Bolton Abbey, Stepping Stones

Rory Calland
National Trust, Visit Cumbria, Bolton Abbey

Bolton Abbey is one of the most fulsomely preserved English monasteries and sits as Wordsworth wrote “along the banks of crystal Wharf”. The western half of the nave has never stopped being used as a church by the parish. Colourful spectacles inside such as the Pugin windows and the altar’s painted backdrop are in particularly good shape.

Less than a hundred yards from the priory are 60 stepping stones, marking a precarious route across the breadth of the river Wharf. These slippery steps once represented the Augustine lay workers commute, as it were. Now they’ve become a little challenge for visitors and are synonymous with Bolton Abbey itself.

This corner of Wharfdale, immortalised by JMW Turner, is a fantastic day out. After you’ve investigated the priory and seen what fascinating relics lie in store there, the grassy area around the stepping stones is perfect picnic territory. The stones themselves offer a challenge, but a touch northwards is a shallow beach, which is a wonderful spot for families to play and take a dip.

It’s amusing to picture monks bouncing expertly from one step to the next, but some of the gaps are not laughing matters. So do make peace with the possibility of getting wet. Once you are in though, there aren’t many better rivers across our Northern landscape for swimming than the Wharf. It’s a key artery of the Yorkshire Dales and wends its way through some very magical landscapes.

Be very cautious if you make your way northwards along the Wharf from here, as around two miles along the river narrows into a harmless looking stretch of water known as The Strid. The Strid is perhaps the most lethal river passage in the world to fall into, so be sure you know its whereabouts.

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