The Leeds Ring Road is a monstrous traffic artery that cuts through the countryside. The last time I was here, I was on foot, crossing over to reach New Pudsey Station on a Christmas walk from Dewsbury to Pudsey. I was relieved to get there in one piece.
Today, I join the queues of cars, until turning off onto Calverley Lane where the noise drops and the traffic diminishes. Along a short section of Harrogate Road and I’m on the approach to Apperley Bridge Station, arriving just before the morning commuter rush. I park up and have coffee while, every 15 seconds, another car scuttles into the station car park. A regular service bus appears and three people get out, almost apologetically, wishing perhaps that they too could arrive in can solo. It’s raining miserably, so I prepare myself, tucking in my waterproof clobber, and set off.
The footbridge over the station should take me straight up the ceremonial drive to Esholt Hall, but it has been fenced off, presumably to stop people using the drive as a drop-off for their train-bound loved ones. So I walk the long way round, and pick up a bridleway that runs north alongside the Wharfedale railway line towards Guiseley and Ilkley. Rapidly the hostile roar of road traffic is replaced by the repetitive clatter of quarrying machinery, as I’m slicing through a strip of woodland between the railway and Esholt Urban Quarry. I venture off the bridleway, dodge the nettles, and as I move north I get glimpses of the quarry giving way to the flat, striped expanse of the sewage treatment works. The sound of diggers fades, and the gentle hiss of the washing gantries becomes noticeable.
This flat-bottomed basin in the landscape was once an aerodrome, and subsequently Leeds’ second largest water treatment works. Technological advances have rendered much of the works obsolete, and there are now plans to redevelop the spare acres of land. There is already a small business park lurking deep within the site, as is the Grade II listed Esholt Hall, which is currently part of the Yorkshire Water estate. The plan for this part of the site is a much larger business area, apparently aimed at biotech companies. I’ve come here to figure out what CPRE might make of the proposals.
I turn to follow the route of the former works railway line, which brings me past the disused settling tanks on my left. This is the area earmarked for 150 homes. Jerrison Wood, an ancient woodland, is to my right. Then, quite suddenly, I pop out into Esholt village. This is a remarkably isolated, picturesque place, for many years the location for ITV’s Emmerdale. I must have soaked up the geography of this place subconsciously, as a child watching telly at my Grandma’s house. It seems so familiar. I make a note to come back for the classic car rally, every second Wednesday of the month from April to September at the Woolpack.
I’m now on the wrong side of the river Aire and have to plod all the way to Thackley End to cross back. It’s worth the trek though, for the wonderful iron footbridge that leads me into Buck Wood. I dawdle there a while, listen to the river, and photograph the yellow-white elderflowers twining around the green-painted ironwork.
The canal towpath brings me peacefully down a flight of locks (where I find myself talking to a swan), and then I’ve found the other side of the water works. More remnants of the old railway are here, including a striking iron bridge, its jutting-out sections reminding me of those science-craft projects where you make a bridge out of dry spaghetti. I clamber up to the bridge and, after several minutes of contemplation, resist the temptation to trespass along the railway route through the works. I’m convinced that re-opening the railway route for walking and cycling must be a big opportunity for the site’s future.
I can hear the quarry again now, but it’s on the other side of the river which is way below me, maybe 30 metres down from the canal. Two huge green pipes cross the canal and I become, for a moment or two, a tiny spider crawling under radiator pipes. More locks at Dawson Wood, and to my left I see that a shining UFO has landed on the brow of the hill. Looking again, it’s that miserable car park at Apperley Bridge station. Deflated a little, and wishing I had time to stop for a cuppa at Toby’s Tea Room (don’t worry Toby, I’m coming back soon), I drop down to the tiny swing bridge at Apperley Bridge and then trudge the final arc back to the car.
I absolutely love this place. Four grid squares on my 1:25,000 map contain ancient woodland, calm canals, the rushing river, old railways, industry, TV drama, not to mention sewage, and an old hall that managed to stay hidden from me. Whatever the future brings for this site, let’s make sure it stays this odd, and this interesting.