Hackfall Wood: The Yorkshire Dales woodland full of enchanted waterfalls and mysterious ruins

Fisher's Hall, one of the follies in Hackfall Wood
Fisher's Hall, one of the follies in Hackfall Wood
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Hackfall Wood is full of surprises.

This magical forest has follies, castle ruins, waterfalls and grottos just waiting to be explored.

The River Ure

The River Ure

Hackfall is near Masham, on the edge of the Dales, and is a 120-acre ancient woodland within a steep rocky gorge of the River Ure. The Grewelthorpe Beck tumbles down through a series of pools into the Ure.

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In the 18th century, Hackfall was turned into a pleasure ground by William Aislabie, who owned and landscaped the nearby Studley Royal estate. He built the follies, grottos and spectacular fountain that can still be seen today.

Landscape painter JMW Turner was one of the artists inspired by Hackfall, and is it home to bluebells, kingfishers, otters and rare insects. William Wordsworth even visited.

One of the ruined follies

One of the ruined follies

Although it at first appears to be an entirely natural wood - a 'beautiful wilderness', as one Victorian writer described it - many of its features are man-made.

The site was a popular tourist attraction in the 19th century, when it was a fashionable destination for wealthy visitors. There was a tearoom and entry was ticketed.

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In 1932, it was sold to a timber merchant and entered a period of decline. The fountain was switched off, logging damaged the footpaths and the woods became overgrown and neglected. The water features were flooded when the drainage system was no longer maintained.

Salvation came in the 1980s, when the Woodland Trust charity purchased the site on a 999-year lease and the newly-formed Hackfall Trust launched a conservation programme aimed at restoring the woods to their original Georgian condition. The ground was cleared, trees cut back and footpaths repaired.

One of the follies, the Banqueting House, was converted into a holiday let and is now rented out by the Landmark Trust.

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A Heritage Lottery Fund grant in 2007 allowed the streams to be dredged, the fountain to be reinstated, the follies to be preserved and a new car park built.

Hackfall Wood is now a Grade I-listed historic garden which is free for visitors to enjoy.

Its attractions include a grotto with views of a 40ft waterfall, a rustic temple, the fountain pool, the Fisher's Hall ruin, the mock-gothic Mowbray Castle, and the Mowbray Point ruin.