West Yorkshire walk - Ilkley and Middleton Woods bluebells
PUBLISHED: 00:00 30 March 2016 | UPDATED: 15:40 21 November 2017
Enjoy this particular woodland walk while you can. Words and photographs by Terry Fletcher
As the days lengthen and the earth warms the higher hills and Dales begin to call to the keen walker. But before you surrender to the siren call of the green lanes and moors it is worth spending at least one day enjoying one of the finest experiences the English countryside has to offer. For 11 months of the year the gracious streets of Ilkley are dominated by the gritstone bastion of the Cow and Calf and the swathe of moorland immortalised in the town's world-famous anthem of courtship, death, worms, ducks and second-hand cannibalism.
However, in late April and early May attention shifts – at least for those in the know – across the River Wharfe to the gentler delights of Middleton Woods. The reason is flowers, literally millions of them, which combine to make this one of the finest – locals would say the finest – bluebell woods in the country. For a precious few weeks the spring sunshine filters through the sparse canopy of leaves to illuminate the display and all suffused with the heady scent of the blooms.
This walk climbs through the woods and then up onto the hill beyond with excellent views back across the town to the moor before returning via an unexpected ghyll and brushing a seldom-visited village before returning along the valley.
The bluebells attract many admirers so, although there is parking by the woods, it may be easier to park in the town itself, where there is a large central car park or on one of the side streets. Alternatively Ilkley is served by trains from Leeds and Bradford.
From the main car park or the railway station head into Brook Street and turn downhill to the main traffic lights and cross straight over to carry on down to the Wharfe. Do not cross the bridge but take a riverside path on the right which follows the bank downstream for a gentle half mile to reach the distinctive suspension bridge. Cross this and the succeeding road to enter the woods where the bluebells are immediately apparent. There is parking here but it is often taken by strollers, dog walkers, joggers and photographers. Two paths head off uphill; take the left hand one aiming in the general direction of the top left hand corner of the wood. Where the path crosses a stream at some plank bridges continue climbing the hill.
It leaves the woods by a stile to reach the appropriately-named Curly Hill. Cross straight over to re-enter the woods on a broad track. At the second fork take the right-hand option uphill. The path weaves half left through the trees to finally leave the wood at another stile. Go straight across the field with fine views back. On the far side cross another stile onto Slates Lane, which is followed leftwards to a junction. Turn left and almost immediately right onto the drive of Myddelton Grange. After a few yards a path, marked by a post and faded arrows, heads right between trees and cottages to join a lane. Turn right uphill. At a bend carry on straight ahead through a gate and up a farm track between trees.
Go through the next gate and then almost immediately right through another gate, following a footpath sign to reach a lane at the entrance to Windsover Farm. Cross the lane to the farm road and immediately take a stile on the right and head off half left across the field aiming in the rough direction of the distant Cow and Calf and a stile in the opposite fence with the whole of the valley down to Otley Chevin and beyond laid out before you. Cross the second field in much the same line to a gate guarded by a large concrete trough. Cross the stile and follow the wall rightwards around the field. Where the wall divides take a stile on the left and follow the path behind a barn and then a farm to reach a lane. Cross straight over and follow the path across a field to a footbridge and then onwards to enter another stretch of woodland.
It eventually comes to a steep flight of wooden steps which drop down into the delightful tree-filled ghyll of Bow Beck before climbing the other side to leave the trees at a stile. Here turn half right across the open ground to re-enter the woods at another stile about 150 yards right of the gate with the No Right of Way sign.
The path drops to a second beck before leaving the wood at a gate and then following its edge rightwards and then over a field to reach the lane from Denton. If time permits it is worth a detour left into this charming village.
Follow the lane downhill for 300 yards to where a path heads off rightwards. Follow the track as it passes below the wood until it nears Beck Foot Farm and the field narrows. Look across for an easily-missed metal gate in the wall behind the farm. Go through this and follow the path between the buildings to leave by the main access track which is followed to Carters Lane. Cross this to take a path along the field edge and then cross diagonally over the second field to the Ilkley to Askwith road. Turn right along this to reach the suspension bridge. If time permits treat yourself to another stroll in the woods before retracing your steps to your starting point.
Start/finish: Ilkley town centre
Distance: 6.5 miles/11km
Height gain: 500ft/150m
Time: 3-4 hours (allowing time to admire the bluebells)
Parking: Pay and display
Refreshment: Spoiled for choice
Map: OS Explorer 297 Lower Wharfedale and Washburn Valley