My Travel Blog

New Year’s in the Yorkshire Dales

11th February 2019

Photo courtesy of Roth Read Photography

What happens when 25 friends and family spend the New Year in the Yorkshire Dales, coming together for a few days in a 16th century converted bunk barn to celebrate the anniversary of a mutual friend?  An awful lot of food and drink, non-stop laughter, and gorgeous  country walks in this stunning part of the UK. All capped off by a medieval-themed fancy dress dinner party and fireworks on New Year’s Eve.

Vicki and Richard are part of my scuba-diving ‘family’ and they wanted to do something special and a bit different for their 5th wedding anniversary. They live in Leeds and go walking in the Yorkshire Dales quite a lot. On one of their walks they came upon the fabulous Barden Tower and Chapel, and discovered the adjacent Barden Bunk Barn – a terrific base for exploring the area – which sparked the idea for this friends and family get-together.


About the Yorkshire Dales

The Yorkshire Dales are in northern England and became a National Park in 1954. It encompasses thousands of square miles of moors, valleys, hills, and small villages and hamlets. The Dales are ‘U’ and ‘V’ shaped valleys characterised by scenic rolling hills, heather moorland, hayfields, and green upland pasture full of sheep. The pasturelands are separated by stone walls and I read somewhere that there are 8,000km (almost 5,00 miles) of these walls throughout the Yorkshire Dales!

We stayed in the southeast, in Wharfedale on the River Wharfe, on the edge of the Bolton Abbey Estate which includes the ruins of a 12th-century monastery (see more on this below). Wharfedale is one of the large southern dales that run roughly parallel from north to south and also include Ribblesdale, Malhamdale and Airedale, and Nidderdale. These Southern Dales are less remote, but are still wildly beautiful. The more northerly dales of Wensleydale and Swaledale run generally from west to east and are more isolated, with heather moorland and valleys full of hay meadows.

The Three Peaks of Pen-y-ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside in the west are perhaps the best-known of the hills. There’s a very tough 3 Peaks Challenge Walk – 39km (24 miles) with 1600m (5000 feet) of climbing to complete in just 12 hours – but most people do them one at a time.

There are also some famous sights such as in Malham Village – with its towering cliff and a footpath to the limestone ravine and waterfalls of Gordale Scar – and Burnsall Village with its 5-arched bridge crossing the river. A great resource for your trip is the Yorkshire Dales National Park official website.

If you’re into some serious walking, I found the Walking Englishman a terrific resource. Just remember that nothing replaces a proper Ordnance Survey map!


Barden Bunk Barn

Located at the northern edge of the Duke of Devonshire’s Bolton Abbey Estate in Upper Wharfedale, the Barden Bunk Barn sits on a site of significant historical interest. The ruins of Barden Tower, a former fortified hunting lodge, is a Grade I listed building and – being part of the curtilage – so is the barn. On the other side of the Tower is the Priests House and the newly renovated Barden Chapel, a fabulous restaurant and function venue, ideal for weddings, medieval nights and other celebrations, such as our New Year’s Eve medieval-themed anniversary bash.

The bunk barn is actually 2 adjoining barns providing self-catering accommodation.

It’s a practical, basic accommodation that sleeps up to 24 people in 4 bunkrooms – 2 rooms of 8 on the ground floor and 2 rooms of 16. It has full central-heating, though it’s a big place and I was cold in the bunkrooms. The kitchen and dining area are one huge, high-ceilinged room with wooden tables and benches, and a pool table.

Photo courtesy of Roth Read Photography

The mezzanine balcony has a sofa and a few chairs, and leads to one of the larger bunkrooms. The other large bunkroom is actually accessed from outside and is in the adjoined barn, to the right of the main barn’s entrance. The 2 bathrooms are in this adjoining barn as well – a large one for women with 2 toilets and 2 showers, and a smaller one for the men.

Literally steps from the bunk barn are the ruins of Barden Tower.

Barden Tower was one of six hunting lodges and the principle seat of administration for Barden hunting forest. Henry Clifford, the Shepherd Lord, rebuilt the hunting lodge in the late 15th century and made it his principle residence. In 1515 he built the Priest House next to the chapel. The Tower was restored in 1659 but fell into ruin in the late 18th century and was never restored again.

The entire site is just magical in the dark. And it is dark, with such a sense of remoteness and solitude. There are no streetlights or any other light pollution.  You can hear the hooting of owls at night as you try to sleep and bats flutter and squeak around the ruins of the Tower.

It’s a terrific base for all the area has to offer, though be warned, the Barden Estate is a connectivity ‘black hole’; there is no mobile reception or internet connection. I absolutely loved it.


Walking along the River Wharfe

Just minutes down the hill from the Barden Bunk Barn is the River Wharfe and a terrific circular walk along the river to the ruins of Bolton Abbey and back, about 8 miles in total.

The path runs along the river through Strid Wood, an ancient woodland that sits along both sides of the river and is an area of Special Scientific Interest (SSI). It has one of the largest remnants of sessile oak trees in the Yorkshire Dale and you can also find all sorts of woodland mosses, wildflowers, fungi and lichens along the route.

It’s a beautiful meandering path with a number of interesting footbridges along the way.

Just past this bridge, you come to The Strid, a deadly stretch that’s said to be the most dangerous in the world. The Strid looks like an  unassuming stream rushing through mossy rocks. But it’s a famous spot on the River Wharfe and has claimed many lives – the rocks on either side seem close enough to easily jump across, but the rocks are very slippery, the water is fast-flowing and very deep, and there are hidden crevices which are deadly traps.

Immediately downstream from the Strid, the River Wharfe once again becomes placid water meandering through mossy rocks and dense wood.


Bolton Abbey

As you near Bolton Abbey the path splits: the right-hand fork is easy walking, leading down and along the river.  The left-hand fork veers away from the river, a strenuous but short climb up and around a small ridge. As you round a corner there’s the first sight of Bolton Abbey through the trees.

Bolton Abbey has been managed by the Devonshire family since 1755, and remains the Yorkshire seat of the 12th Duke of Devonshire. It takes its name from the ruins of the 12th-century Augustinian monastery now known as Bolton Priory. Founded by the Augustinian Black Canons in 1154, the order prospered until they were driven out in the 1539 Dissolution of the Monasteries ordered by King Henry VIII. The Priory fell into ruin, though the nave was saved and is now a local parish church.

The countryside surrounding Bolton Abbey is an idyll of vivid green pastureland. With the picturesque ruins behind, the meandering river beyond, and the pasture filled with grazing sheep, even on a very grey day you can see why this area has inspired painters for centuries.

Back to Barden

On our return from Bolton Abbey the more adventurous of us headed onwards for the more challenging walk to Simons Seat via the Valley of Desolation. There are also many more walks for all abilities in the area. On this occasion, the rest of us walked back along the other side of the river, with its stunning views of dense woodland and green pastures.


New Year’s Eve at Barden Chapel

The culmination of our visit to this part of the Yorkshire Dales was on New Year’s Eve. The Barden Chapel has been refurbished as a venue for all sorts of occasions, including our medieval themed New Year’s Eve anniversary celebration.

The Chapel is just oozing with medieval history. We were greeted with flaming lanterns on the path to the Chapel where bar staff in period costume served mulled wine in goblets. Inside we sat at a single long table reminiscent of a medieval hall, with period music and traditional food served and eaten off trenchers (flat rounds of bread used as plates). We also had a hilarious medieval themed pub quiz before dinner.

Photo courtesy of Roth Read Photography

After dinner we stepped outside into a very cold night where we watched fantastic fireworks at midnight to usher in the New Year.

Photo courtesy of Roth Read Photography

By the way, if you want or need a medieval costume for any reason, we all had our dresses made to order by Dawn’s Medieval Dresses. The dresses are so reasonably priced, the fit was perfect for all of us and the quality just gorgeous. I did mine (a dress with separate matching hooded cape) all via email and the website, and had my dress within a couple of weeks. I highly recommend.

Photo courtesy of Roth Read Photography

I’ll never forget this trip, a time for friends and family old and new, in unique surroundings, in such a beautiful part of England. I’ll definitely be back.

Happy New Year everyone! May the adventures continue!

You can find more photos in my Yorkshire Dales Photo Album


 Happy Days!

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