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Hackfall Explorer Trail

There are currently 4 comments and 8 photos online for this walk.

Hackfall Explorer Trail
Author: Claire, Published: 22 Jun 2015 Walk Rating:star1 Hackfall Explorer Trail Walking Guide star1 Hackfall Explorer Trail Walking Guide star1 Hackfall Explorer Trail Walking Guide star1 Hackfall Explorer Trail Walking Guide star1 Hackfall Explorer Trail Walking Guide
North Yorkshire, Nidderdale
Walk Type: Garden or park
Hackfall Explorer Trail
Length: 4 miles,  Difficulty: boot Hackfall Explorer Trail Walking Guide boot Hackfall Explorer Trail Walking Guide boot Hackfall Explorer Trail Walking Guide
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A 4 mile circular and fairly strenuous trail around the woodland of Hackfall, near Masham in North Yorkshire. The magic of Hackfall is undeniable. From a castle and follies to wonderful old trees, Hackfall is steeped in history. Its unique buildings sit alongside waterfalls and ponds in an ancient woodland teeming with life.

The walk includes several steep hills throughout, including some flights of uneven woodland steps. The narrow woodland paths are mostly unmade, are uneven with tree roots and rocks and can get very muddy in part so sturdy boots are required. Some of the narrow paths high on the gorge sides sit alongside steep drops down to the gorge bottom, so the route is not recommended for the faint-hearted. You will need to negotiate some steps and kissing gates, plus two stiles (with purpose-built adjacent dog gates). The stiles can be avoided if you aim to finish your walk between 11am and 3pm. One field at the start and finish of the route may be holding sheep, but otherwise the route is free of livestock. Entry to the woodland is free and dogs are welcome. There are no refreshments, toilets or other facilities on site. Approximate time 2 to 3 hours.

Hackfall woodland is located in the Nidderdale AONB in North Yorkshire, about half a mile north of the village of Grewelthorpe and 3 miles south of Masham. The free car park is marked with a brown tourism sign and sits to the east of the Masham-Grewelthorpe road. The car park is small so if you wish to visit at the weekends or during holidays, arrive early to avoid disappointment. Approximate post code HG4 3DE.

Walk Sections

Start to Limehouse Hill
Start to Limehouse Hill

Start point: 54.1929 lat, -1.6476 long
End point: 54.1943 lat, -1.6392 long

Leave the car park via the corner alongside the noticeboard (you can pick up a leaflet here if you would like a paper map too). Go through the gate, turn left (away from the road) and follow the stone track downhill with a line of trees on the left. You will come to a wide wooden gate ahead. Pass through the kissing gate to the left of this to enter the sheep pasture known as Limehouse Field.

Walk directly ahead down the hill, staying close to the fence on the left. In the bottom left-hand corner pass through the kissing gate and continue downhill on the woodland path. When you meet a wall ahead, stay with the path which swings right and at the first fork stay left, alongside the wall. At the second fork (just a few paces later) bear right heading uphill and signed for the Viewpoint.

You will come to a bench on the right, sitting here on Limehouse Hill, the perfect spot to pause and enjoy the views back across the River Ure to the spire of Masham Church. This is also a good place to digest the context of the woodland garden you are about to explore.

The woodland was bought by the Aislabie family in 1731. John Aislabie was already famous for his landscaping work at nearby Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. His son, William Aislabie, drew up a master plan for the site and created a fashionable picturesque woodland garden. With follies, grottos, cascades and a fountain, the site was a popular Victorian attraction and was visited by poets and painters, including JMW Turner. The garden fell into a state of disrepair and since 2007 it has undergone a major restoration, striking a careful balance between restoring the historic garden features and conserving the delicate woodland habitats. The site is managed by the Hackfall Trust and the Woodland Trust.

Limehouse Hill to Fountain Pond
Limehouse Hill to Fountain Pond

Start point: 54.1943 lat, -1.6392 long
End point: 54.1912 lat, -1.6437 long

Continue ahead on the woodland path and, just before it begins to descend, look through the gap in the trees to the right where you will have your first view of one of the restored follies, Mowbray Castle, sitting high on the opposite side of the gorge. You will be visiting this folly later on in this walk.

Follow the woodland path downhill heading down some steps and zig-zagging down to the valley bottom. Pass between a pair of old stone pillars and on the left you will see some steps down to the sandy beach by the River Ure which you can visit should you wish. Continue on the main path for a few more paces and, just before it swing left, you will find the small block ruins of Sandbed Hut set back into the trees. There is a bench here and it is from this vantage point that JMW Turner painted Hackfall. You can see an image of his painting in the iFootpath gallery for this walk.

Continue along the main riverside path which climbs steadily to reach a fork. Take the right-hand branch, signed to the Garden Features. Follow the path through the woodland and across a boardwalk. Further along, you will come to a T-junction. Turn right, continuing uphill and passing a bench on the right. On the right you will come to an ornate bench within a stone arch, the Grotto. This bench makes the perfect vantage point to view the Forty Foot Waterfall on your left. In the original garden design, this waterfall was enhanced by releasing water from a reservoir above at appropriate times.

Continue further along the path and you will come to the Fountain Pond on the left with the Rustic Temple ahead. The temple has a stone niche on the rear wall which some speculate may have housed some form of religious artefact, although there is no evidence of the temple being dedicated to anyone. Fountain pond was originally created in 1756 as part of William Aislabie’s master plan. The fountain at its centre was said to break down regularly and had stopped working completely by 1800. The gravity-fed system has now been restored. The header tank on the hillside above is filled from a spring and once a certain level is achieved a tumbler opens a valve and water flows. The tank is at a much higher level than the pond and this head of water pushes the fountain over 30 feet above the water surface. The fountain continues to flow for a couple of minutes until the lower level in the tank is reached when the valve shuts itself off. The tank then takes around 15 minutes to refill and the cycle repeats. If the fountain is not running as you arrive, it is worth waiting around for this spectacle if you have the time. (A hand pump has been installed to allow you to manually activate the fountain if the tank is full - just follow the instructions on the board).

Fountain Pond to Riverside Path
Fountain Pond to Riverside Path

Start point: 54.1912 lat, -1.6437 long
End point: 54.1899 lat, -1.64 long

When you have finished enjoying the Fountain Pond, retrace your steps back the way you came, passing the Grotto on the left to reach the path on the left from where you emerged. Do NOT take this, instead keep ahead crossing a cascading stream to reach a junction of paths.

Turn left and follow the path downhill to reach the remains of an octagonal building with arched windows, Fisher’s Hall. There are two theories as to the origins of the name of this building. One is that it is named after Aislabie’s head gardener, William Fisher, whilst the other is that this riverside retreat was created for the use of fisherman. Originally the building had a full roof and windows and was used for serving refreshments.

Pass to the right of the hall and then fork right on the path which takes you down a steep flight of steps to the riverside. Turn right, cross the inlet stream via the rough stepping stones and continue on the path with the river running across to the left.

Riverside Path to Raven Scar
Riverside Path to Raven Scar

Start point: 54.1899 lat, -1.64 long
End point: 54.189 lat, -1.6345 long

Follow this path for about half a mile. Hackfall could be described as a one sided gorge. It is north facing and very steep in places. The springs, the river and the sheltered location produce a very humid microclimate at the bottom of the wood. In spring the woodland if full of wild flowers including wild garlic, the beautiful smell of which lingers in the damp air. Keep your eyes peeled too for a flash of blue to the left where kingfishers patrol the river.

As the path begins to climb, take particular care as there are drops down to the left. At the half mile point, you will see a waymark post set back on the right, marking a flight of steps heading up the gorge. Turn right up these steps, taking particular care as they are very steep and uneven. At the top keep ahead to join the path along the top of Raven Scar.

Raven Scar to Mowbray Castle
Raven Scar to Mowbray Castle

Start point: 54.189 lat, -1.6345 long
End point: 54.1883 lat, -1.6407 long

Please do take extreme care on this section of path as it is very narrow in part and has a very steep drop down to the gorge bottom on the right. These upper slopes are more exposed and have underlying rock which typically gives rise to more acidic soil so the plants here are typical of acidic woodland, including bilberries.

The path winds up along the gorge edge and on into Common Wood. Cross the stream inlet and follow the path as it swings right to continue on the woodland ridge. Further along, the path climbs again and swings left to reach the steps up to Mowbray Castle.

From within the castle ruin you have extensive views to the north, to Masham Church and far beyond. This mock ruin is thought to have been built between 1750 and 1767. It was designed as an eye-catcher, something to grab the attention of the visitors within the gorge below.

Mowbray Castle to Top Pond
Mowbray Castle to Top Pond

Start point: 54.1883 lat, -1.6407 long
End point: 54.1856 lat, -1.6478 long

Go back down the steps and turn left to continue along the gorge side path (again taking extreme care). The path descends steadily to reach a fork. Take the left-hand branch signed to Grewelthorpe Village. Through the trees to the right you will be able to see Grewelthorpe Beck flowing along the gorge bottom. Further along, look out for the manmade cascades that Aislabie created within the beck.

At the end of the gorge, turn right. As you reach the stone bridge over the beck, turn left up the short flight of stone steps to reach the viewing bridge over Top Pond.

Top Pond to The Ruin
Top Pond to The Ruin

Start point: 54.1856 lat, -1.6478 long
End point: 54.1903 lat, -1.6454 long

Go back down the steps and turn left across the stone bridge to join the path back along the other side of the gorge containing the beck (ignoring the other path over a stile to the left). When you come to a fork, take the left-hand branch signed for The Ruin and the Car Park.

Part of the way up the climb, you will come to a bench on the left. This, like all the garden’s benches, is strategically positioned to take in a great view. This one enjoys the views back across the gorge to Mowbray Castle. At the top of the slope you will come to a gate ahead and a gate on the left. The main (and best) route goes ahead, but this path branch (which crosses land owned by the Landmark Trust) is only open 11am to 3pm daily. If you are here outside these times please use the permissive path (via two stiles) that skirts along the edge of the farmer’s field on the left.

For the main route, go ahead through the gate passing the small section of the mock ruin on the right. A little further along you will emerge onto the grass terrace alongside the main property called The Ruin. NOTE: Public access to this terrace is permitted 11am to 3pm but the property is now a holiday cottage so please respect the privacy of the people staying here.

The Ruin to End
The Ruin to End

Start point: 54.1903 lat, -1.6454 long
End point: 54.1931 lat, -1.6476 long

The Ruin was originally built as the Banqueting House within the gardens and was designed to amaze and delight the visitors. By design, visitors were taken to the front of the building (the opposite side) via a route from which the view was hidden. On arrival they would see a simple gothic building and inside a simple but elegant interior. Then the doors would be opened onto the terrace to provide the magnificent surprise of this view. If the visitor then turned to look back at the building they would see a facade in the form of a mock Roman Ruin. The views from the terrace really are spectacular. In the foreground Fountain Pond can be seen at about 11 o’clock and Fisher’s Hall at about 1 o’clock. In the middle distance, the River Ure snakes through the gorge and in the background are the rolling hills, including the distinctive outline of Rosebury Topping.

When you’ve finished taking in the views, continue ahead through the gate on the far side of the terrace. Follow the main woodland path, ignoring the steps down to the right. The path leads you steadily downhill, passing another two benches should you wish to enjoy the views a little longer. As you emerge from the trees you will come to a fork. Keep left, signed for the Car Park and pass through the kissing gate to enter the top of Limehouse Field. Walk ahead, following the fence on the left and pass out of the pasture through the gate ahead. Go down the steps and turn left onto the track which leads you back to the car park where the walk began.

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Text and images for this walk are Copyright © 2015 by iFootpath and the author clairesharpuk and may not be reproduced without permission.

4 Comments for: "Hackfall Explorer Trail"

Fantastic walk! So much to see and so many gorgeous views, look forward to doing it again.

By hikingkris on 18 Nov 2018

Great guide, loved the walk, especially the pièce de résistance at the end :-)

By Woodnymph on 13 Jul 2017

fantastic! really enjoyed this walk we parked in the pub and walled from there. it starts you pay easy through the circular walk.
The "beach" in the woods is great, views excellent and the steep sides are steep.
Lots of small streams for little ones to play in.

By markgreenhou on 02 May 2017

I liked every part of this walk from the riverside path and the climb to Raven Scar to the magnificent views near the end of the walk. We were lucky enough to see the fountain too. It's easy to imagine how wonderful this must have been to visitors when it was originally built.

By Richard on 26 Jun 2015

The information in this guide has been provided in good faith and is intended only as a guide, not a statement of fact. You are advised to check the accuracy of the information provided and should not use this guide for navigational directions nor should you rely on the accuracy of the weather forecast. You are advised to take appropriate clothing, footwear, equipment and navigational materials with you according to the current and possible weather and nature of the terrain. Always follow the country code and follow any additional warnings or instructions that may be available. Some walks may be very strenuous and you are advised to seek medical advice if you have any doubts as to your capability to complete the walk.

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8 Gallery Images for: "Hackfall Explorer Trail"

4631_0Richard1435005917 Hackfall Explorer Trail Walking Guide Image by: Richard
Uploaded: 22 Jun 2015
Hackfall painted by Joseph Mallord William Turner. Probably painted c.1816 and based on a sketch made by Turner during his tour of central Yorkshire in August that year. Hackforth is a valley of the River Ure, five miles north-west of Ripon. The small building in the mid-distance may be the Fisher’s Hut, one of a number of structures built by the landowner William Aislabie before his death in 1808. On the distant hill is a folly, Mowbray Castle - Copyright of this image and of the words used in the quotation remains with the Trustees of the Wallace Collection. It is being used here for educational use as allowed by the terms of the Wallace collection’s copyright statement.
4631_1Richard1435005917 Hackfall Explorer Trail Walking Guide Image by: Richard
Uploaded: 22 Jun 2015
This picture was taken from approximately the same position as the Turner painting.
4631_2Richard1435005917 Hackfall Explorer Trail Walking Guide Image by: Richard
Uploaded: 22 Jun 2015
One of the many follies that you will see on the journey.
4631_3Richard1435005917 Hackfall Explorer Trail Walking Guide Image by: Richard
Uploaded: 22 Jun 2015
Claire and Richard with a Folly behind - June 2015
4631_adminv1573 Hackfall Explorer Trail Walking Guide Image by: granada
Uploaded: 09 Aug 2017
4631_0Richard1535743792 Hackfall Explorer Trail Walking Guide Image by: Richard
Uploaded: 31 Aug 2018
Top pond
4631_1Richard1535743792 Hackfall Explorer Trail Walking Guide Image by: Richard
Uploaded: 31 Aug 2018

4631_2Richard1535743792 Hackfall Explorer Trail Walking Guide Image by: Richard
Uploaded: 31 Aug 2018
The fountain



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