‘A Walk in the Woods‘ is one of my favourite walks in Yorkshire. I made three visits last year. The walk starts from Masham car park and initially follows the Ripon Rowel route alongside the River Ure. After about 3 miles you enter Hackfall Woods.
There’s a choice of walks through the woods and all of them include views of the river and follies. The first viewpoint is Limehouse Hill. At the top turn and look back to see the river and the spire of Masham Church from where you have just walked. I think you can just about spot it right in the middle of the picture.
The next view is pretty special. There’s a seat at Sandbed Hut and from this point William Mallord Turner painted his view of Hackfall. The painting itself forms part of the Wallace Collection in London. In the distance is Mowbray Castle a mock ruin thought to have been built for William Aislabie some time between 1750 and 1767.
John Aislabie of Studley Royal bought Hackfall in 1731 but it was his son William who set about transforming the woods into an ornamental landscape in 1749/1750 and this work continued until around 1767. The Hackfall website includes a potted history of the site and here’s a list of the features Aislablie created :
“1750 Fisher’s Hall was completed, inscribed on plaque above the door.
1751 The view from Limehouse Hill to Masham church was created by felling trees and digging a ditch.
1752 Work on the reservoir above the 40 foot Fails and ‘Alcoves in ye wood’.
1755 Kent’s Seat completed.
1755 Planting and work on a wooden stable at Hackfall it is thought near to Fishers Hall.
1756 Fountain Pond dug and Rustic Temple completed.
1766 Work started on the Banqueting House at Mowbray Point. The pond at the entrance to the Grewelthorpe Beck valley and wiers had been completed; Fisher’s Hall was used for entertaining guests; Nicholas Dall the landscape artist painted two views of Hackfall.
(1768 William Aislabie purchased Fountains Abbey ruins and set about incorporating the Abbey into Studley Royal gardens.)”
William died at Studley Royal in 1781.
It’s good to see that the Hackfall Trust, founded in 1988, are restoring many of the paths and features. But they are not the only ‘Trust’ to be involved in preservation and conservation at Hackfall. The piece de resistance is the former Banqueting House mentioned above which is now owned by the Landmark Trust and let as holiday accommodation for two people. The public path out of Hackfall Woods (after a gentle climb) emerges onto the terrace of the Ruin (as it is now called) from where there’s a marvellous view over the wood and landscape beyond.
Hackfall, North Yorkshire
Saturday 8 to Sunday 9 September 2012 10am to 4pm
As part of Heritage Open Days
This little pavilion is dramatically perched above a steep wooded gorge, in the remnants of an outstanding mid eighteenth-century garden at Hackfall, conceived and created by the Aislabies.
The walk then leaves this fascinating area of woodland and continues through Oak Bank, Nutwith Common (sounds like somewhere out of a Rupert Bear story!), along Roomer Lane and with a glance at Swinton Park the last section of the walk is along the quiet roadside between the Park and Masham.
Swinton Castle, near Masham, now a posh hotel, was bought in 1882 by Samuel Cunliffe-Lister born at Calverley Old Hall (another Landmark Trust property) and later owner of Lister’s Mill (also known as Manningham Mill) in Heaton, Bradford.
If you’ve time there are some good tea shops and pubs for refreshments in Masham and I recommend The White Bear Hotel where, if the weather is fine, as it was for me, you can have tea or something stronger on their terrace outside.