Tuesday, 2 October 2018

The Washburn Valley (top half) 30/09/18

15 miles, from Swinsty Moor car park, via Fewston Reservoir, Blubberhouses, 
 Redshaw Gill, Thruscross Reservoir, West End, Capelshaw Beck, Holme Field, 
  Roundell's Allotment, Thruscross Dam, Limekiln Plantation, Blubberhouses, 
   Fewston Reservoir, Swinsty Reservoir, Spinksburn Lagoon, Swinsty Dam, 
    Swinsty Hall, and Swinsty Moor Plantation.

It's rather unfortunate that last Saturday, probably the best day of the declining Autumn, doesn't get walked as I've scheduled things around it that make it unusable, as I've got My Mum visiting for the first time in over a year due to My Dad having a week of experimental residential care, and her having a week of much needed respite, and while she does bring the Parental Taxi with herself, trying to put an extra 60 miles onto her Up Country journey to drop me off in the Washburn Valley is probably beyond my natural charm. So we have to go on Sunday, bussing it out on the very last day that #821 Nidderdale Rambler runs this year, and it would have been useful to know two months ago that the three scheduled Dalesbuses all deliberately pile up in Otley so that travellers from all over West Yorkshire might transfer between them, as that's knowledge that has no use at all beyond the end of September (remembering that the #874 goes through Otley would also have helped too, of course). So we finally get to our ride to the Washburn, as I get squeezed into the small single-decker that seems to be crammed full of people who've been travelling this route regularly, bouncing our way o'er hill and dale via Farnley, Norwood and Bland Hill to get to our start line at Swinsty Moor car park, between the pair of reservoirs in this quarter, and below Fewston's dam, where there are crowds out in force for an organised run around the Swinsty perimeter, and I need to take a facilities break before we set off at 10.30am, with a seven hour window of success ahead of us. Our circuit that's been 3+ years in the planning finally gets underway as we head north, down through the woods steeply on the path that soon arrives on the perimeter of Fewston Reservoir, and immediately we note that this will be a day with more company than many of its predecessors as the healthy exercisers, family strollers and dog walkers will be out in force in the lower portion of the dammed Washburn, which is quite a contrast to the quiet paths we found when first coming out here, back in 2004(?). Stroll around the first main inlet feeding the reservoir, which is still ridiculously low more than two months after this year's drought conditions ended, and take looks back towards the embankment dam, where the valve tower sits markedly above the waterline, before we press on, with views to the north/east bank being frequently shrouded by waterside foliage and overhanging trees as we move on to the second major inlet into the reservoir. this is where the various streams running off Blubberhouses Moor feed the reservoir, and the path rises sharply as we take a marked westwards turn, rising into the neighbouring plantation where that path appears to have been redirected away from below some crumbly cliffs, staying up high below the tree cover before meeting an unfriendly sharp descent to cross Thackray Beck as it runs in from the west, back on the original path route once again.

Swinsty Moor car park and facilities, with 'fun' run.

Fewston Reservoir and Dam

The path diversion to Thackray Beck.

Coming back around, on a northwards and then north-westwards track, the brain gets easily confused about which direction we could be travelling as the banks of distant trees are easily misidentifiable and the sound from the nearby Shepherd Hill road can throw you into thinking that you are closer to the A59 than you are, not that the brain ought to be getting stressed as it should be impossible to get lost when you have a reservoir path to follow. Not that we can see that much of it along this stretch as it hides behind banks of foliage along this stretch, only coming into view as we approach its north-western tip, where the water surface drops rapidly to show how far below capacity it sits, multiple metres below the shoreline, and though I doubt it ever gets too high at its shallow end, the amount of bare earth on the bed indicates that it usually fills up fuller than it has this year. The uppermost stretch is thus walking along side the river channel, as the Washburn reasserts itself on the landscape of Fewston reservoir, and much aquatic greenery takes over the bed that sits well above the running waters, which sound busy enough as the air gains the rhythm of the traffic on the A59, and the spire of St Andrews church appears on our local horizon as the first reservoir walk of the day ends. Pass into the Blubberhouses car park and leave the relative throng behind as we press north, over the Skipton - Harrogate turnpike and on to target Thruscross Reservoir, which I'd speculated walking to when we came out here 14(?) years ago, when I had much less of a concept of distance and time, and start up Hall Lane as far as Blubberhouses Hall, which seems to have been organised to be unviewable from almost any angle, even when the path we take goes through the farmyard behind it, as we seek out the rough and rutted farm track that follows the stone wall out across the fields. From the height we are above the river, it's remarkable just how narrow the Washburn valley is when compared to its surrounding landscape, 40m deep here and less than half a mile wide, with our traced path leading us towards the high end of Hanging Moor on the far bank before we find the field walk that returns us to the road, where the long channel of the river can be traced in the landscape, all the way down to Norwood Edge. Into the woods we go with West End Lane, on a very heavily engineered minor road, which nonetheless feels like its clinging to the valley side as it descends down to the interceding brook of Redshaw Gill, and judging from the road surface, it wouldn't surprise me at all if this section where to be closed in the future as it subsides and collapses down towards the river, and the descent to the stream is naturally followed by a climb, to lift us beyonf the plantation, and into the open, where the impressive crags that sit on the northern side of Hall Moor can be seen, and admired.

Fewston Reservoir flirts with visibility.

The reservoir becomes the River Washburn.

Blubberhouses Hall.

Above the Washburn, looking towards Hanging Moor.

The road descent to Redshaw Gill.

The Crags on the Hall Moor fringe.

Rising with the lane and passing the few scattered farmsteads and cottages in these high fields, up to about 250m up, the channel of the Washburn is even narrower here, nearly 100m deep with the edge of Hanging Moor looking like its only spitting distance away on the eastern side, which gets me wondering about the geological creation of the valley, which convinces me even more that it must have been borne of post-glacial run off in an relatively brief period of time. The high moors of the Wharfe - Nidd fringe create our northern horizon up here as we approach the path we took to cross the Washburn after this summer's trip over Rocking Moor, which we meet as we descend onto Reservoir Road, as we drop down to meet Thruscross Reservoir, which hides well behind its thick bank of conifers, which we have to pass into to get to the perimeter path just north of the dam, a massive construction in concrete of 1966, which is completely different to its Victorian counterparts down the valley. Thus we set off along the permissive path around the perimeter, which lacks any benches where I might pause for a lunch break, rising high above the shoreline, with the water line far, far below us, indicative of our dry summer, and while being closer to the water would be appealing, the steep banks of exposed mud are certain to be no fun at all to walk on and best kept away from for someone as risk averse as myself. At only 52 years old, there's much more evidence of the previous landscape visible from the path around the edges of the water as the path scoots its way among the tree cover, from various stone walls that have endured from old field boundaries, numerous free stumps from felled woodlands, most notably around the northern branch of the Washburn channel, and even the stub of a road which used to run over towards Stonehouse Crossroads. The most exciting feature to be found around this probably very deep reservoir is to be found on its eastern branch, and that's the lost village of West End, which is quite extensively visible while the waters are so low, and it's worth sneaking off the path and onto the shore to get a clear view down to the foundations of lost cottages at the riverside and the perimeter wall of the churchyard with a small remnant of Holy Trinity Church sitting at the water's edge. There's also a substantial weir still intact, and above the village the remaining wall of the flax mill that once kept the village in business, usually the only feature to see but with the waters so low at present there's so much also to see of a lost settlement, the sort of feature that many reservoirs have below their surface but rarely show up as evident as this one, a feature worth travelling to see, and to venture amongst, sadly left behind as the path takes us back into the tree cover and on above the deep channel before we come up to the crossing of Capelshaw Beck.

Reservoir Road and the concealed Thruscross Reservoir.

Thruscross Reservoir and Dam.

A very low water level, and a view to the Washburn branch.

The remains of Holy Trinity church and yard, West End.

The weir on Capelshaw Beck, West End.

The Flax Mill remnants, West End.

This is certainly the magnetic end of the reservoir as there are plenty of other visitors out at this quarter, but company on the ground thins out as we find the switchback that leads to a permissive path that runs closer to the shore than any of the routes marked on the map, which will naturally be taken as we are on a day of reservoir walking, which allows us a more elevated look down at West End as we skirt around the fields of Whitmoor farm. This already mediocre day feels like a turn for the worse might be coming on as we meet the wood above the meeting of the eastern and northern arms of the reservoir, and so it's good to hurry into the trees that sit before the High Lair barn, and follow the snaking path as natural light starts to diminish below the thick canopy of conifers while a fierce north-westerly wind resounds through the branches above. Now clearly alongside the main arm of the Washburn, the clear track emerges below the ruins of Holme Field Head, an isolated house clearly cut off from its world by the reservoir construction and left to decay as a picturesque ruin by the gap in the woods, and here we lose the other people on the path as the permissive route sends us back into the trees with purpose, on a path built up to look firm enough for forestry traffic before it strangely diminishes away and we are left to follow way-markers pinned to trees and stumps that send us onto a wandering route uphill. It's tougher going than I'd expected, and ends suddenly as we meet a footbridge over a descending stream channel, and the path then heads down towards the water's edge steeply, arriving us back on a clear path once more, as it Yorkshire water had conceived building a circuit path but only surveyed the route as they were building it, and this has us beside the Washburn again, at a remove from the upper end of the reservoir, and we follow the channel north to its extremity where the path emerges onto a better surface to cross the river at the lower edge of the moors up here, which we'll call Roundell's allotments. We hit the rising path up the eastern bank, with the steepness that is expected here, rising above a rare rock formation and meeting the sole other walkers out on this arm as we look up to the path we took over from Pock Stones Moor before we shift south-eastwards, at a remove from the river and its surrounding plantations, across the moorland grass and though the bracken that is finally starting to die off. We can look over to Rocking Moor and Hall from here and also note that we are very close to Sandy gate and the road up to Greenhow Hill as well, the sound of the traffic keeping us company as the track undulates its way though the plant life on what out to be our last moorland walk of the year, as the stomach starts to want for food while the wind makes stopping for lunch undesirable until we get some shelter from it, which won't be found until we meet the reservoir edge once again.

On the high path, above Capelshaw Beck.

The only break in the trees shows us Holme Field Head.

By the Washburn on it's northern walkable extremity.

The Wharfe-Nidd Moors and the distant source of the Washburn.

Heading back to Thruscross Reservoir from Roundell's Allotments.

Down through the bracken and the plantation of trees to arrive at Thruscross Reservoir again, through we are barely by the waterside as the shoreline is quite a way below the path route, with the surface even further below that, exposing cragginess that indicates that the Washburn once carved a pretty dynamic channel back in the day and also spotting the usually submerged Holme Lair barn, which once sat beside the track from Thruscross hamlet over to Holme Field Head. This northern arm is bolder than the eastern one, but lack the fascinating details of the lost settlement, but it makes a great companion as we trek down to meet the main body of the reservoir, taking an eastwards track with the dam in full sight once more as we finally get low enough to shelter from the wind, and finding a place to sit for lunch with a planation proving a wind break and seat to be found on the apparent slipway by the shore, an odd construction as there is absolutely zero evidence otherwise of boating being a thing on these waters. Moving on we pass the lost roads that descended to cross the Washburn and to send traffic to West End, before the path wanders away from the shore and up through the wildflower meadows and nature reserve that sit below Reservoir Road, which we rise to meet, eventually, in the vicinity of the reservoir house and the way onto Hanging Moor, following this replacement road as it leads down through its rocky passage to the way over Thruscross Dam, which we cross and admire its steepling height as we go. Back on the west bank, we join the path of the Six Dales Trail as it provides the best route down to Blubberhouses, taking the not as steep as some path down below the dam to meet the access road to the waterworks, where the dam can be admired at a remove before we head on with the depth and narrowness of the valley soon erasing it from view behind us, as we seek the rougher path that leads us down to the footbridge over the Washburn and back onto the eastern bank of the river. The weather seems incapable of deciding were it's going as we track south, blazing out sunshine and throwing down rain during this last mile before we enter the tree cover around Limekiln plantation and start following the Washburn southwards, again proving that a landscape can reveal itself completely differently at only the slightest remove as we head on down the treelined riverside, only a few hundred metres away from our northwards track up the valley when high on the west bank. The path is leading us to the edge of the millpond at Low Dam, which once fed the mills at Blubberhouses before the reservoirs arrived to change this environment forever, and the goit channel is still visible as it skirts the fields beyond as we continue down the riverside path, noting the number of weirs that indicate this river was once well managed before receding from active agricultural use in the 19th century.

The River Washburn and Capelshaw Beck merge in Thruscross Reservoir.

The burgeoning nature reserve below Hanging Moor.

Thruscross Dam dominating the narrow Washburn valley.

Downstream through Limekiln Plantation.

River walking the Washburn to Blubberhouses.

Our wander down the narrowest stretch of the Washburn valley resolves as we arrive again outside Blubberhouses, where the riverside meadow is occupied by the local cricket field, occupying the only substantially flat portion of land in the vicinity, though is feels doubtful that this parish has enough inhabitants to sustain a cricket club, but who knows how many sports 'n' social enthusiasts there might be in the surrounding cottgaes and farmsteads. The path thus returns us to the side of the A59, cutting its path across the scene once more and not feeling quite as far away from home as it once did, and getting to the other side takes some doing thanks to the crash barrier placement, and then we can meet the path around Fewston Reservoir once again, keeping directly between the Washburn and the A59 for quite a good while as Hopper Lane starts its long ascent out of the valley up towards the 'Roman' alignment. Back on familiar territory now as we progress down past the river running into the reservoir and the marshy acres of greenery at the top of it, and the day has finally taken its turn for the better and thus the low afternoon sun reflects off the reservoir surface as the path keeps the reflection in out sightline as we progress on a south-eastwards course, grateful for whenever a bank of foliage arrives to keep the sun out of our eyes. The people return to the paths, which seem to be more level and better surfaced than I recall them being when we were last here, but then again, Yorkshire Water are probably very aware of the appeal of their facility here now, and there's not much more to say as we venture on down to the bottom right corner of the reservoir, with the dam looming large as we go, at least until the path at the waterside ends abruptly and becomes accessible to anglers only. The rest of us have to head into the woods on a diversion, that is well built and direct on the ground, but bears no relationship to that marked on the map, taking us to behind the reservoir house and a check to see if we need to bolt for the finish line across Fewston Embankment, but with 115 minutes still to burn we have no need to race to the bus stop and thus descend to and cross the road to find the direct path downhill through the trees and undergrowth to the foot of the dam, and join the path for another circuit of Swinsty reservoir. Again we meet the largely dry top end of the reservoir, and follow the channel of the river down as it feeds the chamber below, looking up to Norwood Edge mast as it stands sentinel over the scene, and finding fascination in the lumps at the western shoreline before realising that they are fishing men hiding beneath their umbrellas, sticking with the path as it undulates on and resist taking my late lunchbreak on any of the benches or beaches until we get to the picnic area at Spinksburn Lagoon.

Blubberhouses Cricket field.

The Washburn above Fewston Reservoir, again.

Fewston Reservoir and the barely visible Thackray Beck branch.

The reservoir house and Fewston Dam.

The Washburn feeding Swinsty Reservoir, with the Norwood Edge mast above.

Food can be finished up here as there's no risk at all of having to do an unplanned long walk back to West Yorkshire, and as the late afternoon sun shines down I can reflect on the satisfaction of finally getting this circuit down, ands ponder what possibilities the Sunday bus to Nidderdale might offer in coming years, if it continues to run, and that's all stuff to keep the mind agitated before we move on, over the lagoon dam and onwards down the eastern side of the reservoir. The sunshine has taken on a distinctly autumnal hue and the feeling of a need to get a move on is felt as every passing cloud chills the air significantly as we look on through the golden reflections on the water to the dam, which will be our next target on the route as the possibility if trekking down the valley and over the hillsides to Otley doesn't feel like a goer this late in the season, that would have only been a good idea in August. Take our last looks back up the valley to Fewston Dam, and to the moorland shapes far beyond before we meet the road that takes us past the waterworks and down to the reservoir house, where the extension and renovation works look like they've been completed and then it's on over Swinsty embankment again, admiring the water pipes that have been feeding drinking water to the city of Leeds since the late 1870s, as well as the long sweep the runoff channel that hasn't seen an excess of water in a while now. Beyond the valve tower and back on the western bank we can finally make our turn for home, turning north on the shady side of the valley, and the cool air must surly inspire us to get a move on as we press the lane on, taking looks back to the dam and the mast on Norwood edge before we run in close to Swinsty Hall, and spontaneously decide to take the bridleway past it as neither of my previous trips up close to it have yielded much of a view of this 17th century pile, which apparently belongs to Gareth Southgate, if Wikipedia is to be believed. Get my view and thence it's onwards into Swinsty Moor plantation, where care has to be taken with the path choices as the correct route isn't very clear thanks to a lack of route indicators and there's little to come by way of views over the treetops as we take a clear route that I hope will lead us back to the car park and facilities, which prove to feel further away than the 10 minutes and half mile that they actually are. We thus close our loop just after 5pm, giving us only half an hour to wait until our ride comes along, and that's time enough to get our treat from the Yorkshire Dales Ice Cream Farm van, having wanted one since June, and I'll not complain about my 99 cone costing £2.80 as I'll enjoy it heartily as the sunshine disappears below the tree tops and the evening sets in hard, and the 5.30pm arrival of the #821 bus comes along to start our long, long rides homeward, feeling the deep satisfaction of finally getting this route off the to-do slate, having initially planned it so long ago and failed to do it so many times this year.

Swinsty Dam, from the Spinksburn Lagoon picnic area.

Swinsty Reservoir with Fewston Dam and distant moors beyond.

The reservoir house, Swinsty Dam.

Swinsty Hall.

Swinsty Moor Plantation, closing the loop at last.

5,000 Miles Cumulative Total: 3562.8
2018 Total: 469.4 miles
Up Country Total: 3184.8 miles
Solo Total: ????.? miles

Next Up: The Last Viable Weekend for a Remote Excursion to Upper Wharfedale.

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