Embsay, the other side of Skipton, is more than just the home of the wonderful steam railway which now runs all the way to Bolton Abbey (a very pleasant ride if you get the chance). It’s a pretty village in a fine setting.

Ignore the quarry to the south which has eaten away a huge chunk of a hillside, and the spoil heaps that have grown from it and are currently being helped to revert to nature. Instead look to the north where green fields rise up to moorland topped by the towering rugged outcrop of Embsay Crag, the destination for today’s walk - a morning or afternoon lung-and-leg stretcher on clear paths, tracks and lanes.

I was there good and early on a weekday morning, so was easily able to get one of the limited spaces in the car park opposite the village hall (there is an additional, bigger car park not far away).

The forecast for later in the day was grim, but now - at 8.30 - although the sky was overcast, the cloud was high. It looked safe enough for the couple of hours this outing would take.

Taking the stile from the car park, I was immediately in open countryside and following a grassy path through a couple of fields to meet the road that zigzags from Embsay to its twin village Eastby close by the church of St Mary the Virgin. From here another metalled path well used by dog walkers crossed more fields in the Eastby direction before a spot of road walking found me striking up the paved farm track towards the moors.

I huffed and puffed a bit up here, as I tend to on uphill stretches at the start of morning walks before deep breathing and fresh air have filled my bloodstream with oxygen.

There comes a point when you realise that you aren’t gasping as much as you were a few minutes ago, that you are comfortably into your stride and have been filled with a mysterious, unaccustomed feeling of well-being.

That’s when walking is wonderful, and is - I suspect - one of the reasons why it’s so popular. You can actually feel it doing good for both your body and your soul,

But enough of these mystical musings! Onward and upward!

Passing the farm Boncroft and the sparsely-wooded grassy valley known as Milking Hill Wood, I struck up through a steep field and passed through a stile on to the open moorland of Embsay Moor.

This was on August 31. A day later and I would have been unable to proceed any further, for September 1 and 2 were set aside for grouse shooters. But today I was free to wander along the well-trodden path, marked by blue-topped posts, which wound up through the bracken to the summit of Embsay Crag. The views from here would have been even more superb if the landscape had not been covered by a light haze. As it was, though, I could still see for miles over Embsay and Skipton and down the Aire Valley.

Behind me, the bracken and heather of Embsay Moor rose in ridges to the north. Below was Embsay Moor Reservoir reflecting the sky’s various shades of grey, the yachts from the sailing club standing in rows on the shore at the far side.

My route zigzagged down from the summit towards the reservoir to eventually accompany its perimeter wall to meet the farm road running along its far shore. Here I turned and looked back at Embsay Crag. It was reflected perfectly in the calm surface of the water and the sun was just breaking through. It would have made a perfect picture.

Alas, despite the cloud, I’d been snapping away on my way up the moor and at the summit. I’d used up my film. So I’m afraid you’ll just have to take my word for it that it was a lovely sight. I hope that when you do this walk the reservoir is as calm and the reflection as sharp as it was on that day.

Step by Step

  1. Leave car park in Embsay by stile in rear fence into field. Cross field half-right and then go across next field to emerge into road near church of St Mary Virgin. Walk on past church then cross road and follow footpath sign across two fields, emerging into road again. Turn left here and walk back past houses for about 300 yards.
  2. Go right up paved bridleway signposted "Embsay Crag", passing Boncroft farm and B&B and going left through gate to continue to another gate into field. Keep ahead up field, with wall on left, to a gate at top into moorland.
  3. Turn left and follow track through bracken, passing a few blue-topped marker posts on way to summit of Embsay Crag. Continue down far side of crag towards reservoir, following zigzag path which eventually straightens out and descends to pass blue-topped post. At junction of tracks keep ahead to meet path running parallel to reservoir wall. Turn right on this, going over footbridge to come to signpost and continue to gate into farm lane.
  4. Turn left into farm lane and walk on past reservoir and sailing club, keeping ahead down road. At T-junction, go right and then swing left with road to pass mill ponds on way back to the centre of Embsay.

Fact File

  • Time for 3½-mile walk: 1½-2 hours.
  • Going: easy.
  • Map: OS Outdoors Leisure 10, Yorkshire Dales Southern area.
  • Parking: in middle of Embsay, opposite village hall.
  • Buses: Hourly daytime Pennine service from Skipton bus station on weekdays (not on Sunday).
  • Refreshments: pubs in Embsay.
  • Toilets: none on route.