The Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is one of the most underrated yet breathtaking Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England. In this guide, we’re going to tell you about all of the best things to do in Nidderdale. We’ll also cover some practical tips such as how to get there and where to stay to help you plan your trip to this stunning part of northern England.
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About Nidderdale AONB
The Nidderdale AONB forms the southeastern part of the Yorkshire Dales. Yet, it technically doesn’t fall within the parameters of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. When national park borders were drawn up in 1954, Nidderdale wasn’t included in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The people making these calls believed Nidderdale should have its own conservation status. It wasn’t until 1994, that Nidderdale was formally designated the status of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the UK.
Ipso facto, the Nidderdale AONB shares a border with the Yorkshire Dales National Park immediately to the west. The Nidderdale area covers a captivating 233 square miles (603 km2). While the area is home to only one town – Pateley Bridge.
So, why should you visit the Nidderdale AONB when the glorious Yorkshire Dales National Park is right next door?
Why Visit Nidderdale AONB?
The Nidderdale AONB offers a more untouched and less commercialised experience compared with the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Don’t get me wrong, Beck and I love exploring the Yorkshire Dales National Park. But, Nidderdale offers a different vibe. Nidderdale’s diverse and scenic landscape is wilder with natural moorlands and secluded, pastoral dales. Certainly, Nidderdale has some of the most spectacular countryside in Yorkshire.
Other than the area’s natural beauty, it also has brilliant historical attractions and cultural sites. Indeed, the mix of fascinating human-made landscapes as well as the natural landmarks, give the area a distinct character, charm and special uniqueness. In this guide, we’ll tell you about just 20 of the natural, historical and cultural highlights of the Nidderdale AONB.
Where Is Nidderdale AONB?
Sandwiched between Wharfedale and Harrogate, the Nidderdale AONB is found in North Yorkshire in the north of England. Nidderdale is the most easterly of the southern Yorkshire Dales and forms the eastern flanks of the Pennines.
To help you get your bearings, please click on the Nidderdale AONB map below, to access an interactive map of the area. The map also shows the exact location of the 20 best things to do in the area.
20 Best Things to Do in Nidderdale AONB
Below, we’ll run through the best things to do in Nidderdale AONB. We’ll cover a range of natural attractions, cultural sites, historical places, towns and even a special event! Let’s get started by looking at the extraordinary Brimham Rocks.
1. Brimham Rocks
The Brimham Rocks is a spectacular array of gritstone rock formations near Pateley Bridge. Astonishingly, the rocks were formed over 325 million years ago. As a result of natural erosion, the rocks have assumed unique and interesting shapes. The area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Geological Conservation Review (GCR) site.
There are various splendid walks that explore the Brimham Rocks. Personally, Beck and I did the Brimham Rocks and Moorland Walk. But, regardless of what route you take around the rocks, simply aimlessly walking and wandering by rocks is an incredible experience.
2. Stump Cross Caverns
Alongside White Scar Cave and Ingleborough Cave, Stump Cross Caverns is one of the most well-known show caves in Yorkshire. Stump Cross Caverns are limestone caves that formed around 300–350,000,000 years ago during the Carboniferous Period. While the formation of mesmerising passages, caverns, stalactites and stalagmites, that you’ll see in the caves, started to take shape around 500,000 years ago.
To explore these caves, you’ll need to pay to do a self-guided tour.
3. How Stean Gorge
How Stean Gorge is a picturesque 20 metre deep limestone gorge, where you can do some of the best adventure activities in the UK. The gorge features paths, bridges, tunnels and caves, which are possible to explore by doing the How Stean Gorge Walk. Whilst, there are plenty of adventure activities to do such as caving, body rafting, canoeing, abseiling, rock climbing and high wiring (How Stean Gorge via Ferrata).
4. Fountains Abbey
Fountains Abbey is one of the best-preserved Cistercian monastery ruins in England. It’s not only a National Trust and English Heritage site, but it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a testament to how historic and significant the site is to the UK. Certainly, it’s worth a visit.
5. Studley Royal
During a trip to Fountains Abbey, you can also visit Studley Royal, which is a lovely water garden. Studley Royal features trails, pools, canals and cascades fed from the River Skell. You can also visit Studley Royal Park, which has plenty of deer as well as historical buildings.
6. Swinton Estate
Swinton Estate is one of the largest privately owned estates in England. It’s been privately owned by the Cunliffe-Lister family since the 1880s. The estate is roughly 31 square miles (80 km2) and is mostly made up of forest, farmland and open moorland.
Most notably, since 2001, visitors can stay at the estate’s Swinton Park Hotel, which is the estate’s luxury castle hotel. While, for an incredible glamping experience, the estate offers the rustic Swinton Bivouac. Additionally, the estate is well-known for its Swinton Country Club and Spa and the Swinton Cookery School.
Most recently in 2019, the estate opened permissive paths in its stunning Parklands and Gardens. This meant greater access to the estate for those just visiting on a day trip.
Stay at Swinton Park Hotel
Swinton Park Hotel is an incredible four-stay castle hotel, offering immaculate rooms and an unbelievable experience
7. Druid’s Temple
The Druid’s Temple is a well-known folly on the Swinton Estate. At first glance, the temple appears to be pre-historic, like the famous Stonehenge. But, really, the temple is nothing more than an elaborate folly!
The temple itself consists of a prominent stone circle with stone features such as cairns, chambers, obelisks, altars, menhirs, dolmens, sarsens and free-standing stones. Undoubtedly, the temple very much resembles an authentic pre-historic temple built by Druids.
8. Hackfall Woods
Hackfall Woods is a captivating and unique woodland near Masham. Essentially, it’s a semi-natural woodland garden that’s owned and managed by Woodland Trust. Hackfall Woods is no regular woodland. In the 18th Century, the ancient woodland was turned into a wild romantic garden, with follies, grottos, human-made waterfalls and a fountain!
Hackfall Woods is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). So, you’ll see an abundance of birdlife and plants during a visit.
9. Nidd Falls
Nidd Falls is a lesser-known waterfall in the Yorkshire Dales. To see this hidden waterfall, you’ll need to park at Lofthouse Car Park near How Stean Gorge. From the car park, you’ll follow a short trail alongside the River Nidd to reach the small yet mesmerising waterfall.
10. The Coldstone’s Cut
The Coldstone’s Cut is definitely one of the most unique attractions in the Nidderdale AONB. This attraction is the largest and highest piece of public artwork in Yorkshire, which opened to the public in 2010. The Coldstone’s Cut is located between Stump Cross Caverns and Pateley Bridge.
DJI Air 2S
11. Jervaulx Abbey
Although not as famous as Fountains Abbey, Jervaulx Abbey is another interesting historical site to visit in the Nidderdale AONB. It’s another fine example of intact Cistercian abbey ruins. Visiting the site, as well as parking, is donation-based, and, it’s open from dawn to dusk. Sometimes, the site is closed for private events. So, check the official website to ensure it’s open when you plan to visit.
12. Himalayan Garden & Sculpture Park
The Himalayan Garden & Sculpture Park is an award-winning garden near Swinton Estate. There are over 80 contemporary sculptures scattered across enchanting woodland gardens. By exploring the woodland paths, you’ll find loads of rhododendrons, azaleas and magnolias, and, you’ll pass a serene lake.
13. Swinsty and Fewston Reservoirs
Located in the south of Nidderdale, in Washburn Valley, you’ll find two popular reservoirs – Swinsty and Fewston Reservoirs. It’s possible to do a circular walk, which involves walking around both reservoirs. Of course, you can simply walk around just one of the reservoirs for a shorter and easier walk. Whichever route you choose, you’ll enjoy a pleasant walk in quaint natural surroundings.
Read more: Fewston Reservoir Walk – The Ultimate Guide
14. Yorke’s Folly
When it comes to Nidderdale AONB walks, The Yorke’s Folly and Guise Cliff Walk is one of our favourites. From Pateley Bridge, you’ll explore the lesser-known Guise Cliff, before reaching Yorke’s Folly. During a section of this walk, you’ll follow along the long-distance Nidderdale Way. Perhaps, this is a good taste test for doing the full route!
15. Birchfield Ice Cream Farm
Birchfield Ice Cream Farm is yet another fantastic ice creamery in the Yorkshire Dales. Beck and I really enjoyed our visit to this ice cream farm, which is located near Pateley Bridge. This is a great place to take the kids as there are plenty of family-friendly activities on-site.
16. Nidderdale Llamas
Nidderdale Llamas is actually one of the most popular places to visit in the area. At the centre, you can interact and trek with llamas! Personally, after seeing plenty of llamas in Peru, Beck and I skipped this attraction. But, if you don’t plan on heading to South America any time soon, then by all means, head to Nidderdale Llamas.
17. Nidderdale Museum
Located in Pateley Bridge, the Nidderdale Museum is a great place to visit to learn more about the history of the area. At the museum, you’ll find around 11 rooms, detailing local and social history, which especially show the importance of rural life to the area.
18. Nidderdale Show
The Nidderdale Show is an annual event held at Bewerley Park in Pateley Bridge. It’s one of England’s best agricultural events, attracting around 15,000 visitors every year. During a visit to the show, you’ll enjoy an excellent display of livestock, produce and crafts from the local area.
19. Pateley Bridge
As mentioned, Pateley Bridge is the only town located in the Nidderdale AONB. It’s a historic and gorgeous town that’s certainly worth visiting. There are plenty of wonderful places to eat and drink and there are also great places to stay if you want to base yourself there during your trip to Nidderdale.
Masham (pronounced Massam) is a charming market town on the River Ure, which is known as the North Yorkshire gateway to the Yorkshire Dales. The town is actually located on the north-eastern edge of the Nidderdale AONB.
Without a doubt, Masham is a place that leaves a strong impression as it’s bustling with character. The marketplace is one of the biggest in England. Lined by quaint Georgian houses, the cobble-stoned square exudes a delightfully historic vibe. The town is also an artistic and cultural hub of Yorkshire. Indeed, it’s a hive of artists and craftspeople while it’s known as the home of Yorkshire brewing.
Beck and I have visited Masham on countless occasions and we’ve loved every single visit. Certainly, Masham is another great base to explore the Nidderdale AONB.
Places to Stay in Nidderdale AONB
There are many different accommodation options to choose from in the Nidderdale AONB. To keep things simple, we’re going to narrow the accommodation options to properties in the two biggest towns in the area – Pateley Bridge and Masham. With this in mind, let’s go through the best accommodation options in both of these places.
Accommodation in Pateley Bridge
Pateley Bridge has some magnificent hotels and B&Bs. Admittedly, you won’t find much in the way of budget accommodation. But, there are plenty of lovely mid-range options in the area.
The Willow Bed and Breakfast
The Willow Bed and Breakfast is one of the most highly-rated accommodation options in the area. Most people rave about the central location and on-site restaurant.
Crown Hotel is a conveniently located hotel in the heart of Pateley Bridge. The hotel has lovely spacious rooms and there’s a highly-rated restaurant on-site.
Accommodation in Masham
There are also plenty of excellent accommodation options in Masham. Admittedly, most people staying in Masham stay at one of the four pubs as they all offer cosy and comfortable rooms. Otherwise, Masham has its fair share of lovely cottages and B&Bs.
Although the Kings Head Hotel is the most popular pub accommodation option, it’s fair to say that all of the Masham pubs offer a terrific stay. For your convenience, we’ve listed all of the four Masham pubs below, which all offer outstanding accommodation.
If you don’t fancy staying at a pub in Masham, then you can choose to stay in a nice hotel, cottage, holiday home or B&B. Below, we’ve listed the best places to stay in Masham that aren’t rooms in pubs.
Swinton Park Hotel
Of course, one of the best accommodation options in the Nidderdale AONB is the Swinton Park Hotel on Swinton Estate near Masham. Beautifully set next to the Swinton Estate’s Deer Park and Parkland and Gardens, the Swinton Park Hotel enjoys an exquisite natural ambience.
The four-star luxurious castle hotel is also a Grade II listed heritage building. So, as expected, the hotel itself and its rooms are opulent, grand and immaculate.
The Swinton Park Hotel offers bedrooms and suites in the form of double and twin rooms, with standard, classic, superior and deluxe options. Otherwise, the hotel offers gorgeous self-catering country houses.
Stay at Swinton Park Hotel
Swinton Park Hotel is an incredible luxury castle hotel, offering exceptional rooms and a special once-in-a-lifetime experience
Another exceptional accommodation option at Swinton Estate is the Swinton Bivouac. The yurts and tree lodges at Swinton Bivouac are some of the most unique places you can stay in Nidderdale. Indeed, by staying at Swinton Bivouac, you’ll enjoy an unforgettable glamping experience.
Stay at Swinton Park Bivouac
For an unforgettable glamping experience near Masham, you’ll want to stay at one of the yurts or treehouses at Swinton Bivouac
How to Get to Nidderdale AONB
The most convenient way to get to the Nidderdale AONB is to drive there yourself. That’s because public transport in the area is a bit hit-and-miss. You’ll find a decent amount of bus services in summer and on the weekend. But, otherwise, public transport is quite limited.
So, overall, it’s better to have your own vehicle, so you have the freedom and flexibility to explore the area at your own pace, without relying upon public transport.
If you don’t have your own car, you should hire one using Discover Cars. Personally, we use Discover Cars and highly recommend them for finding your ideal car hire at an affordable price. Booking online is super easy and the free cancellation policy is great.
Where Next After Nidderdale AONB
Yorkshire Dales National Park
What to Pack and Wear For Nidderdale AONB
Many of the attractions in the area involve exploring natural spaces. So, it’ll be handy to pack and take appropriate gear for walking outdoors.
Osprey Skarab 30
The Osprey Skarab 30 is our go-to hiking backpack for day hikes. This well-designed unisex backpack is comfortable and spacious, so you’ll have plenty of space to pack everything without feeling the strain on your upper back.
Osprey Ultralight Raincover
A waterproof backpack cover is an absolute must when you’re adventuring outdoors. The Osprey Ultralight Raincover Medium is a high-quality waterproof cover that’ll keep your backpack bone dry.
GRAYL Reusable Water Bottle
The GRAYL GeoPress is the best water filter bottle that allows you to purify 710mL (12 ounces) of water. This bottle will make water safe to drink wherever you’re hiking.
BUFF Original Ecostretch
The BUFF Original Ecostretch is a great option when it comes to multifunctional headwear. We use the Ecostretch as a neck gaiter to keep the sun off our necks and it helps us keep warm in cooler climates.
To find out more about all of the gear that we use and recommend, read our guides about our favourite hiking gear, travel gear and camera gear. Otherwise, read our comprehensive travel packing checklist.
FAQs About Nidderdale AONB
Below, we’ll answer the most frequently asked questions about the Nidderdale AONB.
Is Nidderdale in the Yorkshire Dales?
Yes, it’s in the Yorkshire Dales, but not within the boundaries of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
Why Is Nidderdale Not in the National Park?
Nidderdale is its own Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
What Is An AONB?
An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a designated landscape that’s precious enough to be protected in the interest of the UK.
Is the Yorkshire Dales an AONB?
No, Yorkshire Dales in a National Park.
Bonus Tips About Visiting Nidderdale AONB
- Head to Brimham Rocks early: this is perhaps the most popular place to visit in the area. We recommend going early to beat the crowds.
- Consider the Nidderdale Way: click here for more details about the 85 km (53 mile) long-distance circular walk.
- Other reservoirs to see in the area: the other most well-known reservoirs include Angram Reservoir, Scar House Reservoir, Gouthwaite Reservoir and Thruscross Reservoir.
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