This moderate walk begins, and also ends, with a pleasant stroll along the Dales Way footpath. The river scenery is spectacular and there are panoramic views throughout.
Barden Bridge, with its three high arches and angled buttresses, is a very elegant and impressive structure. The bridge was rebuilt in 1676 after being washed away in the disastrous flood of 1673. Bridges at Kettlewell, Burnsall, Bolton, Ilkley and Otley were also destroyed in the same flood.
Barden Tower, sited on the main road above the bridge, was built in the eleventh century as a hunting lodge in the Forest of Barden. It was rebuilt and the keep enlarged in 1485. The ruined but imposing shell of the tower remains. There is a chapel next to it and traces of an outer curtain wall and gate.
During most of its 900 year history the tower was owned by the Clifford Family who held title to the Honour of Skipton. In 1461, their estates were seized by Edward IV after the ninth Lord, ‘Butcher’ Clifford, was killed at the Battle of Towton. On the accession of Henry VII, in 1485, the estates were restored to Henry Clifford. Henry was also known as the ‘Shepherd Lord.’ Lady Clifford, fearing that the Yorkists might harm her son, had sent him to be raised secretly by a shepherd at Threlkeld near Keswick. In 1513, at the age of sixty, Henry led an army from local villages to help defeat James IV of Scotland at Flodden Field.
Leaving Barden we follow the Dales Way footpath to Howgill Bridge and after a short climb to Howgill Lane we can enjoy extensive views across Wharfedale. Our route continues through the meadows to the peaceful hamlet of Skyreholme and on to Parcevall Hall. Parcevall Hall stands in sixteen acres of exquisitely landscaped gardens with terraces, woodlands and nurseries. It is stocked with many rare plants and shrubs. The gardens are open to the public from Easter to October. Early records suggest that it was once called Parson’s Hall, which is appropriate today because the hall is now used as a retreat for the Diocese of Bradford.
The hall is also noted as having been used as a resting place by William Nevison, one of Britain’s most flamboyant highwaymen. The exploits of this gentleman-rogue impressed King Charles II so much that he nicknamed him Swift Nick - allegedly! His romantic reputation was sealed after a renowned ride from the south of England to York in 1676, a feat mistakenly attributed in popular legend to Dick Turpin and his horse, Black Bess.
Our path to Troller’s Gill passes the former Skyreholme Dam. The dam, which supplied water for a paper mill in the village, burst in 1899 and was never repaired. The mill is said to have had the largest waterwheel in the North of England.
Troller’s Gill is a narrow, steep-sided limestone ravine about 300 yards (275m) long and just a few yards wide. The gill is usually dry but, after heavy rain, it can become a raging torrent. According to local folklore a barguest, the ‘Spectre Hound of Craven,’ lives in a cave near the gill. A cobbler from Thorpe, who had lost his way, saw the barguest and described it as, ‘Yellow, wi such eyes! they war as big as saucers. This mun be a barguest, thowt I, an’ counted mesel for dead!’ He escaped by crossing the beck. A barguest cannot cross running water!
After visiting the gill, we pass the remains of the Gill Head Mine. The mine closed long ago, but it was reworked for fluorite in the 1970s by a group of local men. The fluorite was concentrated in one large deposit at the side of the old lead vein.
During our descent to Woodhouse there are excellent views of Simon’s Seat, Barden Moor, Thorpe Fell and the deep valley of Barben Beck. The dome shaped hill in the foreground is Kail Hill which is a good example of a reef knoll. Reef knolls are composed of pure limestone, rich in coral fossils and were formed 330 million years ago. An Iron Age camp existed on the summit of Kail Hill and a grinding stone was found near the site.
From Woodhouse we follow the Dales Way back to Barden which allows us to enjoy more of the river Wharfe’s scenery and wildlife.