Yorkshire Dales walk - West Witton, Wensleydale
PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 April 2018
An enchanting walk from West Witton in Wensleydale reveals the remains of a Knight Templars chapel
Seven centuries after they vanished in disgrace from the pages of history, the Knights Templar still manage to exercise a mysterious fascination even today. A band of poverty-stricken monastic warriors formed in the 12th century, they fought in the fiercest battles of the Crusades and in just 200 years became the most powerful and wealthy order in Christendom before a dramatic fall from grace amid rumours and allegations of idolatry and secret initiation ceremonies.
Those stories are now largely discredited as half-baked concoctions dreamed up by the French King Philip to wriggle out of paying his crippling debts to the Templars. What is beyond doubt is that, when not fighting, the knights became Christianity’s first major bankers and, some argue, Europe’s first multi-national corporation, exempt by Papal decree from local laws and taxes. Also beyond denial is the fact that, despite being disbanded on the orders of the Pope in 1312, they still feature in conspiracy theories and have even had walk-on parts in Dan Brown’s best-selling Da Vinci Code and an Indiana Jones movie.
Among the artefacts they left was a chapel in the unlikely setting of Wensleydale, far from their power base in the Holy Land, and this walk visits the ruins as well as following the delightful River Ure and the charming Redmire Force, which is not quite as spectacular as its more famous neighbours at Aysgarth, but is more peaceful and, with luck, you may even have it to yourself.
1. From the lay-by, walk into West Witton and take the first lane on the right opposite a house named Valley View. Follow the metalled lane for a few yards and then turn right again down an enclosed track. At the end go through the right hand gate and follow the path down a large, irregularly-shaped field to a gate in the bottom left hand corner. Go through this, cross a bridge and turn right along the path signed to Hestholme Bridge. The route now broadly follows the Ure upstream though other paths offer diversions to avoid the large meanders, bank erosion and woods but the overall direction is never in doubt. Along the way the gaunt, four square keep of Bolton Castle appears ahead, looking like every schoolboy’s idea of what a castle should be.
2. The sound of rushing water heralds the arrival at Redmire Force, tucked away in a small wood. Here the Ure tumbles over low limestone shelves creating cataracts similar to, though smaller than, those further upstream at Aysgarth Falls. From the force climb a wooden stepped path to a gate and turn right as the route returns to the meadows though still following the general line of the river, which can be heard behind the trees, upstream. The path stays high above the river through a succession of fields and over stiles until a footpath sign directs you down to the bottom right hand corner of a field and through a gate to some stepping stones.
3. Do not cross them but take the gate leading upstream. However, ignore the riverside path and follow a wall on the left away from the water which leads up an intermittently enclosed track through fields to the main road with a domed folly partially hidden in the trees above. Turn left up the road, taking care until a footpath appears on the right just before Temple Farm. Take the path leading directly away from the road marked to the Templars’ Chapel into the trees. The road climbs through the wood before meeting a cross track heading back down the dale.
4. Go through the stile signed to West Witton and immediately on the other side of the wall are the remains of the Knight Templars preceptory chapel, complete with small graves. They may have been ferocious but they were far from giants. The chapel was built around 1200 and held by the Templars until their suppression in 1312 when it was handed over to the Knights Hospitallers. The remains were unearthed in 1840 and are now a listed monument. After examining the ruins carry on down the path following the left hand wall down the dale across fields and a farm road until it reaches the main road.
5. However, ignore the stile and instead climb half right up the field, making for a gap stile in the wall ahead. Go through this and across the next field to a stile hidden in the far right hand corner, which leads to a short enclosed path and then skirts farm buildings and crossing a final field to reach the outskirts of West Witton. Turn right along the road and follow the road through the village to the lay-by.
Start/finish: A lay-by on the A684 just east of West Witton
Distance: 7 miles/11km
Terrain: Riverside paths and field paths
Time: 3 – 3.5 hours
Refreshments: Café and pub in West Witton
Map: OS OL30 Yorkshire Dales North and Central