If You Go Down to the Woods Today: 5 Woodland Walks in North Yorkshire

There’s something magical about the woods at any time of year. The first buds of new life in Spring; the carpet of wildflowers and dappled sunbeams in Summer; the blazing riot of Autumn colours; the eerie whistle of the wind through the skeletal forests of Winter. Throughout the ever-changing seasons the woods offer a constant escape from the rush of daily life, the silence only punctuated by the trilling of birdsong, the chatter of squirrels, and the crunch of your own footsteps through the undergrowth. North Yorkshire in not perhaps best known for its abundant woodlands; the profusion of camera-ready moors and dales has a tendency to usurp attention from our less open spaces; but they should not be so easily dismissed. Below I’ll share five woodland walks which will take you down twisted tracks and through sylvan glades, often encountering no one but the odd deer once you get a few hundred metres from the car park.

5. The Bridestones and Dalby Forest

This walk qualifies for this list by the skin of it’s teeth – really this blog should be called ‘four and a half woodland walks’. Dalby is the Great Yorkshire Forest, and I therefore felt that I had to include a walk from here on this list, but the walk that I’ve chosen spends very little time below the treetops! However it’s my blog and I make the rules, so it’s made the list…

Dalby is a bit of a beacon for visitors the the North York Moors. The forest is huge, spanning eight thousand acres, and as well as miles of footpaths and cycling trails there’s also a Go Ape centre, multiple car parks, a bike hire centre and a cafe. The Bridestones walk we followed was from our North Yorkshire – A Dog Walker’s Guide book but there are a number of trails on the Dalby Forest website if you don’t own this book.

The walk starts from the Low Staindale car park, one of many along the forest toll road. Parking is a flat all day fare (toll booths with number plate recognition on the way in and out) and you pay before you leave at one of the pay points. It was £5 when we visited in off season (November to March) but in high season this rises to a pretty pricey £9!

The walk heads away from the car park up a gently climbing track through the woods. You soon leave the cover of the trees as you approach to sandstone monoliths which are the Bridestones, the remains of Jurassic rock which formed over one hundred million years ago, and which today are largely used for people posing for arty photos standing on top of the rocks. Sigh!

The route we followed curved away from the busier part of the trail (and it was busy), trekking across boggy moor (everyone’s favourite) to reach a forest track which runs along the edge of the woods for just over a mile. Another change of direction takes you over fields, down a short stretch of quiet road and through a farmyard before you cross a few final fields to reach the fringe of woodland close to the car park. We were lucky enough to see a few deer on this walk once we’d left the hustle and bustle of the main track behind – it took me a few seconds to realise they weren’t just very tall rabbits as they were on the other side of a valley!

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. You can let your dog off the lead for much of this walk. There are a few steep drops around the Bridestones themselves where we kept ours on the lead, as well as some fields with sheep in, but for the long section along the forest track there are plenty of opportunities for dogs to have a run around. The guidebook we used is pretty good if you aren’t sure whether or not you can let your dog off as it tells you clearly where this is allowed.

4. Blubberhouses Tree Trail

The Blubberhouses Tree Trail is an easy three mile stroll which follows the course of the river Washburn in Nidderdale. If you fancy a longer stroll, you can park at Thruscross Reservoir and take the steps down into the trees away from the car park to reach point 13 on the map, or combine the walk with a circuit of a reservoir. Note – there are a lot of steps right at the end if you choose to start this walk from Thruscross!

We did this walk in summer and it was a delight – the river bank was bursting with foxgloves and other wild flowers, the canopy provided by the trees provided shelter from the intermittent summer showers, and best of all we saw a rather regal heron about ten metres away from the path!

Hello Mr Heron!

The path is pretty level throughout this walk if you avoid the steps up to Thruscross reservoir. There is a short stretch along the busy A59 so take care here – fortunately there is pavement you can walk along and the section of road you turn off to walk along is a lot quieter. You do cross some fields which could have livestock in (sheep or cows) – we came across this very lively herd of Belted Galloways who by happy chance were on the other side of a fence, but I still felt pretty sweaty after walking along the fence line for a few hundred metres with them thundering up and down! By the end of this section I was seriously wondering if they had used a recording of a Belted Galloway for the Orc war-cries in Lord of the Rings.

Dog friendly rating – 3/5. The sections along the river are absolute dog walking goals with no livestock to worry about and gentle sections of river where your dog can have a swim. You will however need to put your dog on the lead for the sections along road and over fields – although to be honest I think ours were so tired out from swimming that they didn’t notice the leads going on at all! This was one of the first places that Coal braved the water and given how much flailing about he did I’m glad we picked somewhere where he could have a paddle without much of a current pulling him along!

3. Silton Forest

Silton Forest is a Forestry Commission plantation not far from Thirsk on the edge of the North York Moors. We have been here absolutely loads of times as it’s really easy to get to and never busy. Parking is free in a small parking area and I’ve never seen more than one or two other cars here at any one time.

There is no set route that we like to follow – trails criss cross the woods and you could spend hours wandering around without passing anywhere twice – it is therefore recommended to keep where you’ve been in mind so you can get back to the car! If you follow the main track up the hill from the car park this will take you out of the trees and onto the Cleveland Way (pictured), where you could walk for miles in either direction.

The paths at Silton are a bit of a mixed bag. The main track which climbs through the forest to reach the Cleveland way is level and well surfaced; the network of subsidiary paths are not. This spiderweb of interconnecting paths takes you off the beaten track and you will brush past festive pine cones in winter and amble through tunnels of butterflies in summer. Some paths get overgrown with nettles and brambles in the warmer months, while in winter, certain patches become boggy marsh. It’s all part of the adventure to me, just make sure you wear sturdy footwear!

Dog friendly rating – 5/5. Merry absolutely ADORES it here. There are so many exciting smells, plenty of pheasants to chase (great for practising recall!) and best of all, if you don’t go up to the Cleveland Way where there are sheep, your dog can spend the entire walk off their lead. One thing to bear in mind is that you do get the odd mountain biker in these woods and they tend to hurtle around corners at speed – so keep your eyes and ears peeled to keep your dog from getting hit by any bikes.

2. Nutwith Common

Nutwith Common on the edge of the Swinton Estate is another place we love to go for a wander. A deciduous wood, rather than a coniferous one like Silton, this is one of the loveliest places to come for a bit of Autumn colour. Parking is free in a lay-by a few hundred metres from the nearby Hackfall Woods car park. We usually just have an amble through the trees, however, it you want to follow a set route this walk on AllTrails combines Nutwith Common with it’s very popular neighbour Hackfall. Hackfall tends to be absolutely swamped with people in the summer and on weekends so this might be one to save for a midweek day.

The paths here are generally pretty level but they do get very soggy. Walking here is a delight but after any rain you need to watch out for squelchy patches! The footpaths around Nutwith Common are all permissive footpaths rather than public rights of way so make doubly sure to take any litter and/or dog waste home with you so that the paths remain open for everyone to enjoy (not that you shouldn’t be doing this everywhere!).

There are plenty of local pubs nearby if you want to start or end your walk with a meal – there is a pub in the nearby village of Grewelthorpe or alternatively head into the pretty market town of Masham and visit the dog friendly White Bear.

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. How could anyone doubt that Merry loves it here with such a happy little face! In my experience all dogs love walks in the woods and Nutwith Common is no exception. Most of the time we do come across a few other local dog walkers and their dogs all seem to be having a great time too! I’ve just knocked a point off as the woods here are much smaller than Silton, Dalby or Boltby, and so you can’t get quite as exhausting a walk in!

1. Boltby Forest

Top of the list is Boltby Forest near Thirsk. Slightly larger than Silton Forest, you can walk here for hours without seeing another soul even on a relatively busy day. Normally we are lazy and just follow the well surfaced track from the car park for a while and then turn around, but there are a number of circular walks on the High Paradise Farm website which incorporate parts of Boltby. High Paradise Farm is a small holding with holiday accommodation which also has a tea room – perfect for stopping off on a walk! You can only access the team room on foot as the road is for residents only.

I’m not sure why I picked Boltby as the top of this list. I think it’s because you feel so quickly that you’re miles away from everyone else – even on a fairly busy day you won’t see many people once you get away from the car park. There are various branches off the main track which are just as well surfaced and we tend to follow a different one of these every time we go – so technically it’s a new walk every time!

This is another wood that is popular with cyclists and you might see the odd pony from Boltby Trekking Centre. Mostly though it’s local families and dog walkers, probably walking off a Sunday dinner!

Dog friendly rating – 5/5. Our dogs love it here and so do we. The woods feel a bit more airy and spacious than Silton but there are still plenty of bushes for your dog to disappear into looking for smells! There are probably slightly less pheasants here too although we have seen plenty of deer here over the years. Staying in the forest means that leads aren’t really required, although it’s polite if you see another dog on a lead to recall your dog and put them on a lead until the other dog has passed. You tend not to see many other dog walkers though as the woods are so large that walkers spread out pretty quickly! We very often walk in silence for a while to just listen to the silence (with is never actually silent, there is always plenty of birdsong in the background and the trees themselves make a fair amount of noise).

Keep an eye out for bikes and horses and put your dog on a lead as they pass to avoid accidents. However you are unlikely to encounter many of these which is what makes Boltby such a fab place to walk your dog! Miles and miles of relatively mud-free paths, peace and quiet, just you and the dog… Perfect.

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