GEORGE WILKINSON follows in the footsteps of Rob Cowen’s new book Common Ground as he walks around Bilton, a suburb of Harrogate.

BILTON, a suburb of Harrogate, is the location of Common Ground, an ace book by Rob Cowen published by Hutchinson this earlier this month. We had to visit.

Ripley, the out- of-town model village, provided the car park.

We jumped on the double-decker to Harrogate and soon were lunching in Caffè Nero and thereby connected with the book, namely with Sir Hare, a high flyer turned tramp who would dry out, over coffee, after a night on the common ground, a man with an ingrained turn of socio-eco- philosophy.

Then we headed out of town and hit an edge at a big blue shed and a bridge over the railway where I looked for the ‘9V-battery’ shaped church.

A straight by a railway fence seemed a suitable place to record the plants growing faster than the cans, but my navigator said “don’t bother, you can’t compete”.

I cheered up as the track, once a rail line, took a curve and we branched off to sweet scented fields of yellow and green, to the isolated Gardeners Arms, a rare pub of flags, snug, parlour and range, where a woman was out on a bike made by Spa Cycles of Harrogate.

Fuelled, we took to the holloway, the “leafy car wash”, a place the semi-nocturnal Cowen would lurk. At a worn gap in the vegetation, my navigator joked ‘animal or author’. The day was good, Cowen is very good, you have to be to play hide and seek with a fox or describe a red admiral fluttering as “burning paper”.

We ended up down by the River Nidd, a sign read Bachelor Gardens, don’t ask me, but the weir is a magic sandwich spot.

Here or near, Sir Hare lit a fire.

Hereabouts, Cowen describes the mayfly “spinners rise on stainedglass wings, like angels” and the females throwing themselves into “tornado- like vortices”of males. And “in the heat of midday”, in the bluebell woods, locals Joe and Lauren mate, the only dull paragraph.

The river was the limit of Cowen’s territory. Recently the boundary has been pierced by a cycleway. He describes his shock at the “Dense Bitumen Mcadam…2.5 metres wide”.

He dislikes ‘prescribed’ routes; it is now the Nidderdale Greenway, national route 67 and joins the Beryl Burton Cycleway, she who pedalled faster than the men, and at Ripley, stands Le Monument to ‘Le Tour de France’.

Cowen lit a fire one night near the viaduct, “sparking the shreds of honeysuckle bark”. He writes that “the watcher had replaced the hunter”. Now it’s the walker and here le peloton.

I chatted to a few locals who seemed traumatised by the bikes, one warned of the Harrogate Big Bike Bash of June 19 to 21.

I wonder if Rob Cowen, though not a fan of rewilding, does not dream, when the darkness on the edge of town is cut by laser lights, of lynx or larger, on a Lycra hunt.


When in doubt look at the map. Check your position at each point. Keep straight on unless otherwise directed (wm = waymark, fp = fingerpost).

1. From lower end of bus station, cross bus station/Network Rail entrances, immediately right through underpass, 100 yards, Haywra Street on left (NG sign), cross road (NG sign), through ASDA carpark, pavement, keep to white dashed strip, bollards, car park, join Greenway – metalled surface (sign), ends and left to Grove Park Ave, 300 yards, rejoin Greenway at railings.

2. Bridge over railway and right, 100 yards, right (Ripley 4), 150 yards, right (Ripley), stay on Greenway.

3. Where verge on left is a small garden/ lawn, leave Greenway via hedge gap on right to usage route 100 yards across field to fingerpost. Cross track, squeezer (fp) into field, gate (sign) to track.

4. Cross road at Gardeners Arms to narrow lane downhill, bridge, uphill, fork right at house gates, gate (wm), hedged path crests hill. Into woods, downhill.

5. Left (Milner’s Fork, FP Bachelor Gardens), footbridge, bench.

6. Footbridge with handrail (wm) over Bilton Beck, uphill for 50 yards, uphill by fence to your right.

7. Out of wood and right to path, right to rejoin Greenway, over viaduct. Stay on metalled surface.

8. Right to side road uphill, 150 yards, right at junction, 100 yards, cross main road at traffic lights, right to Greenway, gate/cattlegrid on left and right to Greenway, pass monument, left then right through trees, pass toilets and into village.

Fact file

Distance: Five miles.

Car parking: Free car park at Ripley.

Right of way: Public and permissive paths.

Date walked: May 2015.

Refreshments: Ripley, Harrogate, pub at Old Bilton.

Map: OS Explorers OL 297 and 298.

Terrain: Flat with gorge.

Difficulty: Quite easy.

Please observe the Country Code and park sensibly. While every effort is made to provide accurate information, walkers set out at their own risk.