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Barden Moor Reservoirs Walk

Walk Summary
Distance:About 6 miles (8k)
Difficulty:Moderate
Start:Halton Height Car Park on the Barden Tower to Embsay road (SE 046 562)
Time:four hours or so

This has long been a favourite walk of mine. Just a few short miles from the tourist honeypot of Bolton Abbey, you can walk all day here and rarely see another human being. And the scenery is outstanding. The only downside is that dogs are banned because this is access land designated under a private deal with the Devonshire Estate rather than the Countryside and Rights of Wat act (CROW) 2000. If memory serves me well, the access rights were granted in lieu of death duties though I may well be wrong on that point.

Lower Barden reservoir The walk starts at Halton Height Car Park on the Barden Tower to Embsay road. It's easy to find. Just drive up Wharfedale past Bolton Abbey, then take the left turn to Embsay when you get to Barden Tower. Drive for about a mile and as you approach the top of the hill there's a cattle grid. Park here.

You can see Lower Barden reservoir down below, and the route to it is down the farm track just below the cattle grid. As you're walking down, notice the track going up the far side of the reservoir and on up the valley. That's the main track to Upper Barden reservoir. More of that later. You should also be able to glimpse a grand Victorian house at the head of the valley. That's where you should be joining Upper Barden reservoir.

Once you reach the lower reservoir, there's another fine wide track along the left hand side of it which is the route most people take. Far more interesting though is to make your way down to the water's edge and cross the little bridge across the "moat" onto the reservoir embankment. You can then walk all the way up the side of the reservoir to the top, enjoying watching the various waterfowl and the fish coming to the surface to feed. I don't know what sort of fish they have here but it's certainly well stocked. You might get the odd black look from a fisherman, as they seem to think they own wherever they set their rods down, but don't worry about that. Slight note of caution - this land is marked as restricted public access on the CROW maps, but as there are no signs saying keep off I think it's fair game.

Lower Barden reservoir Anyway, at the tip of the lake you need to get to the Northern side and the best way to do that is over the small embankmentat the tip of the lake. There's a couple of ancient signs here saying public access is denied, but as the fence in the middle has a stile in it they can't be too serious about that. The signs probably date back to the days of good old Yorkshire Water who went to great pains to keep everybody away from their precious reservoirs, seemingly believing that any passing walker would be unable to resist peeing into the water, thus causing a Cholera epidemic and wiping out half the population of Bradford.

So cross the embankment, scramble up the hill on the far side and you come to another sound well made track. This goes all the way up to Upper Barden reservoir and is a good choice in bad weather. However, in good weather it's far nicer to strike out across the open moor on the North side of Barden beck (the stream linking the two reservoirs), and follow the line of shooting butts to join up with the track at the head of the valley. Judging by the number of footprints I saw, I'm not the only one to enjoy this route. It's rough heather, so expect to put up a few grouse as you walk. Keep roughly parallel to the beck and eventually you'll join up with the main track. Turn left and you should be at the reservoir in a couple of minutes. You don't really notice it till you're upon it as the dam wall really blends into the surrounding scenery. 

Statue of Captain Cook at Whitby The first thing you notice about the reservoir is the amazing Gothic house built by the water board when they constructed the reservoirs in the late 19th century. Why on earth they believed such a grand house was needed is beyond me, but then again when it's public money you're spending who cares. I've often wondered what it was about 19th century water engineers that made them add battlements and towers to everything they built.

The second thing you notice about the reservoir is the appalling racket. Upper Barden reservoir has been colonised by seagulls. Not the odd one or two black headed gulls but thousands upon thousands of them. The noise is horrendous. Now I believe in live and let live, and while I'm a keen shooter I only ply my trade on paper targets. But I could happily make an exception for these bloody things. They're nothing but vermin, and while I can just about tolerate them at the seaside they should be eradicated when they settle inland, as they're just a damn nuisance.

From the house you have two choices. Either walk along the embankment and start the trek home or walk round the reservoir. Now the walk round the reservoir is really nice, though again access is questionable as the maps aren't too clear. Apart from the seagulls there's nice wildfowl like Mallard and Canada Geese, but above all there's the gulls. And of course the gulls nest on the far side of the reservoir and don't like being disturbed, so as you're walking round expect the air to be absolutely full of them screeching and caterwauling in the most frightful manner. If you're at all phobic about birds or never got over the Hitchcock movie, don't walk round the reservoir.

As you return to the embankment, the walk is all but over except for a gentle downhill stroll back to the car park. The footpath is clearly marked to "Halton Heights" and is nice gentle easy going all the way back.

Pictures From the Walk

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Comments (2)
I recently travelled from Skipton through Embsay and picked up the wild road over the fells to Burnsall. This is my kind of scenery in my beloved Yorkshire
posted by Eddie May 16/05/2009 18:03:12
It is lovely as I have the privilige of living up on Barden Moor between Eastby and Barden. Due to ill health have been unable to do the walk around the reservoirs but hope to next year.
posted by Dave Waters 22/12/2009 17:11:08
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