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Circular from Bolton Abbey along the River Wharfe and the Strid


A circular walk from Bolton Abbey, starting near to the Priory. The walk takes in the ruins of the priory and passes a couple of cafes en-route. As there are quite a few bridges over the Wharfe, the walk can be shortened if required. Signs along the way show the nature trails through Strid wood, whilst the walk itself passes by the Strid, which offers great photo opportunities when the Wharf is in full flow. The walk heads up to and crosses Barden bridge before returning down the other side of the Wharf, where the footpath is more undulating.


Parking: Car Park at Bolton Abbey (grid reference SE 071 538).
Directions: Nearest post code for Sat Nav: BD23 6EY - get directions here
Walk distance: 7.2 miles (11.5 Km)
Estimated walk time: 3 hours
Height climbed: 320 metres
Grade: 2-B: A medium length walk that requires modest uphill walking
Peaks / summits: None
Wainwrights: None
Map: Ordnance Survey - Explorer OL2 (Yorkshire Dales - Southern & Western Area)
Buy this map from Ordnance Survey
Walk features: Birds, Café, Flowers, Geographic feature, Stream or River, Views, Wildlife
Facilities / refreshments: Toilets and cafés at the start and en-route. Pub about 1/2 mile from start.
Nearest town: Nearest larger town is Skipton
Walk Tags: Walk, Yorkshire Dales, Yorkshire Dales National Park, Limestone, Cavendish Café, Strid, Strid wood, Bolton Abbey, Bolton Abbey Priory, Cavendish memorial, Barden bridge, Dales Way


There are 3 car parks associated with Bolton Abbey: one in Bolton Abbey itself; Sandholme (a further half a mile up the road) and the Strid car park. As this is a circular walk passing through or near all three car parks, any of them can be used, but the walk is described from the one at Bolton Abbey. Once you have paid the small charge, you can move around for no extra charge between the car parks. The admission fee goes towards inter alia restoring and preserving the historic buildings and the five sites of special scientific interest, maintenance of over 80 miles of footpaths and management of the woodland. There are plenty of things to see and do whilst at Bolton Abbey and plenty of picnic areas by the riverside. The Sandholme riverside car park also allows the use of barbecues.

Turn left out of the Bolton Abbey car park using the entrance you drove in through and follow the road through the village, past the tearooms and the entrance to the Priory, then under the arch in the wall across the road and continue on for the couple of hundred yards to the Cavendish Memorial. If you wish to keep off the road, you can pass through the Priory to emerge just short of the memorial. Pass to the right of the Memorial on the gravel path and as it splits, take the right hand fork and pass down a flight of wooden steps. The path heads across the field to the River Wharfe.

Archway built into the wall over the road

Cavendish Memorial

Pass through the wooden gate and turn left along the riverside gravelled path that then passes through the Sandholme car park. Where the track splits, take the right hand riverside fork following the sign for Cavendish Pavilion and Gift Shop. As the pavilion is approached, pass through the wooden gate and keep on in front of it to head towards the wood ahead following the sign for Strid Nature Trails. There are shops, a café and toilets at the pavilion.

Morris dancers outside the Cavendish Pavillion

River Wharfe from the Cavendish Cafe

The River Wharfe from near to the Cavendish Memorial

Pass through the wooden gate, and immediately on the right there are some boards showing the Strid Wood Nature Trails. There are a variety of birds, animals and insects that frequent the wood, including: red grouse; emperor moths; adders, skylarks and short-eared owls. Also within the woods are: over 80 species of lichens; 98 different mosses; 41 species of liverworts; 97 species of fungi; 49 species of molluscs and 5 species of bats.

There are a variety of ways shown to get through the wood, some of the paths being suitable for wheelchairs. The path followed by this walk is the one that keeps closest to the river, but any of the others can be used. Initially keep on the main green path, and then follow the blue arrow down the narrower path to the right to the riverside with small wooden way markers highlighting the way. Path continues by the river with excellent views of the Wharfe to the right as the smell of pungent wild ransom (wild garlic) fills the air, then climbs pulling away from the river up some man made steps. Turn right at the top of these to rejoin the wide green path. This gently undulates through the woods, after a while again pulling in by the river.

Path heads back alongside the River Wharfe

Path through Strid Wood

The path then undulates, passing stone seats and twisted tree trunks decorated with coins on the floor. After a while, the path passes by another sign describing the inhabitants and seasons of Strid Wood. Shortly after that a small diversion off the path to the right can be made to have a closer look at the Strid itself. The Strid is a narrow and dangerous cleft formed by the river cutting its way through a soft band of limestone. The chasm has claimed the lives of people who have tried to jump or 'strid' across it. Folklore tells of a white horse, which appears shortly before anyone is about to be drowned in the Strid.

Erosions in the rock caused by the Strid

The Strid

The Strid

Bridge over the River Wharfe

View from the bridge

Return to the path and follow the path signed Barden, which bends around to the left heading uphill. As a shelter appears ahead, turn right following the green arrow for Barden, where the path then climbs up the right hand side of a wall. Ignore a path off to the right, and then after the path descends and gets rougher underfoot, take the right hand fork as the path splits down to the riverside yet again. The path undulates and after a while crosses a footbridge and enters out into the open and on under the arch in the bridge that crosses the river. Continue on around to the next bridge (Barden Bridge) passing up a few steps to enter out onto a road to cross the bridge. Over the bridge, turn right again to head downstream down the other bank of the Wharfe. Before crossing the bridge, a short detour can be made up to Barden Tower up to the left upon reaching the road.

Barden Bridge

View from Barden Bridge

Head downstream keeping on the well-defined mainly riverside path for just over two miles to where the wooden footbridge is reached, which if crossed would come back out at the pavilion. At one stage a road is walked on for a few yards to cross a stream and then the sign for Valley of Desolation is followed back into the wood. At certain points aerial views of the Strid can be enjoyed down below to the right. Upon reaching the wooden footbridge opposite the Cavendish Pavilion, continue straight on through a wooden kissing gate along the riverside path without crossing the footbridge. Through a further wooden gate, turn left on the gravelled path and right onto the road over the stream passing over the cobbles. If you want to avoid the water, there is a short diversion to the right to pass over a footbridge. Follow the lane a few yards up to the right, then turn right down the gravelled path signed "Bolton Priory".

View from the path of the River Wharfe

Path passes in front of the road bridge

The path climbs, pulls into a wall, passes over a small footbridge and continues on past more trees decorated with old coins. Shortly after this the path splits, with the left hand fork to be taken. The right hand fork also returns to the Priory and is less strenuous, but misses out on the aerial view of the Priory that the left hand path affords. Follow the left hand path passing through another gate, shortly after which the Priory can be seen down to the right below.

View across to Bolton Priory

View across to Bolton Priory and the meandering Wharfe

Follow the path down to the river, where the other path from the right hand fork described earlier is joined, and turn left to cross the footbridge next to the stepping stones. The path back to the car park is the one straight ahead to the far wall. Pass through the gap in the wall and return to the car park across the road. Before returning though, take time to wander around the ruins of the twelfth century Priory.

Stepping stones in front of the footbridge

Bolton Priory

Bolton Priory

The Augustinian Black Canons founded their first priory in 1120 in Embsay and moved here in 1154, when the Lady of Skipton Castle gave the land to them. The order continued here for 385 years by sheep farming and interests in lead mining. The picturesque ruins and meandering river have inspired many artists such as Turner and Cox. Even though the order was prosperous the monks were sworn to a life of poverty, obedience and chastity. The monks were eventually driven out in 1540 and the Priory soon fell to ruin, except the nave, which was saved and became the local parish church.


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