Waterfowl Lake

Golden Days: Golden Acre Park, a Piece of Yorkshire Heaven

by Mark Windle

Mark Windle takes us on a stroll through Leeds most tranquil park

As a writer, I find myself in various settings while striving for productivity. But inspiration doesn’t necessarily arrive in a ta-da! Eureka moment. Sometimes just being surrounded by serenity and visual splendour is all that’s needed, and I’m pleased to announce I’ve found my spot. It’s even right here, on my doorstep – a not-so-little piece of heaven in North Leeds, easily accessible but tucked away just far enough from the hustle and bustle of the city’s more metropolitan environs to imagine that you couldn’t be any further from the industrial or urban north.

Golden Acre Park is a 137-acre beauty spot situated halfway between Adel and the quaint village of Bramhope. Once, the land served as a privately owned amusement park, which opened in 1932, complete with a miniature railway, swimming pool and boat rentals, and provided a roaring trade, even if, in the end, short-lived. Those amenities were stripped back when Leeds City Council took over management just after the Second World War, and since then, it’s been a mixed wooded and open area sanctuary for wildlife, attracting locals and visitors all year round. If you are an out-of-towner, consider a late spring or early summer visit when the bloom is at its best. But whenever you come, it’s impossible not to be wowed by the deliberate, thoughtful landscaping that’s gone on here. Golden Acre has a mini-Capability Brown feel about it, a scaled-down version of the beautifully sculptured grounds that surround the Lascelles family home of Harwood House just a few miles away.

Those arriving at the car park are immediately presented with options. The first, Breary Marsh nature reserve, lies straight ahead. This official Site of Special Scientific Interest is worth a separate visit and features one of the finest examples of wet valley alder and fen wood in the North. Nestled deep in the marsh and woodland is Paul’s Pond, originally dug out in the early 19th century by the Cookridge Hall estate owners. Its raised bank gives some indication that the pond was constructed for a functional purpose (fish stocks, and ice for the pantry), though it now blends seamlessly into the natural surroundings, covered in white water lilies, and home to swans, herons and kingfishers.

It’s impossible not to be wowed by the deliberate but thoughtful landscaping that’s gone on here.

The second route leads into Golden Acre Park via a wooden walkway and stone arch that cuts under the A660. Thankfully all traffic noise soon gives way as the path rolls out through the grounds and circumvents Wildfowl Lake into an enclosed area of mature natural woodland. Sight of the lake isn’t lost for long. At the south end, yet more choices are presented, but keep tight along the water’s edge, past the rhododendrons, limestone rockery garden and the wildflower meadows containing over 150 species of orchids, marsh thistle, buttercups, soft rush and grasses.

Stone Arch

There is some worry about the ongoing preservation of this idyll – encroaching urbanisation, for one thing. A development of over 300 homes is currently underway on the outskirts of Bramhope Village that sprawls up to the park perimeter. Ever since the planning stages, concerns have been raised by local residents and councillors regarding an anticipated increase in local traffic, potential destruction of the Bramhope Conservation Area, and an imbalance between development plans and compensatory tree and hedge planting. The Woodland Trust is anxious that the surrounding ancient woodland of Spring Wood itself area may be threatened. For the time being, these fears have been officially acknowledged, and consideration has now been given to sympathetic landscaping, adequate drainage and the maintenance of estate boundaries. Thankfully, the park itself is safe.

As the path exits the natural woodland area, we arrive at my writer’s perch by the café, set out on the open terrace. The lake is only just obscured by the trees from where I sit, but the view is no less impressive, with its manicured shrubbery and little pond at the foot of the slope. There’s even a short section of railway track nestled among the wildflowers to remind us of the area’s past history. All picture postcard stuff and a nod back to the glory days as a bustling theme park. Those times may be long gone, but Golden Acre is none the worse for it.

Old Railway Track

Directions Golden Acre Park lies 6 miles north of Leeds City centre on the A660. Free car parking is available and on the X84 bus route. Summer opening hours for the café, Monday to Friday, 10 am to 4.30 pm, and weekends 10 am to 5 pm. For enquiries, contact parks@leeds.gov.uk.

Mark Windle is a freelance writer and biographer, working independently as a senior writer with Story Terrace (London, UK) and as a writer for Sheridan Hill (North Carolina, USA). Contact windlefreelance.com or emarkwindle@hotmail.com

NorthernLife July/Aug 23