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Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire is a must-visit attraction in Yorkshire. Highlights include incredible views, historic ruins, 60 ancient stepping stones, and over 80 miles of scenic walks to suit all ages and abilities – whatever the season.
Set in 30,000 acres of beautiful moorland, woodland and agricultural land, Bolton Abbey is located on a rural seven-mile stretch of the River Wharfe. It’s one of the most visited places in the Yorkshire Dales – about an hour’s drive northwest of Leeds or about 90 minutes from Manchester International Airport.
This guide introduces you to the best things to do in Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire.
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Bolton Abbey Quick Facts
- Location: North Yorkshire
- Nearest Towns: Skipton (6.5 miles) and Ilkley (6 miles)
- Nearest Cities: Leeds (60-minute drive) and Bradford (40-minute drive)
- Dog Friendly? Dogs are allowed on the paths – on a lead
- Opening Hours: Daily from 9 am. The last admission to the car parks is in the summer at 6 pm (4 pm in the winter)
- Who Owns Bolton Abbey?: The Dukes of Devonshire (since 1753)
The 8 Most Popular Things to See & Do at Bolton Abbey
The estate is vast, but with a bit of planning and a sturdy pair of walking boots, you can see many of the top attractions in just one day. Here are the best things to see and do:
- Wander around the ruins of Bolton Abbey
- Visit the Priory Church
- Admire Bolton Abbey Hall
- Walk across the river on the 60 stepping stones
- Visit the deadly Strid
- Check out the Cavendish Memorial Fountain
- Discover the Valley of Desolation and Simon’s Seat
- Take your pick from the best walking trails
No car? No problem!
It’s easy and comfortable to visit Bolton Abbey as part of an expert-guided tour. This full-day tour gives a fantastic introduction to the Yorkshire Dales – you’ll visit Bolton Abbey, the village of Howarth where the Bronte Sisters lived, Bingley Five Rise Locks and Linton Falls.
Check availability here
Here’s Exactly What to Do at Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire
1. Wander Around the Ruined Abbey
The iconic ruins of Bolton Abbey are perhaps the most photographed attractions at the Bolton Abbey estate, and it’s easy to see why. Every single angle is picturesque, and Bolton Abbey’s history is fascinating!.
Bolton Abbey dates back to 1155, when a group of Augustinian monks and their prior started to build the priory. Over the following 400 years, the priory was added to and improved until it was destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII in 1539 as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries- ordered by Henry VIII.
Today it’s an awe-inspiring place to visit. Remember to look up to take in the magnificent, soaring architecture – wondering how on earth a band of monks and their workers could have built something so incredible without modern tools!
Pro Tip: One of the best views of the abbey is from the opposite side of the river, just past the stepping stones.
2. Visit Bolton Priory Church
Bolton Priory is one of the finest medieval churches in the north of England. Since its foundation in the twelfth century, it’s been a site of continuous Christian worship. The church has survived Scottish raids, the Black Death, the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the religious turbulence of later centuries.
The beautiful Priory Church was saved from destruction when the rest of Bolton Abbey was destroyed, as it was a place of worship for the whole village, not just the monks.
Between 1982 and 1985 the Priory Church was extensively renovated, with a roof added to the west tower. Today, the church thrives and is still in regular use. Pop in to appreciate the stunning architecture and the serenity of this lovely, ancient place.
3. Admire Bolton Hall, Bolton Abbey (Bolton Priory Hall)
Bolton Abbey Hall (also known as Bolton Priory Hall) was built at the end of the 17th century, incorporating the 14th-century gatehouse of Bolton Abbey.
The Hall was built at the end of the 17th century, incorporating the 14th-century gatehouse to Bolton Priory. It’s been extended since and used as a shooting lodge for the Dukes of Devonshire.
While the house is closed to the public, the grounds are open to all.
4. Walk Across the Bolton Abbey Stepping Stones
One of the most popular things to do at Bolton Abbey is to follow in the footsteps of the monks of yesteryear and cross the River Wharfe using the 60 ancient stepping stones.
Visitors flock to try this out when the river is calm and low. Luckily, there is a one-way system in place to prevent any mid-river incidents 🙂
But, visit in the winter, or after a prolonged period of rain, and that same lazy river floods, becoming fast-moving and dangerous. Sometimes the river level rises so high that the stepping stones disappear beneath the swirling waters!
A bridge crosses the river to the “beach” area – a favourite picnic spot for families and dog owners!
Pro Tip: Don’t let your dog in for an off-leash paddle if the river runs high over the stepping stones – the current is powerful.
5. Visit the Deadly Strid
Where the River Wharfe flows through Strid Wood, it’s known as The Strid. It’s also known as “England’s Killer Creek“.
Visit in the summer, and it’s hard to imagine why the Strid at Bolton Abbey earned its nickname., but appearances are deceptive. The river narrows rapidly as it reaches the Strid, becoming deep, fast-flowing and perilous thanks to the strong undercurrents and the uneven riverbanks riddled with caves and rocky overhangs.
People have perished in the Strid since records began. Some made foolhardy attempts to jump across the river. Others were caught out by the incredible speed of the rising waters – the river has been recorded rising up to 5ft in a minute and sweeping people away!
Whatever the reason, local lore tells of a 100% fatality rate for those who fall in the Strid – and there are plenty of warning signs to alert visitors to the dangers. Take heed!
It’s thrilling to experience the roar of the Strid in the winter. The sound of water being forced between the narrow riverbanks is incredible – just don’t get too close to the dangerous waters or slip on the treacherous rocks!
6. Check Out The Cavendish Memorial Fountain
Lord Frederick Cavendish, heir to William Cavendish – 7th Duke of Devonshire – was fatally stabbed at Phoenix Park in Dublin in May 1882 when he was Chief Secretary for Ireland. His 40ft high (12.2m) Gothic Revival memorial stands on high ground overlooking the River Wharfe and contains a drinking fountain.
Pro Tip: Look up to see some impressive gargoyles!
7. Discover the Valley of Desolation and Simon’s Seat
The challenging walk to Simon’s Seat – especially the ascent to the summit – is 100% worthwhile for the view of the Yorkshire Dales from the top.
Fun fact: The Valley of Desolation is named after a great storm in 1826.
From the Cavendish Pavillion, follow the signposted path through Posforth Gill to the Valley of Desolation, passing through woods and past pretty waterfalls.
Continue up onto the moors through Barden Fell to the summit of Simon’s Seat. The path signposted to Barden Bridge takes you back to the Cavendish Pavillion, where they serve very good hot chocolate.
Fun fact: Simon’s Seat is 485m (1590ft) above sea level. According to local lore, it was named by Druids, who followed the 1st-century priest Simon Magus (also known as Simon the Sorcerer or Simon the Magician), who claimed to be one of the Three Wise Men.
Distance: 13.25km (8.25 miles)
Time: 5 hours
8. Try Out the Best Walks at Bolton Abbey
I’ve lived in Yorkshire for almost a decade and have experienced the awesome Bolton Abbey walks more than a few times. With more than 80 miles of footpaths on either side of the river, you can wander freely, but there are well-marked trails to follow too. Here are a few to whet your appetite!
Bolton Abbey Village to Cavendish Pavilion
Distance: 3km (2 miles) Time: 45 mins to 1 hour
A pleasant stroll from the Bolton Abbey car park towards Cavendish Pavilion. If you’re short of time but want a glimpse of the ruined abbey and the Priory Church, this is your best bet.
Wander towards Bolton Abbey past the priory and down towards the river. Here you can either cross the stepping stones or use the bridge, turn left and follow the riverside path or climb up into the woods to get views of the priory or Barden Bridge.
Other Walks to Enjoy at Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire
- Bolton Abbey to Hare Head. A 7-mile (4 hours) moderate hike on a loop around the riverside, through woods and across gorgeous moorland.
- Cavendish Pavilion to Barden Bridge. This 7.5km (4.7 miles) walk takes 2 hours 30 mins. Starting from the Riverside car park, you’ll cross the river, turn left and walk through Strid Wood, with a view of the Strid from above. For a shorter walk, cross the river at the aqueduct instead of continuing to Barden Bridge.
- The Welly Walk. (May to November) Perfect for getting out into the woods and having fun with your small people. They will get mucky, though, as they climb trees and scramble through tunnels, slides, and bridges.
Tips for Walking at Bolton Abbey
Dress for the weather and the rural conditions – if you decide to walk around the estate, you’ll need proper walking boots.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to pack water, snacks, sunscreen (or lip salve) – and your camera!
Places Stay near Bolton Abbey
There is plenty of choice of where to stay near Bolton Abbey. Here are my favourites:
Most Scenic Hotel: The Devonshire Arms Hotel & Spa
If you’re looking for somewhere quintessentially Yorkshire to stay near Bolton Abbey, you can’t beat the Devonshire Arms Hotel. This impressive 4-star country house hotel has an adults-only spa, gym, indoor pool and an award-winning restaurant. It’s located just outside the entrance to Bolton Abbey. You can check availability and prices here.
Best Located Hotel: The Wheatley Arms
Perfectly located moments from the highly regarded town of Ilkley and a short drive from Bolton Abbey, the Wheatley Arms has beautiful, individually styled rooms – some have four poster beds or freestanding baths. There’s also a great bar and restaurant, and Ilkley has high-quality restaurants. Check availability and prices here.
Best Hotel for Walks: The Devonshire Fell Hotel
This beautiful hotel lies on the edge of the Bolton Abbey estate. It has amazing views of the river close by, and there are lots of walks that can be done from the hotel itself around the river and hills nearby. There’s a cosy bar and a great restaurant to relax in after a day of hiking. Check availability and prices here.
Bolton Abbey Parking and Admission Prices
Parking costs £10 per car for up to 7 people per vehicle. (£4 for a motorbike). You can also buy an annual season ticket for £100.
Pro Tip: The car parks are locked one hour after the last admission time, making it quite expensive to turn up for just one hour!
There are four car parks on the estate, and they are quite a distance from each other, so you need to know in advance what you’d like to see to plan the best place to park (unless you fancy a REALLY long extra walk!).
Here’s a handy map of Bolton Abbey with all the car parks and attractions marked.
1. Bolton Abbey Car Park
Best for exploring the Priory Church and ruins, the Stepping Stones and the beach area. Postcode: BD23 6EX
2. Riverside Car Park
Best for: Cavendish Pavillion, Welly Walks, easy access to Strid Wood, Simon’s Seat, and the Valley of Desolation. Postcode: BD23 6AN
3. Strid Wood Car Park
Best for: access to the Cumberland Trail, the Aqueduct, the Strid, and Barden Bridge. It’s a good 45-minute walk from here to the Priory Church! Postcode: BD23 6AN
There’s a very good tea room (and toilets) at this car park – perfect for the end of your walk. The homemade scones are ridiculously tasty and the carrot cake is the business!
4. Barden Field Car Park
Best for: Barden Bridge, Barden Tower and Priest House, and the Aqueduct. Limited opening – Sundays only, from May to August.
Before You Go
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Until next time!