First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Half a dozen red kites were wheeling over the village hall car park at Harewood. They swooped down on their crooked wings, seeming almost close enough to touch, wailing as they showed off their colours of russet and cream. ‘Lady in the village feeds them,’ said Keith at the Muddy Boots café. ‘They know it’s nearly lunchtime.’
It was an auspicious start to our walk through the broad acres of Harewood Park, landscaped in the 1770s with a sculptor’s eye by Capability Brown.
‘The pleasure grounds and gardens rare
Laid out, by Mr Brown, with utmost care…
Though both, which now such beauty yield,
Were lately but a furrow’d field.’
Thus the author of ‘The Tourist’s Companion,’ surveying Harewood Park fifty years after Brown first started work. On this cold afternoon, two centuries later, we saw the great landscaper’s vision matured to perfection – magnificent oaks, Spanish chestnuts and limes shading the artful slopes and folds of ground where red stags grazed together like contented clubmen.
Beyond Harewood the manipulated landscape gave way to a ridged countryside of pastures where weather-stained sheep cropped the grass. Birds flocked together, obedient to the winter imperative to keep close and survive – giant clouds of pigeons across the sky, rooks in the stubble, and a marvellous congregation of 200 lapwings, stabbing for worms in the rain-softened furrows of a field among imperturbable ewes.
We climbed a zigzag lane to a ridge with a northward view towards the far distant fells of the Yorkshire Dales. At our feet rolled the River Wharfe – not the noisy young river familiar to us from walks in Upper Wharfedale, skittish over a shallow stony bed, but a slow-flowing adult river through these lowland fields. Uprooted willows and tangles of twigs caught in the bankside branches told of the Wharfe’s capacity for springtime flooding even here, far down the dale.
We turned west towards Harewood along the Wharfe, past Netherby Deep with its hidden whirlpool and reputed thirty foot drop in the river bed. On the bronze-brown surface there was no hint of such subaqueous drama – just the eddy of a turning fish, and the patter of the last willow leaves of the year as they dropped into the river.
Start: Village Hall car park, Church Lane, Harewood, W Yorks LS17 9LJ (OS ref SE 321453) – £2 all day
Getting there: Bus 36 (Leeds-Harrogate)
Road – A1(M), Jct 45; A 659 Otley road, west to Harewood.
Walk: (10¼ miles, parkland, green lanes, field paths; Explorer 289). From car park, right past lodge (fingerpost), following Ebor Way. In nearly 1 mile, left at 4-finger post (307450). Pass Home Farm (306447). Beyond brick garden wall and cattle grid, right (307441), ‘bridleway’). Pass Carr House; into woods; in 250m, by telegraph pole on right, left (303438) up sunken trackway (unmarked) to join waymarked Leeds Country Way/LCW. Follow LCW for 1½ miles to cross A61 (325431). Follow road (‘Wike’); in 650m, left (331428, fingerpost) on green lane. Follow LCW for 1½ miles, passing Biggin Farm (342430). Pass Gateon House Farm; in another 200m, left (352436, ‘bridleway’ fingerpost) off LCW. Green lane north to road (353442); left to cross A659 (346451); driveway past Fairfield Farm house and barns, then field path descending to River Wharfe (346462). Left on Ebor Way for 2¼ miles back to Harewood.
Lunch: Muddy Boots Café, Harewood Village Hall (07742-248916) – open daily.
Accommodation: Wood Hall Hotel and Spa, Trip Lane, Linton, Wetherby, W Yorks LS22 4JA (01937-587271, handpickedhotels.co.uk) – The setting of this hotel, in broad grounds and with a fabulous view, makes it ideal for a winter weekend break. It’s warm and welcoming, a touch of luxury for a special occasion. Plenty of walks nearby to sharpen an appetite for some excellent cooking, too.