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History of Bilton Beck and Rudding Bottoms

Harrogate did not exist at the time of the Great Survey in the 1080s, which was recorded in the Domesday Book, though Bilton was recorded and Nidderdale was noted as being cloaked with trees.

However, Rudding Bottoms has not always been tree-covered. At some point before 1850 the sheltered lower slopes had been completely cleared and fenced off from the wooded slopes, presumably so animals could graze. The unusual name gives us a clue to its history – the Anglo-Saxon ‘rhydding’ means a cleared area.

The footpath from Old Bilton to the wood is called Milners Lane and was the route to Scotton Flax Mill, which is on the far side of the river. Opened in 1798, the mill was powered by water from the river and produced yarn, or thread from raw flax for making into a hard-wearing cloth. The mill was closed 50 years later and the building is now a private home.

Another link to the past is a path which follows the track of the old railway line. The Harrogate to Ripon line was closed during the 1960s as part of the Beeching reorganisation of the British Rail network.

Mainly high forest, the wood was mostly cleared of most of its oak, ash and other hardwood by the beginning of the 20th century. The exception was St John’s Wood, which is the area of woodland between the Nidd Viaduct and Bilton Beck.

As in many other UK woods, conifers were planted in the 1950s. They include larch, pine and spruce.

The wood was bought by the Woodland Trust in 1985 with funding from the Countryside Commission, Harrogate Borough Council, local residents and Trust members. In 1988 the eastern area was clear-felled and replanted with broadleaf tree species. There has been some broadleaf regeneration, but large areas of conifer remain.