Elmet was one of a number of small, independent British kingdoms to emerge during the so-called Dark Ages, between the end of Roman rule and the conquering of southern Britain, in AD 560, by the Saxon King Edwin. At the height of its powers the kingdom included most of present-day West Yorkshire, and extended from the River Humber in the east, to the Pennine hills in the west. Whilst it is known that Elmet was a realm of some importance, there is little solid archaeological evidence for its existence, apart from a series of defensive earthworks.
Barwick in Elmet
For such a small town, Barwick in Elmet has an air of self-importance. And with good reason: this is one of West Yorkshire's most ancient settlements. Before the Roman invasion it was a town of some size, and after the Romans had left the area it became the capital of the local kingdom of Elmet. A road, 'The Boyle', bends around the castle mound: here was a 12th-century Norman fortification, built on the site of an Iron Age hill-fort. Barwick boasts the second tallest maypole in the country. Every three years it is taken down, given a new coat of paint and hoisted back up to its full height again. It's a job requiring plenty of local labour, who come armed with ropes, ladders and pitchforks.
The road that runs through Aberford is of Roman origin, built around ad 70. On an Ordnance Survey map you can trace its ruler-straight orientation from Aberford down to Castleford. Even the name survives on the map: Roman Ridge Road. Aberford was once an important stopping point for travellers up and down the Great North Road. There were coaching inns on the roadside where horses and passengers could be fed and watered.
Black Horse Farm, to the north of the town, was once the Black Horse Inn, a favourite haunt of John Nevison, a famous local highwayman. When he rode from London to York in a single day, he changed horses at the Black Horse. The great road of today, better known as the A1(M), makes the smallest of detours, around the town, to allow the juggernauts to hurry past at speed. This leaves Aberford pleasantly quiet and free from the roar of traffic.
Walk south along Main Street from the maypole past the store and post office. After 250yds (229m) turn right into Carrfield Road. Beyond the end, keep ahead along a grass track and then a field path. Entering the third field swing right to pass through a gap in the corner and then left beside the hedge. Cross back through further on, eventually coming out onto a lane at Scholes.
Go left for 100yds (91m) to a road off right, signed to Leeds. Cross to a stony bridleway beside the intersection, soon leaving Scholes behind. At a junction, keep left on the most obvious track. When another track comes in from the left, keep ahead past a barrier. Walk a further 0.5 miles (800m) to a junction. There, go left with the bridleway beside a small wood.
Passing onto a golf course, walk forward along the main path, ignoring two footpaths subsequently signed off on the right. Leave the far end of the course along a track that soon passes Willow Park Farm. Keep straight ahead to meet a road near the golfers' clubhouse.
Cross the road and continue on a farm track into the Parlington Estate. Carry on for 0.75 miles (1.2km) beyond Throstle Nest Farm to a junction beside Gamekeepers Cottage, a curious-looking house with a wall around it.
Keep straight ahead along the bridleway through woodland. Bear right, just before a tunnel, to avoid walking through the gloom. The path rejoins your original route at the far end of the tunnel. Pass a gatehouse to arrive in the village of Aberford.
Walk left, along the road, crossing a bridge over Cock Beck and then passing a pub named the Arabian Horse. Go left, opposite this pub, along Becca Lane. Keep left when it forks past Cufforth House and continue beyond a gatehouse into the parkland surrounding Becca Hall. After another 0.25 miles (400m), look for a waymark signing the path off left at the edge of the pasture. Later developing as a track, it leads to Becca Farm.
Continue ahead on the farm track but, just after the barns, turn left at a discrete waymarker post and strike out over the field to a second marker post. Beyond a solitary tree, swing right towards the corner of woodland ahead and follow the ongoing boundary to another belt of trees. Over a stile, bear left to emerge in the next field and keep left along its edge. Passing into pasture, head half right to a final stile in the far corner to come out on to a lane.
Go left and then right by the entrance to Potterton Park to reach another junction. Turn left down Potterton Lane, which eventually leads back to Barwick.
Field paths; good track through Parlington Estate, several stiles
Arable, parkland, woods
Keep on lead through villages and past golf course
OS Explorer 289 Leeds
Roadside parking in Barwick in Elmet, near maypole
None on route
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Discover West Yorkshire
Everybody knows that Yorkshire has some special landscapes. The Dales and the Moors first spring to mind, but what about West Yorkshire? That’s Leeds and Bradford isn’t it? Back-to-back houses and blackened mills… Certainly if you had stood on any of the hills surrounding Hebden Bridge a hundred years ago, and gazed down into the valley, all you would have seen was the pall of smoke issuing from the chimneys of 33 textile mills. But thankfully, life changes very quickly in West Yorkshire. The textile trade went into terminal decline, the mills shut down forever and in a single generation Hebden Bridge became a place that people want to visit.
The surrounding countryside offers walking every bit as good as the more celebrated Yorkshire Dales; within minutes you can be tramping across the moors. And this close proximity of town and country is repeated all across West Yorkshire. There’s such diversity in the area that you can find yourself in quite unfamiliar surroundings, even close to places you may know very well. Take time to explore this rich county and you will be thrilled at what you find to shatter old myths and preconceptions.