Just three days after our cruise on the Lancaster Canal, me and Mum were off on our travels again with our lovely friends from Red Bus Days Out, but this time it was a bit different. Instead of 30+ of us going on a full-size coach, there were just 15 of us on a much smaller vehicle which meant we could travel on roads in the Dales that would otherwise have been inaccessible.
From Airedale, where we live, we went over into Wharfedale, following the main road as far as Ilkley. Then we crossed to the north bank of the river onto a much narrower road that took us past Denton Hall.
The present building dates from the 1770s and is now a beautiful hotel and wedding venue, but there has been a house on the site since the 13th century. What interested Mum, however, was the fact that in 1612 it was the birthplace of General Sir Thomas Fairfax who was destined to become Commander-in-Chief of Oliver Cromwell’s victorious New Model Army in the English Civil War of 1642 to 1651 and also became one of her heroes many years ago when she read The Rider of the White Horse, a novel by Rosemary Sutcliff, who is one of her favourite authors.
As the trees were in their full summer foliage, it was difficult to see the Hall from the road that day and so, having learned a bit more about its history, we drove on to Askwith. From there we took another narrow road that led us to Timble then on past the reservoirs at Swinsty and Fewston.
Although these are man-made features, they’ve both been there for 140 years and now look like part of the natural landscape. They’re also good places to go walking and see wildlife. Because there are a lot of trees, I thought this might also include bears, but Mum said she didn’t think it was very likely.
There was some wildlife further on, however, just after we’d passed the Early Warning Station at Menwith Hill on our way to Pateley Bridge and I happened to see two Red Kites in a field just a few yards from the bus.
As you’ll know from some of my previous posts, I’m terrified in case they think I’ll make a good meal for them and I hide from them whenever possible. But before I could scramble back inside Mum’s handbag that day, I saw something even more scary for a little bear – I saw a curlew. Mum said they’re harmless and live on things like worms. She told me that they’re endangered and their numbers are dropping rapidly, but all I could see was its beak which was like a great curved dagger stuck on the front of its face and could easily have skewered three little bears like me in one go. She also told me that they have the most beautiful song when they’re in flight, but I still wouldn’t like to meet one face-to-face.
My little heart was still going bumpity-bumpity-bump when we got to Pateley Bridge and I was glad when we made a brief comfort stop and I got chance to calm down again.
Then we were off into Nidderdale, which isn’t part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, but is deservedly an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – and especially in the autumn when the leaves are changing colour on the trees.
Our first stop there was at Foster Beck Mill, with its impressive 34 foot diameter waterwheel. Originally a hemp mill, it later became a pub and a nightclub, but now it’s up for sale and is starting to look a little bit sad and unloved, so all we could do was look from outside and imagine what an enormous clatter that waterwheel must have made when it was in use.
We then drove along the edge of Gouthwaite Reservoir, which is the lowest of the three on the river Nidd.
Completed in 1901, it was built as a compensation reservoir to keep up the flow of the river in dry periods so it could continue to supply the many mills that were then in existence downstream. The other two reservoirs, at Scar House and Angram, were originally built to supply water to Bradford, but they are much further up the dale and we didn’t go that far.
Instead, our next stop was at How Stean Gorge, a place Mum says she last visited almost exactly 50 years ago. (This is confusing for a little bear, as she keeps telling me that she’s only 39!) As the name suggests, this tourist attraction is a ravine cut through limestone over many thousands of years. It’s one kilometre (nearly half a mile) long and up to 20 metres (80 feet) deep, and its sides are thickly wooded.
For the adventurous, there are lovely walks and also caves to explore – and for the even more adventurous there is a Via Ferrata to take them across the fast-flowing beck.
Our Red Bus party wasn’t so adventurous, however, and so we viewed the gorge from the road bridge and then went into the cafe. There Mum had a pot of tea and a lovely buttered scone with home-made raspberry jam – in fact, it was so lovely that she said it was the best scone she’d had since her great-aunt Sarah died in 1992 and hers were the best in the world.
Mum and I also got brave and stepped out into the glass extension to the cafe which was opened in 2017. This is built out over the gorge and has a glass floor, as well as glass walls, and is a great place to stand and watch people crossing the stream on the Via Ferrata. Mum even made a little video of it, but, as you will see, this was difficult to do without including her feet!
After that, it was time to get back on the bus and set off on the next part of our trip, but I’ve written enough for today, so I’ll tell you about that in my next post.
Follow my next blog: 39. MORE DALES, A KING AND HIS CASTLE