While George Wilkinson is away, Mark Reid leads the first of two walks, here setting off in search of John O'Gaunt's Castle

THE Washburn Valley is true Dales country, with stoutly-built stone barns and sinuous walls dividing up the fields of deep velvety green. Its omission, along with neighbouring Nidderdale, from the protective boundaries of the Yorkshire Dales National Park is surely a mistake.

The answer lies with the seven reservoirs that have turned this area into a mini "lakeland" to slake the thirst of Leeds and Bradford.

This whole area, from the Washburn to the Vale of York and bounded by the rivers Nidd and Wharfe, once formed part of the vast royal hunting forest known as the Forest of Knaresborough.

This Norman hunting forest was administered from Knaresborough Castle, which developed into a favourite retreat for royalty who came to hunt wolves, deer and wild boar in the forest; King John was a frequent visitor.

This forest was subject to strict laws to protect the game for the royal hunting parties and consisted of large preserves of woodland, open areas of common land and rough moorland with a scattering of farms and villages.

Hunting parties would travel out into the forest and then stay overnight at Haverah Lodge, which is sometimes referred to as John O' Gaunt's Castle; John of Gaunt grew up at Knaresborough Castle.

Only fragments remain of this royal hunting lodge, although there are some impressive earthworks including Bank Slack. This large defensive earthwork probably dates from the late Iron Age and was built to protect this strategic spot, a site later used for the Norman hunting lodge although some historians believe it to be contemporary with the lodge. Interestingly, the 200 acres that now make up the swathe of parkland through the heart of Harrogate known as the Stray was once the common land of Knaresborough Forest; indeed the name of Harrogate is probably derived from "Haywra-gate" meaning "the road to Haverah Park".

Mark Reid is the author of The Inn Way and Town Trails series.


1. From the car park on the eastern shore of Swinsty Reservoir, walk up on to the road then turn right and walk across the causeway with the small reservoir overflow to your left. Immediately after causeway, head right through a gate and follow the lakeside path straight on then through woodland to reach a lane across your path. Turn left along this lane through some gates, immediately after which turn right along a walled track and follow this through a gate. Continue straight on following the grassy track across the field, bearing right to join a walled track again. Follow this track winding up, through a red gate after which head to the left along a farm track through another red gate, then down through the farmyard of Scow Hall and on to the road.

2. Turn left along the road then, after about 200 yards, head through the metal gate on the left after the large holly tree. Walk diagonally to the right across the field to cross a stream over a footbridge near to a large holly tree and over a stone wall. After this wall, follow the indistinct path bearing up to the left to join the corner of a stone wall, then head straight on with this wall on your right through two wall-gaps and then two gates. After this second gate bear slightly to the right through a gate to the right of Cooper House Farm, then head straight up alongside the wall on your left to reach the main road.

3. Turn left along the road then take the turning to the right towards Beckwithshaw, Harrogate at the cluster of houses of Norwood (Bland Hill on maps). Follow the enclosed path to the left that leads between these houses immediately after Heather Lea Cottage down to reach a stile, after which bear right up across the field over another wall stile then carry on alongside the wall to reach the road. Turn right along the road passing a farm across to your left, then cross the wall-stile to the left after the field of young willow trees. Follow the enclosed path down, then where the path turns sharp right cross the stile over the wall at this corner. Follow the clear path down with the wall on your left and up some steps into the yard of Brown Bank Farm.

4. Follow the track to the right through the farmyard (ignore the farm access track to the right) passing in front of the farmhouse then head through the right-hand gate of two gates (waymarker) - do not follow the track down to the converted chapel. Follow the stone wall down, over a stile into Haverah Park, then continue alongside the wall on your left as it bends to the left to another stile (to the right of a gate), after which head across fields towards East End Manor Farm. Follow the path over a ladder stile that leads in front of the farmhouse then cross the stile to the left by a gate after the house. Follow the path down with the fence on your left, then across the field to the right to join an old walled track that leads down to the derelict farm buildings of Haverah Park Top and the earthworks of Haverah Lodge.

5. As you reach the old buildings of Haverah Park Top (with Haverah Lodge in front of you), turn left through old stone gateposts and head down alongside the fence/wall on your left to reach the head of John O'Gaunt's Reservoir. Walk along the path enclosed by old metal railings, through a metal kissing gate then head straight up the hillside to reach a tumbledown wall and the earthworks of Bank Slack. Turn left and follow the clear grassy track along the bottom of the earthworks on to reach a lane below Bank End Farm.

6. Head straight over lane down to stile, walk straight on through the gate ahead after which gradually bear to the left up to reach houses ahead. Turn right along lane through this hamlet then down through the car park of the Sun Inn. Turn left along the main road then almost immediately right (Swinsty signpost) along a track (at the end of the woods). Follow track down passing some barns and head on with the wall on your right through another gate, then bear left over a stile into woodland. Follow the clear track through the woods then alongside the overflow reservoir back to the causeway where it is a short walk to the car park.

Fact file

Distance: 5 miles

Time: 2 hours

General location: Washburn Valley

Start: Swinsty Reservoir car park (eastern shore)

Date walked: Friday, August 30, 2002

Maps: OS Explorer Sheet 297 (1:25,000) Lower Wharfedale & Washburn Valley

Terrain: Field-paths, old "green" tracks and quiet country lanes.

Parking: Large car park on the shore of Swinsty Reservoir

Toilets: None

Refreshments: The Sun Inn at Norwood

Tourist Information: Harrogate T.I.C.: 01423 537300

How to get there: From York, head out passing Harrogate along the A59 then turn off south along the B6451 towards Otley. Take the first turning to the right after the Sun Inn at Norwood down to reach Swinsty Reservoir.

Click here to view a map of the walk

Updated: 08:52 Saturday, September 14, 2002