Next time you turn on your tap and that wonderful, pure, sweet Bradford water pours out of it, drink deeply and let yourself be transported to the open skies and moorland of Nidderdale.

That's where our water comes from, thanks to the foresight of the city fathers in times gone by.

Bradford was a fast-growing city in the Victorian era. Its mills and its people needed ever more water. So in 1892 Parliamentary powers were obtained to intercept the waters of the River Nidd and River Stone 40 miles away, and the following year work began on Gouthwaite compensation reservoir and in 1894 on the temporary Haden Carr reservoir.

At the same time a 32-mile conduit was built from Haden Carr to Chellow Heights treatment works in Bradford. It was a massive undertaking, with a dozen miles of aqueduct to cut and cover, 15 miles of steel and cast-iron pipes to lay and six miles of branch feeder pipes.

The aqueduct tunnel was run through Greenhow Hill, which for many years had been used for lead mining. It was partly constructed using some of the old mine shafts 300ft deep into the hillside as access points.

Next reservoir to be constructed was Angram where on July 14, 1904 the first sod was cut during a ceremony attended by 150 officials of Bradford Corporation and City Council and the Mayors of Halifax and Pudsey.

"A special train left Pateley Bridge to Gouthwaite Dam where they all stopped for an hour," writes Bradford historian Andrew C Bolt in his fine new publication A Walk in the Past. "A ceremony took place for a few minutes that initiated the new Nidderdale Light Railway before they all moved on to the cutting of the first sod at Gouthwaite. This act was somewhat fiction as work had already commenced on Gouthwaite in several places."

The spade with which that fictional first sod was cut was made in silver and ebony by Manoah Rhodes & Sons Ltd, Bradford, with an artistic shield on the blade bearing the inscription "Presented by Alderman Holdsworth (chairman of the Water Committee) to the Lord Mayor of Bradford".

The party then moved up to Angram and performed the ceremony there. The dam was opened in March, 1919, by the then Lord Mayor of Bradford, Herbert Hustler Tetley JP, and Lieutenant-Colonel Alderman Anthony Gadie. Gadie was Lord Mayor on October 5, 1921, when the first sod was cut for Scar House reservoir, down the valley from Angram. It was the start of 15 years of construction work which ended when Gadie ceremoniously placed the last stone in position.

"Many people looked on including the press who gingerly climbed up into the tops of the castle towers to gain a better view. Men stood side by side battling the ever-present breeze that blows down the valley trying not to topple off the castle tops!" writes Andrew Bolt.

"The event was saturated with dignitaries who wanted to witness this historic event. They all travelled from Bradford in a fleet of cars and buses. A further collection of buses arrived later containing the general public wanting to share in this historic event."

Scar House cost more than £2 million to construct. It was known as "Gadie's Folly" because many considered it to be a waste of ratepayers' money. They were proved wrong during the droughts of 1933 and 1934 when Bradford had all the water it needed.

I know all this (and a great deal more besides) because I've been taken on an armchair outing around the reservoirs and their environs, plus the ruins of the building which made up the village where the construction workers and their families lived, courtesy of Andrew Bolt and his book. It takes the form of a walking tour from Scar Village (as was) up to Angram Dam and then back on the opposite bank.

Far better to do the thing on foot, of course, having first read the book and then taken it with you to remind you what you're looking at.

There are 20 stop-off points along the way, with what you can now see on the landscape linked to what used to be there, and to the history of this project as a whole.

Says Mr Bolt: "My hobby as a historian is to make sure that we never forget what others in the past have sacrificed for us today. About 1,250 men, women and children lived, worked and some even died in the construction of these reservoirs. It is up to us all to remember and respect our heritage."

The knowledgeable yet entertainingly written book is packed with colour and black-and-white photographs, many of them linked with design and construction drawings which together tell the full story of the history of the Nidderdale reservoirs.

A separate map tucked in a folder at the back shows the route of the walk and a diagram of the village that housed the Scar House workers and their families.

  • A Walk in the Past costs £9.99 (£11.99 by post) in glossy softback, with a donation from the sale of each copy going to Water Aid. Send a cheque made out to Andrew Bolt to the author c/o Laing O'Rourke, Unit 706, Thorp Arch Trading Estate, Wetherby, West Yorkshire LS23 7BJ.