Nidderdale is distinguished by a series of three reservoirs which give it a different feel to the other major dales. The wild upper part of Nidderdale really begins around Pateley Bridge, where the surrounding hills first reach 1,000ft. The valley then heads north, along the eastern flanks of the massive upland area that reaches its peak at Great Whernside, before turning west to reach the sources of the Nidd on the eastern slopes of the fell.
The watershed of the River Nidd formed part of the boundary of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, with the rather odd result that the western half of the summit of Great Whernside is in the park, while the eastern half is out of it. Most of the valley is now part of the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which is bordered by the Dales to the west, and reaches almost to Ilkley and Otley in the south, towards Harrogate in the south east, to Ripon in the east and to Masham in the north, and is bordered by parts of the River Ure and River Wharfe.
Nidderdale was once the most industrialised of the Yorkshire Dales, containing forty linen mills when the industry was at its peak. As with many of the dales lead mining was also important. The valley was also the scene of large scale industrial work while the dams were being built – a small village was constructed at the base of Scar House reservoir, and the Nidd Valley Light Railway was built to help in the work.
Nidderdale contains a series of village and hamlets, starting at Wath, just north of Pateley Bridge. Ramsgill and Bouthwaite come next, at the northern end of Gouthwaite Reservoir. The last village in the valley bottom is Lofthouse, sitting at the junction between Nidderdale and the valley of How Stean Beck. Sitting above Lofthouse is the village of Middlesmoor, reached a long a one-in-four road that climbs up to its position 1,000ft above sea level.
Lofthouse marks the end of the public road through Nidderdale – a side road heads over the hills to Mashm – but a private road continues along the valley to Scar House reservoir, where there is a large car park, public toilets and three picnic areas.