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A short walk, this one, but packed with interest, ideal for children and with plenty of opportunities for bolt-on experiences along the route.
We began early from the centre of Harrogate, walking down past Bettys to pass the Crown Hotel and the Royal Pump Room at the bottom of the hill and head through the gates of Valley Gardens.
With time to spare, the Pump Room is worth a visit. There’s a small museum there telling the history of the spa town, and if you’re brave enough you can sample a glass of the waters.
That’s said to be quite an experience, but not one that many people repeat.
Valley Gardens is a pleasant place at any time of the year, with the stream running through a series of ponds on the left-hand side of the main path leading up through it to flower beds and shrubberies, beneath which (it’s reported) are up to 36 springs, each having a different mineral composition.
There weren’t many people around at this hour – mostly just us and the dog walkers.
From a signpost in the middle of a flower bed we followed the sign for Harlow Carr pointing straight ahead up the main track past a golf course on the left and heading for woodland.
At a fork to the right, an information board advised on the bird life to be seen in the Pinewood. We actually didn’t see too much of it, but we heard plenty as we strolled along the good path between the trees and seats, and we noted squirrels galore scampering out of the way.
At the top of the park we came to busy Harlow Moor Road, crossed it, and plunged into woodland again on a recently-improved path.
The trees are just right on this stretch. Dense woodland I find oppressive. Here, there’s room for light to filter down.
Before long, after skirting an open area, we found that the trees were now only on our left with open views on the right across the rolling countryside to the north-east.
At one point an information board explained the vista to us, naming the landmarks.
Not far beyond Oakdale Farm we reached the road again. Across it were the landscaped leafy acres of the Royal Horticultural Society’s northern showcase, Harlow Carr Gardens.
Now this, if you’re not in a rush and wanting to make a day’s outing of this walk, is a place to linger for a few hours. But remember, if you’re tempted to buy some of the plants on display in the shop, that you still have a couple of miles left to walk.
From the gardens, we took the road north-east past Harlow Carr coach park and a kennels, where pens facing the track contained loads of cage birds, rabbits and hens.
Soon, not far beyond a gate, the track dipped then climbed again and curved right towards a private house. Here we left it, following a waymark which within strides took us to Birk Crag, a rock outcrop beyond which the land fell away steeply towards Oak Beck and the rolling fields beyond.
As we continued along the path, past a dramatic jumble of huge boulders, our route took us down a series of steps. Here we faced a choice. Go left down more steps and we would be heading for the valley bottom. Keep ahead and we were at the top of the wood with open fields to our right.
That was the way we chose, and a pleasant path it was too, twisting and turning, dipping and climbing, with a clear view over the trees towards the houses of Killinghall.
The sound of traffic grew ever louder, and before long we reached its source, Cornwall Road, lined on one side with the sort of houses most of us can only dream about and on the other with playing fields and greenery.
Before long Cornwall Road became Harlow Moor Road with its various footpath options into the woods on the left and all leading back to Valley Gardens.
We opted for the main route, the one we’d taken on the outward journey. The dog walkers had now, in mid-morning, largely been replaced by mothers and grandmothers with children, strolling pensioners, and a man past the first flush of youth rather self-consciously practising staying upright on in-line skates. Like I say, this is a walk packed with interest.
Step by Step
1 From bottom entrance to Valley Gardens, walk up left-hand main path. At flower beds, with café on left, keep ahead again up main path, following Harlow Carr sign, to arrive at fork by Pinewood information board. Take right-hand fork here, into woodland, follow path to eventually arrive at road (Harlow Moor Road).
2 Cross road and continue in same line along recently-improved path through more woodland, to shortly swing right-ish past open area and continue with trees on left and open views on right to arrive at another road with Harlow Carr Gardens ahead.
3 Turn right here and walk on past Harlow Carr coach park and kennels (with pets corner), continuing in same line to go through gate and dip down briefly before track swings right to house. On bend, take waymarked gap-stile to left of track to footpath signpost in a few strides.
4 Go immediately right here, walking parallel with track to pass house and soon arrive at Birk Crag rocky outcrop. Continue along path through jumble of large rocks, soon descending a flight of steps. Don’t take more steps that go left towards valley bottom, Instead, stick with upper path through top of wood, which eventually joins another path coming up from left and arrives at Cornwall Road.
5 Cross road (with care) and turn right, walking along pavement. Cross end of road joining from left and keep ahead on main road (now Harlow Moor Road again). Soon various footpath signs point left into wood. Take any of these, or keep on to arrive at main path from Valley Gardens that you followed on way out. Turn left here and head back to start.
- Start: Valley Gardens, Harrogate.
- Time for three-and-a-half-mile walk: two hours at a dawdle.
- Going: easy.
- Map: not really necessary, but OS Explorer 289 Leeds, Harrogate, etc covers most of route.
- Toilets: in Valley Gardens and at Harlow Carr Gardens if you pay them a visit.
- Refreshments: ditto, plus lots and lots in Harrogate.
- Added value: plenty to do and see in Harrogate, and at Harlow Carr Gardens (open every day except Christmas Day, 9.30am-6pm March-October, 9.30am-4pm November-February, admission £6.50 for adults, £2.50 for students, £2.20 for children aged six-16, free for under-sixes).