Technically a priory, Bolton Abbey was established in 1154 by Augustinian friars on sheltered land beside the River Wharfe between Ilkley and Burnsall. Considered by many to be “the heart of Yorkshire” the romantic ruins sit well by the river and contain an active church within a church. The Priory Church of St. Mary and St. Cuthbert is a Church of England parish church serving the spiritual needs of the local community.
Down through the centuries, the fortunes of Skipton Castle, Barden Tower and Bolton Abbey have long been intertwined.
Throughout the medieval period, England was covered by ancient forests many of which housed hunting lodges to accommodate the hunting parties of lords of the manor and monarchs. Barden Tower was the main hunting lodge of the Forest of Barden and was home to the 10th Lord of Skipton, Henry Clifford – The Shepherd Lord. The Cliffords owned vast swathes of land throughout the North of England and their power waxed and waned with the fortunes of the dominant powers of their time. The Bolton Abbey Estate, extending to 30,000 acres of Yorkshire, was just a part of their holdings.
Slideshow of Strid Wood and Bolton Priory
A short slideshow of photographs of this beautiful part of Yorkshire. Photographed by Les Hutton and produced by Hilltop-Photo-Gallery.com. Hope you enjoy it - Les
In 1154, land was given by Lady Alice de Romille - who owned Skipton Castle at the time - to a group of Augustinian priests and their Prior to enable them to build a priory. The sheltered land beside the River Wharfe proved a much more comfortable location than the bleak, higher land near Embsay - which they had occupied for the previous two years. Over a period of four hundred years the priory grew and prospered until, in common with most monasteries, abbeys and priories in England in 1539, it suffered the fate of dissolution by King Henry VIII.
Nowadays the priory is part of the Bolton Abbey Estate owned by the Duke of Devonshire. It is carefully maintained as a place for everyone to enjoy the history, peace and tranquillity, woodland walks and moorland tramps. The estate covers thousands of acres of beautiful Yorkshire countryside with mile upon mile of footpaths, beside the River Wharfe and over the moors. The woodland walk upriver from the priory to Barden Tower passes the Strid. Famous or infamous, the rock formations here constrict the flow of the River Wharfe through a deep, narrow chasm. The banks are often slippery and the water rushes through with great force, but the narrow gap has tempted many foolhardy folk to attempt to jump across - sometimes with fatal results. If you visit, please take notice of the signs displayed.
Estate workers look after well maintained footpaths along both banks of the river and they make a wonderful round trip walk of about six and a half miles. You’ll find bridges across the river at various points along the way to adjust the walking distances to suit.
Bolton Abbey and the Strid Wood make a great day out with lots to do for everyone. It is an outdoor attraction so you’ll need to make sure you have suitable clothing and footwear. It’s very picturesque, especially so in autumn, when I last visited. The area has attracted such important artists as JMW Turner who sketched views along the Strid walks and later produced beautiful watercolour paintings. One such is the view of Barden Tower through the trees above the River Wharfe.
Places to eat and drink on a day out at Bolton Abbey range from tea and coffee shops, snack bars and cafes to luxurious restaurants and brasseries, catering for most tastes.
You’re spoilt for choice should you wish to stay a little longer. The four star Devonshire Arms offers excellent dining and accommodation – even spa facilities. Farm B&Bs and smaller guest houses are to be found nearby. For caravanners or motorhomers the Caravan Club Caravan site is a popular and well-run site nestling in picturesque woodland within the Strid Wood. I know and enjoyed this site.
You'll find lots to do on a day out here. Children love it! There are interesting and not-too-strenuous walks for all ages. Some of the walks are pushchair-friendly and some are good for wheelchairs. There is a mountain of information to help plan your trip from the Bolton Abbey web site.