Where is this walk?

Barden Reservoirs

December 18, 2019

The Barden Reservoirs lie in the centre of a large area of bleak moorland. You would expect the proximity to Skipton, coupled with the easy access to the area, to make the Barden Reservoirs a popular walk. It does not!

The Walk

The moors around the Barden Reservoirs may not be alive with people but they are with bird life. Both waders on the two reservoirs and the grouse in the surrounding moors will offer the walk its own special atmosphere. The walk takes you in to the heart of the moors.

Upper and Lower Barden Reservoir were built in the late 19th century and the water corporation (later to become Yorkshire Water) ran the water down towards Bolton Abbey before pumping it in to Chelker Reservoir. Chelker is one of the reservoirs which supplies Bradford and is situated midway between Skipton and Ilkley. It always looks full to me but this explains why it is at the top of a hill!

Back to the Barden Reservoirs. I last walked them in a fairly bleak December day. There was some snow on the ground but the walking was still good. The surprise element of the walk though is the two gothic style buildings next to the dams of each reservoir. Why turrets and battlements were deemed necessary by the original water authorities is anyone’s guess.


I have always been intrigued by the mention of a Brass Castle above Lower Barden Reservoir. I found it on my last visit. Here there is a (non brass) shelter complete with table, benches and a turf roof. Take your thermos and ponder why it was ever built.

Navigational Tips

Embsay Moor is a particularly bleak place in bad weather. It is an area to stick to the paths and even better the shooting tracks. The surrounding land, although legally accessible, is rough on the moors.

  • sue austin says:

    Do you know if I am allowed to take a dog up here? I seem to remember having trouble once.
    regards, Sue.

    • Jonathan says:

      Fine on any Public Right of Way but unfortunately there are difficulties on the general access land. Usually they are ‘banned’ as part of landowner ‘policy’.

  • Gary says:

    Did this walk today. Very nice. Few inclines and declines but generally quite easy. Started from the bus stop at Embsay and just walked up the footpath (uphill) to join the map route. Nice views of the reservoirs and the moors. Despite being very close to Skipton (just moved here) it’s so quiet and peaceful. Only the grouse for company.

  • Anne Heald says:

    I did this route 7.12.20. I had checked your sketch map of the route but I had not opened the GPX file where you show the route on an O.S. map. Notably I now find that the two routes do not match! I followed the suggestion from sketch map, to walk around the Upper Reservoir ( which is named as Lower Res on your sketch map!) There is no proper path around the Upper. N / E side was very manageable but thereafter deteriorated until I was on very rough ground. I now realise that walkers are probably not meant to walk around it, merely to cross at the dam. I had my GPS tracker and was perfectly safe. I’d be interested in your comments.

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi, There are no differences to the sketch map and GPX, just that the GPX does not follow the route around Upper Barden Reservoir. The sketch map has both alternatives marked on it. All the land around the moor is legally accessible but as you point out very rough in places. It is the nature of much accessible moorland. The only places you cannot go are shown as a white background on O/S maps. Yellow background is access land.
      Thanks for pointing out the Upper/Lower error, now reversed and correct.

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