Yorkshire walk - Glasshouses and Brimham Rocks

Discover impossibly balanced boulders with names like the Dancing Bear

Discover impossibly balanced boulders with names like the Dancing Bear - Credit: Archant

Bizarre shapes and many different sizes of rock make this as fascinating for walkers as it is for climbers

Brimham Rocks are one of the Wonders of Yorkshire. Perched high above Nidderdale, these glacier-scoured and wind-carved pinnacles have intrigued and mystified for centuries. The bedrock was laid down more than 300 millions ago and the stones were already there long before dinosaurs roamed the earth. Down the ages they have been eroded into weirdly contorted shapes and impossibly balanced boulders with names like the Dancing Bear, the Gorilla and the Eagle. Some of the formations are so bizarre it was once believed they must have been carved by Man and today they still prove irresistible to children, climbers and geologists alike.

Today most visitors arrive by car but this walk begins far below, at Glasshouses on the banks of the Nidd and arrives at the rocks by riverside paths and woodland .


1. Walk down the main street towards the Nidd and at the mill, now being transformed into flats, take the path which has been diverted round it to reach the riverside. Carry on downstream through wooded pastures to pass under an old railway bridge. Eventually it turns away from the Nidd to cross a footbridge over a feeder stream and climb to the main valley road at Low Laithe. Cross straight over to a tarmac lane which passes between attractive cottages before degenerating into a cart track, which is followed to the tiny village of Smelthouses.

2. Here turn left across the bridge and look for a path on the right, puzzlingly signed to Pateley Bridge. Go up this narrow, enclosed way as it climbs steadily through the woods on a path studded with rocks and tree roots to arrive at a footbridge over the beck. Go over this and immediately turn right up a rough track. After a long level section the path arrives at a paddock in a clearing. Just before reaching it take a pedestrian gate on the right to the farm access road. Turn right along this with fine views to Guisecliff across the valley with its communication mast on the skyline. After passing another couple of farms the rocks become evident through the trees at the top of the slope on your left. Take one of the many paths up into the main area.

3. The rocks are a maze of paths both official and informal with plenty of scope for exploration. Leaving the rocks can be a little confusing and requires care to pick the right path. Your aim is to leave via the north west corner of the escarpment. The easiest way is to head along the western edge via a wide track to the left of Brimham House and passing the Dancing Bear pinnacle.

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Pass the prominent stone of the Druid’s Writing Table, a square block perched on a slender plinth on the escarpment and look out for a track heading downhill just beyond it. This drops down to a dirt road which forms the National Trust Boundary. Your aim is to reach High North Pasture Farm and it may be necessary to turn left along the dirt road to find it.

4. Just before the farm watch for a gate and stile set well back from the road. Cross this and follow the waymarks down the field to North Pasture Farm itself. Follow more waymarks to pass to the right of the main building then look for a gate set back on the left with a footpath arrow. Go through this and immediately turn right follow a line of telephone poles across the fields. When they reach a gate at the end of an enclosed green lane turn left along this and follow it to a group of farm buildings. Immediately after the buildings go through a gate on the left which has no official footpath sign but a ceramic plaque asking for dogs to be kept on leads gives a clue to its status. Go down through the paddock to the bottom left hand corner where a yellow arrow on a gate gives reassurance that you are on the right path. Given its clandestine start, it is hardly surprising that the next short section is both narrow and partly overgrown. Soon it crosses a stream to enter a wood where the path, now much clearer climbs uphill and then follows the edge of the wood.

When it emerges into open fields take the dirt road through a gate to a ford and footbridge. On the other side turn right uphill following the Nidderdale Way, marked with a curlew sign. and take the farm road uphill and after a few yards take the farm road on the left, followed 50 yards further by going through a gate on the right following marker posts uphill. The track climbs to a row of houses where you turn left along a clear bridleway. At a five way junction go straight across, signed to Raikes, still following the Nidderdale Way.

The path continues in the same line, passing a llama trekking centre to reach a tarmac lane. Go down this for a couple of hundred yards and look out for a signpost on the right to Bishop Keld. This traverses across fields to reach another tarmac lane. Turn left down this to cross the main valley road back into Glasshouses.

Compass points

Start/finish: Glasshouses

Distance: 8miles/13km

Ascent: 600ft/183m

Terrain: Riverside, field and moorland paths

Time: 4 hours

Parking: Roadside

Refreshment: Tea shop at Brimham Rocks, cafés and pubs in Pateley Bridge

Map: OS Explorer 298 Nidderdale