Things to do in Nidderdale AONB

25 Unique Things To Do in Nidderdale AONB

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Beautiful Nidderdale is a great place for exploring the attractions of the Yorkshire Dales National Park in Northern England. In this post, you’ll find my recommendations for the best things to do in Nidderdale and the surrounding areas for the whole family.

Whether you love spectacular views, great places for a nice walk, poking around historical buildings, or finding new foodie spots and great country pubs, Nidderdale AONB is the perfect addition to your UK itinerary.

The Best Things to Do in Nidderdale

You may want to add these places in Nidderdale to your Yorkshire itinerary:

But before we get started, a couple of questions!

Nidderdale View
Nidderdale View

What is an AONB?

In England, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 protects 41 areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). This means the land is protected to conserve and enhance its natural beauty. The area around Nidderdale was designated as an AONB in 1994. 

Where is Nidderdale?

Nidderdale is in North Yorkshire, in the north of England. It covers an area of 233 square miles (603 km2). 

Where in Yorkshire is Nidderdale?

Where is Nidderdale

While Nidderdale is one of the Yorkshire Dales, in a typically British twist, it’s not part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park!

Located in the upper valley of the River Nidd, Nidderdale is the most rural of all of the Dales. The small town of Pateley Bridge is Nidderdale’s sole town; however, the hills and valleys are full of pretty villages.

Recommended Tour

If you only have one day free to see Nidderdale AONB, this fabulous full-day tour of the Yorkshire Dales from York gives you the best introduction to the Yorkshire Dales – including a visit to Pateley Bridge!

The tour highlights include:

  • Exploring the stunning Yorkshire Dales National Park
  • Visiting the former home of Mary Queen of Scots – medieval Bolton Castle
  • Tasting cheeses at the award-winning Wensleydale Creamery – made famous by Wallace and Gromit!
  • Visiting the traditional Dales village behind the box-office hit movie Calendar Girls
  • Dropping into England’s Oldest Sweet Shop in quaint Pateley Bridge

1. Discover Nidderdale’s Only Town

Things to do in Nidderdale Pateley Bridge High Street
Pateley Bridge High Street © Copyright G Laird

Pretty little Pateley Bridge is a little market town on the River Nidd that’s home to England’s oldest sweet shop and the Nidderdale Museum.

Is Pateley Bridge Worth Visiting?

With a beautiful (but steep) high street, thriving art galleries, independent shops, and good pubs, “Pateley” also attracts keen hikers, as it is where the 53-mile Nidderdale Way Long Distance Trail starts and finishes. (see below). If you’re visiting Pateley Bridge with young children, there’s a lovely riverside children’s play area to keep them busy too.

Explore Historic Sites

Lucky Nidderdale has more than its fair share of historical sites to explore! Here are some of the most popular:

2. Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal Park

Fountains Abbey North Yorkshire England

England’s most complete Cistercian abbey is located just under four miles from the cathedral city of Ripon. Fountains Abbey is one of the glories of Nidderdale and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Hauntingly beautiful, the medieval monastery was founded in the 12th century but was ruined centuries later during the dissolution of the monasteries. 

The Abbey sits within the Studley Royal Park, which includes Studley Royal Water Garden, St Mary’s Church, Fountains MillFountains Hall, and a stunning deer park! The excellent visitor centre provides a wealth of information and has lovely tea rooms when your legs are tired from all the walking.

READ MORE> What to see and do at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Park

3. Jervaulx Abbey

The atmospheric ruins of Jervaulx Abbey in Nidderdale near Ripon
The atmospheric ruins of Jervaulx Abbey in Nidderdale near Ripon © David Dixon 

Nidderdale also contains the atmospheric ruins of Britain’s largest privately owned abbey – Jervaulx Abbey. It was founded in 1146 by a Cistercian monk on land near Aysgarth, then moved a decade later to the current site by the River Ure.

Jervaulx Abbey was also ruined during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. Today, it’s an atmospheric ruin, allowed to flourish with abundant wildflowers, shrubs and trees growing in its many nooks and crannies. As a family-run ancient monument, Jervaulx is a serene place to walk in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside.

4. Marmion Tower

Marmion Tower geograph.org .uk 1690757

Marmion Tower  CC BY-SA 2.0

Near the village of West Tanfield in North Yorkshire, you can find a fine 15th-century gatehouse three storeys high with a beautiful oriel window. It’s the last evidence of a long-vanished manor house that once stood beside the river Ure.

Top Tip: Check out the adjacent church where you’ll see monuments of the manor’s Marmion family owners.

5. Thornborough Henges

Thornborough Henges, close to Thornborough and West Tanfield villages, is popularly known as ‘The Stonehenge of the North.

English Heritage describes the Neolithic and Bronze Age site at Thornborough Henge as “the most important prehistoric site between Stonehenge and the Orkneys”. This immense ancient complex includes a cursus, henges, burial grounds and settlements. 

6. Druid’s Temple

Druids Temple RiponView of the Druid’s Temple folly

The atmospheric Druid’s Temple is located in woodland, about four miles west of the small town of Masham, on the edge of Nidderdale. Weirdly though, it’s not an actual prehistoric temple but a Victorian folly – designed to resemble places like Stonehenge.

The Druid’s Temple was built in the 19th century by wealthy landowner William Danby on his estate in lower Wensleydale to alleviate local unemployment.

Today, the druid’s temple is a favourite picnicking spot, wrapped in fern-bedded woodland. Despite its well-documented history, many tales of devil worship and strange secret rituals have circulated about the Druid Temple over the last 200 years!

7. Ripley Castle

Ripley Castle Yorkshire

Ripley Castle is a fourteenth-century country house estate in Ripley, steeped in history and set in a charming village. Twenty-six generations of the Ingilby family have lived at Ripley Castle! 

Inside the castle, there’s a 16th-century tower filled with armour, books, wonderful panelling, and a secret Priest’s Hole! 

You can also explore the castle’s magnificent grounds, which include lakes, a deer park, walled gardens, hothouses, and a fantastic kitchen garden.

READ MORE> Discover Ripley Castle and the Charming Village of Ripley

8. Markenfield Hall

Markenfield Hall near Ripon
Markenfield Hall near Ripon

This mostly 14th-century Grade I-listed manor house near Ripon has a 16th-century Tudor gatehouse. Look out for the vaulted Gothic undercroft/kitchen, the great hall, the chapel, and the grand four-poster bedroom!

9. Newby Hall and Gardens

Newby Hall Ripon
Newby Hall and Gardens near Ripon

Newby Hall is a late 17th-century country house near Ripon, where some of England’s most well-known designers have left their mark!

In addition to the house, there are 25 acres of award-winning gardens to explore, including double herbaceous borders, a rose garden, a water garden, a tropical garden, a woodland garden, and two rock gardens! 

READ NEXT: If you’re a fan of English country houses, you will love Harewood House – the home of the “Yorkshire Princess”.

10. Toft Gate Lime Kiln

Toft Gate Lime Kiln is a fascinating and largely intact piece of Nidderdale’s industrial heritage in a remote location on Greenhow Hill, two miles from Pateley Bridge.

During the 19th century, the kiln was used to heat limestone dug from the nearby hill to produce quicklime for local agriculture until advances in industry and agriculture made this small kiln redundant.

The structure visible from the car park is the flu stack, which kept the toxic fumes from the lime kiln away from the workers. Today, the long flue remains, and much of the Toft Gate Lime Kiln has been uncovered to show the scale of work.

The car park for Toft Gate Lime Kiln is a Dark Sky Discovery Site, thanks to its prominent position on the top of Greenhow hill and lack of light pollution. While the car park is near the road, there are places on the site further away.

Top Tip: Remember your torch, telescope and camera!

Animal Experiences in Nidderdale

The hills, valleys and rivers of Nidderdale teem with wildlife, and there are plenty of ways to get close to them.

11. Talon Falconry

Yorkshire Falconry

Talon Falconry allows you to see how falcons are handled and trained. You can also see the falcons in action at the flying demonstrations, don a gauntlet, and let one of these amazing birds of prey land on your arm!

There’s also a wild birds area, bird boxes with webcams, owl and hawk experiences, plus falconry courses.

12. Nidderdale Llamas

Why not try a spot of llama or alpaca trekking for something different and very zen? Nidderdale Llamas is a family-run popular attraction with outstanding views and the highest animal welfare standards.

There are several options for your llama (or alpaca) trek – ranging from a couple of hours around the lovely farm to a full-day trek in the stunning local area. How much more chilled could you get?

13. Fishing in Nidderdale

Things to do in Nidderdale Thruscross Resevoir
The stunning Thruscross Reservoir

Nidderdale has four beautiful reservoirs offering different opportunities for those keen on fishing. Fewston, Swinsty and Thruscross reservoirs in the Washburn Valley are all easily accessible from Harrogate and Leeds and offer fine fly and coarse fishing in stunning rural settings.

In a wilder, more remote setting, you’ll find Thruscross reservoir, where the 140 acres of water are perfect for wild brown trout fly fishing ((catch and return)). Visit Yorkshire Water for more information.

Nidderdale’s Natural Wonders

Yorkshire’s incredible landscape is what draws visitors to the county time and time again, and Nidderdale really pulls out the stops, with breathtaking views at every turn.

14. Brimham Rocks

Brimham Rocks Nidderdale Yorkshire
One of the ancient rock formations at Brimham Rocks

Visiting Brimham Rocks is one of the best days out near Ripon. Known as “The Wonder of Nidderdale“, these massive balancing rocks on Brimham Moor formed millions of years ago due to the erosion of the Millstone Grit by water, glaciation and wind. 

Some almost 30-metre-high rocks have weird shapes and names, including the Watchdog, the Camel, the Sphinx, the Turtle and the Dancing Bear.

Many of the rock formations have been named after things they look like. 

Brimham Rocks is a National Trust site, so it’s free to visit if you’re a member. For other visitors, there’s a small charge for the car park.

Top Tip: Visit Brimham at dawn for the most incredible sunrise shots!

15. Great Whernside

Things to do in Nidderdale Great Whernside
Great Whernside, Nidderdale. © James Elkington

The highest point in the Nidderdale AONB is Great Whernside, which rises to 704 metres on the border with the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

The western side of the Nidd Valley consists of a remote gritstone moorland marked by rocky outcrops and carpeted with vast swathes of heather. To the east, the landscape is softer, with rolling farmland, sheltered river valleys and picturesque stone villages. 

16. Stumps Cross Caverns

The fantastic geological formations of Stumps Cross Caverns, one of Britain’s premier show caves, descend 20 metres below the surface and contain incredible limestone formations. The caves at Stumps Cross were discovered in 1860 by miners looking for lead seams in the Yorkshire Dales.

17. The Himalayan Garden & Sculpture Park

This beautiful 45-acre Himalayan-inspired park is packed with interesting plants and 85 sculptures. With over 20,000 plants, this Himalayan garden has the country’s most extensive collection of rhododendrons! When they are in bloom, it’s spectacular!

The park is set in a beautiful valley with three lakes. There’s also a lovely arboretum with over 300 trees, including an oak tree over 1,000 years old – descended from the King Alfred oak at Blenheim Palace.

18. Coldstones Cut

Coldstones Cut Nidderdale
The massive artwork at Coldstones Cut – with a surprise at the end!

Coldstones Cut, hidden in deepest Nidderdale, is Britain’s largest public artwork, designed by the artist Andrew Sabin. The massive structure overlooks the working Coldstones Quarry and has incredible views over the Yorkshire Dales.

It’s located in one of the highest places in the Dales and can be very chilly – so you need to wrap up warm if there’s even a hint of wind or rain in the forecast!

The views from Coldstones Cut are stunning. On clear days, you can see the Yorkshire coast from this spot.

READ MORE: Secret Yorkshire: How to Visit the Coldstones Cut

19. Discover Falls & Follies at Hackfall Woods

Fisher's Hall Folly in Hackfall Woods Nidderdale
Fisher’s Hall Folly in Hackfall Woods, © Paul Brooker

The woodland garden at Hackfall Woods was designed in the 1700s by the Aislabie family, who also landscaped the water gardens at Studley Royal. 

Hackfall Woods is quite different to the manicured style of Studley Royal, though, as it was designed to be a “beautiful wilderness”.

There are surprises at every turn, from lush woodland to a 40-foot waterfall, a ruined castle and several follies with plenty of easy-to-follow paths. If you fancy stretching your legs further, the 17.5-mile circular Hackfall Woods Walk from Studley Royal includes Hackfall Woods and is very scenic.

Foodie Experiences in Nidderdale

Yorkshire is blessed with fertile land and a coastline brimming with life, and you’ll certainly never go hungry, as Yorkshire portions are famously generous!

READ MORE: Discover the best Yorkshire food (with some surprises).

20. Gin Tasting Experience

Gin distillery tour Yorkshire

Deep in rural Nidderdale, you can enjoy a fantastic gin tour and tasting with a difference at a family-run distillery that is miles off the beaten track. Highly recommended!

READ MOREGin Tasting in Nidderdale Yorkshire, A Sensational Experience

Active Things to do in Nidderdale

Nidderdale is the perfect place to get outside and active at your own pace.

21. How Stean Gorge

How Stean Gorge is a deep limestone gorge carved out over thousands of years by water flow. The gorge, also known as Yorkshire’s ‘Little Switzerland’, is almost a kilometre long (1/2 mile) and as much as 80 feet deep. 

If you’re brave, you can experience the thrills of the Via Ferrata – balancing on beams and ladders to traverse the rock face above the rushing water. It’s a very popular place for nature lovers and team building events!

22. The Nidderdale Way

The 53-mile Nidderdale Way is a circular walk that runs the length of Nidderdale, passing various landscapes from riverbanks to moors. The route starts and ends in Pateley Bridge, as it has the best transport links and the most accommodation. 

Most walkers choose to split the circular route over four days, making it a perfect activity for a long weekend in stunning scenery:

  • Day 1: Pateley Bridge to Middlesmoor (14.5 miles/22 km) MODERATE
  • Day 2: Middlesmoor to Bewerley (10.5 miles/17km) EASY
  • Day 3: Bewerley to Ripley (14.5 miles/22km) MODERATE
  • Day 4: Ripley to Pateley Bridge (14.5 miles/22km) EASY

23. National Trust Long Dales Route

Cyclist

If you’re fit, you’ll love the National Trust Long Dales Route that winds through the most incredible Yorkshire scenery. It’s quite a challenge!

The route starts from Fountains Abbey and takes in the Studley Royal deer park, cute country lanes, thigh-trembling steep climbs and the prettiest villages. You can find complete details here.

24. Lightwater Valley

The Lightwater Valley theme park has 40 thrill rides, children’s play areas and animal attractions., there’s something here for all ages. Within the theme park, you’ll also find Eagle’s Creek farm, where pygmy goats, Shetland ponies, and donkeys await visitors wanting less of an adrenalin rush.

25. Wonderful Walks

Nidderdale is packed with brilliant walking trails. Some of the best are around the region’s beautiful reservoirs, including Gouthwaite Reservoir, Scar House Reservoir and the stunning Washburn Valley.

Book Your Trip to Nidderdale AONB

Nidderdale is a popular place to escape from the daily grind, so you’ll need to book early to secure your choice of accommodation – especially during the UK school holidays.

Nidderdale Accommodation

1. The Willow Bed and Breakfast

The Willow is a highly-rated B&B right in the centre of Pateley Bridge, with very comfortable en-suite rooms and a homely restaurant. It’s the perfect place to unwind after a busy day of hiking, sightseeing, or cycling, and has secure storage for your bikes.

“Great location, lovely room, very clean, staff were welcoming and friendly and the breakfast was fantastic. 10/10 would highly recommend!”

❤️ WHY YOU WILL LOVE THE WILLOW B&B

Fuel up for the day with a hearty full English breakfast in the garden before exploring Nidderdale. The quaint streets of Pateley Bridge are right on your doorstep, while Coldstones Cut, Stumps Cross Cavern and Brimham Rocks are just minutes away. 

⭐️ THE WILLOW B&B REVIEWS (9.1/10 stars)

The breakfast was a real full English starting with a delicious fresh fruit salad, yoghurt, toast, juice, tea, and coffee, definitely set us up for the day, with other options to choose from at no extra cost. And for the bed, I could have taken it home. —Graham

The location at Pateley Bridge was perfect for our sightseeing of this area. A dedicated parking spot at door was appreciated immensely as these villages have such a demand on parking. The apartment was very comfy and roomy. Heating, shower and Wifi all spot on. A bottle of milk and fruit juice and chocolates along with tea and coffee were very much appreciated. —Debaus

2. Grantley Hall

Grantley Hall Ripon
Grantley Hall

Grantley Hall is an exceptionally luxurious country house-style hotel just outside the centre of Ripon, with a spa and five exquisite restaurants. It’s the perfect place to unwind after a busy day of sightseeing. It’s surprisingly affordable, too – especially if you’re more used to paying London prices.

“Sumptuous setting, spa, service, food…basically everything. This is luxury with a capital L”.

❤️ WHY YOU WILL LOVE GRANTLEY HALL

The perfect English country house, Grantley Hall is set in acres of rolling parkland, yet only 15 minutes from the A1M motorway. Dine in the Michelin-starred Shaun Rankin restaurant, and sip cocktails afterwards in one of the three stunning bars. After breakfast , you could work off the calories in the well-equipped gym or treat yourself to the Three Graces Spa

⭐️ GRANTLEY HALL REVIEWS (9.6/10 stars)

The room was something else! It was done to a super high standard but also felt really comfortable and homely. The staff were amazing and did everything they could to make us feel special. —Gabriella

Quality and great service permeate. Gym and spa facilities were excellent and the restaurant staff and dining were fabulous.. —Anisha

Read More: Find my guide to places to stay in Ripon and Nidderdale here.

How to Get to Nidderdale

The nearest airport to Nidderdale is Leeds Bradford, while Manchester is the closest international airport.

There’s no train service within Nidderdale, so you will need a car to explore (unless you fancy some pretty long – albeit very scenic – bus journeys via Harrogate, where the train station provides onward connections to Leeds and York).

Wrap Up – Things to do in Nidderdale AONB

I hope this post inspires you to visit the Nidderdale area of outstanding natural beauty. With bags of local history and outdoor activities to enjoy in the local area, don’t this unspoiled part of England.

Find all the posts about Yorkshire in the Yorkshire Travel Guide and check out what to pack for Yorkshire here.

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