Grass Wood is one of the largest broadleaved woodlands in the Yorkshire Dales and is managed by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. It is mostly an ash woodland with limestone terraces but sadly here, as well as in other areas of the country, ash dieback has meant some of those trees have had to be cut down.
While on our Yorkshire Dales break, we had a quick look here en route back to Grassington. An information board detailed the beauty spot’s history and nature. Apparently back in the 1700s a convict had been hung not far from the signpost. The rather grisly named ‘Gibbet Hill’ was the site where the body of a local blacksmith and thief was hung. Tom Lee had been executed in York in 1768, ‘as a warning to any potential miscreants’. Two years earlier, he had been convicted of murdering Dr Richard Petty. Tom Lee had hid Dr Petty’s body in the River Wharfe near Burnsall and nearly avoided conviction but, unfortunately for Lee, his apprentice confessed.
A couple of days later, we went back for a longer walk.
We parked at a small car park at Grass Wood. It was early evening, about 4pm, so plenty of time before dusk and the path was clearly seen. We saw bluebells, yellow primroses and dog violets, and heard a woodpecker tapping away on a tree. We came across an empty egg, perhaps dropped by jackdaws. We did not know what bird had laid it.
The path had a surprising incline upwards. Simon, getting hungry, asked: “Shall we carry on, or turn back?” But we decided to continue for a while further. We came across what looked like a large limestone ridge and I wondered if it was one of the two iron age forts located here but there were no signs indicating this was the case.
A dog barked in the distance and I assumed someone was walking their pet in the woodland. Simon was a little further on from me and had stopped.
“Shush,” he said as he pointed towards something. The animal he was looking at was camouflaged by the surrounding trees but when I saw it move, I realised it was a deer. Usually when an animal such as a deer spots you, they run off. But this one was observing us, the trees helping to conceal it. The barks continued in the background and it turned out to be another deer rather than a dog.
I had seen fleeting glimpses of deer before but they were always quick glances, before the deer sharply moved on. This time the deer was relaxed and curiously watched us watching her. After a while she moved on as did we.
We then came across a sign towards Far Gregory Fort, the iron age hillfort, so we veered left up another incline. According to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, its Victorian discoverers supposed it to be a Brigantian Fort established against Roman invasion. There were rocks but it was hard to know for certain – without archeological knowledge – that this was indeed a place where people lived during Iron Age times. We saw an old campfire site but Simon was convinced that it would have been quite recently used. There is another Iron Age settlement site elsewhere in the wood.
The path back to the car park was not quite so easy to follow if you change direction, looking for hillforts.
At one point, Simon asked, “What was the name of the film about people being lost in the woods?”
I had started thinking about the Blair Witch Project too… (And of course, there was always Gibbet Hill with its grisly history at the other side of the wood…)
Still, thankfully it was daylight and many hours to be comfortably lost in the wood before it got dark and the imagination went into overdrive! Up and over and back down and down.
We heard a sudden rustling movement and it turned out we had surprised a deer who was sleeping. This time, the startled deer ran off.
We carried on down the slopes, what goes up must come down after all, and we remembered a river on that side of the wood so we headed in that direction. Eventually we saw a stile out of the wood, climbed up and out, and now we were on the road. The easy part now, I mused.
Or not. We had earlier walked past log piles and on our way back we came across these again. Logically we would presume that our car park must be nearby… Or maybe not.
Our walk along the road took us to the first entrance, the one we went in on the Sunday. But where was our car park? I was sure we hadn’t passed it and that we had passed the log pile. But as we retraced our steps we finally discovered that our car park – which neither of us had taken much notice of beforehand – was very hidden, secluded and secret, its tiny entrance could be – and was – easily missed.
So our trip to Grass Wood came to an end, and we took home our magical memory of the deer observing us peacefully.