Thursday, 23 August 2012

Leeds Country Way #3: Golden Acre Park to Barwick in Elmet 28/03/12

A week out of work gave me an opportunity to test my stamina by fitting extra walks into my week but I hadn't counted on the early arrival of Summer at the end of March. I've often joked that Britain only really has two seasons, shifting between Winter and Summer, with Spring and Autumn only being transitional periods, but even I was stunned at how short the transition was this time. I even delayed my walk by a day in the expectation that it might cool down, but instead it turned out even warmer. A solid 25C at the day's height, and I walked the entire day without a jacket, which I wouldn't do again until this weekend just passed (18th August)

Active March: Day Five

Leeds Country Way #3: Golden Acre Park to Barwick in Elmet  13.8 miles

Self at Golden Acre Park (I should have started the LCW with my beard trimmed short so it could have grown
as I went around the trail, ending with me looking like a mountain man when I finished!)

Despite living in Leeds district for 18+ years, I'd never ventured to Golden Acre Park before my LCW ramble, and I had to get in an early start for my longest day on the route, 14 miles on a bafflingly hot day, aiming for a 4pm finish. So I can be somewhat surprised how many other people seem to be out for an early stretch in the country at 9.45am, certainly more than you'd expect in the middle of the week when it's not a school holiday, and from my quern stone I head off east, amused by the sight of summer weather and bare trees everywhere. Golden Acre is a lot smaller and wilder than I'd anticipated, nowhere near as formal as I'd imagined, though is has the ornamental ponds and boating lake, and also the remains of a rather unimpressive looking miniature railway. Beyond it's off onto the mess of lanes in the area north of Leeds that has so far resisted the encroachment of development, and having had my first two days on the LCW cleaving close to the city around Pudsey, Greengates, Horsforth and Cookridge, we are now leaving the city far, far away and the Country of this walk will really dominate. Points of interest along this stretch include Eccup Whin Nature reserve and the New Inn, Eccup Lane, the first pub I've seen since Apperley Bridge, and also many notices advertising a 'Mole Catcher', and that recalls an old Jasper Carrott routine which reminds us that the only way to get rid of a mole is to "Blow its Bloody Head Off!". North of Eccup reservoir, our path joins the bridleway leading to the Harewood Estate, one of those twisty paths between the fields which is obviously and ancient track but never got turned into a road, so it's now left for us walkers to enjoy. Walkers and a very large party of cyclists, that is. Arriving on the Harewood estate, I get  sight of a village which isn't on the map and this confounds me until I remember that this is the set for Emmerdale, which I had always assumed was on a different part of the estate. I would call said village Beckindale too, which dates me somewhat as it hasn't had that name in 18 years, apparently. Onward into the shade of the trees, wondering if a fleeting glimpse of Harewood House, is the best I'm going to get. Looks like there's been a lot of felling of the mature conifers in this section of the park, and logpiles just test my arty photographic instincts. Tea break at New Bridge, and then the road up to Lofthose gate provides me with superb views of the House (built by John Carr & Charles Barry), better than you get from the grounds that you pay for admission to, and also sights of the many Red Kites which live on the estate. Impossible to photograph with my crappy camera, until a shadow glides over your head and you snag one about 15 feet above you.

Harewood House and Estate

Red Kite action!
From the A61 to the A64, I'm into terra incognita, having ventured along both major roads but never into the land between, and as I head along Wike Lane, I realise I should have called on my friend and colleague NW who lives in Harewood as I haven't dropped in on her family since her youngest was born; He's now 5. I resolve to organise a walk to end in Harewood, as soon as can be done. Start seeing sheep in fields, which indicates proper countryside, and another bridleway is joined, Keswick Lane, which also indicates that history passed it by an failed to roadify it. Numerous walkers and riders along this path, high on the ridge between Leeds and lower Wharfedale, and everyone has a sunny 'Hello', which has me deeming this the friendliest section of the route. Also one of the remotest, and it looks like horse riding is the sideline that keeps the farms hereabouts in money, and as the path turns towards Gaeton House Lane, we get the village of East Keswick looming larger as our apparent target. After finding shad for lunchtime, the path does that trick of pulling us away from the nearby village, and sending us south again, along the road that goes back over the crest of the ridge and down through the fields towards Bardsey, but watch out for the vaguely worded route instructions that might well direct you into the rough grass and into a bog, this is clearly not the approved route! Bardsey village looks expensive, and the Bingley Arms looks tempting for a post lunch pint, but we can't dally when I have bus to catch in Barwick, still 5 miles distant, but Bardsey has the jewel of the route, All Hallows, a wholly intact Saxon-Norman church, a real surprise when nearly all village around Leeds have Victorian churches (only Adel and Whitkirk spring to mind as having old churches otherwise), and it's obvious why the path deliberately takes you on a detour all the way around it. 

All Hallows, Bardsey
Leaving Bardsey takes us into fields of rapeseed, and on  to the expensive looking house of  Wayside Mount by the A58, an odd location to choose for a fancy house, an we carry on into fields again, where Rowley Grange looks like an ideal site for the Grand Designs treatment, the house is ruin, but its farm is intact and it has an overgrown orchard! Over Scarcroft Hill and the day is really starting to cook, and the lack of foliage means shade is hard to come by and very welcome when found. Meet several large groups of older walkers going in the opposite direction as we pass Moat Hall, and then to Thorner Lane before we get to Oaklands Manor and I meet a horse that is really unhappy to find me in its paddock. You can't actually get a view of the Manor itself until you are two fields beyond it, despite having walked along the perimeter wall, and there's also a large building on the edge of Scarcoft which appears sinister and outsized like some sort of secret service HQ which doesn't identify itself on maps (I think it's actually electricity provider's offices, boringly). Descend then to Thorner, where the old folks out sunning themselves can look askance at this passing walker and the Mexborough Arms can tempt with beer. Dull Victorian Church here, but the I can still spot the remains of the Great Northern railway line which ran through the village until 1964. You can't stop this enthusiast from noticing a bridge and embankment hiding in the landscape! Passing my last real bailing point, it's then out along the edge of the village before hitting Ellerker lane, yet another forgotten road, toward the A64. A long, hot drag follows, noting the tablet indicating fields bequethed to the poor of the local parishes, and also what appears to be an air raid shelter in an oddly remote location, before we encounter Kiddal Wood. The first forest which actually feels large enough to get lost in, but the roar of the A64 ensures that you never feel spooked, and soon enough the sight of the Red Bus Cafe, still parked in its layby after 30+ years service, indicates it's time for a dicey crossing of the York Road.

Red Bus Cafe, Kiddal Wood
Check my timepiece to see that I'm now walking against the clock to make my scheduled finish, and pick up the pace for the last stretch, but still taking time out to scare sheep and note the highlights along Potterton Beck. Such as Kiddal Bridge, which really looks more like a drain, and Jacob's Well, a natural spring which is completely dry.
 There's also an enclosed stone of some kind, which looks like it's a grave, and not an old one either, it's dated 2009, but I made no further note of the details unfortunately. I did make note of the most passive-aggressive sign erected by a farmer to keep walkers from straying on his land, and it's a notice worth quoting in full: "The only Public footpath though this farmland is 4ft wide, clearly indicated by signs and yellow markers. Walkers must stay on this path otherwise they are liable for eviction and prosecution for trespass." Defensive, Much? So take great care to stick to the path as the last hill of the day is ascended as Barwick appears, looking very close, and the downhill again, before ascending the last hill of the day to go into the village, with time on my side, I make a detour for Barwick Fort, the significant Iron Age - Norman motte which stands proud in the village, and ascending that is definitively the last hill of the day.

Barwick Fort
Barwick looks lovely on this hot spring afternoon, the sort of place to aspire to live (plenty of places like that to find on my walks around this county), but there's a lack of view toward Leeds, sadly. Stroll down to the Maypole, and love the fact that the symbol of Elmet at its top is a running fox, which is also the symbol of Leicestershire, the county of my birth. No time for a pint in the Gascoigne Arms of the Black Swan, though, as a quick check will show that I made my finish time, 3.58pm, I thank you. Settle down at the bus stop, to wait of the 64 bus, which will conveniently take me all the way home to Morley, and it's only a short wait to reflect on the fact that I am already half way around the Leeds Country Way! Never anticipated that it would be this easy, I'd thought it would take all year!

1,000 Miles Cumulative Total: 59.2 miles

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