Middleton Woods: Visiting Middleton Woods, Ilkley

On a curve of the River Wharfe, a swing bridge marks a congregation of Ilkley-fun-seekers. Hundreds of teenagers, young families, and dog walkers descend on this area as soon as the smallest rumours of sun start swirling. They either swim or skim rocks on the pebbled beach. Or, they head across the swing bridge and through a metal kissing gate – the entrance point for Middleton Woods.

Visiting Middleton Woods is easily one of the best things to do in Ilkley. The 94 acres of woodland is a pillar in the local community, hosting many anticipated annual events like the Halloween Scare Trail, where horror-bedazzled actors leap out to provide jump scare upon jump scare. But Middleton Woods is also an important place of conservation, and each spring, it becomes especially popular thanks to its population of bluebells. The beautiful display of flowers has earned Middleton Woods the sweet nickname ‘Ilkley Bluebell Woods’ and makes spring the top time to visit for bluebell walks.

Middleton Woods is an incredible spot to visit. You can go bluebell spotting, enjoy its Scare Trail, or spend an hour or so on a Middleton Woods walk. Whichever activity you wish to pick, this guide will prepare you entirely for your visit. Here’s our all-you-need-to-know guide on Middleton Woods, Ilkley. 

Where Is Middleton Woods?

Middleton Woods is a 94-acre stretch of woodland located on the north bank of the River Wharfe, just outside Ilkley’s centre. Ilkley is a small spa town in West Yorkshire – most known for its moorland and the famed White Wells plunge pool, which Darwin visited in 1859. To reach Middleton Woods from Ilkley, walk or drive along Denton Road or Curly Hill. Curly Hill Road cuts Middleton Woods clean in half, and there are access points along both roads.

What Is Middleton Woods’ History?

Middleton Woods is a designated Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland. This somewhat ambiguous official term means that most of its woodland has been there since at least 1600, making its flora some of the UK’s oldest and most original species. Since Great Britain only gives this title to 1.2% of its woodlands, this makes ‘Ilkley Bluebell Woods’ pretty special. The oak-filled woodland is a beautiful example of ancient British woodland.

You can learn more about what was going on in Ilkley during the 1600s with a visit to the Ilkley Manor House – the town’s leading local history museum.

The Best Walks in Middleton Woods, Ilkley

Middleton Woods is best seen on foot. It is the sort of place that you can easily ‘get lost in’ without dramatic consequence, and despite being 94 acres, the fact it is divided by Curly Hill Road makes it super easy to navigate. Middleton Woods is laid out in sections with physical boundaries; you can’t go wrong. So, with that in mind, what are the best walks in Middleton Woods? Regarding Ilkley walks, Middleton Woods has some of the prettiest. Here are our top 5 tried-and-tested Middleton Woods walks for you to enjoy.

1. The ‘Get Lost Tactic’

Distance: Unlimited miles

Time: Unlimited time

Highlights: Middleton Woods 

Before we start with the ‘serious’ best walks in Middleton Woods, Ilkley, we’ll preface this section by saying that the best way to experience the woods is through the ‘get lost tactic’. As we said, you can’t go wrong with Middleton Woods as it is so clearly divided into sections. The whole of the woods is boxed between Ilkley town centre, Denton Road, Hardings Lane, and Carters Lane to the far east. So you can just walk until you find a road – which never takes more than 20 minutes or so in any given direction.

Our advice? Download offline maps on Google and just go wandering. If you pack a picnic and drink, you could spend a few hours exploring Ilkley’s Bluebell Woods. Start with the old Suspension Bridge (the Swing Bridge) and see how far you get. There are standing stones, wooden dens, and even a rope swing to find in Middleton Woods, Ilkley; you will see many exciting attractions along the way. And a network of little adventure paths run off the main, wider tracks to take you to more off-the-beaten-track corners of woodland.

2. Middleton Woods to Denton

Distance: 6.2 miles

Time: 2-3 hours

Highlights: Middleton Woods, River Wharfe, and farmland

Middleton Woods to Denton is a scenic walk. Despite its fair distance, it is not too demanding and provides plenty of agricultural scenery. It is an excellent option on a busy day as it is much less popular than other Ilkley walks Middleton Woods offers, and parking is much easier. It is quite a confusing route, though, so we’ll drop detailed instructions below.

You park on Curly Hill using street parking for the Middleton Woods to Denton walk. Enter Upper Middleton Woods and take the uphill right turn at the second fork, eventually emerging onto an open meadow accessible by a stile. You cut across, joining Hardings Lane and take your first right onto a residential track leading past a monastery and a beautiful row of cottages. Just as you get past the cottages, you’ll see a metal gate barring a grassy path (usually covered in multi-coloured plastic circles, which helps). As a shared footpath and bridleway, you’ll often see horses and riders galloping up this section, and it is a lovely 10-minute uphill stroll through a series of fields.

Rejoining Hardings Lane, take a right and follow the public footpath sign at the bend. This track will lead you across farmland, briefly crossing Hardings Lane before eventually dropping you onto Denton Road. Heading down through Denton, you reach a blink-and-you-miss-it turn-off through a wooden gate marked only by a wooden public footpath sign. Take this and head through Beckfoot Farm, onto Carter’s Lane and Denton Road. From here, you take a right and end up at the base of Lower Middleton Woods opposite the Suspension Bridge – taking the second left track and keeping left through the woods to return to Curly Hill Road.

3. Upper Middleton Woods Loop

Distance: 1.5 miles

Time: 1-2 hours

Highlights: Middleton Woods, country lanes, and farm animals

The Upper Middleton Woods loop is a brilliant option for hikers short on time and wanting an easy circular route. Start on Curly Hill Road, entering Middleton Woods through the gate on the left-hand side – upper Middleton Woods. You stick to the main track in Upper Middleton Woods, curving up on a diagonal to the left and eventually emerging onto a public footpath through open meadowland. From this point, you emerge onto Hardings Lane. Hardings Lane is a picturesque country lane, typically flanked by hawthorn hedges, drystone walls, and many farm animals. You continue until the crossroads, taking a right to walk down Curly Hill and back to your start point.

The Upper Middleton Woods loop is short but sweet. It has mixed terrain, which keeps things fresh and interesting, providing just enough time in Middleton Woods to taste this beautiful landscape. It is relatively simple to follow as well.

4. Middleton Woods to Mill Ghyll Loop

Distance: 4 miles

Time: 2-3 hours

Highlights: Middleton Woods, River Wharfe, Ilkley Town Centre, and Mill Ghyll

This 4-mile loop incorporates one of the historic town centre’s most Victorian attractions – Mill Ghyll, a tiny garden oasis sandwiched between terraces. And you’ll combine this with the beautiful Middleton Woods, River Wharfe, and a stroll through Ilkley Park and past Ilkley Riverside gastropub.

We’d advise parking at the Middleton Woods entrance on Denton Road and heading uphill through the woodland (you’ll avoid a quad-destroying climb on Langbar Road). Keep left and stick to the main trail to cross over Curly Hill and enter Upper Middleton Woods. Again, keep left, heading to the open meadow in the northwest corner of the woodland. You cross a small footbridge and pass the Arthur Hentzen Mausoleum – a memorial to a local wool merchant – crossing the field to join Hardings Lane. You turn left at Hardings Lane, dropping down the steep Langbar Road until you reach the Old Bridge. Cutting through Ilkley Park, you take a right up Brook Street, at the top of which is Mill Ghyll.

Mill Ghyll is an ideal place to stop on a bench in the shade and soak up the Victorian-inspired public garden with sweet bridges and Narnia-style lamp posts. It is a simple walk down Brook Street and along the River Wharfe to return to your starting point.

5. Mount Calvary and Middleton Woods Walk

  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Time: 2-3 hours
  • Highlights: Ancient Calvary, Middleton Woods, River Wharfe, Ilkley Park and Stone Bridge

The Mount Calvary and Middleton Woods walk is ideal for pushing the boat out and venturing out of the Middleton Woods perimeters. The loop runs through the entire length of Middleton Woods, then incorporates one of Ilkley’s most secret attractions – Middleton Calvary. The Calvary is a little eerie and highly atmospheric. The site is intended to be a place of reflection. It is full of religious symbols, including the Stations of the Cross. The Mount Calvary and Middleton Woods walk also passes the old Ilkley Stone Bridge and cuts through Ilkley Park, where you can stop at Ilkley Riverside for a drink and pub grub.

The hike involves a mixture of styles, rough woodland tracks (expect bogs and streams to jump over in wet weather), and country lanes. It is easy for anyone with good mobility. And it is suitable for any fitness level with adequate breaks, which should come naturally with the different attractions en route.

How To Experience the Middleton Woods Bluebells

Middleton Woods isn’t called Ilkley Bluebell Woods for nothing. The woods become absolutely overrun between the end of April to the beginning of June. Electric purple spreads as far as the undulations of woodland tracks let you see, and the phenomenon attracts thousands of people in the know. It is between April and June that Middleton Woods has its famous bluebell walks, and its trails become ten times more beautiful – who knew it would be possible?

The peak time to experience all of the Middleton Woods bluebell walks is mid-May. But if you are wondering whether the bluebells in Middleton Woods are out yet, you can usually be confident that they are out between April and June.

It’s important to know that picking bluebells in Ilkley Bluebell Woods is forbidden, as they are a protected flora species. However, take all the pictures you want. Middleton Woods is adored by photographers and is one of the best places in Yorkshire for a seasonal photoshoot. Forget lavender fields; bluebells are a hot take on purple landscapes. And a bluebell walk in Middleton Woods is sure to tick that hot take off for you.

Where To Stay When Visiting Middleton Woods

Staying overnight when visiting Middleton Woods is a good idea if you are travelling from further afield. With extra time, you can swim in the river (or nearby Ilkley swimming pool in colder weather), visit Ilkley Moor, and enjoy some of Ilkley’s restaurants and bars. When visiting Middleton Woods, these are the top places to stay for each budget.

  • Budget Accommodation Near Middleton Woods:

Hey, we never said Ilkley was cheap. But you can pick up a room for under £100 at The Cow & Calf By Innkeeper’s Collection, which is competitive in the area. The Cow & Calf By Innkeeper’s Collection is situated almost opposite the Cow and Calf – perfect for Ilkley Moor walks. The inn-style lodgings have a pub and restaurant downstairs and comfortable guestrooms upstairs. The guestrooms have luxe, plush furnishings and en-suites, and some have impressive views over the moor and Ilkley below.

  • Mid-Range Accommodation Near Middleton Woods:

The Black Hat is the definition of mid-range – from its posh take on its pub setting to its handy location in the centre of Ilkley. The guest rooms are upstairs and range from double to family rooms. Each booking includes breakfast each morning, a nice touch. The Black Hat is a fantastic place to stay and is within walking distance of all Ilkley’s best pubs and town centre attractions.

  • Luxury Accommodation Near Middleton Woods:

Myddelton Grange is our top recommendation for luxury accommodation near Middleton Woods. It is also the closest place to stay near the woodland, located just minutes away from the Calvary and Hardings Lane footpath leading to Upper Middleton Woods. The holiday rental is huge, boasting 17 bedrooms, a hot tub, and a games room which includes a bar and pool table. There’s also a functional chapel and a private cinema room (with popcorn machines). Oh, and a sauna and gym. If you are planning a multi-generational trip, you can’t go wrong with Myddelton Grange. It actually sleeps up to 34 people – which is jaw-dropping in itself, before you even see the beautiful décor.

Visiting Middleton Woods: FAQs

Armed with all this knowledge on visiting Middleton Woods, what remaining questions do you have? You can drop any queries in the comments below or check our FAQ section to see if there is an answer to your burning question.

Where Do You Park To Visit Middleton Woods, Ilkley?

There are minimal parking options in a layby opposite the Ilkley Suspension Bridge on Denton Road. If you are visiting outside of summer holidays or sunny weekends, you should find a spot here, as there is usually space for 7-8 cars. However, on a busy day, these spots fill fast. We’d recommend using the Curly Hill entrance point on a busy day. There is much more abundant street parking along Curly Hill Road – providing parking spots for around 20+ vehicles.

If all else fails, you can find parking spots near the Old Bridge in Ilkley, Grove Road, or the paid Ilkley Car Park. You can pay for parking via the RingGo app in Ilkley’s paid parking spots, which is handy because you can easily add extra time while walking.

When Is The Best Time of Year To Visit Middleton Woods?

Spring is the best time of year to visit Middleton Woods, Ilkley to see the bluebells. However, if you aren’t as interested in seeing Middleton Woods’ famous purple flowers, autumn is also a beautiful time to visit. At this time of year, the woodland teems with burnt orange leaves and ridiculously photogenic. It has that classic British woodland look that is great if you want a ‘woods in England’ experience.

Is Middleton Woods Pushchair Friendly?

Certain parts of Middleton Woods could be pushchair friendly if you are good enough at problem-solving and luck out with dry weather. However, we wouldn’t recommend it. There are plenty of short loops suitable for parents to tackle with toddlers, so it is an excellent place to introduce young children to short walks.  

Is Middleton Woods Dog-Friendly?

Middleton Woods is most definitely dog friendly. There are no restrictions for dogs in Ilkley Bluebell Woods, and you and your pooch can roam until your hearts’ content. Be wary of Curly Hill Road because dogs can get through the fencing or over the stile without close supervision.

To Conclude

Middleton Woods, Ilkley, is truly a beautiful spot. Between the bluebells, autumnal landscape, and Halloween events, it is impossible not to love. Middleton Woods is home to some of the best Ilkley walks, a firm local hotspot worth a day out for any nearby tourists. It is straightforward to squeeze a visit to Middleton Woods in when visiting Ilkley; just set aside an hour or so for a laidback stroll.

Wanting some more inspiration on visiting Ilkley? We’ve got guides on the very best places to eat and things to do. And we’ve even got a guide on the top Ilkley Moor walks if you fancy more hiking. Ilkley is a brilliant Yorkshire getaway, and Middleton Woods is a cherry on top.

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