I had walked along part of this trail to Bolton Abbey one week earlier when I did Simon’s Seat, and I knew I would come back to walk the full length at some point. I wasn’t planning on coming back so soon though.
It was forecast to rain everywhere today, and as I’m only living in Yorkshire for a short time, I want to make every day count. This seemed like a good one to do, as there is a lot of tree cover. Rain protection.
Well, when I got there, the rain and stopped, and it turned into a glorious day. Just as well really, because I realised when doing the walk, that due to there being no leaves on the trees, it was very gappy.
Beautiful, mystical…..and said to be the deadliest stretch of river in not just the UK, but the world. That is the Strid.
When I first saw the Strid a week ago, on the Simon’s Seat route, I stopped dead in my tracks. I was mesmerised.
It’s basically an area where the River Wharfe is forced through a narrow gap in the rocks. Where it becomes narrow, it also becomes very deep, with caves and crevices, and an incredibly strong current.
No one survives the Strid. It’s said to have claimed 100% of people who have fallen into it.
Nicknamed ‘the stream that swallows people’ and ‘Englands Killer Creek’.
Don’t panic. As long as you don’t try and jump across it, or get close to the edge and slip in, you should be fine. It’s is part of Strid Wood, which is an area of Special Scientific Interest. A lot of the walk will be through the wood.
How long is the Bolton Abbey walk?
The full walk between Bolton Abbey and Barden Bridge is 7 miles. It took me about 2h 30 min to complete.
If you like abbey walks, then over in the North York Moors, you could try this route to Rievaulx Abbey. It’s an easy one, starting from the picturesque market town of Helmsley. Or you could try this circular around Fountains Abbey, which is a little closer, over in Nidderdale.
Read more: Best walks across the North York Moors
Read more: Best walks around Nidderdale
Is the Bolton Abbey walk easy?
The walk to Bolton Abbey is very easy. All you do is follow the riverside path that takes you all the way along the River Wharfe and back again. Some parts along a level, smooth path, others a little more rugged. There are some quite aggressive undulations near the Barden Bridge end, but I saw lots of people with prams breezing along it, so it’s not that bad.
Parking for the Bolton Abbey walk
The whole area is part of the Bolton Abbey Estate, and if you want to use one of the car parks, it’s £15. The idea of paying that much for parking sickens me, so I found some free parking.
Next to Barden Bridge, there is limited space where you can park for free. Or just up the hill, next to Barden Tower, there is some more.
If you don’t mind paying for parking, and want facilities, you can park at the main Bolton Abbey car park, the Cavendish Pavilion which is about halfway along the river, or at the Strid Wood car Park which is between the Cavendish Pavilion and Barden Bridge. All these car parks are on the west side of the river.
- Start/Finish: I started at Barden Bridge for the parking. As this is a circular walk, you can start anywhere along it, so feel free to use one of the car parks if that’s more suited to you.
- Where is it: Located in the southern area of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
- Public transport: Yes. There are a few bus options to get you to Bolton Abbey. They aren’t very frequent through. You can see the bus routes and timetables here.
- Distance: 7 miles
- Time: 2h 30min without stops
- Difficulty: Easy
- Terrain: Easy path, dirt trail, some rockier bits, tree roots, maybe stepping stones
- Dog friendly: Dogs are welcome if kept on a lead
- Amenities: At the Bolton Abbey end of the walk, there are a couple of tea rooms, and public toilets. At Cavendish Pavilion, part way along the river, there are public toilets, and a restaurant. A tea room at the Strid Wood car park. Lots of viewpoint benches, picnic benches, and dog poo bins.
- Time of year: I did this walk to Bolton Abbey in winter
Bolton Abbey circular walk map
You can find mat more detailed Bolton Abbey walk route map on Alltrails.
More local or similar walks to the Bolton Abbey route, will be listed at the end. Or you can see a side by side of all the walks I recommend on my Yorkshire Dales walking route guide.
Tips for the Bolton Abbey walk
- If you want the free parking, if coming on a weekend, get here early. When I came here on a weekend to do Simon’s Seat, it was 10am and all the Barden Bridge spaces were taken. I managed to get the last space left by Barden Tower. Today, I came on a weekday, and it was still fairly busy. I got the last space at the bridge.
- The best view of the Strid is looking down at it from up high, along the east side of the river.
- Trainers should be fine for this walk.
- Be carful at the Strid. As mentioned, lots of people have died there.
- I would walk the east side of the river first (the side I did first) as it’s more hilly. Get the ‘tougher’ bit out of the way first.
- For me, the best part of this walk is the section between Barden Bridge and the Strid, and not Bolton Abbey (although the abbey is beautiful). So if you want to shorten the walk, I would do that section. There is a bridge crossing at the Cavendish Pavilion, so you could do a circular between there and Barden Bridge.
- If you have come with a buggy, a lot of the route is pram friendly, but not all. There is one section on the west side of the river, north of the Strid, that is too rocky. Everywhere else looked fine.
- At the time of writing, some of the stepping stones are missing, but there is a bridge crossing you can take instead.
- Wherever you see a bench, go and stand (or sit) where it’s pointing. There is usually a very very good surprise view.
A guide the Bolton abbey River Walk via the Strid
I will be describing the route starting from Barden Bridge. If you want to start the walk from one of the car parks, you can still follow this guide, just skip down to the heading ‘Cavendish Pavilion’ , ’Bolton Abbey’, or ‘Walk back to Barden Bridge’ (for the Strid wood car park).
From the parking at Barden Bridge, stay on this side of the river, but go to the other side of the bridge to get onto the trail. If you have parked up at Barden Tower, then just walk down the hill to get to the bridge.
This first bit of the trail, is along the grass, then a path, in the open, all the way to reach the big ornate bridge. I still don’t know what this bridge is called. It’s so fancy, it must have a name. But I can’t find it.
Walk up and into Strid Wood
A little past the bridge, the trail will take you uphill to enter Strid Wood. Once inside, very soon, you will reach the first viewpoint bench.
As you keep going, the path will twist and undulate, and very soon you will start to get those gorgeous views down to the Strid. There are multiple viewpoints if you keep walking.
Walk down and alongside the river
After more twist, turns and undulations, the path will take you down and alongside the river. That was the ‘hardest’ bit of the walk.
For the next section of the walk, right up until you get nearer to Bolton Abbey, you will remain down here on this easy path.
Take a detour to the Valley of Desolation?
Just over a little bridge, you will reach a junction. To continue the walk to Bolton Abbey, stay on the riverside trail. If you want to go and see a cool waterfall (my favourite one out here), you can take a short detour, following the sign for the Valley of Desolation. You can see what it looks like on my Simon’s Seat guide here.
To get there, first go up the road, then left through a gate, and onto the trail. then follow it to reach the waterfall. You need to go out and come back on the same trail. It’s about 1 mile there and back.
Walk past Cavendish Pavilion
If you want to continue on this riverside trail to Bolton Abbey, it’s a little bit more woodland before you reach an open area, where you will see the Cavendish Pavilion ahead on the other side of the river. There is a bridge there if you want to cross over for some facilities.
Walk back into the woods and up the hill
After a short bit of open air walking, you will be back into the woods. The trail as you enter the woods, takes you to the left and over the bridge, before going uphill on a bit of road. Part way up, there is a wooden gate on the right, to get you back onto the trail.
The trail undulates a bit more again, but this time on an easy clear path, with some more surprise views. Then when you reach the junction, you need to make a decision.
Both ways will take you to Bolton Abbey, but you now need to decide what views you want as you approach.
I stood here for a solid 5min trying to decide which route to take. I didn’t know anything about either route, but my theory was, if I walk along the left trail, I should get views of Bolton Abbey from high up. The right trail, looked to take me along the riverside again.
Having now done it, I can confirm this theory, and I highly recommend taking the left trail.
Walk to Bolton Abbey
Taking the left trail, past the musical instrument, and uphill a little more, just past the viewpoint bench you will get a marvellous view down to Bolton Abbey.
At the next junction, take the right trail this time, and it will lead you all the way down to the river.
I had been looking forward to the stepping stones, but noticed some were missing. That was a bummer. The bridge is a suitable alternative.
On the other side, you can walk around Bolton Abbey, and go to one of the tea rooms. I chose not to. I always prefer these things from the outside.
Leave Bolton Abbey to walk back along the river
There is a path that takes you around Bolton Abbey, and up to the road.
Note: There are some steps on this path. If you have wheels, you can probably get up along the other side of the Abbey.
When you reach the road, turn right. It’s a short bit of roadside pavement walking, with wonderful views down to the river, to reach a wooden gate taking you down onto the trail again.
There are also some more steps coming up. You can avoid them by staying on the road that takes you to the Cavendish Pavilion.
Down the steps you will reach a large field, maybe with sheep grazing, and a gorgeous backdrop of a hill.
You are encouraged in this field to walk your own way across, and not follow the trail. For that exact reason. A trail has formed from all the foot traffic.
Whichever way you choose, make your way to the other side, and through the wooden gate to reach the riverside.
This next bit is my least favourite part of the Bolton Abbey walk. You will be walking through a large area, which for me was empty, but it looked like it was there to be used as a car park during high season probably.
It’s just a lot of grass with markers and road running through it…and it goes on for a long time before you reach the Cavendish Pavilion.
Once at the pavilion, you have all the facilities, including lots of information boards telling you about the woods.
To continue the walk, go past the pavilion and back into Strid Wood.
Walk through the woods
This section of the woods is on a much wider path than the other side. Sometimes you will be presented with multiple trail options. I chose to stay on the trail keeping me nearest to the river. I wanted to make sure I was on the Strid when it came.
If you have come with a pram, at the first main junction to take you onto the river (see photo below), don’t take it. It won’t be suitable. It’s very rocky, tree rooty, and has steps.
If you took the riverside trail, when you come back up the steps, you will see two trails. Keep to the lower one.
Coming up next is a stretch of the river which is incredibly calm. It looked like glass. I knew the Strid would be coming next. Was this the calm before the storm?
You know you will be near the Strid when you start to see big moss covered boulders about.
Just before the Strid, there are big red signs warning of the danger. To get close to it, you need to go off trail now. It is allowed. There are signs even telling you where to go to get to the view of it.
I have to say, being down close to it, I think it’s much better viewed from afar. Up high on the other side of the river.
As expected, there was a photographer here. Just one though, which surprised me.
The most rugged section of the trail
Back onto the main trail, it will take you uphill, then along a very very rocky bit that no pram is getting across. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo to show you. I accidentally deleted it. The photo below is just before the rugged bit.
It’s a very short section, before things even out again. If you have a pram, then I can see on my map there is an alternate trail to get around.
Walk back to Barden Bridge
Some way along here, you will reach a junction. Left takes you to the Strid Wood tea room and car park. Right takes you to Barden Bridge.
The next bit of trail is more similar to the other side of the river. I quite liked it, the way it twists and undulates, before taking you back down to the river side.
Now it’s just a straight bit of riverside walking, past the fancy bridge, and then to Barden Bridge.
More local or similar walks
Simon’s Seat and the Valley of Desolation are nearby. You can park in the same place to start it. It’s a challenging one. Very different to the Bolton Abbey walk. But it’s very good. You can read more about it here.
If you prefer to keep things easy, and like waterfalls, then Burnsall to Grassington is lovely. It follows a different section of the River Whye, and will take you past the Linton Falls.
Aysgarth Falls further north is fun. It takes you over some really cool stepping stones. This is a very family friendly walk. Another family friendly one, a short drive from Aysgarth, is the walk to Hardraw Force. It is the tallest single drop waterfall in England.
If you like a challenge, then you should try out Pen-y-Ghent. It’s further north in the Yorkshire Dales, and involves a bit of a scramble. It’s not actually similar to the Bolton Abby walk at all. I just wanted to mention it.
For a mix of waterfalls, river, and wonderful valley views, you should head up to Swaledale. It’s now my favourite area of the Yorkshire Dales. This route from Muker, takes you along the river to a number of waterfalls.
For even more walks for all abilities, you check out my Yorkshire Dales walking guide.