By Mike Priestley
Some places are worth visiting again and again. Middleton Woods above Ilkley is one of them, particularly at the height of the bluebell season when the ground between the trees is carpeted with flowers in full bloom and the air is sweet with their perfume.
Unfortunately, if you're prompted by reading this column to dash off to that fine area of woodland you might find that the bluebells are past their best. We did the walk three weeks ago, on May Day Monday. By now the finest glories of the floral display could be faded - although the cold spell will have helped to keep them fresh.
The woods are still worth visiting, of course, at any time, but best of all when spring is in the air, the wild blooms are fresh and the new leaves are unfurling on the trees above.
You might also find the place rather quieter than we did. May Day Monday was Ilkley Carnival Day. Fortunately we'd set off early, before the town filled up with cars and crowds, and were able to find a roadside parking space down in the valley bottom, across the road bridge.
The carnival itself was still a couple of hours away but the fairground was in full swing next to the rugby ground with its music filling the valley with sound. Fairgrounds are fun and they've always been noisy. But if pastoral peace was what you were after, this wasn't the day to find it.
We set off from our parking place in Denton Road, on the opposite side of Middleton Avenue to the rugby club, and turned left to walk up the extension of Middleton Avenue away from the town centre. This, it was instantly obvious, is posh-house territory. If you're a martyr to envy, you'd probably best walk somewhere else.
It was soon to become even-posher-house territory as we turned the corner and walked up Curly Hill towards Middleton, with the woodland rising above up on the left. The road eventually swung round to a crossroads, with farms and fields beyond.
Here we turned left into Slates Lane and walked along between houses on the left and hedges and fields on the right. Soon, past the houses, the views to the left opened up - across the sweep of Wharfedale to the moors and the Cow and Calf rocks. From here you can see that Ilkley is in fact quite a large, sprawling place with development extending well down the valley towards Otley.
The narrow lane descended via an elbow in the road across a stream running through the landscaped garden of a house and climbed again to continue (as Hardings Lane now) between fields. Down to the left was the woodland that we were to walk through later, with a couple of small groups of walkers strolling up from it through the pasture to meet the lane at a stile.
We were due to follow that route in reverse. But not yet. First we had to revisit a magical place just along the road. We walked to the junction, doglegged above Myddleton Lodge (a Roman Catholic retreat) to the accompaniment of the pungent but pleasant garlicky perfume of alium and then followed a fenced-off path into an area of woodland. Another path led through it to meet a rough track.
And there it was: the carved oak door in a fence decorated with Latin inscriptions and a sign telling us that we'd arrived at Calvary. Regular readers might recall that this column has been here before. I make no apologies for revisiting the place.
It's special and spiritual: an avenue through tall trees flanked with stone carvings of the Stations of the Cross, leads to a shrine where over the years visitors have placed their own makeshift crosses made out of twigs and branches and in some cases left photographs of their loved ones.
It's apparently a folly created in the middle of the 19th century. Very little information is available about it, but I assume it had some connection with Myddleton Lodge, which was once a monastery.
We soaked up the peaceful atmosphere of the place among the representations of the various stages of Christ's progress to the tomb, then left to make our way back to the stile leading to the fields path into the wood.
Soon we were among the bluebells, sauntering along the paths that wind through this wood to the accompaniment of the music and amplified barkers' calls from the fairground below. Eventually we headed towards that sound, emerging on to the grassed picnic area adjacent to the swimming baths and open-air pool and walking in the direction of an alarming-looking ride on which rows of young people screamed as they swung and turned high in the air.
The carnival was by now fully into its stride and the parade was about to begin. We joined the crowds lining the road and enjoyed the passing show - an unexpected bonus to crown an interesting and enjoyable outing.
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