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Yorkshire Walks - St Ives, Bingley

12:33 17 November 2009

Paul Kirkwood gets in the mood for Hallowe'en with an unusual, spooky walk in West Yorkshire.

In the woods of the St Ives Estate, near Bingley,West Yorkshire, lurk more witches, ghouls, ghosts and goblins than you will probably find in the whole of the county. Looking out for them as you kick your way through fallen leaves and eventually ending up at the tea room as the light starts to fade, makes for a classic autumn walk. The estate is most closely associated with the Ferrand family which owned it for nearly three centuries from 1636.


The family was responsible for the Jacobean mansion to the rear of the present building as well as the later 17th century buildings including the chapel. Later generations provided the estate with the Home Farm buildings, exotic gardens and water features that makes this walk so intriguing.


The previous owner - until the dissolution of the monasteries - was the church but the estate dates back to earlier times as evidenced by stone tools found near the Druid's Altar. St Ives was gifted to the council in 1928 which has owned and operated it ever since.


DIRECTIONS Start the route by entering Myrtle Park via the gate beside the swimming pool. Pass the bandstand to the left and then walk to the right of the war memorial to a corner of a wall. Follow the footpath keeping the wall on your right and a new playground on your left. Descend broad steps with handrails and then head right past a concrete and steel shelter to cross a green iron footbridge (commemorating the Festival of Britain in 1951).


Continue over another grassed area for 50 yards then ascend through a wood via steps. The path finishes at a road. Cross straight over (with care) then continue upwards on another path in the same direction. At a wall turn right, keeping the wall on your left. (The path is indistinct here). Ignore a fieldgate on your left with a yellow waymarker. Instead, turn left at a T-junction of paths just beyond towards a bench ... and your first goblin.


The goblin - along with all the other figures in the woods - is a chainsaw carving by Rodney Holland of Dumfriesshire. After a group of smaller goblins, fork right then left along footpath signed by fingerpost. Pass by various other carvings then at the road turn right up a signed public bridleway (Blind Lane). At t-junction of tracks turn right along a signed bridleway, (Crossgates Lane) which becomes a broad walled lane. Pass Friends Wood then follow the track as it bears right in front of a dilapidated barn and later left again.


Just before a pair of stone pillars and a metal kissing gate turn right and through a big gap in the wall with a tall mounting block on the right. Cross a track and follow a path ahead which leads, just to the left between two logs, to the jumble of flat-topped gritstone rocks known as the Druids Altar.


Long believed to have been used for druid's ceremonies, the altar was featured in Disraeli's novel Sybil as the place where revolutionary trade unionists met. Only when you reach this point do you realise how high up you've come. The Aire Valley stretches out below you, the noise of the traffic echoing up to the lofty perch despite its distance.


Return to the walled lane and continue in same direction as before. At a fingerpost in front of a fieldgate follow the path as it bears sharp left, downhill and past a golf tee. The path becomes a gravel track. As you descend you will come across a marble obelisk in honour of William Busfield Ferrand who died in 1889. A deputy lieutenant of the West Riding and an MP for Knaresborough and Devonport, he was a leading voice in campaigns for workers' rights and against the harshness of the Poor Law.


Next to it is Lady Blantyre's Rock, a memorial to his second wife which takes the more novel form of a large natural boulder with a sheltered overhang. She used to rest under it on walks around the estate which she designed and planted. Today Lady Blantyre sits discretely and demurely among the bracken - as a carving, of course. An account of her virtues is engraved into a tablet beside the rock. It's quite a long - and weathered - read.


The path runs alongside Coppice Pond which was used as a boating lake by the Ferrands and where today you can feed mallards, coots, moorhens and Canada geese. The oak woodlands of St Ives are home to jays, nuthatches, woodpeckers and at least five species of bat.


Pass through a fieldgate, cross the minor road and continue ahead down a public footpath. As you emerge beside a picnic area and at a fingerpost fork right and sharply downhill. The path bends round to the right then, at a crossroads of paths in front of a cottage, turn left. Just as you think you've passed the last of the carvings, the chilling figure of a faceless hooded monk appears under a tree next to a rope on the other side of the pond.


When the path starts to go up, turn right and proceed for about 50 yards to a five-barred metal gate. Continue into middle of field then turn left down a grassy swathe towards the road into the estate. Turn right onto the road into the estate and immediately left and down a path between posts with red bands on them. At a fingerpost continue ahead (rather than turning left) and down. Cross the road and continue ahead down Beckfoot Lane.


Cross the quaint packhorse bridge beside the ford which was built for just 10 to replace a wooden bridge in 1723. Templar Cottage (on the other side) dates back another century still. The stone lanterns on the gable ends show that the farm was once owned by the Knights of St John. Bear left past some allotments, turn left down a signed footpath (with allotments still on your left), and cross a new metal bridge back into Myrtle Park


FACT FILE
Parking:
Bingley. Note: the car park closest to the swimming pool (where the walk starts) has a maximum stay of three hours which may not be long enough. You can park all day at the railway station car park just over the main road.
Distance: 4 miles Map: Download a map from http://tinyurl.com/5khol3
which also includes routes of other walks within the estate and lots of other additional information about what you can find on it. You can also pick up the map at the St Ives Tea Room (see below) or local tourist information centres.
Refreshments: St Ives Tea Room within the estate. Dogs welcome. Open 10.30am-4pm. Public toilets: At Bingley Swimming Pool (charge) and the tea room. Weblink: www.friendsofstives.org.uk


Spooky St Ives
The Friends of St Ives are conducting research into the estate and, in the course of their work, have unearthed some supernatural tales. One evening in 1803 local people opened the gate to the estate for Benjamin Ferrand as usual. He thanked them and rode on his way. Only the following morning did they discover that he had died the previous day - and before he supposedly arrived home. It's said that he still returns to this day on the anniversary of his death.


Several years ago an eight-year-old girl in the bedroom of a house on the estate woke to see the vision of a man dressed as a cavalier, writing at a desk with a feather. Neither she nor her family knew of St Ives' Civil War connections but there are reputedly 200 or so war graves at the top of the estate.


There have been many sightings of monks. In the 13th century St Ives - or Harden Grange as it was known then - belonged to Rievaulx Abbey which had a grange here. Other ghosts include Lady Blantyre, a weird grey-faced man spotted in Cuckoo's Nest Wood, and a distressed Victorian woman seen running through the woods near the mansion and leaning exhausted against a tree, staring into the mid-distance.

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