First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
When Squire William Danby of Swinton Park saw his tenants go hungry during a farming slump in the early 19th century, he did something about it – namely, he paid them a shilling a day to construct a scaled-down Stonehenge in the wilds of his North Yorkshire estate.
In the woods above the yurts, treehouses and tepees of Swinton Bivouac’s glamping grounds we found the henge, an oval of massive blocky stones enclosing a ring of trilithons or stone portals. If there’s something conscience-tweaking about the back story of the Druid’s Temple, there’s also something laughable about the structure in a Spinal Tap sort of way. Squire Danby tried to recruit a hermit to live on site, speak to no-one and let hair and beard grow free – but none of the candidates, however hungry, proved willing to tackle that job.
A cold wind blew from the sombre moors to the west as we followed the Ripon Rowel long distance path down into the valley of Pott Beck. Behind in the east the long ridge of the North York Moors, twenty miles off, lay pink and grey under a cloudy sky.
The path ran round a rim of forestry above Low Knowle Farm house, barns and byres all stone-built, old and tight-knit against the weather in their hollow.
With the spillway from the dam at Leighton Reservoir twinkling near at hand, we turned away along a path through rough pastures of rushes and clumps of harebells where blunt-faced rams stared us out as we passed. Healey village lay along its hillside beyond the River Burn, the coffee-coloured stone houses running east to the church’s tall spire.
At Broadmires Farm the house stood all of a piece with the byre, a tradition of architecture hereabouts stretching back to the longhouses that the Norse settlers built in these dales a thousand years ago.
By the chattering Sole Beck a grey wagtail bobbed on a stone, its yellow belly catching a glint of sun through the leaves. Climbing the homeward path through the birch woods above the chattering Sole Beck, we came to Lobley Hall, a grand name for a ruinous house three hundred years old. Elders choked the living room, buddleia reached out of the chimneys.
‘KW 1698’ was carved into the lintel above the doorway. Whoever KW was, the builder of Lobley Hall certainly commanded a beautiful view of beck, hillside and woodland in this lonely daleside cleft.
How hard is it? 5 miles; field and woodland paths, muddy in places
Start: Swinton Bivouac car park, High Knowle Farm, Knowle Lane, Ripon HG4 4JZ (OS ref SE 180787) – £3
Getting there: From Masham (A6108) follow ‘Fearby’. On far side of village, sharp left to cross River Burn. Right, and follow ‘Swinton Bivouac, Druid’s Temple’ to car park.
Walk (OS Explorers 298, 302): Walk to Druid’s Temple (175787, signed), and return to top of Bivouac drive. Left (‘Burgess Bank’, ‘Ripon Rowel’/RR); follow well waymarked RR clockwise for 2 miles via Knowle Plantation (175791), Burgess Bank (168793), Broadmires Farm (178798) to road (183798). Ahead; in ¼ mile RR turns left (187801, ‘Healey’), but keep ahead (‘Swinton’). In 500m ford Sole beck (192799); in 150m, right (kissing gate, yellow arrow/YA). Follow YAs for ½ mile to pass Lobley Hall ruin (191793). In another 150m ignore YA on right; continue on left bank of Sole Beck to cross road (186787). From here follow RR waymarks back to car park.
Lunch/Accommodation: Swinton Bivouac café and lodges (closed January) – 01765-680900; swintonestate.com)
Info: Harrogate TIC (01423-537300): yorkshire.com