Nidderdale and Pateley Bridge… True Hidden Gems Amongst the Famous Yorkshire Dales

Is Nidderdale in the Yorkshire Dales? That must be one of the most asked questions…

Is Nidderdale in the Yorkshire Dales? That must be one of the most asked questions about this stunning area. And the answer is a little complicated… yes, it is one of the Yorkshire Dales, and one of the most beautiful and picturesque at that! But it’s not part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park… when the boundary for the park was drawn up in 1954, inexplicably, Nidderdale was excluded! So the dale stood in the shadows of its status-symbol loving sibling dales until 1994, when the area was named as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). 

Nidderdale has won many accolades that it fully deserves… the picturesque town of Pateley Bridge won The Great British High Street award in 2016 and is home to the Oldest Sweet Shop in the World! Brimham Rocks and How Stean Gorge are amazing natural wonders, and the unusual Coldstones Cut artwork and many folly’s make it the perfect area to explore! 

Our day trip starts at the Northern edge of the AONB… our plan being for us to enjoy a fun morning drive through the countryside, and then for us to work our way back, ticking off some of the best places to see and things to do… 

Top 6 Things to do in Nidderdale

  1. How Stean Gorge in Nidderdale
  2. Pateley Bridge 
  3. Two Stoops and Crocodile Rock 
  4. Brimham Rocks 
  5. The Coldstones Cut 
  6. Grantley Hall - Best hotel in Nidderdale (and England!)

How Stean Gorge in Nidderdale

We start our day at a truly natural wonder… How Stean Gorge… a huge limestone ravine carved out over thousands of years. There are loads of activities to do including caving and gorge scrambling in the fast-flowing river (a link to the full list can be found below), but we opt for the hopefully more relaxing and sedate (but no less impressive) gorge walk, following the 1km footpath along the river’s edge up and down the gorge. But we did get the opportunity to see the gorge scrambling adventure activity and it seemed soooo good! A mental note made… we have to come back to enjoy it! 

We pre-booked our tickets online but they can also be purchased in the on-site café and shop, which is built high above the gorge and has a glass floor so you can see it down below… it’s really cool!

After picking up our hard-hats from the gorge entrance, we make our way down some steps and get our first proper view of the area… and it’s spectacular! 

A narrow path snakes away into the distance, cutting through the greenery of the surrounding plants and trees, high above the rushing river and rocks below.  

We follow the map on the leaflet we get in the shop, stopping to read some information signs and take some photos as we go, until we reach the top of some stairs which take us down to the water’s edge. 

There is a very small waterfall as the water dribbles down the rock face, and as Sneha stands underneath to try and catch the water, she almost slips on the slippery rocks… no wonder there are so many warnings around, with some rocks covered in green algae, it’s like stepping on ice!  

We continue on following the path at the river’s edge, using a chain attached to the rocks to help us duck under the overhanging rocks and step over the rocky path up to the next set of stairs (the footpath above also carries on so you can avoid walking this section if you want).  

Once we’re through the overhang we can hear some excited voices from behind, and turn to see a group doing the gorge scramble coming towards us up the river. We sit for a while and watch them scramble through the cold water, climbing over the rocks and struggling against the rushing river… it looks like great fun, but we’re not exactly dressed to be getting in the river today! 

Climbing the stairs to re-join the footpath above the gorge we reach the clearing at the end, and find the sculpture of Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia. We’re not sure why the sculpture is here (maybe we missed that information sign), but it’s cool to find all the same. 

At this point we’re a little confused where to go as we haven’t read the directions on the leaflet properly, but after a couple of minutes we realise we need to follow our steps back the way we came, and continue past the entrance stairs to find Tom Taylor’s cave and explore the rest of the gorge.  

Tom Taylor’s cave is a 300ft tunnel which we can explore with our hard-hats (given to us at the entrance) and torch (we brought our own, or they are available to buy in the shop), which goes deep underground and is named after a highwayman who used to hide in the cave in the 18th century. 

We walk through the tunnel in the complete darkness (you definitely need a torch!) and get dripped on by the stalactites, but as we go further the walls close in and it looks like the tunnel ends just ahead. We stop and debate for a while… Sneha is sure there is a way all the way through to an exit at the other end, while Paul isn’t so sure. And even if there is he says, “we’ll have to crawl on our hands and knees to squeeze through… you go for it, but if you get wet and muddy then you’re not getting back in the car with me!”  

Sneha finally gives up at the fear of getting lost in the dark cave if Paul is not coming along and we turn around and start to make our way back and bump into some other adventurers heading into the cave… seems they’re also having the same debate between themselves whether they can get through to the other end or not (we see the same people back in the shop later and they did find a way through by scrambling on their hands and knees… so come prepared if you want to follow the whole tunnel) We leave them to it and head back out the way we came in, and cross a bridge heading back down to the water’s edge further down the gorge. 

The scenery is absolutely stunning again and Sneha takes some videos while Paul takes photos, spotting a potentially great shot looking up the river and the gorge. The first shot is ok but doesn’t capture the small water rapids in the river, so let’s try again. Stepping closer to the water… “oh shit” I think, as my foot slips on the rocks and I can’t catch my balance. It feels like I’m in one of those cartoons where they slip for 10 seconds before falling flat on the floor, only it’s not floor underneath me, it’s a cold river! I grab my camera in my left hand and manage to roll to my right, landing in the water with a splash and a cry of pain! Sneha turns around to see what the noise is and sees me trying to clamber out, soaking wet!  

After catching my breath and making sure no damage has been done, I can’t believe Sneha didn’t catch that on video! And she says it’s karma for me joking earlier about her not being allowed in the car if she fell in and got wet and muddy!  

We make our way back to the entrance and Paul tests out the hand-dryers in the toilets while Sneha checks out the gift shop. The drying attempts aren’t too successful and there aren’t any clothes to buy in the shop, and with the unplanned drying efforts having knocked us way off schedule, we have to skip the next planned stop at Scar House Reservoir and head straight to Pateley Bridge instead.

What activities can you do at How Stean Gorge?

There are loads of outdoor activities available including caving, gorge scrambling, canoeing and climbing. As well as the walk we did. A full list can be found on the website…

Where is How Stean Gorge?

How Stean Gorge is near Lofthouse, Harrogate HG3 5SF

Pateley Bridge 

Pateley Bridge is the only town in Nidderdale and is the perfect countryside town… great cafés and pubs serving locally sourced food, quirky shops to pick up some unique souvenirs, and beautiful old streets and buildings to admire and explore.  

One thing Paul wasn’t expecting to find out about is the clothes shopping though… but still being pretty wet and uncomfortable after the short drive from How Stean Gorge, we make a bee-line for Sypeland Outdoors to buy some dry clothes! 

After picking out a new outfit and feeling like a little kid again asking for the tags to be cut-off in the shop so he can wear it straight away, our day is back on-track and we can get back to exploring the town. 

We start off at the Tordoff Gallery which is a really cool collection of original and unique film posters from all eras of cinema… an unexpected find, but something very different and well worth checking out for all movie lovers!  

Further up the high street there can only be one place for our next stop… The Oldest Sweet Shop in the World, as verified by the Guinness World Records! The shop has been trading continuously since 1827 and has been featured in media worldwide, and is one of the few shops still selling traditional homemade sweets. As well as the sweets behind the counter sold by weight, the shop is also packed with other local produce from beers and biscuits to cakes and chocolates. We go for one of the most popular choices… a bag of Yorkshire Mix boiled sweets…. and they’re great! 

We haven’t had anything to eat yet today though and we don’t think the sweets are going to fill us, so we head across the road to the award-winning 4th generation Kendall’s Farm Butchers. As well as the huge array of locally sourced fresh meat, we’ve been told they serve the best pork pies in town. So we go for one traditional and one with apple sauce (their bestsellers apparently), and they are both delicious… probably the best pork pies we’ve ever had! 😋 

We eat them as we make the short walk to one of the town’s top attractions, the Nidderdale Museum. The museum is located in an old workhouse and is operated by volunteers so has limited opening hours… check ahead before planning a visit, but it’s worth doing so as there are some really interesting things to see. 

The museum shows what life was like in Nidderdale through the ages… we start off in a recreation of an old school room, pub, and kitchen, see some of the fashion trends and sportswear through the years, learn about the contribution to the war efforts and experience what some shops would have been like if we’d lived in the Victorian times. And as a link to this morning’s activity at How Stean Gorge, there are a collection of Roman coins which were found in Tom Taylor’s Cave, and a section on the geology of the local area too.

Just behind the museum is a yard with some studios to visit… Sander’s and Wallace Glass Makers where we watch them blow glass and create some drinking glasses and ornaments, and a pottery studio where we watch them make some ceramic tile artworks. The studios are also shops with the items being made for sale, and Sneha can’t resist buying one of the beautiful glass ornaments. 

We stop at one more shop in town as we make our way to the park, picking up a curry pie and some fresh meat to take home from another award-winning butchers, Weatherhead & Sons. The pie isn’t quite as good as the pork pies we had earlier, but the Pateley Bridge sausages are very nice for breakfast the next day! 

Our afternoon in Pateley Bridge comes to an end chilling in the park by the side of the river, after crossing the actual Pateley Bridge!

What is Pateley Bridge Known For?

Pateley Bridge is home to the Oldest Sweet Shop in the World, as well as having won The Great British High Street award in 2016

Two Stoops and Crocodile Rock 

We have one more stop to make before heading home… high up in the hills above Pateley Bridge are Two Stoops and Crocodile Rock. Two Stoops, or Yorke’s Folly to give them their proper name, are two tall stone pillars built as a folly to give work to local people during the tough Victorian times. There were originally 3 towers but one collapsed after a storm, but the two standing towers afford stunning views over Pateley Bridge and across Nidderdale. 

We park in the lay-by on Nought Moor Road and make the short walk up to the folly. It’s a quite a nice Spring evening and the views are amazing, so we get out the drone to get some shots. Sneha wants to take one following us as we walk up the footpath… but with her attention more on the rocky path and not wanting to join Paul in falling over today, she’s not watching the drone as it crashes into the surrounding heather on the hill we’re walking up! 

Once she rescues it, we get the shots though… and it really is a spectacular viewpoint! As well as Pateley Bridge and Nidderdale in the distance, close to us is a rocky outcrop known as Crocodile Rock, as the shape looks like a crocodile head.

Brimham Rocks 

Although we didn’t have time to visit here on our day trip (partly thanks to Paul’s swimming attempts and partly because we’ve both visited before), just 10-minutes from Pateley Bridge is one of Yorkshire’s most amazing natural wonders, Brimham Rocks.  

A collection of weird and wonderful rock formations which you can climb and explore for hours on end, they were formed over 400 million years from a mountain range which once rivalled the Himalayas!  

Read Paul’s full blog on his visit here… 

The Coldstones Cut 

Another of Yorkshire’s most unique attractions is also a 10-minute drive from Pateley Bridge, The Coldstones Cut.  

It is the largest and highest art installation in Yorkshire, and definitely makes for a day out with a difference! The artwork itself is like a maze as you walk through the high walled structure, coming out at the top of Coldstones Quarry, meaning you not only get amazing views across the countryside, but also a unique perspective into a working stone quarry.

Where to stay in Nidderdale?

If you're looking for a base to stay in Nidderdale then Pateley Bridge offers many hotels and B&B's in and around the town, and makes a great place to stay with lots of pubs and restaurants to choose from too.

But if you’re looking for a truly magical and unique hotel to stay at then the award-winning Grantley Hall is the perfect place for you! Whether you’re after a luxurious spa retreat, a venue for a wedding or special occasion, or just want an amazing lunch or dinner experience, Grantly Hall near Ripon is the ultimate indulgence! 

Grantley Hall

Seeing the hotel won Hotel of the Year England in the AA Hospitality Awards 2022-2023, we were expecting a beautiful location and great food, but we were absolutely blown away! 

Read the full blog of our visit here... Grantley Hall… the Ultimate Indulgence in the Heart of the Yorkshire Dales

Read Paul’s full blog on his visit here… 

Troven Moments 

What a fantastic day out in Nidderdale! How Stean Gorge was an amazing place to start our day… the huge gorge and caves being great fun to explore, and the river scrambling looking so tempting Paul decided to jump in himself! 😂 

Pateley Bridge is the perfect countryside town with everything you could want on a day out… great local food, unique shops and art studios to explore, and an interesting museum to learn more about the area. 

And Two Stoops and Crocodile Rock is a stunning viewpoint to look over Pateley Bridge and Nidderdale, and is only a short walk from the lay-by on the road so is fairly easy to get too. 

Add in nearby Brimham Rocks and The Coldstones Cut, and some of the other sights like Fountains Abbey and Stump Cross Cavern which we’re yet to visit, Nidderdale is one of the best Yorkshire Dales to visit. And while it may feel slightly aggrieved at having been excluded from the Yorkshire Dales National Park, we think this may have turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it gives Nidderdale its own unique charm and attraction as being a true hidden gem! 

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