The priory was founded by Augustine monks, from nearby Embsay, in the mid-twelfth century. Twenty-six canons and around 200 lay-people lived at the priory, making their living from sheep farming, milling corn, and the local lead mines.
The dissolution of the monasteries started in 1536 and reached Bolton Priory in 1539, although part of the building was left intact and villagers were still able to worship here.
Later, in the seventeenth century, Oliver Cromwell granted the villagers permission to continue to worship in the priory and today the Priory Church of St Mary and St Cuthbert has a thriving community.
There are three car parks, the village car park, the riverside car park and the Strid car park.
Parking costs £10 per vehicle per day. However, you can drive between the car parks on the same day and park at each of them for this one charge.
If you think you may visit more than eight times a year, consider buying a season ticket for £80.
We started in the village car park where the village post office and the tea cottage are situated. The toilets were closed for refurbishment on our visit, but there were some temporary festival toilets available, which I hate with a passion.
Across the road a hole in the wall leads to a wooden platform and some steps down. There is disabled access around the estate with pre-bookable mobility scooters and wheelchairs for those who need them, for which use a donation is requested. The paths are well-maintained but some of the slopes can be quite steep, so they get slippery in wet or icy weather.
The River Wharfe runs through the estate and can be crossed by either one of three bridges or the famous stepping stones.
We wimped out and used one of the bridges, but far more adventurous adventurers than us braved the journey across the stones while their dogs jumped in and swam across.
It’s mostly a very dog-friendly place where well-behaved and well-controlled dogs are able to walk to heel.
In the woods on the woodland trails, owners are asked to keep dogs on leads. But dogs are allowed to run loose in a designated field close to the Cavendish Pavilion, which is close to the riverside car park.
On the opposite bank (to the priory) of the River Wharfe is the curiously titled Valley of Desolation, which can be found within Barden Fell. Dogs are, unfortunately, not allowed there, nor on Barden Moor or the Simon’s Seat walks. So we didn’t go either.
The village car park is ideal for exploring the village, the tea cottage, the post office, the priory and the stepping stones.
From the riverside car park, you can visit the Memorial Fountain, the Cavendish Pavilion, the Cavendish Bridge and the Valley of Desolation.
From the Strid car park, you can visit the Strid itself, the aqueduct, Barden Tower & Priest House, and Barden Bridge.
Alternatively, make a day of it, park at one of the car parks, and do the full circular walk.
There are refreshments, toilets and information at all of the car parks, but be aware that it’s about 7 miles from the village to Barden Bridge, one-way.
We cheated a little and drove from the village car park to the Strid car park, skipping the riverside car park. We’ll save that for another day.
It took less than 10 minutes, and then another 10 or 15 minutes to walk down to the Strid itself. Fortunately, the toilets at the Strid car park weren’t closed.
The Strid is a very small gap in the rocks through which the River Wharfe forces itself. It is said that the Strid is the most dangerous piece of water in the world, because the river apparently turns on its side leaving the undercurrents to hurl anything against the rocks, over and over again until it is destroyed.
Once again, the path here is quite steep, and quite rocky in places, although it looks as though a smoother path may take the visitor on a slightly easier route. There is moss on the rocks next to the river, though, which can be slippery.
At the time of our visit, the ground of Strid Woods was clothed in snowdrops. Go slightly later in the spring, and you may see bluebells instead.
Professional photographers and drone operators are asked to contact the estates office before visiting for permission and guidelines for shooting. The estate is still owned by the Duke of Devonshire and it is managed by the Chatsworth Settlement Trustees, as the Chatsworth estate is also owned by the Cavendish family.
In all, we walked just under 2 miles from the village car park and back and just under a mile from the Strid car park and back. We walked more than 15,000 steps and burned around 500 calories. It took us less than 2 hours to get there and we were there for more than 3 hours.