We headed up to Wharfedale last Saturday fully expecting to find the snow spread deep and crisp and even.

We were really looking forward to exploring a winter wonderland after all the mild weather which has in recent years made snow a rarity.

It was going to be so good to plant our lines of footprints in the virgin snow as we trekked through an arctic landscape.

Some hopes! For a start, the closer we drew to Grassington as we headed up the road from Skipton, the greener were the fields on either side of the road. Sheep were grazing without any problems on the frozen grass.

Grassington itself seemed to have been sprinkled with less than an inch of snow. Mind you, it had been trodden down well over the previous 48 hours.

Forget the single lines of footprints. The world and his wife seemed to have had the idea of heading for this popular spot to walk off the Christmas excess before starting to indulge again for the New Year.

As we headed from the main car park down the steep walled path towards Linton Falls, we had to proceed with extreme caution over the packed skim of snow.

Matters underfoot improved once we hit the riverbank path upstream. It was safe enough walking now, though the frozen earth was as hard as concrete.

The dusting of white all around us, reflecting the bright light from a cloudless blue sky, enhanced what is in every season a lovely stretch of the Wharfe as it winds past the limestone narrows of Ghaistrill’s Strid, a less ferocious version of the death-trap down near Bolton Abbey.

At one point a flock of redwing seemed to accompany us, moving upstream from one hawthorn tree to another in search of berries.

The path climbed to continue above the river. A couple of groups of walkers ahead of us made for a stile halfway through Low Grass Wood and began the return journey via Grass Wood Lane.

Our turnaround lay further ahead, though, after crossing the road into Grass Wood itself and continuing to follow the road and the river upstream to the north-eastern entrance to the woodland.

Here is the point where, in 1766, a Grassington blacksmith called Tom Lee, who moonlighted as a poacher, murdered local GP Dr Petty.

Lee was eventually tried, convicted and executed in York. His body hung in chains in Grass Wood for four years.

We were glad to move away from this gloomy and far-from-cheerful place. I was relieved that it was winter, when more light can find its way into woodland.

In summer, with trees in full leaf, a dense wood can be quite oppressive - even one as well-managed as this obviously is by the Yorkshire Woodland Trust, evidence of whose work was all around in the piles of logs and newly-planted saplings

As we made our way up the edge of the wood on the broad, climbing track, the views to the left were superb: up the valley past fields and barns to Kilnsey Crag and the white-topped moors in the distance.

We turned to head deep into the wood and several groups of walkers passed us with cheery greetings, doing the circuit from Grassington in the opposite direction. Before long we were almost at the top of the wood and taking the descending path towards Park Stile.

For perhaps five minutes we experienced that rarest of phenomena - total silence. No bird sang, no dog barked, no breeze hissed through the trees. There were no distant voices of other walkers, and no planes droning overhead. It seemed very odd.

Out of the wood, we headed across fields to the gate leading to Cove Lane, a walled track which, if it hadn’t been so frosty, would have been very muddy indeed.

There’s an alternative route avoiding all but the very start of this lane which I’ll detail in the “Step by Step” section.

But given the rock-hard ground, we decided to follow the lane through a succession of gates back into Grassington - where there was, by now, barely a space left in the car park on this wonderfully fresh and rare winter day.

Step by Step

  1. Leave main car park in Grassington by gate at rear left-hand corner of it and walk down walled path towards Linton Falls. Just before river, go right through gap stile on to riverbank path. Walk upstream, heading for sloping path to right which leads up in front of a well-situated row of houses to gate into road.
  2. Cross road and head for stile into field beyond, following path that travels close to river as it swings round to left at Ghaistrill's Strid and then goes right.
  3. Shortly afterwards  path climbs up past some trees into edge of wood and continues above river. Keep on with path to end of wood, where it swings right to stile into road.
  4. Cross road and go through stile into Grass Wood, climbing to crossing path and turning left on it. Follow this path to where it descends to clearing at corner of wood with a gate into road on left (location of Tom Lee's foul deed).
  5. Go right here, up wide climbing track close to edge of wood, then at junction with footpath sign to Grassington via Park Stile, go right again. Continue on this main path, passing crossroads signpost near top of wood, until it descends to stile into field.
  6. Go through stile and walk head to gate gap on left into long, narrow field to right of barn. Head for right-hand of two gates at top of field, leading into Cove Lane. Walk up this lane to where it turns sharp right. NOW...
  7. If it's dry or frozen, turn right with lane and follow it back into village (remembering to close all gates after yourself). OR...
  8. At corner, follow footpath sign ahead to climb to wall stile into field. Go slightly right, heading up field to meet Dales Way and follow it into Grassington at top of village.
  9. Time for 4½-mile walk: two hours.

Fact File

  • Going: easy.
  • Map: OS Outdoors Leisure Yorkshire Dales Southern Area.
  • Parking: pay-and-display in main National Park car park in Grassington.
  • Buses: Pride of Dales services 71/72, hourly Monday-Saturday from Skipton Railway Station (on the hour) and bus station five minutes later; service 74 from Ilkley (also Mon-Sat) every two hours from 8.35am. For other times ring 01535 603284 or check-out website www.dalesbus.org
  • Toilets: at car park.
  • Refreshments: plenty of pubs and tearooms in Grassington.