Yorkshire Water was recently urging people to use the land it owns and the facilities it provides around its reservoirs.

From the number of cars filling almost every available spot at the free car park between Fewston and Swinsty reservoirs on the Sunday morning we pulled in there, it was an invitation which wouldn't need issuing twice.

Mind you, this has long been a popular spot. Swinsty, the most southerly of the Washburn Valley's twin reservoirs, has two car parks - this one just above its northern end, another halfway down its eastern shore. Fewston has a smaller one at its northern, Blubberhouses end.

The one in the middle is the best of the lot, with toilets and new picnic tables, an office where anglers can buy fishing permits and an ice-cream van. Yorkshire Water have done well for the public with some of the profits they make out of us. It's good that such a big company is prepared to plough something back into creating amenities.

It isn't just the car parks. It's the footpaths too. They ring both these reservoirs: proper, hardcore footpaths that make walking easy and with the occasional seat for those who want to rest for a while and admire the views.

And very attractive views they are. The Washburn Valley is a lovely place, with moorland tops peeping above sheep-filled pastures and woodland and terrific views in every direction. And lots of water, with wildfowl to watch and fish rising on the reservoirs, usually well away from the anglers who stand up to their hips in the water and cast so skilfully yet often in vain.

Small wonder the discerning public flock to this place.

We had walked around this area several times before, on routes which usually included the shores of Swinsty. Oddly, though, we'd never walked around Fewston. So we decided that this hot June Sunday was to be the day we investigated the shores of this reservoir, which was completed in 1879 and, when full, contains four million cubic metres of water. It wasn't full on this occasion though. The shoreline was, pre-deluge, ringed with a few feet of dried mud.

We parked up in one of the few free spots, locked up the car, crossed the road to the waymarked entrance to the reservoir route and set off at a stroll. There was no shortage of people with the same idea.

We passed families with young children, elderly couples, small groups, people with dogs, people in sandals and others in walking boots (rather unnecessary, given the dry and firm conditions) and collapsible poles.

There was plenty to see as we walked along the fringe of woodland and alongside fields where some of the sturdy lambs were bleating for others to play with them, reluctant to get down to the grown-up business of constantly munching the grass.

Geese honked on the water. On the shore we passed a pair with six goslings, all tugging at the grass and devouring it.

There were wild flowers galore in the grass verges, making me wish I was better schooled at knowing their names.

I could name the attractive butterflies that were in such abundance, though: Painted Ladies, looking not unlike delicate, faded Small Tortoiseshells.

We sat for a while on one of the seats, staring south down the reservoir. Further along, at the top of Fewston where the wildfowl gather, we found a conveniently-sited leaning rail no doubt put there for the benefit of twitchers. And just beyond, in the car park, groups of wet-suited canoeists who had just landed from a trip down the fast-flowing Washburn were in animated conversation about their experiences.

We began the return trip here, on an equally excellent path along the eastern shore which eventually turned away from the water to detour around a house and garden before returning to the road.

Here was a choice. We could double the length of the walk by taking in Swinsty as well. Or we could make our way along the road across the dam back to the car park.

We chose the latter option, savouring the views in either direction as we did so. The car park by now was packed. Every picnic table was occupied. As we reversed out of our parking space another car was waiting to pull into it.

Yorkshire Water has no need to worry. The amenities it has provided are being well used.

Step by Step

  1. From Swinsty car park entrance, cross road and go through gap in wall into wood. Follow path ahead down to reservoir shore and continue along it for a couple of miles to car park at far end.
  2. Go up steps on right-hand side of car park to pavement and turn right to cross river. Almost immediately follow path down to right again then swing left with it and follow it alongside water for about a mile and a half.
  3. With boundary of private grounds of large house ahead, go left up into wood, swinging right with the path and following it to stile into road. Turn right here and walk across dam back to car park.
  4. If you want to extend the walk, cross road and join start of Swinsty walk, following clear, wide, semi-paved track down to reservoir shore. Follow it to car park. Exit car park into road and turn right, walking on road for a while across embankment then forking right on path into woods to arrive at reservoir house. Turn right here and cross Swinsty dam, turning right at far side to return to car park, passing the impressive Swinsty Hall along the way.
Fact File

  • Stats: Car park between Fewston and Swinsty reservoirs
  • Time for 3-mile walk: A couple of strolling hours
  • Going: Easy
  • Map: OS Explorer 27, Lower Wharfedale & Washburn Valley
  • Toilets: At car park
  • Refreshments: None along route