Nestled in the heart of Yorkshire in the North of England, Nidderdale AONB not only has a rich and diverse landscape but also a dramatic one. From wacky natural rock formations to rolling green hills and spectacular limestone gorges to wild heather moorland, it has it all.
But owing to the fact that most visitors heading to this part of the country opt instead for the more well known bordering Yorkshire Dales National Park, this area is often overlooked.
Yet there’s so many fascinating things to do in Nidderdale AONB. We’re talking stepping back in time amongst centuries old monastic ruins, exploring an underground world of caverns and tranquil walks through the prettiest of villages.
In this blog post we’re going to run you through them all. Plus give you all the insider tips on where to eat, great Nidderdale pubs and the best Nidderdale accommodation on offer.
What Is An AONB?
Enshrined in law, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a portion of land that is protected by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. The legislation protects the land to conserve and enhance its natural beauty. There are a total of 34 of them throughout England.
Covering 233m2 (603 km2) of the Northern English countryside, Nidderdale is one of the midsized members of the AONB family. Yet owing to how rural it is, it is only home to around 16,000 people and in fact, only has one town, Pateley Bridge.
How To Get There
By Train | The nearest train station is in Harrogate, which is just under 15 miles away. From there you will need to take a bus. There are national services from London, Leeds and York.
By Car | If you prefer to travel on your own two wheels, just be aware that the roads are quite narrow around these parts and you will have to make use of the passing places.
Things To Do In Nidderdale AONB
Designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), these surreal and gigantic rock formations were completely naturally formed and have been here for millenia. Walking into Brimham Rocks is literally like landing on another planet.
And one of the coolest things about the place is that you can just climb all over the rocks, like a huge playground. It’s free to enter and is open from 9am to dusk. But parking is pretty expensive at £6.50 for 4 hours, £10 for all day and a whopping £12 for motorhomes.
As the only town in the whole of Nidderdale, Pateley Bridge is a great base for exploring this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It’s such a pretty little place too. With historic buildings stretching back centuries and the high street looks like a scene straight off a postcard.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth don’t miss England’s Oldest Sweet Shop. And if you enjoy history, The Nidderdale Museum will be of interest. Be sure to explore the charming little courtyards that lead off the main street. There’s also a lovely park with a cute old school bandstand.
Birchfield Family Dairies
This picturesque working farm has been in the same family for generations and has loads of activities for everyone. There’s Go Karts, woodland walks, guinea pig petting, den building. And depending on the time of year, lamb feeding, strawberry picking and a pumpkin festival.
Plus there’s a cafe serving delicious homemade Ice cream made right there on the farm. There’s over 30 different flavours so you’ll be spoilt for choice. Our favourite is the rum and raisin and chubarb Crumble. It’s open every day, except Monday, from 10am-5pm.
The Coldstones Cut
Created by the artist Andrew Sabin, Coldstones Cut is Yorkshire’s biggest and highest public artwork. On one side the impressive sculpture overlooks the huge (still working) Coldstones Quarry. And the other side provides a spectacular panorama over Nidderdale AONB.
It’s fascinating to appreciate the contrasting views and is completely free to visit and park. From the car park (HG3 5BJ), it’s around a 15 minute walk to reach the viewpoint. While there’s a few steep parts, it’s mostly a relatively easy walk along a gravel path.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of the National Trust, Fountains Abbey is the largest and best preserved example of monastic ruins in the country. The entry cost is pretty steep at £18 per adult. But you’ll find to plenty do there for the whole day.
The Studley Royal Water Garden is also part of the same complex. It was the creation of John Aislabie, who wanted to impress visitors to his Yorkshire estate. Back in the day he actually bought the Abbey Ruins to simply be a feature within his Georgian garden.
This intriguing sighting in the middle of a pine forest was created in the early 1800s to look something like Stonehenge. Now part of Swinton Estate, it is thought that the then landowner, William Danby had it built to alleviate unemployment, paying local men a shilling a day.
Personally I think the reasons were probably a little less altruistic than that, but it is nonetheless, one of the really cool things to see in Nidderdale. It’s open 24/7 and free to visit. But there is a £3 charge for parking. Head to the Swinton Bivouac car park (HG4 4JZ).
Stump Cross Caverns
This natural cave system made of limestone allows you to explore some of the best preserved prehistoric caves in the UK. Learn all about the stone age, how fossils are formed and pan for real gems. If you’re in a motorhome you can also park overnight here for just £5.
Nidderdale Llama Trekking
If you have kids over 7, one of the really fun things to do in Nidderdale as a family is visit the Nidderdale llamas. Open year round, you can either take a llama or an alpaca out on a walk, or just meet the animals and enjoy an interactive experience without the walking.
These privately owned ruins were once one of the great Cistercian abbeys of England. Open to the public, unless booked for a private event, the scenes are as dramatic as they are tranquil. Entrance is via honesty box donations. Parking is just across the road (HG4 4PH).
What appears at first glance to be a natural woodland, was in fact landscaped by man. Following his success at Studley Royal, John Aislabie bought the 47 hectare Hackfall Woods for £906 in 1731 and set about transforming it. He built numerous follies and waterfalls.
After a long period of decline, it was restored by the Woodland Trust and Hackfall Trust and is now designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest owing to the age of some of the it’s species. There’s free parking and a few set walks, from 30 minutes to 2-3 hours long.
Himalayan Garden & Sculpture Park
With 45 acres of gorgeous planted woodland gardens, pretty lakes and an arboretum dotted with 85 striking sculptures to explore, it’s impossible to get bored here. Refreshments are available at the Garden Tearoom and there’s a woodland playground for kids next door.
The Himalayan Garden and Sculpture Park is open from April to October and there’s free parking. An adult ticket is quite expensive at £12. But kids under 16 do go free and if you’re a regular to Nidderdale AONB there are season tickets are available from £25.
How Stean Gorge
If you’re up for some full on adventure, this outdoor pursuit centre in Nidderdale is for you. Bouldering, rock climbing, canyoning, abseiling, gorge walking, stand up paddle boarding, canoeing, you can do it all here. And if you can’t decide try the five activities in a day option!
St. Mary’s Church Ruins
If you’re visiting Pateley Bridge and are interested in history, it will be worth your while stopping by this ruined church. With parts dating back to the 13th century, the building is seriously old and it was in use until 1827 when it became too expensive to repair.
Walks In Nidderdale AONB
There are simply loads of walks in Nidderdale AONB and you can find them all here, each with their own route map. However here’s a few of the top hitters.
The main features of this part of Nidderdale AONB are the four reservoirs carved along the length of the valley. There’s a circular walk around each reservoir with a carpark at all but Lindley Wood Reservoir. The 3 miles (5km) Blubberhouses Tree Trail is also a lovely route.
One of the iconic views along the Nidderdale AONB skyline, Yorke’s Folly is a pair of stone pillars designed to appear as if part of a much older ruined arch. And there’s a couple of lovely walks that take in the sight; the Nought Moor Trail and the Yorke’s of Bewerley Trail.
This spectacular 53 mile long circular route starts and finishes in Pateley Bridge. Along the way you’ll take in Brimham Rocks, How Stean Gorge. Yorke’s Folly and Ripley Castle. It is traditionally walked in four sections and you can find more detailed information about it here.
Places To Eat In Nidderdale AONB
Dotted throughout the villages of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty you’ll find plenty of independent cafes and welcoming Nidderdale pubs. Here’s a few of our favourites.
Toft Gate Barn Cafe | Bewerley, Harrogate HG3 5JE, United Kingdom | Set on a working farm with stunning views, where the food goes from the field to the plate.
G & T’s Ice Cream | Home Farm, Ripon HG4 3EP, United Kingdom | Sandwiches and cakes are available, but the creamy, organic ice cream is the real deal.
Half Moon Inn | Fellbeck, Pateley Bridge, Harrogate, HG3 5ET | Proper pub grub at decent prices, the Sunday Carvery with all the trimmings is where it’s at.
The Galphay Inn | Galphay, Ripon, HG4 3NJ | Hand pulled real ales and delicious food, the meats and cheeses used are all locally sourced.
The Pancake House | 1 High St, Pateley Bridge, Harrogate HG3 5AP | Pancakes, waffles, ice cream and homemade cakes, this is a top spot for a sweet treat.
Mackenzies Farm Shop & Cafe | Wood Nook Farm, Blubberhouses, Otley LS21 2PQ | Locally sourced produce with an onsite smokehouse, get the big breakfast or the platter.
Nydsley Hall | Conveniently located in the heart of Pateley Bridge, this grand residence has four spacious apartments, each of which can accommodate up to 4 people. Two have private hot tubs, there’s private parking, plus luxurious complimentary toiletries.
Swinton Park | This luxury castle hotel set in 200 acres of parkland, lakes and gardens has twin or double rooms. Plus multiple estate cottages that can accommodate up to 8 people. There’s a spa and wellness centre with three swimming pools, plus two on site restaurants.
Black Swan Inn | Nestled in the pretty village of Fearby, surrounded by stunning countryside, this 17th century pub has double and twin rooms, plus a three bedroom house. There’s free parking, delicious home cooked food, plus tea and coffee making facilities in each room.
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Yorkshire born & bred, Sarah is a professional blogger who loves to travel. Pushing her boundaries with new adventures is her jam, so you likely won’t find her in one place for too long. Also a serious Marmite addict.