Grass Wood and Ghaistrill's Strid
From Grassington 4.5 miles (7.2km)
Grass Wood is an important nature reserve, covering an area of over 250 acres (101ha). It is sited on a mass of great scar limestone and has been credited with between 300 and 400 species of wildflowers, many of them very rare. The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust manages the wood, which has added a selection of hardwoods and conifers to the established ash and birch woodland. Coppicing and selective felling have been reintroduced to encourage the growth of the natural species of trees and re-establish ground flora.
Near the entrance to the wood is an ancient Iron Age settlement. Although it is now quite difficult to make out, several circular dwellings were dug out of the hillside to a depth of about five feet. The rock face was used for the rear wall, and then rubble walls were built in a rough circle to give an internal diameter of about ten feet. The walls tapered towards the top, indicating they likely had stone roofs and a central hearth. The entrance was through a narrow passage 7 feet ((2.1m) long.
Our path climbs gently from the settlement site and leads us to Fort Gregory. This was a Brigantian stronghold and played an essential role in resisting the Roman onslaught in AD 74. The fort is sited on a limestone plateau 350 feet (107m) above the river Wharfe and commands superb views of the valley. The summit was enclosed by a wall approximately 500 feet (152m) by 200 feet (61m), where livestock and cattle were kept during hostilities. Brigantia was ruled by Queen Cartimandua, who accepted the rule of Rome in return for material benefits. However, her consort Venutius did not. He led an uprising and withstood the might of the Empire against all odds. The Brigantes were eventually subdued by the strength of the Roman army led by general Petilius Cerealis c.AD 75. Many were enslaved to prevent further insurrections, and some were put to work in the lead mines.
Grass Wood has a darker side. Here in 1766, Dr Petty of Grassington was brutally murdered by Tom Lee, the village blacksmith. Lee was also a poacher, and the doctor, who had occasionally attended to his wounds, suspected him of other crimes in the area. Fearing that the doctor would inform the authorities, Lee made plans to get rid of him. One night when Dr Petty was returning home from Kilnsey, Lee lay in wait by the entrance to Grass Wood. As soon as the doctor entered the wood, he was knocked to the ground and savagely killed. Lee hid the body, first in the wood, then in a peat bog on the moor. Finally, he threw it into the river at Loup Scar near Burnsall. It was two years before Tom Lee was brought to justice at York Assizes, where he was found guilty and hanged. His body was returned to Grassington and hung in chains from a gibbet in Grass Wood.
From the wood we follow a beautiful stretch of the river Wharfe to the narrow gorge at Ghaistrill’s Strid. Here the river is a turbulent series of rapids, and its banks are well-known for wildflowers and birds. We continue along the riverside to Grassington Bridge. This was built in 1603 and is the oldest bridge across the Wharfe, having escaped the flood of 1673. The bridge was widened in 1780 and raised to its present level in 1825. Underneath the arches, the two stages of building can be seen, and the older section bears some masons’ marks.
After crossing the road, we continue to the ‘Tin Bridge’ at Linton Falls. The bridge’s name refers to the original bridge, which was built in 1814. It was covered with sheets of tin from old oil drums to stop the wearing away of the timber. The present bridge was built in 1989 by the Royal Engineers and is expected to last for 150 years
Leaving the river behind, we follow a narrow walled path known locally as ‘the Flags’ or ‘the Snake Walk’. The path suffered the insult of being tarmacked at some time. Fortunately, this surface is wearing away, and the original flags have started to reappear. We follow the path uphill back to the car park.