If there’s one area where Yorkshire really excels, it’s combining postcard-worthy scenery with evocative historic sites. Bolton Abbey, a centuries-old Augustinian monastery perched on the banks of the River Wharf and surrounded by heather-covered moorlands and ancient forests, fits the bill perfectly. Set in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, it’s one of the top walking destinations in Northern England and for good reason. The 12th-century estate is owned by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and occupies an impressive 30,000-acre footprint. There are 85 miles of well-marked trails ripe for exploring, ranging from quick moorland strolls and family-friendly woodland walks to full-day hikes. And that doesn’t include the huge variety of trails that surround Bolton Abbey, including the famous Lady Anne’s Way and other long-distance routes. To get you inspired, we’ve put together a collection of some of our absolute favourite Bolton Abbey walks for 2021.
Cavendish Pavilion to Simon’s Seat
One of the longest walks you can tick off at Bolton Abbey, Cavendish Pavilion to Simon’s Seat takes you up one of the most impressive peaks in the Yorkshire Dales. Starting at Cavendish Pavilion, you’ll cross the wooden bridge and follow the path as it meanders upstream. After climbing over a wooden stile, you’ll follow the road to Waterfall Cottage and stop to admire a couple of small cascades. If you have time, it’s worth taking the detour to the upper falls.
The next section takes you through a woodland area before spitting you out onto the moorlands, where you’ll start the climb to Simon’s Seat. At the highest point you’ll be 485 metres above sea level and unlock sweeping views over North Yorkshire, Bolton Abbey and the surrounding countryside. Needless to say, this millstone grit outcrop is a prime spot for lunch. On the way down you’ll continue straight along the path, instead of turning left at the fork. You’ll pass though the plantations, cross Howgill Lane and follow the track down to the river. More fields and woodland scenery await, with the trail eventually taking you back to Riverside Car Park.
Length: 8.25 miles
Average time to complete: 4.5 hours
Starting point: Riverside Car Park
Bolton Abbey Village to Cavendish Pavilion
If you’re looking for a short riverside ramble the stroll from Bolton Abbey Village to Cavendish Pavilion is a great little walk. It’s also a great warmup walk if you’re planning to hike from Cavendish Pavilion to Simon’s Seat. Starting in the village, you’ll start by wandering though a meadow and passing by a series of medieval fishponds. You’ll also pass through the priory grounds, making this walk ideal if you want to stretch your legs and check out the abbey.
Keep an eye out for kingfishers, dippers and herons as you walk along the riverbank. This is prime territory for the British birds, and you’ll often see them scooping up fish from the river. Even with a good snack supply it’s hard to resist ducking into Cavendish Pavilion for a slice of Victoria sponge cake or a deli-style sandwich. Given it’s location on an estate owned by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, you can also expect a pretty impressive cream tea at Cavendish Pavilion.
Length: 2 miles
Average time to complete: 1 hour
Starting point: Village Car Park
Bolton Abbey to Hare Head
Get your boots muddy with the hike from Bolton Abbey to Hare Head, a neat four-hour circuit that takes you to heights of more than 300 metres. There are plenty of stiles to climb and mud-spattered moorland trails to navigate along the way, making this one of the more adventurous Bolton Abbey hiking routes. Heading north from the village green, you’ll pass under the remains of an ancient aqueduct that once funnelled water to the Priory Mill.
After gaining elevation over a series of fields and moorlands, you’ll hit the B6160 and find yourself just steps from the Strid Wood Tea Rooms. This is also the approximate halfway point, where you’ll stop for homemade cakes, hearty soups and seriously good Yorkshire preserves. The loop back takes you over Cavendish Bridge and past the Gothic-style Memorial Fountain. If you stop to fill up your bottle at the Grade II listed heritage building, say a quick thank you to Lord Frederick Cavendish, who was brutally murdered by the Irish National Invincibles in the 1880s.
Length: 7 miles
Average time to complete: 4 hours
Starting point: Village Car Park
Cavendish Pavilion to Barden Bridge
Short and sweet, the walk from Cavendish Pavilion to Barden Bridge takes in some of the best scenery the River Wharfe has to offer. The trail starts at Riverside Car Park, where you pass by Cavendish Pavilion and quickly leads you into Strid Wood. This is one of the largest remaining pockets of Sessile oak trees in the Yorkshire Dales, so be sure to take your time wandering through the woodlands and admiring the centuries-old giants. Birdwatchers will be in their element, with good chances of spotting wood warblers and pied flycatchers, as well as goosander paddling along the river. Roe deer, otters and great spotted woodpeckers also live in Strid Wood, so watch out for these locals.
Eventually you’ll hit the Strid, a series of waterfalls, cascades and rapids that are not only beautiful but notoriously dangerous. As the river narrows the water picks up speed and creates powerful undercurrents – definitely not the place for swimming. Follow the riverbank along the Barden Bridge, a three-arched feat of 17th-century architecture that spans across the River Wharfe. Stop to take in the views, then continue along the Orange Trail back to Cavendish Pavilion.
Length: 5 miles
Average time to complete: 2.5 hours
Starting point: Riverside Car Park
Lady Anne’s Way
Looking for a long-distance hiking trail near Bolton Abbey? Yorkshire Dales National Park gives you some terrific multiday trails and Lady Anne’s Way is one of our all-time favourites. Named after a 17th-century estate owner who loved to travel between her North Yorkshire castles, the 100-mile trail takes you past a series of evocative ruins, starting with Skipton Castle.
You’ll start in the chocolate-box town of Skipton, which also happens to be a stone’s throw from Bolton Abbey. It takes you right through to Penrith in the Eden Valley, where you’ll find plenty of inns and pubs to celebrate completing the trail. The scenery is diverse, ranging from quiet country lanes and sheep-dotted fields to rolling moorland and centuries-old castles. It’s worth pencilling in a lunch stop at Brougham Castle, a 13th-century stronghold set on the River Eamont and used to fend off Scottish invaders.
While the classic route takes approximately six days, there’s also a nine-day version if you want to stretch out your itinerary and take in some extra points of interest along the way. Of course, like most long-distance trails in England you can walk the Lady Anne Way in sections. This makes it easy to tailor your route according to your fitness and endurance levels.
If you take on this mammoth route, you’ll therefore need a map. Thankfully we’ve got you covered here.
Length: 100 miles
Average time to complete: 6 days
Starting point: Skipton or Penrith
The Dales Way – Ilkley to Grassington
This scenic stretch of the Dales Way takes you from Ilkley to Grassington, passing right through Bolton Abbey on the way. It’s a full day adventure so be sure to start your day right with a good breakfast. Daniel’s Café is a local favourite, with strong coffee and big portions. You’ll also need to pack lunch and a good supply of snacks. The village of Ilkley marks the starting point of the Dales Way, which runs all the way to Lake Windermere in Cumbria. While serious hikers complete the entire 80-mile route, this smaller section is a great taster.
You’ll spend most of your time in Yorkshire Dales National Park, traipsing across limestone karsts, crossing heather-covered moors and skirting riverbanks. There are lots of shady woodland sections that take you under a canopy of sessile oaks, as well as sycamore and holly. The trails are especially beautiful in spring when the forest floor is carpeted in bluebells.
If you’re hiking with a friend and have two cars you can leave one at either end of the trail – it’s a short 30-minute drive between Ilkley and Grassington. Public transport is also an option though it can take a little longer, sometimes more than an hour. Both villages have some great little cafes and pubs, meaning you can look forward to a tasty meal and a cold pint whatever direction you choose to hike.
Length: 16 miles
Average time to complete: 8 hours
Starting point: Ilkley or Grassington
Bolton Abbey for families
More than just a historical treasure, Bolton Abbey is also one of North Yorkshire’s top family days out. The estate has been transformed into an outdoor playground with plenty of attractions and experiences to keep the kids entertained. Cast a line in the trout river, enjoy a picnic on the sandy riverside beach and dig into a platter of scones, jam and cream at the atmospheric Cavendish Pavilion tearoom. In summer, the estate also hosts a fantastic popup outdoor cinema where you can watch classic films with Bolton Abbey as a backdrop.
While the Stepping Stones are always a hit with kids, the thrill of hopping your way across the River Wharfe. Once used by Bolton Abbey lay workers, today the 60 rectangular-shaped stones are a rite of passage for most visitors. There’s a clever one-way system in place to avoid traffic jams, meaning you can only cross on the priory side of the river.
If you look on the northern end you will find a sandy beach that’s great for picnics and sandcastle building competitions. It also treats you to some of the best views of Bolton Abbey. If you’re not feeling nimble enough to take on the Stepping Stones, however, you can cross at a nearby bridge.
Length: .5 miles
Average time to complete: 15 minutes
Starting point: Bolton Abbey
Bolton Abbey ‘Welly Walk’
If you’ve got kids and you love the outdoors, you’ll probably share our view that introducing youngsters to the magic of nature is one of the greatest joys of parenting. The Bolton Abbey ‘Welly Walk’ is designed to do just this, and we can’t commend the estate enough for their commitment to inspiring pint-sized adventurers. Open throughout the summer, this adrenaline-fuelled walk takes you from the Stepping Stones to Cavendish Pavilion, with a myriad of obstacles to explore along the way. In addition, kids will have a hoot scrambling up nets, balancing along wooden beams, speeding down slides and splashing through the mud. You will get your hands and boots dirty. And of course, wear your wellies!
Length: 2 miles
Average time to complete: 1 hour
Starting point: Stepping Stones
Getting to Bolton Abbey
There’s plenty of parking at Bolton Abbey, making it easy to roll in with a set of wheels. This is a good option if you’re travelling with kids or don’t want to lug your backpack on public transport. The abbey is set just off the A59, between Skipton and Harrogate. Punch the post code BD23 6EX into your satnav for the most efficient route. This will get you to Bolton Abbey village, where you can easily access to ruins, church and most importantly, trailheads.
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays you can hitch a ride on the NYCC 74A minibus, which runs between Grassington and Ilkley, stopping at Bolton Abbey on the way. A handful of other bus services also stop at Bolton Abbey on weekends and bank holidays. Trains are also an option, however they’ll only get you to Skipton or Ilkley. From here you’ll need to take a taxi to Bolton Abbey or a bus.
Is Bolton Abbey on your walking bucket list? Whether you’re planning to explore the ancient estate or want to share one of your favourite hikes in the area, we’d love to hear from you. If you’re looking to branch out even further in the local area, check out our definitive list of walks in Lancashire.