This scenic walk begins with a visit to the famous Aysgarth Falls and continues into the beautiful side valley of Bishopdale. The views are fabulous and apart from one steep climb the walking is easy.
Aysgarth is probably most famous for its waterfalls, which are seen at their best after heavy rain. In less than a mile the river Ure plunges 200 feet (60m) over three spectacular falls. The upper fall was featured in the film Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner as Robin. He was seen fighting against Little John as he tried to ford the river.
Our route from the car park leads across the river to Yore Mill, a large four-storey building which has seen a variety of uses over the years. It was built in 1784 as a cotton mill. After a fire in 1852 it was rebuilt and changed to wool spinning. The mill supplied the material that was used to make the ‘red shirts’ for Garibaldi’s revolutionary army in Italy. It operated as a flour mill from 1912 to 1958 and became home to the Yorkshire Carriage Museum in 1969, housing one of Britain’s largest collections of carriages and horse-drawn vehicles. Sadly, the museum closed down in 2001 and all of the carriages were auctioned off. However, Yore Mill is still open to the public and remains worthy of a visit.
From the mill a flight of steps leads to the imposing St Andrew’s Church. In the twelfth century, Aysgarth was England’s largest parish with more than 81,000 acres (32,800ha) and covered all of Upper Wensleydale. Most of the present church was rebuilt in 1866, but the bell tower dates from the fourteenth century and has a peal of six bells. The finely carved rood screen and the abbot’s stall were rescued from Jervaulx Abbey after the dissolution of the monasteries.
After leaving the churchyard we follow a meadow path to Eshington Bridge and then continue along the fertile valley floor of Bishopdale to West Burton. Bishopdale is the largest of the many tributaries draining into Wensleydale. It has a deep U-shape which indicates that it was formed by glacial action.
West Burton is an enchanting, old-fashioned village, standing at the junction of Bishopdale and Walden. It has a large sloping green, market cross and stocks. At the lower end of the green a path leads to an ancient packhorse bridge which crosses Walden Beck. Cauldron Falls can be seen further upstream. It is possible to get quite close to the falls which plunge into a shallow pool shaded by trees.
From the bridge our path leads uphill through Barrack Wood to Hudson Lane, where a wonderful panorama unfolds. Walden, Bishopdale and Wensleydale are seen in a single sweep. Buckden Pike rises behind Walden Moor, the craggy outcrops of Kidstones Scar stand out at the head of Bishopdale and looking across the main Wensleydale valley the villages of Aysgarth, Carperby, Castle Bolton and Redmire are clearly visible.
We continue along the slopes of Penhill to join High Lane, once a busy drove road linking Bishopdale to Middleham. Cattle and sheep were herded along this track in their thousands. From High Lane our route leads to the Templars’ Chapel.
The Order of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon, better known as the Knights Templars or The Temple, was founded early in the twelfth century and introduced to Britain in 1146. Its purpose was to protect pilgrims travelling to and from Jerusalem. The order acquired land on Penhill to build a chapel and dedicated it to ‘God, the Virgin and St Catherine.’ St Catherine, the patron saint of linen weavers, was important to the Templars because their outer garments were made of white linen on which was sewn a blood red cross, their symbol of martyrdom.
The order acquired immense wealth and political power and it was this which caused their downfall. Kings and Popes alike grew jealous of their influence, and they were subjected to much persecution. Pope Clement V abolished the order in 1312, Edward II having seized all the property of the English Templars in 1308. Many of the Templars were imprisoned and some were tortured and executed.
Leaving the chapel we descend to the main road which is followed to Hestholme Bridge. Here a meadow path entices us away and delivers us to the banks of the river Ure where we continue upstream returning to the churchyard at Aysgarth.