Since I saw the Yorkshire Dales for the first time, I felt drawn to explore them on foot. These soft, rolling hills and rocky formations glowing in seemingly endless variations of green and reddish-brown have been calling my name for a while. Finally, I followed and went for my first hike on the Moors with a friend and her local hiking group.
How to get there
We met at the Strid Wood Tea Rooms, where we found ample parking. Starting there rather than from a closer parking spot added some mileage to our tour, and we did just over 9 miles/15 km. This time we didn’t have a choice as the sunny and warm autumn weather motivated many people to come and enjoy the great outdoors, just like us.
Alternatively, you can also get there by bus, arriving at the Barden Tower (the bus stop is called Tower). It takes less than 25 minutes from Skipton or Ilkley to the Barden Tower.
Most blogs and tour guides describe the circular walk counter-clockwise, starting with a long, gradual incline and a shorter but steeper descent. We reversed the direction, beginning the hike with a pretty steep climb to the top. This was a well-calculated trade-off in favour of a softer decline, making the walk much more pleasant for those with difficulties with their knees.
Upon arrival at the car park, the typical hiker-choreography started. Happy chatter could be heard while we swapped trainers for hiking boots, debated which layers should be worn or stored in the backpack and started our hiking trackers and smart watches. Soon we were ready for take-off.
The first section was flat and followed the river Wharfe. We passed green, sheep-dotted meadows at a brisk pace when, from the corner of my eye, I noticed a weirdly dressed person on one of the meadows, not moving much. I looked again, and it took a moment to realise it was a very awkwardly dressed scarecrow, which explained why the guy stood so still. 😂
On the far side of the river bank was a traditional-looking old farm. One of our fellow hikers told us that it was apparently used to film some scenes of the new adaptation of “All creatures great and small”, a popular series based on the heartwarming books of James Herriot which tells the story of a Scottish vet living and working in the Yorkshire Dales during the first half of the 20th century.
Time – and the landscape – flew by. We had a quick coffee stop after one hour to chat and get the group back together before the climb began. A gravel road wound up steeply and steadily, giving way to forest roads. I pretended to take in the view and snapped pictures to sneak in a breather here and there. 😮💨
The group had spread out quite a bit, and two of the ladies and I built up the rear. We came to a gate blocking the entire width of the forest road. This is common to keep animals in certain sections rather than in others. Usually, however, there’s an easy way to pass for bipeds like us. Either gates open or a pass is offered next to it.
Not here, though. After a few fruitless tries to open the gate, we saw no other option and climbed over it. Once on the other side, we turned around and saw a bypass that would have allowed us a much easier passage right next to it. 😂🤷♀️ If you decide to hike the trail clockwise as we did and you arrive at that gate, simply walk back a few steps and enter the bypass framed in walls on the left side of the gate. It’ll save you from climbing over it.
Up on the moors
From there, it wasn’t very far anymore until the forest opened up and gave way to hills covered in heather. The path continued climbing, less steep now, swapping the dark forest soil against large, heavy flagstones. Walking was more effortless here, and we soon arrived at the top of the hill marked by an accumulation of boulders: Simon’s Seat. The name seems to originate from a saga of three druids following Simon Magus, a “magician” living around 100 AD.
We found a spot among these impressive rocks that sheltered us enough from the chilly autumn breeze and sat down to recharge our bodies with sandwiches, hot tea and the sunrays peeking through the clouds, taking in the views. Somebody mumbled: “On top of the world…”.
What a view! It was the first weekend in October, and the heather had turned from the vivid purple it shows in August to a mellower, browner shade, beautifully contrasting with the grey, overcast sky. As we sat there, the sky cleared up and let the sun warm us. The wind chased the clouds, sending their shadows over the hills, adding more shades to the brown-red-green speckled countryside.
Once recharged, we packed up and got ready for the decline, some of us putting on additional layers against the wind. The path was wide but rocky until it reached a gravel road framed by ferns and heather. The soft slope made it easy to walk and enjoy the landscape showing off its autumn colours.
The last bit of the route led us through the Valley of Desolation, named after a great storm in 1836 that caused substantial damage in that area through high winds, torrential rainfall and lightning. Since then, nature has long recovered and offers visitors a walk through an enchanted-looking forest along the river Wharfe. The trail was slippery in some places and led over gnarly roots, so it was a good idea to use at least one walking stick for balance. The stunning waterfall was slightly brownish, evidencing the peaty soil on the moors where it originates.
The path to our starting point led us once again along the river Wharfe, framed by rocks covered in rich, dark-green moss.
A last glimpse of the moors before we are back at the car park.
There, everybody changed back into their trainers, and we headed for the obligatory after-hike-pint. The nearest pub was the Devonshire Arms Hotel and Spa. At first, we felt a bit out of place with our hiking gear in the elegant cocktail lounge. Still, the staff made us feel welcome, and we enjoyed warming up next to the crackling flames in the fireplace.