Dales Way: Ilkley to Bolton Abbey

The Dales Way links Ilkley, a picturesque market town in Yorkshire, to Bowness-on-Windermere, a beautiful tourist honeypot in the Lakes, taking in 84 miles of moorland, pastures, valleys and fens along the way. Before returning home for Easter, Laurence and I decided to walk a chunk of it – and have since bookmarked the entire route for a future trip . . .

Conveniently, Ilkley is only thirty minutes away by train from Leeds, making this route an ideal day hike. Leaving the station behind us, we made our way down the main street towards the River Wharfe. Turning into Ilkley Park, we picked up signposts for the Dales Way – although on this occasion we were prepared with an OS Landranger 104 map, seeing signposts is always reassuring!

Following the trail along the southern bank of the River Wharfe, Ilkley soon disappeared into the distance. Around an hour after leaving Ilkley, we passed through Addingham, a sprawling village complete with chocolate-box houses and leafy lanes, before the Dales Way veered north and we found ourselves walking through fields of sheep and adorable lambs gambolling around.

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Further on, as we approached Farfield Farm, we saw a pheasant, parading around in the way that only pheasants do!

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As we neared Bolton Bridge, we got our first indication of the scale of the Dales Way, in the form of a bridge-turned-signpost. Before our hike I had no idea it went all the way to Bowness-on-Windermere (ironically where we had been just days before), but I bet that would be a hike to remember – especially as it combines two of my favourite national parks into one route!

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Immediately after happening upon this little bench, we crossed a bridge and found ourselves on the Bolton Abbey estate: sprawling fields of open countryside (30,000 acres to be precise!), with countless footpaths to explore and, of course, the remains of the 12th-century Augustinian monastery, Bolton Priory. Before heading over to the priory itself, we ventured into the neighbouring village, Bolton Abbey. If you’ve ever seen Escape to the Country, this is the sort of quaint, picturesque village that would be featured on it: think stone cottages, built in the local stone, a small village green and some amenities, surrounded by acres of countryside. Since it was lunchtime, and we’d clocked up 10,000 steps already, we decided to stop at The Tea Cottage for fuel before continuing. The Tea Cottage has a beautifully decorated interior, but since it was fairly mild (and, more importantly, dry) we chose to make the most of their outdoor terrace, from which we could enjoy spectacular views of the priory.

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Their hot chocolate (complete with whipped cream, mini marshmallows and chocolate buttons) was one of the best I’ve ever had, and the food was delicious. I opted for a slice of their home-made carrot cake (which defeated me, and had to be finished by Laurence), whilst Laurence went for the all-day cooked breakfast – which looked seriously good.

Amusement was provided in the form of two ducks, which waddled along the wall, and two gorgeous golden retrievers who couldn’t sit still. I’m not normally a big fan of dogs, but these were an exception!

From our vantage point, there were stunning views of the priory and the rest of the estate; in the distance, fields gave way to woodland and the characteristic rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales. Even on an overcast day, the landscape looked beautiful – and if anything, the dull weather made it a nicer trip as there were fewer people around!

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Once finished, we made our way down towards the priory itself, which was in use until 1539. Today, worshippers go to the adjoining Priory Church whilst Bolton Priory retains its position as a place of cultural and historical significance. The priory is open to visitors all year round, and a stroll around the tranquil grounds is the best way to see the beautiful architecture close-up.

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Visiting mid-week is the best way to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere; come summertime it’s busier, but the scenery is beautiful, especially Strid Wood to the north. After wandering around the priory, we crossed the river to admire the view from the other side. Unfortunately, after heavy rainfall at the end of last year some of the stepping stones were washed away and are yet to be replaced, so we had to use the bridge instead. This didn’t stop us from going on the stepping stones that were left . . .

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Following the Dales Way back to Ilkley (a shame that there isn’t a circular route) we spotted some rabbits, given away by their fluffy bobtails, even though it was only 4pm!

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