Guest blog by Paul Kirkwood
Twenty years ago, there was no public access to the River Nidd south of Kirk Hammerton Mill. Since then a looped bridleway has been established following efforts led by a villager, the late Wyn Evans. The Sylvan Nature Reserve, established by Make it Wild, a family business supporting nature is thriving within it. An excellent two-mile walk based on the bridleway starts at St John’s Church in centre of Kirk Hammerton.
Walk south from the church down Mill Lane (a track with no access for cars). Pass the cricket pitch and through a pedestrian gate to the left of an electric vehicle gate. Proceed between the mill and farmhouse and through another signed bridlegate immediately ahead. Look for the yellow sign indicating ‘private fishing’. From here you basically follow the bridleway around the young woodland, keeping the River Nidd on your right. Dogs must be kept on a lead, as this is primarily a nature reserve.
If you look closely you will soon spot in the undergrowth the iron remains of a parapet for Skewkirk Bridge, a Victorian iron toll bridge, that connected Tockwith and Kirk Hammerton until its demolition in 1969. There have been calls for the installation of a new footbridge in the same spot pretty much ever since but they have come to nothing due to land ownership issues and objections to the proposed type of the bridge by the British Horse Society. A pre-fabricated bridge that had been sourced in readiness for the new crossing was eventually used to reconnect the two halves of Tadcaster after the town’s bridge was washed away in the storms of Christmas 2015.
A large sandy beach used to exist close to the bridge on the opposite side of the river. People flocked to it in the 1960s. It existed because of a weir beside the mill which slowed the flow of the river downstream causing it to broaden and deposit sand on the west bank. When the weir disintegrated in the 1960s the flow increased again, giving the river a narrower, deeper and more direct course and washing away the sand. The beach has since become completely covered in nettles, trees and bushes and bears no resemblance to the scene in the photo.
Two small beaches remain, when the river is low, a few yards downstream and just yards off the walk route, shortly after fishing post no 14. I like to think that the new beaches were formed of sand from the old beach as it was deposited on the inside of the sharp meander where the flow is slower. (I was paying attention in geography classes!). You may swim here, as Make it Wild permit ‘quiet enjoyment’ of their land.
The water isn’t usually deep, rarely going above your waist, and the conditions underfoot are relatively firm and sandy or gritty. The beach is a truly idyllic, secluded and peaceful spot where all you hear is the distant baaing of sheep and trickling water. Use your common sense and take precautions about safety when swimming in the Nidd and any other rivers or lakes especially with children.
Continue your walk beside the river. After two signs warning of overhead wires ignore a left turn and keep ahead. At a wire fence turn left to keep the fence and embankment on your right and a copse on your left. Depending on the season you may have to walk round a water filled ‘scrape’.
Pass beside a bridlegate following the blue waymarker, and you will enter the slightly elevated part which was sown with wild flowers. Then, soon after, go through another bridlegate heading for a fine solitary oak tree in the middle of a field. At the tree keep ahead towards a signpost with blue waymarkers. At the post turn left, to keep a dyke on your right. As the dyke bears right keep in the same direction, past a post without waymarkers, heading to the right of a stable. Cross a stile and down a hedged lane for about 60 yards to return to Mill Lane. Turn right back to Kirk Hammerton church where there’s a good choice of benches on the green for a rest.
Paul writes about bike rides in Yorkshire and beyond at greatbritishbikerides.wordpress.com