Leeds is something of a hub for lovers of the outdoors. This should come as no surprise; it boasts the spectacular landscapes of the Yorkshire Dales on its doorstep and the wonders of the Peak District a moderately short drive to the south. But few will be aware of the splendour that can be found by simply circumnavigating the city through the beautiful countryside and rural communities that surround it.
When you embark on the Leeds Country Way, you’re in for a plethora of delights. You’ll discover waterside marinas, peaceful vibrant nature reserves, glorious woodland and even a pub that claims to be the oldest in Britain. It’s a pilgrimage that reveals hidden treasures past every kissing gate, over every stile and beyond every hedgerow.
The circuit is a magnificent 62-miles (100km) and explores the picturesque towns and villages that delineate the city. This is a journey to savour, imbibing the character found on the outskirts of one of the north’s great powerhouses. Being so close to the city, there’s plenty of accommodation, making a multi-day expedition an enticing possibility.
The idea was first conceived by Fred Andrews of the Ramblers Association, before it was brought to life by the West Yorkshire County Council in the early 1980s. The route was devised for you to either tackle it as a long distance, multi-day hike or for you to cherry-pick separate sections as pleasant ambles. Today, it is under the stewardship of Leeds City Council, who made alterations to the original route in 2006 with the help of local walking aficionado Rob Brewster.
Four days should be sufficient to enjoy the route to its full, though the wealth of accommodation on offer means you can always be creative and extend your time on the trails. There is no fixed start point and you can choose to head in a clockwise or anticlockwise direction. I have opted for the official suggestion of a clockwise loop, starting from the pleasant greenery of Golden Acre Park to the north.
Regardless of your fitness, age or experience, there’s a way for you to experience this gorgeous trail. Linking existing rights of way, the paths are easy to follow and the route is consistently signposted or waymarked, just look out for the green owl icon. Dogs should be kept under close control, as you’ll often find yourself walking alongside working farms.
You’ll be rambling in Northern England so, regardless of the season or forecast, waterproofs are essential. Despite never being more than seven miles (11 km) from the city centre, the route is mostly through rural pastures, so sturdy walking shoes or boots are also recommended. A hard frost amplifies the glory of a warm, cosy country pub, whilst the warmer months bring seas of bluebells to the woods and glorious, long days on the trails.
Local train services run to Garforth, Woodlesford, Outwood, Batley, Morley, New Pudsey, Apperley Bridge and Horsforth stations, all of which are within walking distance of the trails and a short journey from Leeds. The closest of these to the traditional start point of Golden Acre Park is Horsforth, though it’s a good hour’s walk away. A variety of local buses serve various points on the route, including Golden Acre Park. Check wymetro.com for more information.
A beautiful 14 miles (23km) of rural lanes, historic settlements and the grounds of a grand country house await you on this gorgeous ramble. Suitable for all ages, you’re never far from the next village, where cosy hostelries and cafes will welcome you – one pub even claims to be the oldest in the country. If the full length proves too much, you can use local buses to return to Leeds city centre.
Start your walk by taking the underpass from the carpark and entering the picturesque Golden Acre Park. Head east through the park with the lake on your right, before turning north east through pleasant woodland towards the village of Eccup. Beyond this, hedgerow lanes and trails follow farm boundaries and eventually bring you to the grounds of the grand Harewood House estate, originally landscaped by the legendary Capability Brown.
Follow the wide path until you meet the A61 at Lofthouse Lodge. A pleasant amble on bridleways takes you past a few farms until you meet Wike Lane. Being mindful of traffic, follow the road south west for about 2,000 feet (600 metres) before turning left through a stile and picking up a path that takes you alongside Gill Beck into the village of Bardsey.
Here is a good spot for some refreshment in The Bingley Arms, a historic hostelry that claims to be the oldest pub in Britain. Continue on past the Anglo-Saxon majesty of All Hallows church, before heading south and crossing Wetherby Road, following the path signposted to Hetchell Wood but turning south at the end of the first field.
The footway then skirts just to the north of Starcroft Hill and makes its way south towards the quaint village of Thorner. Two pubs, a restaurant and a deli offer you the opportunity to refuel and stock up on supplies. A trail leads south through Kiddal Wood and its beautiful silver birches. Leaving the woods behind, you’ll cross the A64 and take the footbridge over Potterton Beck before following its journey for a short time. Finally, the trail leads into Barwick-in-Elmet and Main Street’s famous maypole, marking the end of day.
Accommodation is sparse in Barwick-in-Elmet, though there are a few large hotels nearby that serve traffic leaving the M1. The 64 bus from Leeds to Aberford regularly runs through the village and there’s a train station at Garforth, just a couple of miles into the next stage of the hike.
The wonderful south eastern quarter of the Leeds Country Way takes you through yet more gorgeous little villages and to the town of Gosforth, an ideal place for a restock. There’s plenty of varied scenery on offer, with numerous farm tracks in the opening stages and much of the latter part of the route circumnavigating the St Aidan’s nature reserve, a bird watcher’s delight.
From Barwick-in-Elmet, leave Main Street onto Carrfield Road, which slowly evolves from a metalled road, to a dirt track and finally to a path as the surroundings become more and more rural. Eventually you’ll reach the little village of Scholes. Bog Lane is next, its wonderful name clearly illustrating that sturdy walking shoes or boots are necessary, despite the relative proximity to the centre of Leeds.
Head south down various farm tracks, crossing the railway and the M1, before turning east and making for the town of Garforth. A plethora of amenities are on offer here, from chain coffee shops and supermarkets to several inns. From its two train stations you can get to the centre of Leeds in twelve minutes. If continuing, to leave Garforth pass under Selby Road from the A63, striding out south towards Brecks Wood. Amble onwards on paths through hedgerows and on farm tracks, taking time to breathe in the country air. You’ll intercept the Wakefield Road and follow it about 1,000 feet (300m), before following paths along the edge of a couple of fields towards Little Preston.
Pass through the village, turning right and finding yourself on an old coach road, until you meet the Wakefield Road once again. You’ll use the Swillington Bridge to cross the River Aire and immediately turn left to follow the river, unless you are making for Woodlesford Station, just a little further up the road. Enjoy a pleasant stroll along the riverside and keep your eyes and ears out for the inhabitants of RSPB St Aidan’s. In spring, skylarks sing and bitterns boom, whilst winter is a great time to catch sight of the wintering waders launching into the sky in unison when the hunting peregrines spook them.
As you stride on past the many barges at the pretty Lemonroyd Marina, cross the Aire and Calder Navigation Canal and continue to follow the river by the railway line, until you reach the village of Methley. Bear south west and eventually pick up the Hungate Lane, skirting the perimeter of Moss Carr Wood. Cross the A642 and a series of tracks will take you to the village of Carlton and the end of this stage.
There is a guest house in Carlton, but other than this there is little by way of accommodation. Woodlesford to the north east and Outwood to the south are the cloest train stations. The 444 bus runs every hour to Leeds city centre.
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Admittedly, this section doesn’t begin too promisingly, with the crossing of two major motorways. But once you get into your stride, the sights, smells and sounds will evolve into those more evocative of classic countryside. The crunch of leaves in autumn, the scent of wildflowers in spring and birdsong in summer will accompany you through little pockets of woodland and past beguiling sights, such as country house ruins and pretty churchyards.
After leaving Carlton and heading out across green fields towards Lofthouse, two major motorway crossings await. First, take Thorpe Lower Lane under the M1 flyover, before a pleasant stroll through Thorpe on the Hill’s environs. Next, you’ll cross the footbridge over the M62 just south of Thorpe Primary School. A bridleway alongside Dolphin Beck will take you to The Nook pub. From here, the trail leads towards the village of East Ardsley.
The route between here and Woodkirk passes through horse pastures and farmland on farmers tracks and rough paths alongside hedgerows, a nice contrast to the earlier motorway crossings. You’ll amble through the pretty churchyard of St Mary’s in Woodkirk, before heading east and skirting extensive quarry land. Ahead, you’ll soon see the beguiling ruins of Howley Hall, all that remains of a once proud Elizabethan country house, occupying the top of the hill ahead.
Cross Scotchman Lane and ascend gradually towards the beautiful Birkby Brow Wood, where a sea of bluebells makes for a magnificent sight in late spring. Leaving the trees behind, you’ll soon be crossing the M62 once more on your way to Gildersome. Amble along hedgerows, across a babbling stream and through fields to reach the end point of the stage at the Valley Inn, Cockersdale.
The final 17 miles (27km) of the Leeds Country Way are beautifully varied. Several delightful pockets of woodland and a couple of small nature reserves contrast with some lovely towns and villages, as well as a close acquaintance with the air traffic arriving at and departing Leeds Bradford Airport. It’s the hilliest quarter of the Way, with almost 1,200 feet (350m) of ascent. However it is spread across a solid seven hours of rambling, so you’ll probably be so engrossed in the scenery you won’t notice.
The well-maintained trails of Nan Whins Wood are your first stomping ground, as you head north alongside a pretty beck. Staying with the woodland theme, you’ll then bear west at Tong Lane, joining Roker Lane for some 500 feet (150m) before turning left into a field and following Pudsey Beck and Tyersal Beck into Black Carr Woods. It’s a gorgeous woodland, particularly in spring and summer when wildflowers decorate the trees.
The route dips briefly in and out of Pudsey, passing the tempting prospect of the Fox & Grapes pub. Hold your nose, as cobbled tracks and footpaths take you north west past the Smalewell sewage works in the direction of Thornbury. Cross the railway and the A647 and pick up the path across the playing fields. Head north, passing a quarry, joining Woodhall Road for about 700 feet (215m) before veering north through Ravenscliffe Wood.
Parallel to Fagley Beck, continue north in and out of woodland. Amble through West Wood, before intercepting a metalled road that takes you to the A658 at Apperley Bridge, where you’ll reacquaint with the River Aire and admire the arched bridge. Continue straight if heading for Apperley Bridge station, otherwise turn immediately right and follow the river path.
Pass under the railway bridge, continue along the banks of the Aire until Cragg Wood. Skirt the woodland, pass through a kissing gate before heading east towards Horsforth. Keep your eyes peeled for all manner of wildlife through the small Hunger Hills Nature Reserve and keep following the waymarked trails north. Don’t be surprised if things get a little noisy overhead, you’ll now be almost within touching distance of Leeds Bradford Airport’s main runway 14.
You’re not far from the end point of Golden Acre Park now. As you stride north east towards the proverbial chequered flag, the final place of interest you’ll discover is the Breary Marsh Nature Reserve, which represents the finest example of a wet valley alder wood in West Yorkshire. Look out for bluebells, wood anemone and wood sorrel, whilst if you strike it lucky you might just spy a fingfisher at Paul’s Pond.
All that’s left to do now is follow the path and find yourself at Golden Acre Park’s car park and the end of a magnificent circuit of the delightful country that surrounds Leeds.