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Simon’s Seat and Valley of Desolation: The Ultimate Walking Guide

Simon’s Seat and Valley of Desolation: The Ultimate Walking Guide

Simon’s Seat is an epic gritstone-capped summit located on Barden Fell in the Yorkshire Dales. There are various trail options for reaching Simon’s Seat. Easily, the best walk to Simon’s Seat involves a circular walk, which is also known as Simon’s Seat and Valley of Desolation. Other than visiting Simon’s Seat, this route takes in the mesmerising Bolton Abbey Waterfall (Posforth Gill Falls), the infamous Strid along the River Wharfe and the underrated Valley of Desolation.

Along this loop walk, you’ll also pass nearby Bolton Abbey, Barden Bridge and the nearby Barden Tower. These historical attractions can also be explored as part of or in addition to the walk around Simon’s Seat and the Valley of Desolation.

In this guide, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about the walk around Simon’s Seat and the Valley of Desolation. After describing the highlights of this specific walk, we’ll also talk about different Simon’s Seat walking route options. We’ll then cover information about how to get there and answer some FAQs.

We hope you find this guide helpful. For information about other great walking paths nearby, read our guides about the Conistone Dib and Pie, Grassington Moor Leadmining Trail and the Sharp Raw and Flasby Fell Walk (coming soon).

Simon’s Seat and Valley of Desolation, Wharfedale, Yorkshire Dales

Also known as Simon’s Seat Circular Walk and Simon Seat’s Walk, this loop trail takes place in the sublime Wharfedale area of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Genuinely, the walk around Simon’s Seat and the Valley of Desolation is one of the best walks in the Yorkshire Dales.

Indeed, reaching the summit of the spectacular Simon’s Seat landform should be high on your walking to-do list. By doing the circular walk, you can also explore the incredible Bolton Abbey Waterfall in the Valley of Desolation. Then, you can scope out the dangerous Strid found along River Wharfe. That’s why this circular walk is excellent. It’s not just about accessing Simon’s Seat. There are a whole lot of other natural attractions to scope out. There’s even Bolton Abbey, which you could also explore!

Before we describe the walk, you’ll find a GPS-guided map and trail specs such as the Simon’s Seat walk distance, below.

Aerial views during the Simon's Seat Walk
Aerial views of Simon’s Seat

Simon’s Seat and Valley of Desolation Map and Stats

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 14.9km
  • Time: 4–5 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 450m
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Grid Ref (Simon’s Seat): SE078598
  • Trailhead: Bolton Abbey or Barden Bridge
  • Map: Wikiloc

Simon’s Seat and Valley of Desolation Trail Description

In this trail description, we’re going to tell you about the highlights of the Simon’s Seat and Valley of Desolation Walk.

FYI – typically, the walk starts at Bolton Abbey. But, we started the walk at Barden Bridge. Our trail description will reflect this.

Dan atop Simon's Seat, before doing a walk through the Valley of Desolation to find the Bolton Abbey Waterfall

Barden Moor and Barden Fell Open Access Land

If you follow our lead and park at Barden Bridge, you’ll initially head in a northerly direction, picking up the Dales Way. The early stages of the walk are serene as you follow along River Wharfe. After approx. 2.1km, you’ll veer right, eventually reaching a Barden Moor and Barden Fell Open Access Land sign. From this point, the walk steeply ascends Barden Fell through the moorland, to Simon’s Seat.

Simon’s Seat

After a steep and physically demanding climb, you’ll eventually reach the summit of Simon’s Seat. Atop this magnificent array of gritstone boulders, you’ll find an Ordnance Survey trig point. When we arrived, we were met with thick mist, which did obscure our views of the surrounding Yorkshire Dales.

Surrounding Simon’s Seat, you’ll see other impressive gritstone formations. These include the Lord’s Seat, Hen Stones, Truckle Crags and Long Crags. From Simon’s Seat, you’ll get a good view of the Lord’s Seat to the north. After scrambling around the boulders at Simon’s Seat, it’s time to continue the walk to the Valley of Desolation.

Valley of Desolation

The Valley of Desolation is a beautiful stretch of moorlands. A clearly defined path winds its way through the moorlands, descending into the valley. At around the 9.2km mark, with the Laund Pasture Plantation to your right, you’ll arrive at a wooden bridge. Just before the bridge, you’ll find a side trail option to the Bolton Abbey Waterfall to your right.

Bolton Abbey Waterfall (Posforth Gill Falls)

Before passing the wooden bridge, take the side trail to your right. Passing through the forest, the trail descends to the base of a beautiful waterfall, known as the Bolton Abbey Waterfall, given its close proximity to the Bolton Abbey Estate. Although, the actual name of the waterfall is Posforth Gill Falls.

Truly, the Bolton Abbey Waterfall is a mesmerising set of falls. Certainly, during the section of the walk from the Valley of Desolation to Bolton Abbey, this waterfall is the highlight.

After admiring Bolton Abbey Waterfall, it’s time to retrace your steps to the wooden bridge. From there, you’ll pass the bridge and continue in a southerly direction, towards River Wharfe, where you’ll soon see the Strid. But first, you’ll pass near Bolton Abbey. You may want to wander and explore Bolton Abbey at this point of the walk or even later. It’s a fascinating 12th Century Augustinian priory. Personally, we decided to continue the walk towards the Strid.

Bolton Abbey, near the waterfall in the Valley of Desolation and the Strid
Bolton Abbey

Bolton Abbey Aqueduct

After passing Bolton Abbey, you’ll follow River Wharfe, towards the Bolton Abbey Aqueduct (AKA Bolton Bridge). Once you’ve scoped out the delightful aqueduct, you’ll soon pass a section of River Wharfe known as the Strid.

The Strid

Also known as the Bolton Strid, the Strid is a point in the River Wharfe, located by Strid Wood, where the flowing river is forced through a narrow gap in the rocks. The Strid has been coined the most dangerous stretch of river in the world. That’s because the Strid has been the site of numerous drownings. The depth of the Strid has been measured at around 4.6 metres, which is a particularly deep point of the river.

Admittedly, Beck and I didn’t stay at the Strid for too long, as we neared the completion of the Simon’s Seat and Valley of Desolation Walk. During the later stages of the walk, Beck and I took part in our favourite activity – speed hiking!

What’s speed hiking? It’s pushing the speed, covering a walk quicker for the purposes of a good workout. Find out more here.

Barden Tower

As you approach Barden Bridge, there’s an optional side trail to Barden Tower. Basically, if you like, you can cross Barden Bridge to scope out the former hunting lodge of the 15th and 16th centuries. The ruins are an interesting attraction to explore at the end of the Simon’s Seat and Valley of Desolation Walk.

Alternate Simon’s Seat Walk Route Options

Other than the route described in this guide, there are other Simon’s Seat walking routes to choose from. If you’re only interested in a slightly shorter walk, you could simply do an out and back walk from Barden Bridge (approx. 10km) or Bolton Abbey (approx. 12km).

Otherwise, the most popular alternative route option is the Simon’s Seat walk from Appletreewick. Specifically, the walk starts and finishes in Howgill, an area in Appletreewick. Also known as Simon’s Seat short walk, this trail route is much shorter at around 6.5km. If your goal is to simply access Simon’s Seat, then this is a good option. But, we don’t recommend this trail option as you’ll miss out on the Bolton Abbey Waterfall, Valley of Desolation and the Strid!

How to Get There

The easiest and quickest way to be able to access the Simon’s Seat and Valley of Desolation Walk is to drive to a car park yourself. We’ll discuss the Bolton Abbey parking and Barden Bridge parking options below.

If you don’t have your own set of wheels, we recommend hiring a car using You’ll find a wide variety of cars on Rental Cars, which are very easy to book online.

It’s also possible to use public transport to get to Bolton Abbey. But, you’re looking at a much slower journey time. So, we don’t recommend using public transport in this instance. If you’re visiting by train, the closest stations are Skipton or Ilkley. From there, you’d have to catch a taxi to Bolton Abbey. A better public transport option is getting a bus as you’ll be taken directly to Bolton Abbey. Each day brings about a different bus service going to Bolton Abbey. Please head to the Dales Bus website for information about the latest timetable.

Bolton Abbey Parking

Most people start the Simon’s Seat and Valley of Desolation Walk from the Bolton Abbey Car Park. But, regardless of how long you stay or whether you even visit Bolton Abbey, it’s £12.50 for prebooked parking or £15 if you pay upon arrival. If you plan on exploring the ruins at Bolton Abbey or spending the whole day there, you could possibly justify the price. But, if you’re just planning on doing the walk to Simon’s Seat and the Valley of Desolation, we think the price of parking is very steep.

A free alternative parking option is to park at the Barden Bridge Car Park.

Barden Bridge Parking

You can park at the Barden Bridge Car Park for free. It’s unrestricted parking there, making it the best choice for parking for walking to Simon’s Seat and the Valley of Desolation. Although, there are only around 15–20 spots available. So, make sure to arrive early to avoid missing out.

FAQs About This Truly Rewarding Walk

Below, you’ll find frequently asked questions about Simon’s Seat and the walk.

Bolton Abbey Waterfall in the Valley of Desolation during the Simon Seat's Walk
Bolton Abbey Waterfall

Where Is Simon’s Seat in Yorkshire?

Simon’s Seat is located near Skipton in the Wharfedale area of the Yorkshire Dales National Park in the northwest of England. For your reference, please find Simon’s Seat map below.

Where Do You Park For the Simon’s Seat Walk?

For the walk described in this guide, you can park at either the Bolton Abbey Car Park or Barden Bridge Car Park.

How Long of a Walk is Simon’s Seat?

If you do the circular walk described in this guide, it’s approx. 14.9km.

How Far Is Simon’s Seat From Bolton Abbey?

It’s around a 6km walk from Bolton Abbey to Simon’s Seat.

How High Is Simon’s Seat?

It’s 485 metres high.

Why Is it Called Simon’s Seat?

No one knows for sure. There are two main theories. One, it was named by Druids after Simon Magus, who claimed to be one of the Three Wise Men. Second, it was named after a baby called Simon who was found by a shepherd boy on Barden Fell. It’s also possible that it was simply named after a previous landowner.

Where Is Barden Fell?

Barden Fell is located in the Barden Moor Open Access Land. Simon’s Seat is located on Barden Fell.

Hiking Essentials

These are our five hiking gear essentials for this walk.

Make sure to also pack water, snacks, sunscreen and a hat! For a longer hiking gear list, read our 66 Travel Items You Must Travel With. For a list of everything else you’d need for travelling, read our Packing Checklist.

Bonus Tips

  • Simon’s Seat isn’t dog friendly: the Barden Moor and Barden Fell Open Access Land is a no-dog zone. So, you’ll have to leave pooch at home.
  • Simon’s Seat bouldering is a popular option for climbers: another great activity to consider at this gritstone summit!
  • Explore other waterfall walks in Yorkshire: read our guides on Aysgarth Falls, Cauldron Falls and Cautley Spout (coming soon). Otherwise, check out the nearby Ilkley Moor Waterfall (Hebers Ghyll Waterfall).
  • Explore other national parks in and near Yorkshire: don’t just stop at the Yorkshire Dales. Head to the beautiful Lake District and North York Moors National Parks.

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