Nidderdale & Washburn
Despite the fact that Nidderdale is one of the largest and most scenically varied of the Yorkshire Dales it was ommitted from the Yorkshire Dales National Park when the latter was created in 1954. This rather strange decision was partly down to local opposition at the time and is in no way a reflection of the quality of the Nidderdale landscape. It was not until as recently as 1994 that much of Nidderdale, along with the Washburn Valley and the moors around Masham, were incorporated in the newly created Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Happily these three different areas have proven to be a suitable combination. Both Nidderdale and the Washburn Valley are the only major valleys in the Central Pennine region to have seen reservoir building programmes on a large scale. Nidderdale has three major reservoirs, Gouthwaite, Scar House and Angram, the latter two in a particularly impressive setting in the dale head. The River Washburn has been even more heavily dammed with Lindley Wood, Swinsty and Fewston reservoirs which were built at the end of the 19th century. Further up the valley is Thruscross reservoir which was completed in the 1960's drowning the village of West End in the process. Over on the Masham side of the AONB there are two further large reservoirs Leighton and Roundhill which gather the waters of the side valley of Pott Beck.
The main underlying rock of the Nidderdale AONB is millstone grit (gritstone). While there are a numerous gritstone outcrops and boulders dotted around Nidderdale's moors it is the amazing landscape of Brimham Rocks that is perhaps Nidderdale's finest feature. A natural playground for all ages the gritstone scenery of Brimham Rocks rivals anything in the Peak District. Another fine gritstone outcrop is Guise Cliff, just across the valley from Brimham Rocks, which provides particularly good views up the dale.
There are also pockets of limestone to be found, particularly in the upper half of Nidderdale above Gouthwaite Reservoir. The most popular limestone feature is How Stean Gorge, a ravine half a mile long and in places up to 80 feet deep. It is a unique place and quite unlike anything I've come across in the more predominantly limestone Yorkshire Dales. Another well known feature are the cave systems of Manchester Hole and Goyden Pot where the River Nidd disappears underground for almost two mile before re-emerging near Lofthouse.
Away from Nidderdale's gritstone and limestone delights the valley's upland areas are characterised by rolling moorland, much of which is managed for grouse shooting. In contrast to the neighbouring Yorkshire Dales there are very few obvious summits, an exception is Little Whernside whose summit actually lies just within the bounds of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The highest summit entirely within the bounds of the AONB is Meugher, a remote and rarely visited moorland bump.
Adjoining Nidderdale to the north and west is Colsterdale, the valley of the River Burn. Colsterdale, is one of the best kept secrets of the Nidderdale AONB. Both my expeditions into the valley have been at the end of August when the heather turns purple and so for me Colsterdale is intrinsically linked with purple. Probably the most visited part of Colsterdale is Slipstone Crags, a modest gritstone edge popular with local climbers.
Also west of Nidderdale and incorporated into the AONB is Fountains Abbey. The abbey is one of the finest examples of a Cistercian monastery in England. Adjoining the abbey is Studley Royal Deer Park a popular venue for a weekend stroll. While Fountains Abbey may seem a world away from the Pennines there is in fact an important connection in that the monks of Fountains were major landowners particularly in the Yorkshire Dales. Fountains Fell, for example, takes its name from abbey.
To the south east of Nidderdale is the Washburn Valley whose main feature, as mentioned above, is a chain of four reservoirs. While the reservoirs all provide some enjoyable low level walking there are also some good walks to be had on the surrounding moors. The gathering grounds of the Washburn are on the flanks of Great Pock Stones a close neighbour to the better known Simon's Seat just across the 'border' in the Yorkshire Dales. Further south the moors high above Fewston and Swinsty reservoirs, such as Round Hill, also offer good walking off the beaten track.
Of the nine Pennine areas on this website Nidderdale is the one closest to where I live and the one I visited most before taking up hill walking as a hobby. Exploring Brimham Rocks and picnics by Thruscross Reservoir are cherished childhood memories. Hill walking has helped me explore even more of this fantastic area and appreciate it even more.