This walk was a bit of a test for me. Only a month earlier I'd done a double dose of damage to my feet. First of all I'd blistered them badly, going too hard and too fast on a 21-mile charity walk. And just as the blisters were becoming manageable my little toe had a fight with a chair leg and lost.

So now here I was, four and a bit weeks on and used to walking in trekking sandals that put little pressure on the damaged toe, ready to see how it would fare inside a thick walking sock and a boot.

I chose what looked like a relatively easy outing: a five-mile circuit from the pretty Aire Valley village of Bradley, near Skipton, where there's a pleasant canal-side car park just over the bridge.

I'd never been to Bradley before. It's one of those places most people know of only by the signpost pointing to it off the busy A629. I came away much impressed by its winding streets of charming cottages, a community which grew up – as did so many others – around a mill.

But that was on the return journey. My walks took me, first of all, up through an attractive estate of modern houses and bungalows with cheerful, well-kept gardens before crossing a road and climbing a stile into a field.

It was an uphill slog for about a mile and a half, reminding me how out of condition I was but rewarding me with ever-expanding views behind me and to the right: up Airedale, and across its broad valley towards Lancashire. Sadly, despite the stiff breeze, there was a haze on the landscape, blurring the outline of the distant ridges. I reached the limit of my climb and sat on top of a stile eating a sandwich and working out the path ahead. Skylarks were singing high above, and curlews called their alarms to each other and to their hidden young.

Airedale was behind me. Ahead I could see Wharfedale landmarks dimly in the distance: the outcrop of the Cow and Calf Rocks at Ilkley, and the shoulder of Otley Chevin. As I plodded down a broad field full of sheep and fat lambs, Beamsley Beacon came into view on my left. Even with the haze, the views were impressive. On a clear day they'd be magnificent.

The grassy path met a farm track and headed south. In a field over a wall, a Friesian cow that had separated itself from the rest of the herd to go through labour decided to re-join them, with its new-born calf wobbling along gamely by its side.

Soon, after reaching a road, I was faced with a choice of two field paths off it, the start of both of them reached by climbing gingerly over one of the most perilous wall stiles I've ever come across!

I was sorely tempted to climb the gate beside it – a gate which had had its catch deliberately jammed with a stone – but I resisted it. It was two years ago that I did this walk. The stile might by now have been repaired, or the gate unjammed. At least there was a choice of paths on the map. The farmer (presumably the one also responsible for the care and maintenance of that stile) had decided to make decision-making rather easier for walkers by blocking one of them off. So I took the other, which turned out to be very nice. It led me via a succession of field paths and farm tracks back to the steep road dropping back down into Bradley. The toe was glad to say goodbye to the boot, but it had held out nicely. We were back in the walking business!

Step by Step

  1. Leave canal-side car park on edge of Bradley, cross road, and walk up Ings Drive. Ignore various turn-offs until you go right up Heath Drive and continue left up Heath Crescent to Skipton Road. Turn left, but within yards cross road to stile next to gate. Walk up field, parallel to wall on left. When this veers away to left, swing right to meet wall stile. From this, go slightly left up next field to a stile by a gate and tree, then head across corner of next field to a stile by a gate, into a grassy lane. Turn right along this lane to reach Upper Bradley.
  2. Go through gate at top of lane, into narrow road, and turn left. Follow road as it climbs and becomes a farm track. Keep left at fork and continue to climb between walls but soon with wall only on right. Swing right through a gate and descend to New House Farm. Don't go through gate, but continue on grassy path, keeping wall on your right until, through a gate, it disappears. Track ahead is clear, though, through a gate-way and then, taking left-hand fork, through another gateway. Soon you reach a gate with a stile in wall corner just to right of it.
  3. From top of stile head diagonally down field towards a barn. Continue, with wall on your left, towards farm ahead (Moor Gate). Go over stile in corner and swing left to meet farm track. Turn right on that until it become a road and find access road to High Brackenhill Farm on left.
  4. Just across road, on your left, is tricky stile with blocked-off path beyond it, up field on right. Over stile, go half left across field to a stile next to a gate in a wire fence. Keep on same line to far corner of field, near a barn. Faced with choice of good stiles here, go for one in wall on right, to go ahead with barn on left through gate gap. Head down towards Smoulden Farm, keeping close to wall corner then ahead to join farm track and walk on to road.
  5. Cross road and go over stile. Follow wall on left to its corner, then go slightly right down field to stile in bottom corner. Climb over it and turn sharp right to another stile in facing wall at corner. Over this, walk down a succession of fields, keeping close to wall on right, until a single wooden gate leads out on to concrete farm track. Turn right down this until it meets lane. Right again here, then left at road to descend to Bradley. Past chapel, turn left and then swing right to road to return to car park.

Fact File

  • Time for walk: 2½ hours for five miles, taking it steady.
  • Going: easy apart from the initial uphill pull.
  • Map: OS Pathfinder 671, Keighley & Ilkley.
  • Getting there: follow the main Keighley-Skipton road, looking for Bradley turn-off to the right.
  • Free car park just over canal bridge on the right. The start is an easy stroll from the main bus route.
  • Toilets and refreshments: none on the route.