rested on top of the dam and from our vantage point had a view of the long trek ahead with the fabled source of the Nidd high up in the distant hills. Yes, the hill in the far distance.

Onward along the north side of the reservoir heading gradually up until the equally impressive Angram Reservoir dam came into view. This dam was built before Scar House, between 1904 and 1919. Scar House was completed in 1936. Both supply water to Bradford. We could see water being blown over the top in the strong winds.

The track then turned upwards towards the North Col, before the final assault on Great Whernside. The going got harder with a strong north westerly gale doing its best to force us back.

We eventually reached the top of the ridge. My companions seemed more interested in summiting than going back down hill to find the source. So I had to contour around with just one loyal member to search for the final goal.

Below us we could see what was left of the Nidd snaking up the slopes towards us. After a while Mark gave a shout; he had found it

I had promised myself not to expect much, but after moe than 60 miles of trekking over six days, even the small muddy hole was impressive to me. Afterwards we found the others in a stone shelter on the top of Great Whernside then descended to the very scary scarecrow festival at Kettlewell and some rather less daunting cakes.

So there we have it. After an idea thought up on a spring afternoon, through to careful planning of train and bus timetables, and a few car journeys, I have walked the whole length of the River Nidd and discovered its source.

I have had many adventures and been accompanied by many friends, not to mention a very friendly dog. All that remains is to think about what river to explore next year. Any ideas are welcome.

Comments (1)

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5:45pm Fri 29 Aug 14

Seadog says...

Great stuff! I don't think I've walked up that way since the very early eighties, usually with a bunch of recalcitrant teenagers from the ODP centre at Bewerley Park in tow. Must do so again ... preferably without the teenagers ... though, to be honest, they were never any trouble once out of the classroom!
Great stuff! I don't think I've walked up that way since the very early eighties, usually with a bunch of recalcitrant teenagers from the ODP centre at Bewerley Park in tow. Must do so again ... preferably without the teenagers ... though, to be honest, they were never any trouble once out of the classroom! Seadog
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