Bolton Abbey

An attraction for thousands of visitors to enjoy the parkland, the river, walks, photos, parking, picnics and more.

Approaching Bolton Abbey
The Bolton Abbey Estate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, close to Skipton, attracts thousands of visitors each year.

Right on the bank of the River Wharfe, the grounds are a haven for picnickers and walkers. The ruins of the Abbey make a wonderful backdrop and the estate has 5 Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

In brief

  • Well preserved ruins of Bolton Priory
  • Fantastic river spot for picnics, barbecues and family fun
  • Plenty of walking and cycling routes
  • 5 areas designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest
  • Embsay steam railway close by
  • Nearby Hubberholme is resting place of J B Priestley

A bit of history

Bolton Priory

Bolton Priory

The Bolton Priory monastery was originally founded at Embsay in 1120. Although generally known as Bolton Abbey, the monastery was led by a Prior so was technically a priory. It was founded on the banks of the Ricer Wharfe in 1154 by the Augustinian order. The land was given to the order by Lady Alice de Romille of Skipton Castle.

In the early 14th century Scottish raiders attacked the priory causing serious structural damage and leading to the site being temporarily abandoned.

It was reoccupied and the nave of the abbey church was in use as a parish church from about 1170 onwards, and it survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It remained in use for the next 370 years, with the Abbey constantly being extended and renovated. In fact, work was still happening at the abbey when the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII led to end of the priory in 1539.

After the Dissolution the priory buildings were sold to the Cliffords of Skipton Castle, and later to the Cavendish family, Dukes of Devonshire.

Bolton Abbey today

Stepping stones over the River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey

Stepping stones, Bolton Abbey

Although the 30,000 acre estate was owned by the Dukes of Devonshire, the 11th Duke of Devonshire set up a trust that passed it over to the Chatsworth Settlement Trustees to run.

Bolton Abbey today is a thriving tourist attraction. The estate attracts thousands of visitors, particularly on sunny days, when picnics are spread out on the banks of the river, barbeques are lit and children of all ages play in the water or battle their nerves to cross on the stepping stones.

There are lovely walks both along either side of the river, through Strid Wood or onto the higher fell up to Simon’s Seat.

The church and Priory ruins are well worth a visit and there are shops, cafes and restaurants in the village.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest

Estate has five areas designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, including Strid Wood, an ancient woodland (mainly oak), which contains the length of the River Wharfe known as The Strid.

The Strid

The Strid is an area of the River Wharfe which becomes suddenly narrow through a rocky area with the squeezed water gushing through the rocks powerfully. This deep, water filled chasm is dramatic but can be dangerous. It looks narrow enough to step across (the name originates from the gap being, in theory, a Stride wide) but it’s wider than it looks and the rocks can be very slippy. Accidents, some fatal, occasionally happen.

Strid Wood

Strid Wood is an area of ancient woodland and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It is one of the largest areas of acidic oak woodland in the Yorkshire Dales, well known for its plant and animal life. The array of bluebells in Spring are a sight to behold.

The Embsay & Bolton Abbey Steam Railway

The Embsay & Bolton Abbey Steam Railway runs from the village of Embsay just outside Skipton to the new station at Bolton Abbey station, about one and a half miles (2.5 km) from the ruins at Bolton Priory and the Bolton Abbey estate. The line has a long and varied history and takes travellers though some beautiful Yorkshire Dales countryside.

More information: Embsay & Bolton Abbey Railway website


There is plenty of parking at Bolton Abbey but it’s expensive. There is a large car park in the village, one right next to the river and a further one at Strid Wood. Whichever car park you choose, the cost is £8 per vehicle and £4.00 for a motorcycle. This is fine if you are staying all day but steep if you just want a walk for a couple of hours.

There are some places along the road where parking is free but they are usually snapped up early.

Photos of Bolton Abbey

Bolton Abbey is a popular spot right next to the River Wharfe in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It’s ideal for family days out to enjoy a picnic, barbeque, games and paddling in the river. There is plenty more as well from exploring the ruins of Bolton Priory to strolling through Strid Wood to gushing waterfall of the Strid.

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