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Nidderdale's natural beauty
This article by Andrew Bibby, in a slightly different form, was first published in The Independent, 1994
This was a walk of wind and water. The wind, whipping down from the snow-covered slopes of Great Whernside, hit immediately as I left the car. The water came in two forms: in the air (sometimes as rain, sometimes biting hail), and under foot, where the ground oozed liquid.
I'd come to the far end of Nidderdale in the Yorkshire Dales, driving north along the narrow valley road from Pateley Bridge near Harrogate and then further north still, on Yorkshire Water's toll road which follows the river Nidd up to remote Scar House reservoir. That's where you get out and walk. In summer, there are plenty of places for picnicing. On a cold March day it seemed best to get moving quickly.
I hurried across the reservoir dam, watching the water as it was pushed by the wind over the retaining wall to tumble perhaps a hundred feet to the river valley far below. Too often reservoirs are bleak places, but Scar House dam's artificial waterfall is an impressive sight. The dam (finished, after fifteen years' work, in 1936) was built by Bradford Corporation and its architecture has that typical Yorkshire pride in municipal achievement.
I climbed steeply from the reservoir shore initially following the Nidderdale Way, a well-signed footpath route which encircles the dale, but then heading higher up the hills. I was aiming for the old green lane which contours round the edge of Nidderdale, high up on the hillside about 1500 feet above sea level. The track, reminiscent of many other similar bridleways in the Yorkshire Dales, took me east and then south across grouse moors and rough sheep pastureland, offering up wonderful views back down into the dale.
Nidderdale is a classic, but unofficial, Yorkshire dale. When the Yorkshire Dales National Park was created in 1954, its eastern boundary took a great sweep to the west in order to exclude Nidderdale, partly it is said to keep the public away from the slopes of Great Whernside where Bradford wanted to collect its water supply in peace. This was environmental gerrymandering of a high order, although it has meant that Nidderdale has escaped some of the pressure of visitors elsewhere in the Dales.
In recent years the boundary issue has been reopened, with several groups urging the Countryside Commission to admit Nidderdale into the national park. Instead, the Commission has compromised. As from February 14th this year , Nidderdale has been given designation as the 36th 'area of outstanding natural beauty' in England. It's better than nothing. My walk was, in part, my way of celebrating the news.
I dropped down from the hillside to rejoin the Nidderdale Way and quickly reached Lofthouse, a small settlement equipped with a comfortable pub, the Crown, and village shop. It seems a peaceful place, but the parish noticeboard reveals that here too crime can take place: the person who stole the last two pages of the parish council minutes is told in no uncertain terms to return them immediately.
At Lofthouse I took the Nidderdale Way again, turning north-west up the valley of one of the Nidd's tributories, How Stean Beck. This small river has burrowed its way through the rock to create a gorge in places seventy feet deep, in the process also creating the area's only official tourist attraction. To visit How Stean Gorge costs a few pounds, but there's a free glimpse down from a footbridge a few yards further on where the Nidderdale Way crosses the river on its way to Middlesmoor.
Middlesmoor is the last settlement of Nidderdale, a hilltop village with a few houses, another pub (confusingly also called The Crown) and a fine church strikingly located on a headland looking down the dale. Beyond, the tarmac road turns into a track across the moors. I climbed steadily for two miles, admiring the view of Great Whernside to my left whilst dodging the hailstones which periodically were blown horizontally across my path.
Abruptly the track dropped back down to the side of Scar House reservoir, and I was back at the car-park. I clambered back inside and the wind stopped. Almost immediately, or so it seemed, bright sunlight transformed the scene. I drove back south, admiring the landscape: outstanding natural beauty, and that's official.