As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to Nidderdale, Paul Bloomfield picks out a selection of museums, historic sites and natural attractions in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the Yorkshire Dales.
As an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it goes without saying that the great outdoors is the key draw for many visitors to Nidderdale. Sites - like the wonderful formations of Brimham Rocks, the dramatic How Stean Gorge, and beautiful Hackfall Wood - make natural playgrounds.
Besides all this natural goregousness, there are plenty of man-made wonders too. The ruins Jervaulx Abbey are atmospheric and impressive, while some of the impressive reservoirs are true feats of engineering.
Across the region there are pretty villages to explore, while Pateley Bridge, the only town entirely in the AONB, is a picturesque place and home to the oldest sweetshop in England. Great museums tell the tale of the area, galleries sell the wares of local artists – and just outside the AONB in Masham, the two traditional breweries are worth a stop.
Not a gallery or a museum, as such, but one of the AONB's newest attractions is a striking sculpture with viewing platforms over Coldstones Quarry which still operates today. Designed to illustrate the connection between the landscape and the quarry the views are magnificient. Leadmining, quarrying and lime burning had an important part to play in the area's history and you can learn more at the ruins of Toft Gate Lime Kiln nearby. thecoldstonescut.org
Selling work by around 50 artists and craftspeople, most of them from Yorkshire, Masham Gallery is the place to come for inspiring and unusual pieces of art, from ceramics to screenprints – and there’s jewellery, toys and other gifts sold here too. Run by artist Josie Beszant, art workshops are also held at the gallery – everything from knitting classes to blacksmithing – as well as regular exhibitions throughout the year. mashamgallery.co.uk
Step back in time and discover how life in the Dales has changed through the ages at The Nidderdale Museum. From a cobblers shop to a Victorian parlour, rooms have been laid out as they would have been in times gone by and reflect the lives of ordinary people. There’s also exhibitions on agriculture, industry and religion, as well as an interesting costume display. Staffed entirely by volunteers who want to preserve a record of a traditional way of life that’s fast disappearing, the Musuem Society also has its own programme of activities, with talks on topics of local interest. nidderdalemuseum.com
A gallery and working studio in the pretty village of Ramsgill, various exhibitions are held here throughout the year and there’s a fine selection of arts and crafts on sale. Among artists are Sarah Garforth, who paints and sketches local landscapes, and Eric Ward who creates beautiful ceramics and glazed sculptures. A great choice of jewellery, ceramics and textiles are on offer too. If you want to tap into your creative side sign up for one of the workshops which run regularly, covering everything from sylised watercolours or drawing animals to mosaics. ramsgillstudio.co.uk
Black Sheep Brewery
Established in October 1992, this new but traditional brewery in Masham was set up by Paul Theakston, of the brewing family fame. Making real beer in the time-honoured fashion, original equipment was sourced from across the country – and visitors can join a tour to find out how an award-winning ale is made. Afterwards you can pop into the Black Sheep Baa..r & Bistro for a snack, lunch or dinner, which uses produce from the local area to create British favourites with a twist. blacksheepbrewery.com
This once towering Cistercian abbey, founded in 1156, was plundered and pillaged during the 16th century Dissolution of the Monasteries. What remains today are the romantic crumbling ruins, clad in wild flowers and vegetation, standing proud against the beautiful backdrop of the Yorkshire Dales. Privately owned, it remains open to the public and there’s a tea room on site (compelte with a scale model of the abbey as it would have looked in 1530). While the abbey was sold and its wealthy redistributed, some of the fixtures can be seen in parish churches in the area – and there’s a trail you can follow to hunt them out. Bed and breakfast is also available at Park House on the estate and there’s a beautiful caravan park too. jervaulxabbey.com
Washburn Heritage Centre
A modern extension to the 17th century Fewston Church, the Heritage Centre celebrates the history of the Washburn Valley through exhibitions and events, from talks to food and drink tastings. Overlooking the Swinsty Reservoir and surrounded by woodlands, it’s a great place to check out frequently changing exhibitions on aspects of local heritage, and there’s a permanent exhibition in the church itself. There’s a tearoom too for when you fancy a rest. washburnvalley.org
Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden
A Cistercian abbey, Georgian water garden and medieval deer park rolled into one, this World Heritage Site, set in 800 acres of beautiful English countryside, makes a great day out. Wander around the most complete Cistercian abbey in the country (originally built in the 12th century, when 13 monks came looking for a simpler life), discover its history in the Porter’s Lodge exhibition (you can even don an itchy monk’s robe) and spot deer in Studley Royal. There are various walks and cycling paths and activities like ‘geocaching’ – a type treasure hunt for the digital generation too. Studley tea room and Fountains Restaurant offer mostly local fare for refuelling. nationaltrust.org.uk/fountains-abbey-and-studley-royal-water-garden
How Stean Gorge
How Stean Gorge, a spectacular 80ft limestone gorge near Lofthouse village, is a perfect natural playground. For a gentle adventure you can follow the maze of footpaths beside the gorge, checking out the plunging waterfalls along the way, but for more adrenaline-pumping activity there’s plenty of choice from abseiling to caving or canoeing. Try the new Via Ferrata course, an aerial network of beams, ladders and cables (one of only two in the UK), while the gorge scramble will have you abseiling, sliding and wading through water. The three-hour How Stean Experience costs £50, while a day of five activities is £95. It’s great for families, there’s a restaurant and a camp site should you wish to stay the night (bring your own or book the tipi). howstean.co.uk
Stump Cross Caverns
A complex limestone cave system, which runs for almost 6km, Stump Cross offers a magical world of stalactites and stalagmites to explore. First discovered in 1860 by miners looking for lead seams, the caves were opened to tourists in the 1920s. Watch a film about the caverns’ history and geology and then explore the show caves – deeper caverns are only accessible to experienced cavers. In the visitor’s centre you can see the remains of wolverines – a giant member of the weasel family that were discovered here. stumpcrosscaverns.co.uk
Hailed by 19th-century writers as one of the most beautiful woodlands in the country and captured by artists such as Turner, this 120-acre wood, owned by the Woodland Trust, is a rambling mass of wild and ancient trees. Landscaped by John Aislabie (famous for Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal) and his son William – who added grottos, rustic temples and follies – it was a favourite with Victorians who flooded here in huge numbers. After falling into decay, the woods have been restored to their former glory, partly thanks to £1 million Heritage Lottery Fund restoration project, and are once again a wonderful place to wander, the mood changing with the seasons. hackfall.org.uk
Lying between the valleys of Lower Wharfedale and Lower Nidderdale, Washburn Valley offers amazing views and walks through various habitats, from woodlands and moorlands, via rivers and streams. The River Washburn’s source starts at Washburn head and it flows south via Thruscross Reservoir and the 19th century reservoirs of Fewston, Swinsty and Lindley Wood. The reservoirs support a broad range of wildlife, from tufted duck and teal to goldcrest and curlew. washburnvalley.org
For information on local food and drink, nearby visitor attractions and activities, see our