An enjoyable ramble on the moors above Roundhill Reservoir with some fairly rough detours to visit the hidden folly of Arnagill Tower, the trig point on Sandy Hill and the huge sighting tower above Arnagill Crags.
|Parking:||Layby, Pott Bank|
|Route:||Download Route [GPX]|
A major landmark on the moors to the west of Masham is the huge 14m sighting tower above Arnagill Crags. The sighting tower was built in 1903 as one three towers to survey the line of an aqueduct tunnel to take water from Roundhill Reservoir towards Harrogate. The sighting tower is often called Arnagill Tower. However, the real Arnagill Tower is a 19th century folly hidden in the depths of Arnagill nearly a mile to the south-west.
It is over 12 years since I last visited the sighting tower and prior to this walk I’d only seen Arnagill Tower from afar. The aim of this walk then was to visit both the two towers as well as paying a long overdue return visit to the trig point on Sandy Hill.
“Whilst doing a bit of research on the internet prior to the walk I’d come across a sketch of the tower showing a waterfall below it. Given my obsession with falling water I had to go in search of it.”
The walk started from a small layby at the foot of Pott Bank, just above where the two ‘arms’ of Leighton Reservoir join together. The first section of the walk was a simple three quarter of a mile walk up the road. I say simple but walking into gusts of up to 40 miles was not particularly easy. Indeed I did wonder at this point whether coming out was such a good idea.
After gaining over 90 metres in height I took an access road on the left leading me past the farms at Stott Fold and East Summer Side. Just after East Summer Side the road turned into a grassy track which I followed to reach the ruins of the house at Summer Side. Here I turned left to descend diagonally through a series of pastures into Agill. Passing a lonely tree I entered some woods to cross Agill Beck. On the other side of the stream a path climbed up the other bank to bring me to the ruins of Low Ash Head.
There is something rather melancholy and sombre about ruined houses and farms especially when they are found in remote areas. Despite, or perhaps because of, the rather sad nature of such ruins I rather like them. Low Ash Head is probably one of my favourites. I’d last passed this way in 2013 and the forlorn house had stuck in my memory and I was looking forward to seeing it again.
As I arrived a few sheep ran out of the front door. Peering inside I could see the rotting remains of the wooden staircase and, to the left, the old fireplace. There is no clear path or track leading direct to the house, though there is a grassy track just to the south. This continues on to High Ash Head which is equally derelict. Given the lack of roads leading to the two houses I assume that they must have been abandoned just prior to the construction of the reservoirs further down the valley.
From Low Ash Head I climbed south through a couple of pastures to reach the open moor. Continuing on a path I soon arrived at the shooting lodge tucked beneath the impressive outcrops of Combs Crags. Thanks to the datestone above the doorway we know the lodge dates back to 1890. Peering through the window I saw the usual wooden table and benches as well as a fireplace. In addition there were also a some candlesticks and some rather creepy looking sheep skulls.
Continuing on the track swung round to the south-east to soon join a broader track. This track is the main artery of a series of byways that link Nidderdale and Ilton, near Masham.They are popular with off roaders and indeed my first experience of this part of the country was in my friend’s landrover. There weren’t any landrovers today though I was passed by a trio of trailbikers.
Turning left on this track I continued on to reach the head of Arnagill on my left. Continuing on to the northern side of the gill I then left the track to go in search of Arnagill Tower. Keeping the steep gill down to the left it was awkward underfoot, made arduous by dead bracken and deep heather. Finally though I found a narrow path slanting down through the bracken to reach the small tower perched on a little ridge.
Arnagill Tower was built by William Danby II, the creator of the more famous Druid’s Temple, in the early 19th century. It is one of a number of such follies that he built on the large Swinton estate. The difficulty reaching it notwithstanding it was a fantastic spot. It also made a welcome shelter from the wind in which to eat my lunch.
Whilst doing a bit of research on the internet prior to the walk I’d come across a sketch of the tower showing a waterfall below it. Given my obsession with falling water I had to go in search of it. I found the fall down to the right of the tower, crossing over a fence above a very narrow stream called Rowton Sike. The waterfall was a most attractive spout with a drop of at least 25 feet. It was a bit of a scramble to reach the bottom and the sun shining directly above made taking a photo quite difficult. Still it was definitely worth the detour. The waterfall does not appear on the map so it seems to be unnamed. I’ll call it Arnagill Spout.
Climbing back up to the tower and slanted path in the bracken I then walked due east across easier ground to reach a track. Turning right on this I soon made my way to the byway I’d left earlier. Turning left I continued up on to Sandy Hill. My next detour was to visit the trig point. Don’t bother trying to find the small track shown on the map heading south towards the trig point – it simply doesn’t exist. Instead there were a series of miniature pools amongst a sea of heather.
Eventually I reached the trig point. Despite not being in the best condition I was surprised and pleased to see that it still retained its Ordnance Survey cap. The trig point is surrounded by heather moorland so the views are of a very distant nature. Far to the east I could see the outline of the Cleveland Hills. To the south I could just make out the monument on Greygarth Hill whilst to the north-west I could just see the upper reaches of Great Whernside and Little Whernside.
Returning once again to the byway I crossed straight over to take a quad track I’d spotted earlier alongside a series of wooden posts (the beginnings of a new fence?). This track contoured around Shortlick Hill to bring me without too much problem within a few hundred metres of the sighting tower. A brief tramp across the pathless moor finally brought me to this magnificent structure which so dominates the skyline. For more information about the history and purpose of the sighting tower please visit the British Listed Buildings website.
From the sighting tower I headed WNW to descend the rough moor. Just above a gate in a wall I joined a right of way. Turning through the gate I dropped down to the dam over Roundhill Reservoir. Work on Roundhill Reservoir started in 1903 and was completed in 1911, the reservoir being built to supply water to Harrogate. Crossing over the dam I turned right on the access road to Roundhill House. This took me back to Pott Bank. Turning right it was then just a couple of minutes back to the car.
If one were to do this walk and stick purely to the rights of way it would be enjoyable enough. However the excursions, mainly pathless to Arnagill Tower, the trig point and the sighting tower make it much more interesting. These detours do cross some rough ground so would not be to everyone’s taste but are well worth the effort for those willing to give it a go. It is worth noting though that these are grouse moors so access arrangements can be restricted at certain times, mainly May – July. In other words if you want to do the diversions then it is best to avoid those months.