Day out: Knaresborough, North Yorkshire

Enjoy a winter ramble alongside one of Yorkshire’s most alluring rivers, where locals heave-ho in a hotly contested Boxing Day battle

Bridge over river in town
Published: November 21st, 2021 at 6:27 am
Get a Regatta Highton 35L Trail Rucksack when you subscribe to BBC Countryfile Magazine

This Knaresborough day out ticks all the boxes for a family Boxing Day outing. It has historical curiosity for adults, novelty for children and is short at 3.5 miles, paved throughout (so suitable for those on wheels) but largely traffic-free.


There’s also a superb selection of places to eat and get warm. Time it right and you can spectate at the annual tug o’ war over the River Nidd, too.

Summer in the countryside
Knaresborough is gorgeous in the summer and winter/Credit: Getty

Knaresborough walk

From the station, walk down to the A59 for a view up towards the rail viaduct, then proceed along Waterside with the river on your right, maintaining the same direction down Abbey Road.

Features come thick and fast. Look up at the House in Rock, a folly hewn out of a cliff face. The man who completed its construction, the self-knighted Sir Thomas Hill, flew a flag from the battlements, printed his own banknotes and fired cannon salutes on public occasions. Immediately below you will pass the Chapel of Our Lady in the Cliff – this wayside shrine cut from the rock dates to 1408.

Tug o' war

Every Boxing Day at noon, regulars from the Half Moon and Mother Shipton pubs compete in a tug o’ war across the River Nidd that separates them, with the losing team taking a dip. The tradition dates to 1966.

While parents and grandparents will admire the grand houses and gardens on the far side of the river (my favourite is the one with the Dutch gable), children will have fun spotting carved figures in the trees, including an owl, fox, eagle, kingfisher and spooky face, as well as a small cave.

The riverside section of the route ends soon after St Robert’s Cave, the former 12th-century dwelling of a saint and hermit, tucked away at the bottom of steps. Robert built a reputation for herbal cures and as a friend of the poor. In the mid-18th century, a schoolmaster murdered his lover and buried her body here. Do you dare venture inside?


Turn left on to Wetherby Road and make your way back through the town via Grimbald Road and a footpath beside the cemetery. End with the grand finale of a visit to Knaresborough Castle perched way above the river and with a picture-postcard view down to the viaduct and the point where you started.


Paul Kirkwood has been exploring, writing about and photographing every corner of Yorkshire since he relocated there in 1994.


Sponsored content