Yorkshire Dales Walk - Winterburn

Winterburn Bridge

Winterburn Bridge - Credit: not Archant

On a sunny Sunday in the Dales, Malham and Grassington can be bursting at the seams but Terry Fletcher suggests somewhere in between you might have all to yourself

Winterburn reservoir

Winterburn reservoir - Credit: not Archant

Head up to Malham on a busy Sunday and you could well find yourself in a long line of traffic and wondering how you are supposed to get away from it all when everyone else seems to have the same idea. Well, try turning off a little bit earlier and you could quickly find yourself alone, surrounded by superb views, walking along delightful Green Lanes with the bonuses of one of the national park’s rare stretches of open water and an historic house.

A lot of people have not even heard of Winterburn but it’s the name of a busy hamlet and a seldom-visited reservoir less than a couple of miles but a whole world away from that nose-to-tail traffic.


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Park by the old bridge over the beck just outside Winterburn. Walk towards the houses with an impressive monkey puzzle tree on one side and a rare Victorian post box on the other and turn left into the hamlet which is still very much a working farming community rather than the more typical collection of holiday cottages and second homes that make up all too many Yorkshire Dales villages.

Once the lane leaves the houses behind it becomes a private road which is largely – though not entirely – traffic free, serving the handful of farms and houses in the valley. It passes through deciduous woodland and crosses the beck before beginning to climb, with the sound of birds all around. Just as it reaches the great earth bank of the dam, turn left up a farm access road signed to the reservoir head. The dam was built at the end of the 19th century not for drinking water but to top up the increasingly-busy Leeds-Liverpool canal, which runs through nearby Gargrave.

From here the character of the walk changes. The enclosed wooded valley gives way to more open country with the expanse of moors beyond the reservoir and the distinctive lump of Pendle to the south. The wildlife changes too with the chit-chat of the woodland birds replaced by the bubbling call of the curlew, the piping of oystercatchers and the honking bass note of geese on the lake.

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Just before the track reaches the farm buildings take a path to the right and cross diagonally to a gate on the right hand end of the farm. Go through and then turn sharp right down beside the wall towards the reservoir. At the bottom of the field the path reaches a stile which gives onto another metalled farm track. Turn left up this but once again before reaching the farm look out for a signposted stile in the drystone wall on the right. Carry on down the field edge to the waterside where a path leads leftwards. It passes through two gates before becoming enclosed between fences until it reaches the neat little stone bridge crossing the reservoir outlet. Go over this and follow the track as it climbs the opposite bank.

When the track reaches a gate and five-way signpost carry on along the enclosed Green Lane, signed to Hetton. After a long straight section the track passes through a transverse gate and 300 yards or so further on turn right down Cross Lane, another broad, enclosed Green Lane. Follow this to another transverse gate and barn where it appears to end but go through the gate to discover the lane turns sharp right to quickly reach another gate and a junction with a less clear track. This is Hills Lane. Turn left, passing a couple of barns, and carry on in the same general direction, keeping the wall on your left and passing more barns to reach the Hetton to Winterburn road. Go straight over following a bridleway signed to Friar’s Head.

Initially keep the wall to your left before a gate leads through the wall and then follows it with the stones now on your right. Where it seems to disappear in a large field go diagonally rightwards to find a gate in the far right-hand corner. Go through this and carry on downhill and through another gate to reach the road at Friars Head.

The Manor of Winterburn was given to Furness Abbey in Norman times and the original Friar’s Head was apparently a hunting lodge for the abbot. The present, strikingly handsome building, however, dates from much later and was built by Stephen Proctor near the end of the 16th century and is arguably one of the finest Tudor houses in the Dales. Sadly it may only be viewed from the road but, even at that distance, it is well worth viewing.

Once you have finished admiring the house, turn right along the lane to get back to Winterburn and the car.

Compass points

Start/finish: Winterburn

Distance: 7miles/11.5km

Ascent: 260ft/80m

Time: 3 hours

Terrain: Green Lanes, farm tracks and a little road walking to finish

Parking: By bridge at Winterburn

Refreshments: Cafés and pubs in Gargrave, pub at Hetton.

Map: OS OL2 Yorkshire Dales Southern and Western

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