• Neil

Bolton Abbey to Simon's Seat, Yorkshire

A relaxing walk with ruins, rivers, waterfalls, woodland and moorland. Rounded off with spectacular views of the Yorkshire Dales.

I'd visited Bolton Abbey a few times, mainly as a stop off on the way back from other places such as Grassington, Brimham Rocks or one of the many other places in and around Yorkshire. The experience at Bolton Abbey can vary depending on the time of year. In the height of summer it can be a struggle to get a parking space as the area is teeming with day trippers taking in the ruins, hopping across the stepping stones, or enjoying a picnic by the River Wharfe.

On this particular visit I'd arrived at 10am on a relatively mild January day with only a handful of other cars on the site. I wasn't here for the Abbey itself, but to see what else the estate had to offer.


Bolton Abbey is just past Skipton off the A59 heading towards Harrogate on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. For satnav, using BD23 6AL will get you there. To park on the Abbey estate is £10 for a car, but varies from vehicle to vehicle. There is free parking just off the roundabout from the A59 outside the cricket ground, but there are only a handful of spaces and it will add a mile there and back on foot to your walk. An early arrival is a must for these. Between the A59 and the Abbey there are a variety of tea rooms and hotels that offer parking, but please do give them your custom if parking there.

Pre-Walk Heads Up

The route we're following ends at Simon's Seat rather than the usual circular routes. There are plenty of options once up there to make your way back down (back the way you came is just as nice in the opposite direction) so please ensure you've planned for that before heading up.

The Route

Distance: 4.12 miles

Approximate Duration: 1hr 30mins

Total Ascent: 1372 feet

Starting at Bolton Abbey, make your way across the bridge (or stepping stones if you are feeling brave!) and turn left, walking parallel with the River Wharfe. This path takes you through Wandsworth Wood along the water's edge, rising sligthly and then dropping back down to a path that leads right up to the bridge crossing by Cavendish Pavilion. Here is a highly recommended cafe, and in summer try the ice cream! Pass the bridge and continue along the river until you reach a gate by Lud Stream Islands. Here you have a lovely view of the River Wharfe encircling some small islands. You'll see a sign here for the Valley of Desolation and Simon's Seat. Follow this up and on to the road.

Take a left on to the road. You aren't on it very long, but please do take care when walking along it. After a couple of hundred yards, you will see another sign for the Valley of Desolation pointing right off the road towards a gate leading into some fields. Head through the gate and the path will veer you North passing Waterfall Cottage on your left. Take care here here after wet weather as the field can be quite boggy near the large solitary oak tree. Make your way across the field until you come to another kissing gate and pass through it.

You are now on the approach to the Valley of Desolation. As bleak as the name may sound, it is actually an extremely picturesque valley. It gets its name from a severe storm in 1826 which wreaked havoc in the area. Follow the path along, passing a pond on your right. Just after this you will see a path heading up towards a bench which offers a lovely view of Posforth Gill Waterfalls. You can follow this path up and around if you wish as it will marry up again with the route alongside Sheepshaw Beck via a bridge further up. However, if you want to get a closer look of Posforth Gill Falls, take the left hand path that heads down. After crossing a small wooden bridge, you'll be at the foot of the falls.

After taking in the falls, the path climbs up and around the left hand side of the falls, and then continues alongside Sheepshaw Beck. Across the beck you will see the other path following parallel. Keep along the path until it starts to rise away from the beck towards a wooden gate. There was a fallen tree here when we past through, so watch your footing clambering over it.

Through the gate plunges you into the cool shade of Sheep Shaw Plantation, a wood just before getting out on the moorland. It wouldn't look out of place on an Oregon trail here, and the low winter sun made for excellent dappling through the trees.

At the end of the path, you reach the final gate before reaching Simon's Seat. This one leads out on to Barden Fell. This area does have designated days between August and December for grouse shooting, so please check Bolton Abbey's website if walking up here during this time.

The path is clearly visible. A white rocky path which winds up through the moorland and looks quite contrasting against the heather during summer months. This has a steep(ish) incline at one point, but for the most part is a gentle walk up onto the fells.

After the short climb, the path with level out and swing you a sharp left around the edge of a valley with views back towards the plantation woods you came through. To the right of the path, you'll see Simon's Seat coming into view. Further along you'll see a path breaking off to the right, follow this as it takes you straight up to where you need to be.

You'll see nothing other than rocks on your approach and a sense that you've just hiked out to a clump of rocks in the middle of a fell. Don't be fooled. Walk around the sides of the rocks, or clamber up on top (the trig point is a definite scramble so watch your footing!) and you'll soon feel like you're on the edge of the world.

The views are stunning. Miles and miles of rolling hills and farmers fields. A definite pay off for the 4 miles walked to get here. The rocks make for a perfect resting place to sit down, have a brew or a sandwich and take in the full might of the Yorkshire Dales laid out before you.

Route Download

For the GPX route, to add to your smartphone apps to follow whilst out and about, then CLICK HERE to download it and open or choose to import on your desired app. Equally, if you're on ViewRanger you can find all the routes we've added so far HERE.

Getting Back Down

As I said earlier, back the way you came is just as nice in reverse, however there are two routes you can consider. One is to follow the path east from Simon's Seat to Lord's Seat (another cluster of rocks that you can see with the giant golfball looking structures of RAF Menwith Hill in the background. From Lord's you can take a path back south which can loop round and return you to the white stone path over the fells that leads back down to the wooded area.

Alternatively, head West and you can work your way back down eventually to rejoin the River Wharfe and follow it along back to Cavendish Pavilion and have a well earned ice cream or two.

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