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Scar House and Nidderdale

A walk in Upper Nidderdale, with natural and artificial landscapes.

Distance 8.2 miles (13.3km)

Minimum time 3hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 886ft (270m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Moorland tracks, field paths and lanes, 16 stiles

Landscape High hills of Upper Nidderdale, farmland and riverside

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 298 Nidderdale or OS Outdoor Leisure 30 Yorkshire Dales - Northern & Central

Start/finish SE 070766

Dog friendliness Can be off leads on moorland, on lead in farmland

Parking Signed car park at top of reservoir access road

Public toilets By car park

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1 Walk towards the dam wall and continue along the left side of the reservoir to a Nidderdale Way signpost, just before a gate. Follow the track left uphill. The track levels and goes through a gate. A few paces beyond, go right through a gate in the wall.

2 Go diagonally towards the wall on your right, then follow a faint path it as it bends left. At a track turn left, go over two cattle grids and turn right through the field towards a gate in a crossing hedge. Walk down the next field and pass between farm buildings, following the waymark, to a gate.

3 Cross the field to a handgate by the barn. Pass to the right of a wall to reach a wooden stile. Continue through woodland, ascending left to a waymark, then along the hillside to a stile, where you descend to the riverside path.

4 Go through a squeeze stile, and where the path divides take the left-hand fork, away from the wire fence. Ascend to a ladder stile, then to a stone stile by a Nidderdale Way sign. Turn right, go through a gate and cross a footbridge. Ascend the steps to two more stiles on to a lane. Turn left down the lane, passing How Stean Gorge entrance, to a stone bridge.

5 Go left over the bridge, and turn right at the T-junction, signed 'Lofthouse'. Where the road bends right, go ahead to a gate and to the right of the buildings. Go through another gate, across the road and ahead over the bridge. Turn right and pass between buildings to reach the village street.

6 Turn left and climb the hill. As the road bends right, go left down a grassy track to a gate. Continue along the lower track through four gates, then follow the waymarks to the river bank. Cross the river to another gate, and continue along the bank, over two stiles to a gate. Turn right towards the farm.

7 Just after the first buildings on your left, go through a gateway, through another gate and on to a riverside path. Follow the path over two stiles to a footbridge with a stile at its end. Cross over and turn left to continue along the riverside, going through a gate and over a stile to reach a gate on to a track.

8 Turn left over the cattle grid, then right just before a bridge. Where the track bends right, go ahead through four stiles to a gate. Cross a stream to another gate and follow the fence down to a field. Go through a waymarked gate to pass between buildings to another gate. The track climbs right and goes through five gates, turning towards the dam and descending to a track. Turn right and go through a gate. The track becomes metalled. Cross the dam back to the car park.

Opened in 1936, Scar House is one of a string of reservoirs in Nidderdale that serve the city of Bradford, 30 miles (48km) to the south - the others include Angram, to the west, and Gouthwaite, down the valley towards Pateley Bridge. It is still possible to see evidence around the dam of the remains of the village in which the navvies who built it lived and of the ancillary buildings where they stored machinery and dressed the stone. There were some protests before the dams were built about the drowning of parts of the valley, and rumours that Nidderdale was left out of the Yorkshire Dales National Park when it was designated in 1954 because the reservoirs had blighted the landscape. Redress was made in 1994 when 603 square miles (1562 sq km) of Nidderdale became an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

'Yorkshire's Little Switzerland' says the publicity for How Stean Gorge. The How Stean Beck has forced its way through the limestone here, cutting a gorge up to 80ft (25m) deep, with pools and overhangs enough to please both geologists and small children. Lichen and moss cling to the rock walls, and trees overhang it precariously. For a fee, you can enter the gorge, crossing and re-crossing by footbridges and exploring the narrow paths. The more adventurous can borrow a torch to investigate the deep Tom Taylor's Cave, said to be named after a highwayman who holed up here.

The village of Middlesmoor, visible after passing How Stean Gorge, is one of the most dramatically-sited in the area. Set high on a bluff of the hills overlooking the Nidd Valley, its 19th-century church is on the site of a building thought to have been founded by St Chad; it contains the head of a Saxon Cross. One of the most notorious of Victorian murderers, Eugene Aram, who killed his wife's lover and was hanged when the body came to light 14 years later, was married here. Following the Nidderdale Way from Lofthouse, you may well see groups donning caving gear. They are likely to be preparing to enter the Goyden Pot system, 3½ miles (5.8km) of underground caves and passages cut through the limestone by the River Nidd. An early guide book noted that 'Goyden Pot Hole is a large Rock, into which the River Nidd enters by an arch finely formed? with a lighted candle a person may walk three hundred yards into it with safety.' This procedure is not recommended today! Goyden Pot connects with Manchester Hole, a little further upstream, where the river may also disappear; the riverbed above is frequently dry.

Where to eat and drink

The Crown Hotel in Lofthouse does substantial bar meals at lunchtime and in the evenings, and serves good Yorkshire beer. The How Stean Gorge café has a very good local reputation and an extensive menu; the raspberry pavlova is a special favourite!

What to look for

The red kite, once a familiar sight all over England, was hunted almost to extinction in the 19th century. It has now been reintroduced in Yorkshire, and the birds have been seen over-wintering in Upper Nidderdale. They have flown in from their nesting sites on the Harewood Estate, near Leeds, or from Scotland. Their long, angled wings and translucent forked tails make them distinctive. Mature birds have rusty-red plumage, with white feathers around the head.

While you're there

Nidderdale is highly regarded for its fishing. If you want to fish in Scar House reservoir - mainly for trout and grayling - you can obtain a ticket from the post offices in Lofthouse or Pateley Bridge.

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