The history of the woods goes back centuries. “Bewerley” is derived from “Beurelie” meaning “woodland clearing frequented by beavers”. It has probably been wooded and home to wildlife since the last ice age. The woodland has seen many owners over the centuries.
In 2013 the Nidderdale Landscape Partnership produced a heritage management plan. This was assisted by an archaeological survey conducted by John Buglass, and structural engineer Robert Thorniley-Walker. All documents are available in the Nidderdale AONB office. Below are some extracts:
1086: first known record of Beurelie (Bewerley)
Roger de Mowbray, 11th century. After the Norman conquest of 1066 the estates were allocated to the Mowbray family.
Fountains Abbey 12th-16th century. As a patron of the Abbey, Roger de Mowbray gave the land to Fountains Abbey in 1175. A grange farm was established which managed the woodland for 400 years. It is believed that the fishpond had monastic origins but there is no firm documentary evidence of this. Nearby Bewerley Chapel is a tangible link to the Abbey, dating back to the late 15th century. (Peter and Michelle Brambleby, current owners of Fishpond Wood, were married in this chapel on 10 August 2019.)
Yorke Family 16th-20th century. After the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII in 1536-1540, the Yorke family acquired the land. They constructed Bewerley Hall in 1764 and lived there until 1924 when the land was sold and most of the house demolished. Two of the Yorkes, John and his nephew, also called John,in the late 18th century, oversaw much of the development of the woodland as a picturesque landscape in which to walk. The ice house, iron gates at east and west entrances, and some of the paths are believed to date from the Yorke’s ownership. In the early 20th century it was possible to visit the woods on Tuesdays and Thursdays on payment of six shillings. There was a railway station at Pateley Bridge and the museum still has posters advertising day trips to this scenic area.
Since 1924 the woodland changed hands many times, and since 2012 has belonged to Dr Peter Brambleby, a former Director of Public Health for North Yorkshire and York.
Following the forestry aphorism that: “A wood that pays is a wood that stays”, a company has been established in 2020: Whitewoods Wellbeing Limited, with the aims of restoring the woodland and its wildlife, and promoting human health and wellbeing at the same time. It intends to develop the forestry and wellbeing activities sensitively, with a low carbon footprint, on a small scale, as a going concern which will cover its costs and preserve its future.
Heritage is important and remains a central feature of the woodland restoration. The masonry at the front of the ice house has been restored using traditional lime mortar, and the door replaced using the original iron hinges excavated nearby. It is open to visitors all year round, accessible on foot (and wheelchair or mobility scooter with attendant – see “visiting us”). The dam and pond were restored in 2016, including the island at the north end. Some large sycamores in the face of the dam need to be removed to protect the structure, so the work continues. A number of historic paths have been re-discovered, and some of these are open to the public as permissive footpaths.