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A walk in the park with Professor Ian Rotherham

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Sheffield is a great location for anyone wanting to get out and enjoy green spaces, from the urban centre to the great outdoors of the Peak National Park. A far cry from the dirty, smelly, and polluted city of George Orwell’s ‘Road to Wigan Pier’ published in 1937, Sheffield includes a large swathe of the Peak Park within its boundary and the urban core has cleansed too. The River Don has transformed from a dead, open sewer to a rich river of biodiversity right through the city’s core. I have selected five easy walks to discover and enjoy green spaces in and close to Sheffield.

Walk 1. Endcliffe Park & the Porter Valley (west Sheffield)

Beginning in Endcliffe Park close by Hunter’s Bar, the walk is a gentle stroll through Endcliffe Park, Bingham Park and then past both Wiremill and Forge Dams. The ponds along here plus the brook through Endcliffe itself are all good places to see kingfishers, especially in winter. The landscape here is a legacy of Sheffield’s industrial past with mill ponds to power the works and the still-functioning Shepherd Wheel museum. The ancient landscape is evidenced by abundant ‘ancient woodlands’ along the way, with some old trees too. Some of these are ‘coppices’ formerly used to manufacture charcoal for metal smelting and if you look carefully in the woods you may spot the hearths where charcoal burns took place. In springtime, you can enjoy the abundant bluebells of the old woods.

You can begin the walk at a café in Endcliffe Park or pause part-way at Forge Dam where there is further hospitality on offer. Indeed, this walk can be tailored to your time and inclination. Stop here and return after a tea or coffee, or head on up the Porter Clough through farmland, woods, and ancient trackways. As you reach the headwaters of the Porter Valley the flat path of Endcliffe gives way to a fairly steep ascent which ends at a car-park high above Sheffield. From here you can turn back and repeat the walk or head for the Norfolk Arms pub and a pint or lunch, or take in the café at Mayfield Alpacas which is just five minutes from the car-park. Either way, this is a place to enjoy glorious views across the city.

Walk 2. Historic Norton & Graves Park (south Sheffield)

Situated in south Sheffield, today’s Graves Park is the city’s largest public open space but often overlooked by students and other visitors naturally focused on the better-known western areas. However, it is fair to say that even most locals don’t appreciate how special this place is; really an under-appreciated gem. You can enter the park from any one of many entrances, but I recommend the formal entrance at the top of Derbyshire Lane and through past the park-keeper’s lodge. This is a good place to set off from because the parking on the local roadsides is relatively easy and free; otherwise head for the main car-park by the Bunting Nook entrance and the animal farm. However, enter at Derbyshire Lane and turn sharp right past the slightly dilapidated sports changing rooms to proceed past the former Bolehill Farm, a marker of the eighteenth-century enclosures. Proceed past the farm and on your left is the old Derbyshire lane, a sunken way that was once a main road to Chesterfield. The woodlands fall away on all sides and the path drops slightly as you take in one of the most amazing views across to the Peak District moors high above Dore. This view was one main reason for the establishment here of the grand picturesque parkland, Norton Park, in the eighteenth century. 

From here you just follow the path but keep to the high ground and resist the temptation to follow the downhill routes to Woodseats, unless you fancy an energetic climb back to your starting point. However, you can explore the south-eastern corner of the park with Norton Hall, a substantial eighteenth-century house, the medieval fishponds, the animal farm with its rare breeds and, not to be ignored, the Rose-Garden Café. The paths will bring you back to Hemsworth Road and Derbyshire Lane. This is a park to be explored in depth because it is really a medieval park, Norton Park, going back to the 1200s, and full of ancient woods and remarkable archaeology plus lots of wildlife too. It is called ‘Graves Park’ today after the man who purchased it to give to the city in the 1920s.

Walk 3. The urban River Don:

Walk number 3 is along stretches of the urban River Don and can be untaken as one long walk, though with some detours alongside the river on roads. Some parts of the riverside walk however are now pretty much complete and this can give a very different view of Sheffield. In fact, you can also try the Sheffield & Tinsley Canal from the city-centre Canal Basin right down to Meadowhall or even beyond. That will really open up a whole different world of boat-people, leisure craft, fishermen, and industry past and present. Furthermore, the canal brings you close to herons, kingfishers, moorhens, little grebes and much more and it is one of Sheffield’s forgotten treasures. 

However, you can follow the riverside walks downstream from the city centre close by the Wicker to Meadowhall and beyond. This takes you through the industrial heartland of the city along a newly green and emerging riverside landscape. Expect to see fly-fishermen as well as the more usual coarse anglers, and lots of wildlife from cormorants, wagtails, and goosanders, to water voles and even maybe, if you are incredibly lucky, a glimpse of a red deer or an otter. Try accessing the Don by Lady’s Bridge off Castlegate and Blonk Street and follow the route down the valley; expect to take anywhere from an hour or so to three hours or more depending on how far you want to go. For a taster of the bigger experience then try the shorter walks along either side of the river off Nursery Street; looking back you can view the ancient, medieval bridge underneath the Victorian and modern-day structures of Lady’s Bridge. There are plenty of riverside hostelries and cafés to cater for different tastes.

Walk 4. Lost in Ecclesall Woods

Ecclesall Woods lies between Abbeydale Road South and Ecclesall Road South, in Sheffield’s western suburbs. Here we find the most wonderful ‘ancient woodland’ which is descended from a medieval deer park and holds riches of both wildlife and of woodland and other heritage. The site covers around 100 hectares of rich bluebell wood and now has a lovely woodland craft centre and a base for community activities. Nearby there is also the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, one of the world’s first ‘industrial museums’, and further opportunities for a tea and cakes stop! 

The woods, and it is plural because this was a series of enclosed and named early industrial woodlands, are big enough to get lost in, even if you know them well. But take time to enjoy a gentle stroll and look out for typical woodland birds such as great spotted and lesser spotted woodpeckers, nuthatches, the mouse-like treecreeper, and much more. In winter there is a massive roost of rooks, jackdaws and crows which can number many thousands of birds and in the evenings there is a gathering of grey herons too.

Ecclesall Woods is full of history and heritage with hundreds of charcoal-making hearths and mysterious Q-pits linked to Sheffield’s long history of metal smelting and working. However, the most special experience of Ecclesall Woods is on an early morning in May with the bluebells in their full splendour and their heady fragrance hanging in the air. With birdsong at its dawn-chorus peak, this is a very special place.

Walk 5. Wonderful White Edge

The final trip out is to the wide, open spaces of the Peak District on Sheffield’s western fringe. Heading west out of town via Totley or Holmesfield bring you to the 5-ways, Owler Bar roundabout with two routes leading to the Peak; one is the Baslow Road, but you want the other one to Froggatt and Fox House. After about a mile on the ‘top road’ before the route takes a sharp right–hand turn to Fox House, and also forks left to Froggatt, there is ample if rough roadside parking. From here you can access the expansive Big Moor via a style in the wall on the south side of the road, and taking a short uphill walk you pass over numerous big ruts of a medieval braided holloway. As you reach the top of this gentle hill you gain a view over the vast expanse of the Eastern Moors which lies for several miles to the south and above Chatsworth Park lying in the valley below. The gritstone edge here is ‘White edge’, so-called after a former publican of the Grouse Inn. You can follow a well-trodden path along the edge and cutting down at various points to loop back to your starting point, with walks of anything from an hour or so to a good three hours. About a mile into the walk you can drop down a steep and rather eroded path and along to the Grouse Inn, famous for good food, drink and excellent hospitality. There is then an easy walk back via White Lodge on the eastern side of the road to get you back to your starting point. Expect to see red deer, red grouse, curlews, ravens, peregrines, and in summer, possibly adders and common lizards.

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