There is so much to admire, so much to celebrate, that I know not how to proceed in description, or to speak half in praise of Hackfall,” wrote a late-18th-century visitor to Hackfall. He was not alone; everyone who visited Hackfall from its creation in the 1750s until its mid-20th century decline praised this woodland garden. It has now recovered its former glories, and is a delight to wander on a sunny morning.
Follow the signs to enter Hackfall and you’re instantly transported into the Romantic imagination of the landscape’s creator. He was William Aislabie, whose father laid out the formal – and now famous – garden at Studley Royal a few miles away. At Hackfall, William developed something very different.
From the Ruin’s terrace (open 11am-3pm only) you get a panoramic view of his raw material – the deep and heavily wooded gorge of the River Ure. Aislabie enhanced it with meandering paths and small buildings. The Ruin itself is extraordinary – a three-roomed pavilion for taking tea, in the form of a classical ruin, possibly designed by the architect Robert Adam. It’s now a Landmark Trust holiday cottage.
Across the valley from the Ruin is Mowbray Castle, a mock-gothic folly, while below you catch glimpses of a pool and nearby temple, as well as a small octagonal hall, set amid dense woodland that tempts you to explore.
Follow the descending paths through the trees. In spring, there are carpets of bluebells and a sea of wild garlic; in summer, shade is supplied by oak, beech, sycamore, ash and lime trees, which in autumn turn all shades of russet and amber.
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Listen to the gurgling of water as streams fall over rocks on their way to the Ure. From the river’s banks Turner painted the view of Mowbray Castle. Wordsworth recommended a visit to Hackfall in his Guide to the Lakes, while the Russian empress Catherine the Great had engravings of it on her dinner service.
In the 1930s, the woodland was cleared for its timber, then left to rest and regenerate until the 1980s when the Hackfall Trust was set up to rescue it. Hackfall is now cared for by the Woodland Trust and a £1m Lottery grant has helped reinstate the views, repair the buildings, replace the fountain in the pool and recreate the Forty Foot Falls, which tumble down the side of the gorge. Hackfall is now open all the time, free, to anyone who wants to explore its mysteries and discover its magic.
How to get there
Hackfall is close to the village of Grewelthorpe, six miles north-west of Ripon. The car park is north of the village on the Masham road. Bus: Dales and District Service 138, Ripon to Grewelthorpe (not Sun).
Find out more
7 Silver St, Masham HG4 4DX
Small and elegant restaurant with a great reputation for using the best local produce and has awards to prove it.
Stay in style in a Hackfall folly. Sleeps two; prices from £341 for a three-night weekend stay.
Black Sheep Brewery
Wellgarth, Masham HG4 4EN
The Theakston Brewery
Masham HG4 4YD
See some of Yorkshire’s most famous beers are brewed at Masham’s two breweries – Black Sheep and Theakstons, both with visitor centres and tours.