THE landscape backdrop to today's walk is purple heather. The political backdrop is a huge and hugely successful public access arrangement. The land at Bolton Abbey is owned by the Duke of Devonshire who this year publicly apologised for the treatment his grandfather had meted out by his gamekeepers to walkers.

The Duke says he is 'a great believer in the right to roam'. I'm sure this is genuine and it seems as though his wife is cool too, the Duchess is an Elvis fan.

This splendid arrangement in Wharfedale shows that shooters and walkers need not be at loggerheads.

However, part of the deal is that on grouse shooting days the open access is closed. Today's route uses only public rights of way and a short length of permissive path so is perfect if you go to Bolton Abbey to roam, but find restrictions in place.

We left the crowds and the village in evening sunshine and within ten minutes had the countryside to ourselves. First oak parkland then a climb through woods then miles of very open grassland, lovely to walk and with super views. We saw the Valley of Desolation and purple fells; a starling rode on the back of a sheep, and after an hour's gentle climbing we reached Middle Hare Head at 1,000ft. This was our high point and sandwich stop. We could see Lower Barden Reservoir a mile to the north and Chelker Reservoir and wind turbines two miles to the south.

Half a mile on we found ourselves walking through some heather. Then more grassland, another long uninterrupted stretch, paralleling and descending with Barden Beck to the River Wharfe and the Strid Wood Nature Reserve.

At first the cool and dappled light was tranquil, but as we dropped down to the river the water narrowed and narrowed and then at the Strid a red sign read 'Danger - The Strid is dangerous and has claimed lives,' including recently a honeymoon couple. The river was clear, not very full and the Strid betrayed its menace only by the intensity of the swirl in water a mere yard or two wide but 30 feet deep.

Tranquillity returned on the next couple of wheelchair smooth miles, we set cruise control and matched the speed of the river through long smooth shimmering reaches where the fish were rising to an evening hatch. There are shingle beaches where grayling spawn, rattling rapids and wooded islands that spread wide the flow.

Normally one meets crowds eating and drinking in style at the Cavendish Pavilion, but nearly everyone had gone home, so the promenade along the river to the remains of Bolton Priory wasn't the show it can be. Luckily, we weren't distracted, as we had forgotten to note that the car park is locked at 9pm and we finished at 8.30pm... happy and relieved.

When in doubt look at the map. Check your position at each point. Keep straight on unless otherwise directed.


1. From car park pass village shop to village green, left to road (mostly pavement), under road arch, 100 yards, track on left uphill (signed bridleway), 100 yards, fieldgate on right after pens (signed), 100 yards, pass pond, 100 yards, fieldgate, over stream then right to wood and stay on main path uphill through wood (signs).

2. Gate to pasture, 11 o'clock, fieldgate (signed), 11 o'clock uphill on path, cross two tracks, fieldgate by wall corner.

3. Left (near wall to left) on grass path.

4. Path leaves wall and swings right up and over hill then down to fieldgate, 20 yards, path on right leads diagonally down to road.

5. Gated squeezer and immediately narrow roadside ditch, then right to road, 150 yards, fieldgate on right (signed), 100 yards, stile then path at 11 o'clock (not ahead) across rough and occasionally marshy grassland (ditches and holes), small slab bridge by wall corner then stay on faint path keeping a wall to left which you follow right uphill then contour left.

6. At wall corner angle 10 o'clock downhill for 200 yards to gated squeezer, left to road (poor verge), right through Bolton Estate car park, path by entrance hut (ignore sign about shooting), ignore lefts at cottage, pass Pembroke Seat view point, fork left down to the Strid at pair of bench seats (or stay on less steep main path which brings you round and down after about 200 yards). Fork right at Lud Stream to stay on main path (signed).

7. Pass Cavendish Pavilion and stay by riverside through car park, snickelgate to path uphill, steps up to road, left to road (pavement), gate on left, pass Priory. Stay on drive, left to road (pavement) into village.

Fact File:

Bolton Abbey - High Hare Head Walk

Distance: Seven miles.

Time: Three hours.

Location: Just inside the southern boundary of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Start: The village of Bolton Abbey.

Right of Way: The complete route is along public rights of way and along permissive paths. NB. The sign at the car park near the Strid about grouse shooting does not apply to our route.

Date walked: Thursday, August 15, 2002.

Road Route: A59 from York.

Parking: Car park £4, locked at 9pm.

Lavatories: At car park in village, car park before Strid and at Cavendish Pavilion.

Refreshments: Tea Cottage and kiosk in village, Cavendish Pavilion and Inn.

Tourist and public transport information: Info at the Cavendish Pavilion. The Tourist Department at Bolton Abbey, Tel: 01756 718009 and 710227. e-mail: Website:

Map: Based on OS Explorer OL2 Yorkshire Dales southern and western areas.

Terrain: Slopes of open grassland and riverside.

Points of interest: Bolton Priory. The Strid. Views.

Difficulty: Moderate in fine weather.

Dogs: Suitable.

Weather forecast: Evening Press and recorded forecast 0891 500 418.

Please observe the Country Code and park sensibly. Every effort is made to provide accurate information, but walkers set out at their own risk.

Click here to view a map of the walk

Updated: 09:25 Saturday, August 24, 2002