I had come to the far end of Nidderdale in the Yorkshire Dales, driving north along the narrow valley road from Pateley Bridge near Harrogate, and then further north still, on Yorkshire Water's 50p toll road, which follows the river Nidd up to the remote Scar House reservoir. That is where you get out and walk. In summer, there are plenty of places for enjoying a picnic, but on a cold March day it seemed best to get moving quickly.
I hurried across the reservoir dam, watching the water as it was pushed by the wind over the retaining wall to tumble perhaps 100 feet to the river valley far below.
All too often reservoirs are bleak places, but Scar House dam's artificial waterfall is an impressive sight. The dam (finished, after 15 years' work, in 1936) was built by Bradford Corporation, and its architecture reflects that typical Yorkshire pride in municipal achievement.
I climbed steeply from the reservoir shore, initially following the Nidderdale Way, a well-signed footpath route which encircles the dale, but then heading higher up the hills.
I was aiming for the old green lane which contours round the edge of Nidderdale, high up on the hillside about 1,500 feet above sea level.
The track, reminiscent of many other similar bridleways in the Yorkshire Dales, took me east and then south across grouse moors and rough sheep pastureland, offering up wonderful views back down into the dale.
Nidderdale is a classic, but unofficial, Yorkshire dale. When the Yorkshire Dales National Park was created in 1954, its eastern boundary took a great sweep to the west in order to exclude Nidderdale, partly, it is said, to keep the public away from the slopes of Great Whernside, where Bradford wanted to collect its water supply in peace. This was environmental gerrymandering of the highest order, although it has meant that Nidderdale has escaped some of the pressure of visitors elsewhere in the Dales.
In recent years the boundary issue has been reopened, with several groups urging the Countryside Commission to admit Nidderdale into the national park. Instead, the Commission has compromised. As of 14 February, Nidderdale has been given designation as the 36th area of outstanding natural beauty in England. It is better than nothing and my walk was, in part, my way of celebrating the news.
I dropped down from the hillside to rejoin the Nidderdale Way and soon reached Lofthouse, a small village equipped with a comfortable pub - The Crown - and village shop.
It seems a peaceful place, but the parish noticeboard reveals that crime can take place anywhere - the person who stole the last two pages of the parish council minutes is told in no uncertain terms to return them immediately.
At Lofthouse I picked up the Nidderdale Way again, turning north-west up the valley of one of the Nidd's tributaries, How Stean Beck.
This small river has burrowed its way through the rock to create a gorge that is, in places, 70 feet deep, in the process also creating the area's only official tourist attraction. To visit How Stean Gorge costs pounds 1.50, but you can get a free glimpse from a footbridge a few yards further on, where the Nidderdale Way crosses the river on its way to Middlesmoor.
Middlesmoor is the last settlement of Nidderdale, a hilltop village with a few houses, another pub (confusingly also called The Crown) and a fine church set in a striking location on a headland looking down the dale. Beyond, the tarmac road turns into a track across the moors. I climbed steadily for two miles, admiring the view of Great Whernside to my left, while dodging the hailstones which periodically were blown horizontally across my path.
Abruptly the track dropped back down to the side of Scar House reservoir, and I was back at the car- park. I clambered back inside the car and the wind stopped.
Almost immediately, or so it seemed, bright sunlight transformed the scene. I drove back south, admiring the landscape of outstanding natural beauty - and that's official.
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