By Vicky · Published Aug. 10th, 2023
Explore Ben Rhydding Nature Reserve, a hidden gem near Ilkley, on a short walk with wildflowers, gravel pits (now lakes) and the River Wharfe.
The short walk through Ben Rhydding Nature Reserve starts from a lay-by on the side of the A65. It’s 5 minutes drive from the centre of Ilkley. You can also park at the nearby Moss & Moor Garden Centre, which additionally has a great cafe. Alternatively, the X84 bus leaves from Ilkley train station and stops right at the start of this walk (Treatment Works Bus Stop), taking about 7 minutes.
Ben Rhydding Nature Reserve Walking Map
Get the route by downloading the .gpx or .kml file below. For navigation with Maps.me on your mobile phone, simply download the .kml file and open to add it to the Maps.me bookmarks.
- The reserve is open all the time – early mornings and late evenings are best for the wildlife.
- Dogs are allowed in the reserve, but only on a lead and under control. Try not to let them disturb the wildlife.
- You can find other Yorkshire ideas in our Yorkshire Guide.
Ben Rhydding Nature Reserve Walking Route
From the small car park in the lay-by, head through the gate and take the first right into Ben Rhydding Gravel Pits Nature Reserve. The reserve gets its name from the large ponds within it, which used to be gravel pits. The soil next to the river contained large deposits of gravel. This was extracted by the construction industry until the 1970s. After this, the pits were flooded and the ponds are now home to abundant wildlife.
The First Gravel Pit
Continue along the path through the meadow, looking out for butterflies. Keep heading straight onwards and into the woodland, where you’ll soon see one of the flooded gravel pits on your left. It’s a lovely pond, surrounded by wild vegetation and partly covered in lilies. You can see various waterbirds, along with dragonflies and more.
After passing the pond, head onwards, through another open area, then follow the path as it bends left. Soon you’ll reach the banks of the River Wharfe, and there’s a well-paced bench here to sit on and admire the view.
In spring and early summer you can see sand martins nesting in the riverbank on the other side. If you’re lucky you might spot an otter frolicking in the water, or some shy deer grazing opposite.
Wildlife in Ben Rhydding Nature Reserve
Many birds visit the site, including kingfishers, sand martins nesting in the sandy river banks, oystercatchers, several species of ducks, and many more. If you visit in the evening, you may see one of the four bat species flying about, catching insects over the river.
You can find several different species of butterfly on the reserve, especially among some of the wildflower meadows. There are also many colourful dragonflies. If you’re lucky, you can also spot otters playing in the river. And check the opposite side of the river for deer.
The path continues to parallel the river, and you return to the gravel pit which you can see on your left. Heading onward, you leave the official part of Ben Rhydding Nature Reserve. Walk straight across at the next junction to visit another, larger flooded gravel pit. Anglers sometimes use this pond, but often it’s deserted and very quiet.
The Second Gravel Pit
There are some lovely views of the pond on your left. You can reach the far end for a clear view across the water. However, there’s so way to walk a full circuit around the pond so you have to return the way you came.
You can also walk a short distance up the other side of the pond. After this, return back and head out towards the entrance of the reserve. Keep your eyes peeled for interesting flowers, such as unusual orchid species. You can see them here at certain times of year. Soon you’ll be back at the gate and car park, and the end of the walk through Ben Rhydding Nature Reserve.
Guidebooks to explore more of Yorkshire
The Rough Guide to Yorkshire* is a great little guidebook and has a section on Ilkley and things to do nearby. The Yorkshire Dales Pathfinder Guide* has a good collection of short hikes suitable for the entire family and the Guide to North Yorkshire Pub Walks* has some fun walks in the Dales for those who are hungry and thirsty.