A dramatic riverside setting, an ancient abbey and miles of woodland walks in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. I had arrived at the ruins of Bolton Priory, a historic site by the River Wharfe, after a long and varied riverside walk from Ilkley.
Bolton Priory, A Historic Abbey
One of many abbeys in Yorkshire, Bolton Priory was founded by the Augustinian Friars (also known as the Black Canons) in 1155. The Friars controlled a massive estate, made wealthy by sheep farming and lead mining. However, like many monasteries across England, the Priory was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539 and gradually fell into disrepair.
Today the ruins sit peacefully by the river, with sheep grazing contentedly on the grass. The abbey church was spared during the Dissolution and was allowed to remain as a parish church. It continues to serve the local community and is open to visitors.
A walk along the river brings you to the ruins of Barden Tower. This was one of six lodges for the Barden hunting forest, rebuilt as a house in the 15th century. Nearby is the Priest’s House, now a smart restaurant and wedding venue.
An Inspiration For Poets And Artists
In the 19th century ruined abbeys were very popular as inspiration for romantic poets and artists. The most famous of the poets associated with Bolton Priory is William Wordsworth (who also wrote about Tintern Abbey in Wales). He visited in 1807 and subsequently wrote the poems “The Founding of Bolton Priory” and “The White Doe of Rylstone” (based on a local legend).
Artists who painted the ruins include JMW Turner and Edwin Landseer.
Woodland Walks And Stepping Stones
I was passing through on The Dales Way, a 78 mile trail through some of England’s most dramatic countryside. My path followed the river past the Priory and into the woodlands beyond. I crossed the river by the bridge, not liking the look of the stepping stones below!
The whole of the Priory and the woodlands are now owned by the Duke of Devonshire’s Chatsworth Estate. They include more than 80 miles of footpaths, but I only had time to note the children’s Welly Walk (an adventure trail) and the ominous sounding Valley of Desolation (site of a great storm and now a nature trail) before heading up to Strid Wood.
The Strid And The River Wharfe
The Strid is a place where the River Wharfe becomes very narrow and the water very fast. There are warning signs everywhere telling people not to try to jump from one side to the other. I wasn’t even tempted to jump, but I did climb carefully over the slippery rocks to photograph the water.
Where Is Bolton Priory?
Rather confusingly, Bolton Priory is just outside the village known as Bolton Abbey. It is on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, just off the A59 between Harrogate and Skipton. The village is on a number of bus routes, and the nearest railway stations are Skipton and Ilkley (both 10 km away).
Entrance to the Priory is free, but you will have to pay to use the car parks. There are several places to eat both in the village and in the Priory Estate.