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Along the Wharfe to a Victorian Spa Town

From Addingham to Ilkley, along a stretch of the lovely River Wharfe.

Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 197ft (60m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Riverside path and field paths, some road walking, 7 stiles

Landscape Rolling country and the River Wharfe

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 297 Lower Wharfedale

Start/finish SE 084498

Dog friendliness Keep on lead on minor roads

Parking Lay-by at eastern end of Addingham, on bend where North Street becomes Bark Lane by information panel

Public toilets Ilkley

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1 Walk 50yds (46m) up the road, and take stone steps down to the right, (signed 'Dales Way'). Bear immediately right again, and cross the River Wharfe on a suspension bridge. Follow a metalled path along a field edge. Cross a stream and join a metalled track between walls that soon emerges at a minor road by a sharp bend. Go right here; after about ½ mile (800m) of road walking you reach the little community of Nesfield.

2 About 100yds (91m) beyond the last house, and immediately after the road crosses a stream, bear left up a stony track (signed as a footpath to High Austby). Immediately take a stile between two gates. Cross the field ahead, keeping parallel to the road (ignoring a track going left, uphill). There is no obvious path; follow the wall on your right, over a stile. Beyond a small conifer plantation, take a ladder stile in the fence ahead to keep left of Low Austby Farm.

3 Cross a footbridge over a stream; beyond a stile you enter woodland. Follow a path downhill, leaving the wood by another step stile. Follow a fence uphill, then cross the middle of a field to locate a stile at the far end, to enter more woodland. Follow an obvious path through the trees, before reaching a road via a wall stile. Go right, downhill, to reach a road junction. Go right again, crossing Nesfield Road, and take a path to the left of an electricity sub-station. You have a few minutes of riverside walking before you reach Ilkley's old stone bridge.

4 Cross the bridge. This is your opportunity to explore the spa town of Ilkley. Otherwise you should turn right, immediately after the bridge, on to a riverside path (from here back to Addingham you are following the well-signed Dales Way). You soon continue along a lane, passing Ilkley Tennis Club. Opposite the clubhouse, take a footpath to the left, through a kissing gate, and across pasture. You have seven more kissing gates to negotiate before you are back by the River Wharfe again. Cross a stream on a footbridge, and enter woodland. Cross another stream to meet a stony track. Go right, downhill, on this track to the river. Through another kissing gate, you follow a grassy path (with woodland and a fence to your left) before joining the old A65 road. Thanks to the by-pass it is now almost empty of traffic.

5 Follow the road by the riverside. After almost ½ mile (800m) of road walking, go right, just before a row of terraced houses, on to Old Lane. Pass between the houses of a new development - Low Mill Village - to locate a riverside path, now metalled, at the far side. Once you have passed the Rectory on the left, and the grounds of the Old Rectory on your right, look for a kissing gate on the right. Take steps and follow the path to a tiny arched bridge over Town Beck. You have a grassy path across pasture, in front of the church, before taking another bridge, between houses, to re-emerge on North Street in Addingham.

Addingham is not one of those compact Yorkshire villages that huddles around a village green. The houses extend for a mile (1.6km) on either side of the main street, with St Peter's Church at the eastern end of the village, close to the river. So it's no surprise that the village used to known as 'Long Addingham', and that it is actually an amalgamation of three separate communities that grew as the textile trades expanded. Having been by-passed in recent years, Addingham is now a quiet backwater.

Within 50 years, from the end of the 17th century, Addingham's population quadrupled, from 500 to 2,000. Even here, at the gateway to the Yorkshire Dales, the textile industries flourished. At the height of the boom, there were six woollen mills in the village. Low Mill, built in 1787, was the scene of a riot by a band of Luddites - weavers and shearers who objected to their jobs being done by machines. Though the mill itself was demolished in 1972, more houses were added to the mill-hands' cottages to create Low Mill Village, a pleasant riverside community.

Visitors from, say, Bath or Cheltenham should feel quite at home in Ilkley, a town that seems to have more in common with Harrogate, its even posher neighbour to the north, than with the textile towns of West Yorkshire. The Romans established an important fort here - believed to be 'Olicana' - on a site close to where the parish church is today. Two Roman altars were incorporated into the base of the church tower, and in the churchyard can be found three Anglo-Saxon crosses that date back to the 9th century. One of the few tangible remains of the Roman settlement is a short stretch of wall near the handsome Manor House, which is now a museum.

Like nearby Harrogate, Ilkley's fortunes changed dramatically with the discovery of medicinal springs. During the reign of Queen Victoria, the great and the good would come here to 'take the waters' and socialise at the town's hydros and hotels. Visitor numbers increased with the coming of the railway, and included such luminaries as Madame Tussaud, George Bernard Shaw and Charles Darwin, taking a well-earned rest after the publication of the Origin of Species.

With its open-air swimming pool and riverside promenades, Ilkley was almost an inland resort. Though we have replaced water cures with more sophisticated quackery, Ilkley remains a prosperous town, unashamedly dedicated to the good things of life.

Where to eat and drink

In Addingham try the Sailor's Arms or the Fleece for traditional pub food. At the bottom end of Ilkley you are close to the 'The Taps' or the Ilkley Moor Vaults as it officially called, and the Riverside Hotel, which is particularly child-friendly.

While you're there

Addingham lies at the north western edge of the county. Just a mile to the north you enter the Yorkshire Dales National Park. By following the B6160 you soon come to Bolton Abbey, with its priory ruins in an idyllic setting by a bend in the River Wharfe.

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