The Masham and Leighton Reservoir walk in Nidderdale

West from Masham to Leighton on the Ripon Rowel Walk, then south-west around Leighton Reservoir to reach the dam of Roundhill Reservoir. After crossing the dam, it’s north-east to Druid’s Plantation before heading east to the village of Ilton. Then it’s generally north-east on paths, tracks and minor roads back to Masham via Swinton Park. A 14-mile walk in Nidderdale.


The best map to use on this walk is the Ordnance Survey map of Nidderdale, reference OS Explorer 298, scale 1:25,000. It clearly displays footpaths, rights of way, open access land and vegetation on the ground, making it ideal for walking, running and hiking. The map can be purchased from Amazon in either a standard, paper version or a weatherproof, laminated version, as shown below.

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Road bridge across Leighton Reservoir.


Leighton Reservoir.


Overflow at the north-west corner of Roundhill Reservoir. Looks quite surreal.


Roundhill Reservoir tower with the inscription:

ROUNDHILL.RESERVOIR
COMMENCED 1903
COMPLETED 1911


Roundhill Reservoir outlet which fills Leighton Reservoir.


The view north-east from the Roundhill Reservoir dam towards Leighton Reservoir.

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Roundhill Reservoir dam.


Druid’s Temple

There is much mystery surrounding the Druid’s Temple. We don’t even know for sure when it was built, but we do know that it’s not prehistoric – it’s an elaborate folly. It’s generally agreed that the temple was built by estate workers at some point between the late 1700s and the early 1800s. The work was commissioned by William Danby, the owner of the Swinton estate. He had travelled extensively around Europe, which inspired him to build more varied and striking contrasts of scenery at Swinton. He was also probably influenced by the Romantic movement, with its nostalgia for ancient customs and emphasis on the beauty of nature. Poets such as Blake and Wordsworth were intrigued by Druidism and druids were seen by some as England’s earliest men of learning. It’s even said that Danby employed a hermit to live at the temple, speaking to no one and allowing his beard and hair to grow. He lasted up to seven years before vacating the role.

The design of the temple and surrounding stone features must have been meticulously researched. There are several elements that bear a symbolic resemblance to an authentic Druid’s temple. The first chamber contains the four symbols of the elements – air, earth, fire and water. Behind the three stones forming a screen is the solar chamber and beyond this is the Tomb of Transformation. On the hill above, the high stack of stones is the symbol of deity with the twelve signs of the zodiac surrounding it. Today the temple is an attraction for families, walkers and nature lovers to visit and enjoy the woodland setting and the surrounding views of the Swinton estate.


Coffin Pond, Swinton Park

During the 1750s William Danby started to landscape the grounds surrounding his Swinton Park home. He had a stream constructed that carried spring water off the moors to run into the five lakes that flow through the parkland. Coffin Pond is the fourth of these, and has some very attractive planting that creates a blaze of spring and autumn colour. A more dramatic style was added to the lake in the early 1800s with the boulders and promontory at the far end of the lake, along with the addition of two stone coffins. These were excavated in a quarry close to Masham, and it was thought that they had been from the burial ground of an abbey. Another feature built was a boathouse which is now a ruin having lost its roof many years ago.


Deer Park on the grounds of the Swinton estate.


Entrance to Swinton Park.

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T&R Theakston Ltd in Masham, a family brewing company founded in 1827.


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