Great Yorkshire Walks: Don boots and take to the hills

Yorkshire is now a mecca for walkers and a series of festivals this month indicate how important they are becoming. Roger Ratcliffe begins a four-part celebration.

A national scheme called Walkers are Welcome was born in Hebden Bridge. It draws shops, cafs, bars and councils into making a town proud of its role as a walking centre for walkers. A dozen Yorkshire towns from north, south, east and west now signed up to the idea and more ready to join – more than other parts of the UK.

The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness doesn't mean being stuck in fog on the A1 behind a banana container lorry. It means setting off with boots and rucksacks into a soft focus landscape which has turned magical almost overnight.

For me, walking in the months of July and August can't go fast enough. The landscape seems worn out, its vivacious June colours have faded like carpets and curtains that have seen too much sun. Most birds have lost their voices and the business of raising families has left them exhausted and skulking.

But by September bright scarlet, orange and purple berries are ripening on hedgerows. Trees look more gilded and burnished and the almost turbo-charged sprouting of fungi adds to the tapestry of warm yellow and brown hues in fields and woodland. Birds are more visible again as they build up fat reserves for winter or migration.

In Yorkshire, autumn is the most extrovert season as hillsides acquire stronger tints by the day. Some good things are left over from summer's dog days, like butterflies flitting around in the sun. The days can still feel hot, although there can be an invigorating sharpness in the shade. Schools have gone back and holidays are over, so many routes are less tramped. This is why autumn is the walking season for connoisseurs and why it has become a favourite month for walking festivals. This weekend marks the start of one of the biggest – the South Pennines Walk & Ride Festival, followed by others in Wensleydale, Pateley Bridge and Richmond.

The Pennines are especially beautiful. The moors are still in their finery of purple heather but added to the picture are sunburnt bracken and tawny-coloured juncus rushes. It's now that the wooded cloughs, which cut into the steep-sided valleys, start the process that in the October sun will make them appear from afar like rivers of gold. Many footpaths in the Pennines are the equal of anything in National Parks yet are unsung and unwalked.

Great Yorkshire Walks

Part One – Pennines

1: CROASDALE

Lovely brookside walk

The Forest of Bowland is often ignored by Yorkshire folk, even though Slaidburn used to be in the West Riding. Come here to see the difference that not being a National Park has made. Footpaths are quieter, villages less geared to tourists, and it is a splendid time-warp of a landscape. This lovely walk along Croasdale Brook is an ideal introduction. Start and finish at the Hark to Bounty pub, once seat of the court which ruled the old Forest of Bowland. Past the health centre find the Croasdale path through woods on the right. Follow this to a wooden footbridge and return on the east side of the brook.

Walk: 4 miles; 2 hours

OS Map: Explorer OL41 Forest of Bowland/Ribblesdale.

Refreshments: Slaidburn.

Parking: Slaidburn.

2: BURLEY MOOR

Quiet alternative to celebrated neighbour

Many assume that this ridge overlooking Wharfedale is all Ilkley Moor, but Burley has a long claim to its own moorland. It may not be immortalised in song but more peaceful it certainly is. A network of tracks and paths can be accessed from several points at Burley Woodhead, leading to a lovely plateau with great views over a large swathe of Yorkshire. There is also a fine rocky outcrop known as the Grubstones. In autumn bracken and rowan trees provide rich colours, and in October it's a good place to watch flocks of redwing and fieldfare arriving from Scandinavia. A good circular walk can be constructed by using paths on the north side of

Moor Road.

Walk: 5 miles; 3 hours

OS Map: Explorer 297 Lower Wharfedale/Upper Washburn Valley.

Refreshments: Burley Woodhead, Burley-in-Wharfedale.

Parking: Burley Woodhead, Burley-in-Wharfedale.

3: HARROGATE TO HARLOW CARR

Classic ramble through park & gardens

The walk through Harrogate's Valley Gardens to the Royal Horticultural Society's famous Harlow Carr is a delight from beginning to end. At the start, beautiful historical buildings such as the Sun Pavilion and Colonnades are surrounded by lawns, flower beds, mineral springs and trees. Onwards through an area called the Pinewoods you arrive at Harlow Carr (admission), nearly 70 acres of gardens and woodland.

There are organised fungi forays in autumn (ring 01423 565418 for details). For the return leg, turn north from the visitor centre to Birk Crag House and then right along the straight Harrogate Ringway to bring you back to the town centre.

Walk: 4 miles; 2 hours

OS Map: Explorer 297 Lower Wharfedale/Upper Washburn Valley.

Refreshments: Harrogate, Harlow Carr.

Parking: Harrogate.

4: MEANWOOD VALLEY TRAIL

The ultimate urban/country walk

This leafy walk proves you don't have to be in the country to enjoy the changing seasons. Starting a short stroll from Leeds city centre, it ends right on the edge of the city, and the astonishing thing is that there's a distinctly rural atmosphere along most of the seven-mile route. Signposted from the junction of Woodhouse Lane and Raglan Road, the trail quickly descends to follow Meanwood Beck, once an important watercourse, then continues through Meanwood Park and beautiful gardens known as The Hollies. Beyond the lovely Adel Woods the trail emerges at Golden Acre Park and Breary Marsh. On nearby Otley Road, frequent buses will take you back to the start. Watch for red kites from Meanwood Park onwards.

Walk: 7 miles; 3-4 hours.

OS Map: Explorer 289 Leeds.

Refreshments: Woodhouse, Golden Acre Park.

Parking: Leeds, Woodhouse Moor.

5: SHIPLEY GLEN

Colourful autumn woods and famous village

There's everything in this walk. A stroll through Sir Titus Salt's model village of Saltaire is followed by the beautifully restored Roberts Park across the Leeds-Liverpool Canal and River Aire. Over the road, accompany the route of the signposted Victorian tramway and continue onwards to the Old Glen pub at the start of Shipley Glen. To see interesting gritstone rock formations continue straight ahead. Then retrace steps to take the forking path (near the pub) down through woodland to the Aire Valley, find the path to the canal lock at Hirst Wood and follow the towpath back to Saltaire. Framed by trees, Sir Titus's church beside the canal makes a great autumn photograph.

Walk: 2 miles; 2 hours.

OS Map: Explorer 288 Bradford & Huddersfield.

Refreshments: Saltaire, Baildon.

Parking: Saltaire.

6: TOP WITHENS

Dramatic location of Wuthering Heights

Many believe that Emily Bront had this exposed moorland farmhouse in mind for the famous Earnshaw home. And it makes a great walk, being especially atmospheric when the first equinox storms are brewing and the autumn colours are strobed by shafts of sun shining through gaps in darkening clouds. It should never be done in summer, somehow. Approached from Haworth, the traditional route is via the Bront Way over Penistone Hill, aiming for the little bridge over South Dean Beck, and from there Top Withens is well signposted. Most walkers return the same way, but a longer alternative is to follow the Pennine Way back to Stanbury and close the circle via the dam at Lower Laithe Reservoir.

Walk: 7 miles; 3 hours.

OS Map: OL21 South Pennines.

Refreshments: Haworth, Stanbury

Parking: Haworth, Penistone Hill.

7: HARDCASTLE CRAGS

Mature woods and airy Pennine moor

A perfect example of the deep wooded cloughs which are a distinctive part of the Pennine landscape, Hardcastle Crags is an especially popular ramble by walkers in autumn. Beneath the trees there are tumbling streams, photogenic waterfalls, stacks of millstone grit and 30 miles of footpaths. At the heart of this National Trust property is Gibson Mill, one of the first cotton mills built in the Industrial Revolution and now a visitor centre. The woods can be visited for just a short stroll, but to make a longer circular walk start at Hebden Bridge then at the top of the woods link to the Pennine Way over Clough Head Hill before joining the picturesque Rochdale Canal for the final stretch.

Walk: 8 miles; 4 hours.

OS Map: OL21 South Pennines.

Refreshments: Gibson Mill, Hebden Bridge.

Parking: Hebden Bridge.

8: CRAGG VALE & STOODLEY PIKE

Historic hamlet and awesome viewpoint

Cragg Vale is famous for some 18th century weavers who counterfeited gold coins. Today it's a sleepy hamlet with a good pub and starting point for this superb walk. The road up to Withens Clough Reservoir is enjoyable enough, with lots of wayside colour. Then a gentle climb over gritstone moorland to the majestic stone monument of Stoodley Pike climaxes with one of finest long-distance views in Yorkshire. The famous tower was built to celebrate the end of the Crimean War in 1856. Many return by the same route; alternatively, follow the path on the south side of the reservoir to Turley Holes Edge and turn north on a track leading back to Cragg Vale.

Walk: 4 miles; 3 hours.

OS Map: OL21 South Pennines.

Refreshments: Cragg Vale.

Parking: Cragg Vale.

9: STANDEDGE TRAIL

Classic Pennine moors and valley

The Upper Colne Valley to the west of Huddersfield wears its autumn colours with particular pride. When the sun shines, the steep sides and high moors thrust reds and golds right in your face, and a walk here is a great tonic. Strolling along the Huddersfield Narrow Canal towpath is good enough, but even better is the Standedge Trail, one of the great routes south of the M62. Start from Standedge Visitor Centre, walk west to Standedge Tunnel (which takes the canal three miles through the Pennines to Lancashire). From here continue

on an old packhorse road, then turn

left on to what is part of the Pennine Way and follow the trail back down to the Colne Valley.

Walk: 9 miles; 4.5 hours.

OS Map: OL21 South Pennines.

Refreshments: Standedge, Marsden.

Parking: Standedge Visitor Centre.

10: THE HOLME VALLEY

Autumn stroll in Summer Wine country

It's doubtful that Last of the Summer Wine would've been so successful without the stunning Holme Valley as its backdrop. A glance at the OS map reveals many options for exploration in the footsteps of Foggy, Compo and Clegg but this route is a popular circuit of Holmfirth. From the town centre, walk down Huddersfield Road, turn up Wood Lane and find a path on the left leading to Newland Farm, Lower Hogley Farm, Old Schoolhouse and Old Road. Over the A6024, cross the River Holme, climb up to the minor road for great views and walk back down to Holmfirth. Beautiful autumn colours abound and with luck you shouldn't have to say, as Compo once did on a walk: "Wonders of nature! One cow-cake

after another."

Walk: 4.5 miles; 3 hours.

OS Map: Explorer 288 Bradford & Huddersfield.

Parking: Holmfirth.

Refreshments: Holmfirth.

South Pennines Walk & Ride Festival from September 11-26.

Details: www.southpenninesfestival.com

The Boots & Beer Walking Festival is today and tomorrow in Hawes, Bainbridge and Aysgarth. Details: www. blacksheepbootsandbeer.co.uk

Pateley Bridge Walking Festival is from September 23-26. Details : www.pbwf.co.uk

Richmond Walking & Book Festival from September 24 to October 3. Details: www.booksandboots.org

YP MAG 11/9/10