Over moorland and alongside the Strid to the romantic priory.
Distance 6.8 miles (10.9km)
Minimum time 2hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 870ft (265m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Field and moorland paths, then riverside paths, 4 stiles
Landscape Moorland with wide views and riverside woodland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL2 Yorkshire Dales - Southern & Western
Start/finish SE 071539
Dog friendliness Must be on lead in woodland and on moorland
Parking Main pay-and-display car park at Bolton Abbey
Public toilets By car park and at Cavendish Pavilion
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1 Leave car park at its north end, past the Village Store and the telephone box. Turn right, walk down the left side of the green, then turn left. Pass under an archway. Opposite the battlemented Bolton Hall, turn left on to a track through a signed gate. At the top of the track, go through a gate on the right with a bridleway sign. Walk half left to pass the corner of some pools. Continue through the gate beyond, and then turn right towards another gate into the wood.
2 Go through the gate and follow the signed track through the wood to another gate out into a field. Follow the blue waymarks, many of them painted on rocks, across fields. The path eventually ascends a small hill, with wide views. Descend to a gate, and 20yds (18m) beyond, take a path downhill to the right to a gated stone stile on to the road.
3 Turn right along the road. After 200yds (183m) go right through a gate by a sign 'FP to B6160'. Follow the path across the fields, going over a wooden stile, to reach a wall. Turn right here, following the wall and then some yellow-waymarked posts. Eventually descend to a stone stile on to the road.
4 Turn left and walk along the road for 300yds (274m), then turn right into a car park and pass beside the Strid Wood Nature Trails Kiosk. Follow paths, signed 'The Strid', down to the riverbank and turn right to reach the narrowest part of the river at the Strid.
5 From the Strid, continue on the riverside path until you reach an information board and gateway near the Cavendish Pavilion. Go through the gate, turn left by the cafe and go over the footbridge.
6 Immediately at the end of the bridge turn right signed 'Bolton Abbey'. Follow the path parallel with the river, eventually descending to a bridge beside stepping-stones and the priory.
7 Cross the bridge and walk straight ahead up the slope and the steps to a gateway - known as the Hole in the Wall. Go through the gateway then straight ahead beside the green to reach the car park.
Bolton Abbey has always been one of the showpieces of the Yorkshire Dales, and attracts many visitors, most of whom stay close to the monastic buildings or venture only to the Strid. This walks takes you a little further afield, and has the priory - it was never an abbey - as its climax. After passing under the archway - in fact an aqueduct built in the 18th century to carry water to a mill - you reach Bolton Hall. In part originally the gateway to Bolton Priory, this was later extended as a hunting lodge for the Earls of Cumberland and their successors the Dukes of Devonshire, who still own the estate. The wings are said to be by Sir Joseph Paxton, designer of the Crystal Palace. The walk then passes westward through woodland to the top of a hill offering excellent views west towards the Aire valley and north over Barden Fell.
At the entrance to the woodland around the Strid there are information boards that explain the birds and plants you can find here, including the sessile oak. Characteristic of the area, it is distinguished from the pedunculate oak by the fact that its acorns have no stalks. At the Strid itself the River Wharfe thunders through a narrow gorge between rocks. The underlying geology is gritstone, with large white quartz pebbles embedded in it. The Strid was a place loved by the Victorians, but the flow is fast and the river is 30ft (9m) deep here, so don't be tempted to cross; there have been many drownings here over the years. A little further on is the Cavendish Pavilion. A survivor from the early years of the 20th century, the pavilion, called after the family name of the Dukes of Devonshire, has been restored and added to over the years, and is still reminiscent of leisurely sunny days in the 1920s.
The priory was built for Augustinian canons who founded their house here in 1154. The ruins make one of the most romantic scenes in the country, and all the great English artists, from Girtin and Turner on, have painted it. Much of what remains was complete by 1220. The last prior, unaware of the coming storm that would sweep away monastic life, began a tower at the west end; it remained unfinished when the monasteries were suppressed. Most of the buildings fell into ruin, but the nave of the priory church was given to the local people, and it is still their parish church. A former rector, William Carr, spent 54 years here, laying out the paths along the valley that are now enjoyed by so many visitors.
Take a trip on the Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway, which has a station 1½ miles (2.4km) south of the Priory. Operated by enthusiasts, the railway runs steam trains at weekends, and on most days in August; at other times there is a historic diesel service.
Bolton Priory church is worth exploring. It is a mix of Norman and later styles - look out for the tell-tale round Norman arches and the pointed arches of the later work. The west front is very complicated - mainly because the tower was added just before the priory was closed. It has a huge, decorative window, but masks an even better 13th-century west front. The eastern end of the church - where the canons worshipped - is in ruins. The remains of the huge east window are one of the most memorable things about Bolton Priory. The nave, now the parish church, still gives an impression of the building's original grandeur. Notice the stained-glass windows on the right-hand side as you enter. They date from the first half of the 19th century and were designed, in convincing medieval style, by Augustus Pugin, whose decorative work is found in the Houses of Parliament, London.
Bolton Abbey is well-supplied with places for a drink, a snack or a full meal. The Cavendish Pavilion has snacks, light meals and afternoon teas. The Priest's House at Barden Tower, about a mile (1.6km) north of the entrance to Strid Woods, has a restaurant and tea terrace, while ½ mile (800m) south of the main car park is the Devonshire Arms Country House Hotel, where you can eat wonderfully in the Brassiere and even better in the Burlington restaurant.