NIDD Gorge is one of those magical places that remind you just how lucky you are to live in Yorkshire.

Nestled between Knaresborough and Harrogate, the tranquil tree-lined haven is a place to get away from it all despite being less that two miles from civilisation.

The shallow River Nidd races through a series of twists and turns as the gorge cuts through the northern edge of Harrogate before skirting the southern boundary of Knaresborough.

There are miles of paths to explore on both sides of the river, offering plenty to keep the whole family captivated for several repeat visits.

This suggested walk is a figure of eight giving a flavour of Nidd Gorge without pretending to tread every available route.

As well as green and pleasant strolling, there is an abundance of wildlife, flora and fauna, and an ample smattering of history too.

The woodland, now managed by the Woodland Trust, can be traced back at least as far as 1600, and comprises five woods - Gates Wood, Scotton Banks, Spring Wood, Bilton Banks and Coalpits Wood.

The 120ft gorge was cut through the soft sandstone during the last Ice Age and there has been human activity in the area for around 5,000 years.

Gates Hill, near our starting point, was the site of an Iron Age settlement, while legend has it that it was also used by Colonel Fairfax's Roundheads during their 1644 siege of Knaresborough Castle.

A warning beacon was lit here during the Napoleonic Wars and, more recently, the area was used as a firing range during the two World Wars.

Today, the gorge is thankfully more sedate, allowing visitors to enjoy the 80 species of birds, 30 different kinds of mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and 91 species of fungi that have been spotted in the woods.

Conditions underfoot are sticky at the best of times - aside from the many riverside duck boards - but on my most recent visit it was a bit of a mudbath.

Be warned. This is not a walk for your newest, whitest trainers. It's got to be wellies or walking boots if you want to remain upright.

This immediately becomes apparent when you leave the car park, pass the information board and dive into the woods on a path to your left.

The route rollercoasters along weaving between the trees high above the river until you meet the edge of the Gates Hill housing sprawl.

There are glimpses down the gorge across the tops of the trees that reveal just why this has been a popular vantage point down the ages.

Within threequarters of a mile we are at river level, with Barney the border collie dipping in and out of the water as we pick our way towards the footbridge across the Nidd.

Once on the other side, and after some initial mud surfing, the climb through Spring Wood is punctuated by stunning views back towards Knaresborough.

Emerging from the woods onto Bilton Lane, there are open views across towards Harrogate, as well as free range eggs for sale en route to Old Bilton.

The Gardeners Arms boasts a magnificent beer garden, but our tea-stop destination is in the fields beyond the village.

(There is an extension to the walk, along the former Leeds and Thirsk Railway line, joining the riverside path at the Nidd Viaduct)

Our path skirts fields before descending back towards to the river just upstream of the weir at Scotton Mill and from there there is a mile and half of unrivalled riverside walking.

The duckboards save you from the worst of the mud, although some fell foul of the recent flooding and are awaiting repair.

The sight of the footbridge back over the Nidd is unwelcome, as it means this exceptional walk is almost at an end.

However, during the short, sharp pull back up to the car park, you can start planning which route you will follow on your next visit...


Distance: 5 or 6.5 miles.

Parking: Nidd Gorge Woodland Trust car park off B6165 Pateley Bridge road, 1.5 miles out of Knaresborough.

Refreshments: Gardeners' Arms, Old Bilton, and Knaresborough town centre.

Map: Ordnance Survey Explorer 289 Leeds or Explorer 297 Lower Wharfedale & Washburn Valley.


* From car park (1) go through gate towards information board and bear left off main path to follow a narrow path which contours around the side of the gorge before rising to meet a path skirting the Gates Hill housing estate. Follow path as it curves right and left, passing an information board before taking a path on the right (2) which drops down to a gravel track.

* At the track, turn left. Head downhill and right towards a riverside path. Turn right and follow the river for a quarter of a mile before the path heads uphill, rising steeply to a gravel track. Turn left and follow track for a short distance before turning left to descend steps back to riverside path.

* Follow river, taking care on narrow path, until you reach large wooden footbridge. Cross river (3) and turn left. Follow riverside path which eventually curves right and climbs steeply. At the top continue left through trees to emerge at a gate with a field on the right.

* Go over style and straight ahead on track to reach Bilton Lane (4). Turn right and follow road for about a mile, passing houses, boarding kennels, a caravan site and the Gardeners Arms pub in Old Bilton (5).

(* If following the extended walk, continue ahead on the road and, shortly before a housing estate, turn right on to trackbed of a former railway line. After about half a mile, on reaching the Nidd Viaduct, there is a scramble down to the riverside path, which can be followed all the way back to the footbridge (3).)

* If not following the extension, turn right shortly after the pub, crossing a stream and climbing up towards a house. Bear right onto a narrow path which emerges into open fields. Continue on the path, which narrows and drops back down into the gorge and rejoins the river (6).

* Turn right and follow the riverside path back to the footbridge (3). Cross the river and climb a few steps up to the gravel track. Turn left and shortly afterwards right to follow track back up to car park (1).