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Red Kite Country - a walk around Eccup Reservoir and Emmerdale

Route Summary
Distance: About seven miles
Difficulty: easy - good paths just about all the way
Start: Adel Woods car park on Stairfoot Lane  (grid SE281403)
Finish: Back at the start
Time: 4 hours or so including a swift pint at the New Inn
Dogs: This is a very popular dog walking area - some sheep though.

Red Kite in flightThis is a circular walk in a figure-of-eight around Eccup reservoir and the Harewood estate on the watershed above Wharfedale. But  this amazing chap on the left is what the walk's really all about. 

It was here in the late 1990's that Yorkshire Water and the Harewood Estate co-operated to establish a breeding colony of Red Kites. I seem to recall they brought the birds in from Spain, but I'm not totally sure. Red Kites used to be common in the UK, even in large cities, but in the 18th and 19th centuries they were hunted to the verge of extinction as their predeliction for eating young game birds made them a tad unpopular with sporting interests. So huge kudos to the Harewood Estate for helping repair the damage.

The breeding project succeeded, and there's now so many Kites, that I would say you'd be very unlucky indeed to do this walk and not see several.  And they're easy to identify. They have a massive five foot wingspan and a forked tail - there just aren't any other birds in the area like that. You'll often see them soaring on the thermals above the valley side, and quite commonly you'll see them being mobbed by crows.

Best time to see them is a cool day as  they don't seem to like the heat of midday in Summer. But even on a hot day they have to feed, so they will be out and about, though perhaps not in the middle of the day.

Open countryside near Eccup reservoir

This being a circular walk, it's possible to start from absolutely anywhere, but I chose the car park in Adel Woods, halfway down Stairfoot Lane (grid SE281403). If you're coming from Leeds, find Sainsbury's on the outer ring road, go up the road at the side of it (King Lane), and as you emerge into open country at the very top of the hill, Stairfoot Lane is immediately on the left. If you find yourself in open country, you've gone too far.

 If you have time to spare, Adel Woods is well worth exploring, but it doesn't form part of this walk. The car park here is on the Dales Way, so the first part of the walk is well signposted. Start by crossing over the road, and head up through the woods, aiming to come out in the top left-hand corner.  Once you reach the corner,  go through the gate and turn right, following the path uphill. At the top of the hill it becomes a wide fenced track, with Headingley Golf Club on the left. At the end of the track you come to a road, cross over the road (carefully, this little lane is a fast and busy commuter route) and go down the track to the right of the farm buildings.

You're now in open country and continue that way for the rest of the walk. Walk on past the driving range and over the stile, and you'll be able to see the houses of King Lane on the crest of the hill on the right and Eccup reservoir ahead and to the left. Before long the path ends and meets another one going at 90 degrees. Turn left and follow this to the corner of the trees surrounding the reservoir. Then turn right and follow the trees  right along the Southern bank of the reservoir. From this point on, there will be Kites about, so keep your eyes peeled.

Eccup reservoir dam

The walk's quite easy now, just follow the path all the way round the reservoir until you come to the dam at then end. Unfortunately the view is spoilt by an ugly fence topped with barbed wire. Now I wouldn't mind that so much, except that it's full of holes, so is really neither use not ornament. And from a legal point of view, surely erecting a fence to keep people out and then allowing it to fall into disrepair is about as dumb as you can get.

From the dam, ideally the walk would go along the Northern bank to Eccup, but there's no access. So walk along the dam, round the corner and take the footpath on the left. This very quickly brings you to a tarmacked lane (a bridleway) which leads to Eccup. This is a very quiet lane, and there's plenty of parking along here if you couldn't get in at the Adel Woods car park or if you just want to make the walk that little bit shorter. It's also a great place to bring little kids with bikes. But there is some traffic so you still have to be careful.

The New Inn at Eccup

At the end of the lane is Eccup village, where you take the footpath immediately on the right.  And after a couple of hundred yards, take the footpath on the left across the fields which brings you out on Eccup Lane next to the New Inn. I'm rather fond of the New Inn, as when the kids were small it was a nice place to go on a Summer's evening. They do good hand pulled beer, hearty pub food, and have a nice big garden (with a playground) to sit out in. And they open all day! When I last visited in April 2009, they were converting the rather grotty kids room into a garden lounge and putting in wi-fi access - but they promise it'll still be child friendly. All in all, an ideal place to break the walk for a little refreshment.

The New Inn at Eccup

Suitably refreshed, walk down the road from the pub, to the top of the hill, where you get great views over Wharfedale. On the far side of the valley, you can see Arncliffe Crags, venue for another great walk, and in the bottom of the valley is the Wharfedale Railway Viaduct (completed 1849).

Then down the hill, and at the bottom on the right of the bend is the entrance to the Harewood Estate. Take the bridleway and go into the woods. The estate here is very popular with mountain bikers, because of the great network of bridleways round the estate, and especially because of the enormous downhill just off the Harrogate Road (SE325433). But once on the shared paths like here, bikes and walkers mix without any problems. Something that's been proved time and again but our town planners are very slow to recognise.

After a short walk through the woods,there's a cross roads, so turn right and head out of the woods into open country.

The New Inn at Eccup

And now you've entered Emmerdale. Or at least, the fake Emmeredale village is on your left. There's no access, which is a great shame, and you can't get a pint at the Woolpack, which is an even greater shame. Still, it's interesting to see, and if you go on a weekday you might even catch them filming.

Proceed past Emmerdale, and take the bridleway on the right. This winds uphill in a zig-zag fashion, and eventually brings you back to where you turned off for the New Inn, and thence back to Eccup. In Eccup, turn right and walk up the road for a little way, then take the footpath on the left which returns you to the North-Western corner of Eccup reservoir. From here, simply retrace your steps back to the car park on Stairfoot Lane.

And if you haven't seen a red kite, then you just weren't looking.

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