Yorkshire Dales walk - Barden Moor and Embsay Reservoir

Lower Barden Reservoir and Simon's Seat

Lower Barden Reservoir and Simon's Seat - Credit: Archant

Terry Fletcher makes the most of the summer colours on this glorious walk from Embsay reservior

Upper Barden Reservoir

Upper Barden Reservoir - Credit: Archant

The greatest glory of the Yorkshire Moors is the spectacular bloom of heather in high summer when the drab heather and peat is turned into an undulating purple sea. It is a shame that this is the time when so many moors are off limits to the public because of grouse shooting, so you need to pick your day to enjoy the moors with a little care.

This walk makes use of the Bolton Abbey Estate’s Barden Moor Access Area and although some of it is on public rights of way, other sections make use of access land and permissive paths which can be closed for shooting. The shooting season begins on August 12th – the Glorious Twelfth – and continues until December 10th, though there is no shooting on a Sunday.

Notices posted at access points to the moor tend to be blanket affairs, closing the moor on every potential shooting day but the estate’s website www.boltonabbey.com often has a more up-to-date timetable, or walkers can call the estate office on 01756 718000 for the latest information.


Rylstone Cross

Rylstone Cross - Credit: Archant

From the reservoir car park, take the unmade road around the water’s edge signed to Embsay Crag. Once past the reservoir, take a stile on the right and turn immediately left uphill following a sign to Crookrise Crag. The path climbs, a little damply in places, to the rim of the moor where it turns left to follow a drystone wall which follows the escarpment of Crookrise Crag, a popular spot with local rock climbers.

Eventually the path reaches the white painted trig point on top of the crag with extensive views across to Lancashire and the great whaleback of Pendle Hill, while behind the moor drifts away in a sea of purple heather.

From the trig point, continue following the wall along the escarpment and the edge of a wood and over the poetically-named Fairies Chest to arrive at the deep cleft of Waterfall Gill. Drop down through the heather and cross the stream on boulders before climbing a steep, narrow path on the other side and continuing through the heather and bracken to reach a broad track by a gate climbing up from Rylstone.

The track heading away to the right is the route across the moor but before taking it it’s worth continuing along the escarpment for a few minutes to reach the impressive monument of Rylstone Cross.

Embsay Reservoir

Embsay Reservoir - Credit: Archant

The site of the cross has been a landmark for centuries when it was part stone and part timber. However, in the early 1990s it was destroyed, nobody knows whether by lightning or vandals, and was replaced by the fine stone cross which still crowns the crag.

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From the cross, return to the track by the gate and head off (now left) across the great bowl of the moor. After about 20 minutes it meets a track coming in from the right. Turn left along this, still aiming across the moor. After another ten minutes or so, ignore a signed path on the right to Embsay Kirk (though this is a short cut if time is pressing or the weather has turned). Otherwise carry on ahead and soon Upper Barden Reservoir appears down in the valley to the left. Beyond it, on the far side of Wharfedale the great gritstone boss of Simon’s Seat crowns the skyline.

Carry on straight ahead, still on the track and ignore a wide track branching off left to the reservoir. As you carry on down the track, a second reservoir, Lower Barden, comes into view. Shortly afterwards at a prominent junction, turn right uphill passing between a pair of shooting huts to where the track ends and becomes a much fainter path following a line of grouse butts with the face of the now disused Haw Bank Quarry ahead. Away to the right the rounded top of Embsay Crag – more a rock-studded knoll than a cliff face – is prominent.

From the final butt (Number 1) a thin path heads off half left to a stile and gate. This is the Eastby Gate access point. Do not go through this but instead follow the wall rightwards. Crossing the gill involves a bit of bushwhacking through the bracken and reeds to reach a clearer path that climbs the other side. Take this and then follow the narrow trod, vaguely parallel to the intake wall and aiming for Embsay Crag directly ahead.

The path continues, sometimes little more than a narrow sheep trod, until Embsay Reservoir and the car park come into view. But before reaching it it’s first necessary to cross the top of the crag. When the path reaches Embsay Gate it joins a broader track that goes on to the top of the crag before dropping down steeply to pass the reservoir and reach the stile crossed at the start of the walk.

Compass points

Start/finish: Embsay Reservoir, near Skipton

Distance: 8m/13km

Time: 4 hours

Terrain: Moorland paths and shooters’ tracks

Parking: Yorkshire Water car park

Refreshments: Pub and shops Embsay, great selection in Skipton

Maps: OS OL 2 Yorkshire Dales Southern and Western.