The Sheffield Country Walk

David Sissons

Author of 'The Best of the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers' Handbooks', published by Halsgrove, ISBN 1-84114-222-0

Walks in the neighbourhood of Sheffield have a long history. John Thomas published a sample of some loose sketches of such walks in the ‘Sheffield Independent’ in the summers of 1830 and 1831, including walks based on Ecclesfield, Dore and Bradfield. The collection was published in book form in 1831, and a further book of walks appeared in 1844, this second volume including walks around Darnall, the Manor, Birley Vale, Beauchief and Wharncliffe. In the first volume, he hoped to demonstrate how, within the range of a summer morning walk, it was possible to enjoy ‘the ever fresh variety of nature – little winding rivers, fair but abruptly rising hills, long valleys which peep into each other, copses and woods of all ages decaying or rejoicing in the strength and abundance of their sap – these and a thousand other beauties, including the remains of the works of the long-gone inhabitants of the district’.

He was not alone. Ebenezer Rhodes, in his search for the Picturesque, had explored Abbeydale and Beauchief, as well as the Peak District, publishing his observations in ‘Peak Scenery’ (1818). In the 1830s John Holland toured and wrote about the entire course of the River Don from Snailsden Moor to Goole, including much detail of the countryside round his native Sheffield, and he published his rambles in the ‘Sheffield Mercury’, later collecting them into his book, ‘Tour of the Don’ (1837).

In the early years of the twentieth century, John Derry, the Liberal Councillor for Brightside Ward and editor of the ‘Sheffield Daily Independent’, included in his newspaper a series of walks around Sheffield and the Peak District, and these were collected into a book, ‘Walks near Sheffield’, published in 1904 and later re-titled ‘Across the Derbyshire Moors’. Soon afterwards, Chas. H.Chandler collected articles written in the ‘Sheffield Daily Telegraph’ into a book, ‘Rambles round Sheffield’, published in 1907. Meanwhile Sheffield’s first Sunday rambling club had been formed in 1900 – Sheffield Clarion Ramblers – and its founder, G.H.B. Ward, was writing articles for its annual handbook, which included detailed walks in the neighbourhood of Sheffield and in the Peak District.

During the 1920s and 1930s, rambling peaked in the Sheffield region, and every Sunday morning would see a mass exodus of boot-clad, rucksack-bearing ‘hikers’ from local bus stops, tram stops and train stations. Ramblers’ rallies in Cave Dale and the Winnats Pass at Castleton, plus the 1932 Kinder Scout Mass Trespass, put the movement on the political agenda, and the Ramblers’ Association was formed in 1935. It was against this background that, in 1937-38, Sheffield businessman and benefactor, J.G. Graves, put his interest and generosity towards the creation of the Sheffield Round Walk, originally a ten mile walk from the western extremity of Whiteley Woods, through Porter Clough and Limb Valley, terminating at Abbeydale Road South. The walk was subsequently extended through Chancet Wood to Graves Park, creating a fourteen mile walk through south west Sheffield.

However, a Round Walk, in the more accurate sense of a walk encircling the entire city of Sheffield, had to wait until the 1980s. In 1986 Peter Price published ‘The Sheffield Way’, which detailed a 45 mile circular walk round Sheffield’s outskirts. Notes on places of interest were added by local historian Martin Olive, and a ‘Foreword’ to the publication was provided by the late Stephen Morton, who was then the Ramblers’ Association’s Vice President and President of its South Yorkshire and North East Derbyshire Area. A few years earlier, a group of local Ramblers’ Association members had been thinking about celebrating Sheffield’s ‘Golden Frame’ by working out a walk based on it. The idea was put forward by Vince Boulter, and, with John Bunting, David Woodhead, Eric Peters and several other members of the organisation – plus some help from South Yorkshire County Council’s Public Rights of Way Unit – a circular walk of about 53-56 miles was worked out which kept as close to the City of Sheffield’s boundary as possible. The inaugural ramble of the Sheffield Country Walk took place in 1983, and twenty years later this new publication includes some revisions to the original route.


Section One: Eckington to Coal Aston.

The place name, ‘Eckington’, is probably Anglo-Saxon – the farm (‘tun’) of the family (’inga’) of ‘Ecca’ or ‘Ecci’. The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, sited on an eminence above the Moss stream, is claimed to be founded in 1100, and it certainly incorporates a much-eroded Norman doorway on its west side, below the later Early English-style tower and spire. The first Rector recorded in the Church was Theobald de Bello Monti, 1299. The Chancel contains family monuments of the Sitwell family, which has been in the area since at least the fourteenth century and is based at nearby Renishaw Hall. ‘Sitwell Estates’ remains one of the biggest local landowners in the area, its wealth having been accumulated on the basis of coal and iron deposits under its land.

The Moss Valley is typical of many areas passed on the Sheffield Country Walk in that local people were once involved in a dual economy, sharing farm work with industrial work. Especially from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, this valley rang to the sound of the manufacture of scythes and sickles, the tools of unmechanised agriculture. The dams between Eckington and Ford, dried-up or water-filled, are industrial relics from this period. Osbert Sitwell, in his autobiographical volume, Great Morning (1948), recorded Ridgeway as one of the last surviving places where hand-sickles were still being turned out. He also put forward an explanation, dating from the 1860s, for the name ‘Never Fear’, which has become attached to the open valley of Never Fear and Never Fear Dam. One moonlit summer night, three Ridgeway sickle-makers were proceeding up the Moss Valley to Eckington – possibly on this very path - when they encountered a ghost. As the spectre passed, it uttered the words, "Never Fear", and dissolved into the moonlight before the awe-struck threesome.

There was also coal-mining in this valley, and several abandoned shafts and spoil heaps remain. Near Never Fear Dam the remains of a dismantled tramway can be seen, along which coal was conveyed up to coking ovens at Plumbley. Also near Never Fear Dam is a mature woodland of sycamore, ash, alder and poplar. The river valley is rich with wild flowers – in spring and early summer the garlic smell of ramsons pervades the damp bottoms, and the woodland slopes are carpeted with bluebells. At the same time of year, the trees are musical with tits, finches, nuthatches and warblers, and nowadays even a heron or kingfisher may be seen along this once heavily-polluted stream.

Near the ‘Bridge Inn’ and dam at Ford, two grindstones are on display, one by the car-park next to the dam, and one by the roadside near the toilets. These are further relics of the Moss Valley’s former industry, as is the dam and its adjacent buildings at the hamlet of Birleyhay, and the name ‘Sicklebrook Farm’ just past Troway. The place name, ‘Troway’, is probably made up of two Anglo-Saxon elements, ‘trog’ (trough or valley) and ‘weg’ (way).

Owler Carr Wood must once have been a lot wetter - a marsh (carr) where alder (owler) trees flourished. As in other woods around Sheffield, subsequent management has divided it into compartments, and this can be seen on this path with the beech and larch plantation on the right and the relatively unmanaged trees on the left. Woodland management was an integral part of Sheffield’s industrial operations, charcoal being used for iron-smelting and timber being used for pit props. Not far down into the wood on the right, just past the second fork, the path passes a ‘Q-pit’, used for the manufacture of whitecoal. This one has all the classic features – a shallow depression with a spout at one end, the site being on sloping ground near a stream. Whitecoal was kiln-dried wood used as fuel in water-powered lead smelting hearths from the late sixteenth to the late eighteenth centuries. ‘Q-pits’, which are the remains of these kilns, are found all over the woods of south and south-west Sheffield.


Section Two: Coal Aston to Totley.

Though there has been coal-mining in the area, the place name, ‘Coal Aston’, is more likely ‘Cold East Farm’, ‘east’ perhaps referring to its position within Dronfield parish. There has been much debate about the meaning of ‘Dronfield’, particularly about whether the river Drone was named after the settlement or vice versa. ‘Open country where bees abound’ is only one explanation. The former heavily-wooded nature of the area is shown by place names like ‘Dronfield Woodhouse’, ‘Bowshaw’ (‘shaw’ being ‘small wood’), ‘Mickley’ (‘ley’ usually referring to woodland clearance), ‘Birchin Lee’ (‘birch clearing’) and ‘Woodthorpe’. ‘Totley’ occurs in Domesday Book as ‘Totingelei’, which may be a cleared area belonging to the family (‘inga’) of someone with a personal name like ‘Tota’, or to a family of ‘hill-dwellers’, dwellers on a look-out post (‘tot’).

Around Birchin Lee Farm, evidence was found in 1920 of Bronze Age settlement. An upturned decorated clay pot was found about a foot underground, and beneath the pot were the calcined human remains of a Bronze Age cremation. In medieval times, Holmesfield Park Wood was a deer park, and the ditch and bank (which would have been topped by a fence to keep in the deer) can be seen on the edge of the wood. Nearby Woodthorpe Hall was built in 1636, allegedly from used stone belonging to Fanshawe Gate Hall, about half a mile up the lane. It was in a derelict condition in 1920, but the resident Shepley family has carefully restored its fabric. Down the hill, Gillfield Wood, by Totley Brook, was felled during the Second World War to supply timber for collieries. In the 1950s it was described as gorse and nettle, but woodland has now been restored.

Totley Brook, which joins the Oldhay Brook to form the river Sheaf, is now part of the boundary between South Yorkshire and Derbyshire. It has for centuries divided Totley from Holmesfield, both being in Derbyshire until the 1930s, after which Totley became part of the City of Sheffield and the West Riding of Yorkshire. Dore and Totley are boundary settlements, formerly between the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia, but on the Mercian side.


Section Three: Totley to Upper Burbage Bridges.

Totley Tunnel was opened to freight in 1893 and to passengers in 1894. There are five ventilation shafts in the three-and-a-half-mile-long tunnel, the second longest in the country (not counting the Channel Tunnel). Four of these shafts are bunched together at Totley Bents, all within half a mile of each other. This was because the moor under which the tunnel passed was managed as a grouse-moor by its then owner, the Duke of Rutland, and he thought his game birds would be disturbed by the noise and steam of passing trains. Only later did he allow a fifth shaft to be built, far out on the moor.

On Brown Edge, to the left of the Moss Road after the gate, a fire in the 1970s revealed a large number of flint knives, blades, arrowheads and scrapers left over from the Stone Age. Over the brow to the right of the Moss Road was Strawberry Lee Grange, a farm belonging to the monks of Beauchief Abbey. Close to the site, the ruins of a later farmhouse - demolished in the 1930s - can still be seen. Not far away, there is a small stone circle. This area, Blacka Moor, was bought from the Duke of Rutland in 1927 by Councillor Dr. G. H. Froggatt. It was then purchased in 1933 by Sheffield businessman and benefactor, Alderman J. G. Graves, who gave it to the City of Sheffield, in whose ownership it remains. Locals still refer to the area as ‘Blacka’, the name ‘Blacka Moor’ being allegedly invented by the estate agents involved in the sale of the Duke of Rutland’s grouse moors.

On the Hathersage Road is a marker stone to Stoney Ridge Toll Bar House, where, from 1816 to 1884, tolls were taken for the carriage of beer, coal, flour and millstones. The building was demolished in 1919.

‘Fox House Inn’ is named after the Fox family of Callow Farm near Hathersage, who are said to have built it in the eighteenth century as a shepherd’s cottage. It was improved and extended under the Duke of Rutland’s ownership in the nineteenth century, and, like the ‘Peacock’ at Owler Bar and the ‘Peacock’ at Rowsley, it then acquired its present antiquarian look. In the days before the opening of the Totley tunnel and the Sheffield to Chinley railway, ‘Fox House Inn’ was a stopping place for coaches and carriers’ carts.

When the Duke of Rutland sold Longshaw Park and Longshaw moors in 1927, the Park went to the National Trust, in whose ownership it remains, while the moors went to Sheffield Corporation. Sheffield Corporation intended to build a high-level reservoir in the Upper Burbage valley, but this never happened. To the right of Burbage Valley, lower end, is the former Wild Moorstones Edge Quarry, where millstones and farm gate-posts were made, as well as circular troughs, like the one visible to the right of the track.

On the left side of the valley is the hill-fort, Carl Wark, from which ‘Burbage’ gets its name – ‘burh’ being the Anglo-Saxon word for ‘fort’ or ‘defence work’. Below and to the right of Carl Wark is an old packhorse bridge over Burbage Brook, which is on an old Dore to Hathersage route. During the Second World War, this bridge and the gritstone rocks of the Burbage Valley were used for target practice by the Military – several bullet holes are evident in the rocks by the track. Beyond Carl Wark is Higger Tor, which, as its name suggests, is the ‘higher tor’.


Section Four: Upper Burbage Bridges to Moscar.

‘Stanage’ means ‘Stone Edge’, and it is one of a series of prominent gritstone scarps overlooking the main Derwent Valley – others being Burbage, Derwent Edge and Froggatt Edge. As in Burbage Valley, several abandoned millstones in various states of completion can be seen, testifying to the swift decline in the industry. The bottom finally dropped out of the market in 1916-17 after the American discovery of carborundum.

Rock basins are a familiar sight along Stanage, carved into the huge boulders and usually water-filled. They are a product of local grouse-moor management, and were carved all over nearby Hallam Moors from 1907 onwards at the request of the owner, William Wilson, with the purpose of providing drinking troughs for the grouse. There are 108 in total, and the first ones carved are near Stanage Pole. The latter, visible on the right from the trig point, was a prominent boundary marker between Derbyshire and the West Riding of Yorkshire. On its base there is seventeenth century graffiti.

After Stanage Plantation, which is below on the left, two tracks cross the edge from Stanage Pole. The second of these is a track called the ‘Long Causeway’ (or ‘Causey’), which, for part of its way, followed the route of a Roman road heading from the camp at Templeborough, between Sheffield and Rotherham, to the camp, ‘Navio’, on a hillside above Brough, near Bradwell. The Long Causeway was used for transporting millstones to Sheffield in the nineteenth century. As it descends from Stanage, a retaining wall called Brocklehurst’s Weather Wall was built to support it.

Further north up the edge, there are two barrows or burial mounds on the top of the prominent rock feature called Crow Chin. The remains of tools for cutting up meat and scraping animal hides have been found here, possibly left by Mesolithic hunters who camped nearby. Below and far to the left, near Bamford Edge, is the Hordron Edge stone circle, comprising ten stones up to three feet high. It is thought to have been built by Bronze Age people.

As Moscar is approached, county boundary stones can be seen to the right of the path. There is also an ancient boundary ditch descending northwards from Crow Chin and heading for Moscar, slightly to the east of the boundary stones.



Section Five: Moscar to High Bradfield.

Both elements of the place name, ‘Moscar’, refer to a marshy area, the Modern English equivalents being ‘moss’ and ‘carr’. Moscar Lodge has the initials and date-stone of Mark Firth, the Sheffield steel magnate (‘MF 1872’), for whom the house was built as a shooting lodge. The green drive going by the house is called Heathy Lane, and by the wall on the left, at the junction of tracks, is an early eighteenth century guide stoop, inscribed with the names of Hathersage, Bradfield and Sheffield. This is not the ancient Moscar Cross – in recent years, what may be the broken remains of this much older stone pillar have been discovered in the grounds of Moscar Lodge.

Further evidence of the wetness of the area comes from the place name, ‘Sugworth’, which is made up of Anglo-Saxon ‘sugga’ (relating to Modern English ‘suck’ and ‘soggy’) and ‘worth’ (meaning ‘settlement’). The drive down to Sugworth Hall (now divided into private flats) is flanked by sweet chestnut, lime, sycamore and beech, and there is a fine display of snowdrops in February. To the right of the Hall itself, the rhododendrons bloom in May and June. Beyond the Hall, ‘Boot’s Folly’ was built in 1926-27 by employees of Charles Boot, the Sheffield builder, who allegedly wanted to give his staff some work during a period of economic depression.

Below Boot’s Folly, the first reservoir is Strines, the name meaning ‘watercourse’ or ‘stream’. Dale Dike, the next reservoir down, burst its embankment after a storm on 11th March 1864, causing the Sheffield Flood. On 11th March 1991, the Bradfield Historical Society erected C.L.O.B. stones as a memorial to mark the ‘Centre Line Old Bank’ of the old Dale Dike Dam, which was rebuilt in 1875 at a lower capacity. Nearly 250 people lost their lives in the Sheffield Flood, and the effects were felt as far downstream as Doncaster.

Low Bradfield is near one of Sheffield’s ‘Easy Going Trails’, twenty short walks in and around the city for families with young children, people of limited mobility or those just wanting an easy walk. The ‘Easy Going Trails’ were launched in a 1999 booklet produced by the Ramblers’ Association and Sheffield City Council’s Public Rights of Way Unit. Other ‘Easy Going Trails’ are passed on this walk at Wheata Wood and Rother Valley Country Park.

Bradfield, like Sheffield, was once a chapelry within the huge parish of Ecclesfield, which covered the whole of Anglo-Saxon Hallamshire, the most southerly of the Northumbrian shires. (Shires at this stage were military, administrative and ecclesiastical units, though the term was later applied to counties). To the west of the church at High Bradfield, Bailey Hill is the name given to a Norman motte-and-bailey castle, the motte being an artificial mound and the bailey a more level area, the whole being ringed by a ditch. The castle probably gave birth to the hamlet and church, the latter existing in the thirteenth century, though the present building dates from the fourteenth. The small, castellated building by the church gates was a watch house, built in 1745 to guard the graveyard from body snatchers.



Section Six: High Bradfield to Woodseats.

Castle Hill, up on the left as you leave High Bradfield, is a more natural feature than Bailey Hill, though it was used as a look-out point.

Many small-scale mining and quarrying operations took place on the hills above and around Cliff House Farm and Worrall. The extraction of stone, fireclay and ganister scarred the landscape to such an extent that local farmers were unable to use it. Instead, patches of scrub and heath have taken over. Low Ash Farm was, from 1850 to around 1880, a young gentlemen’s boarding school, but it was closed after the death of its owner. ‘Worrall’ is possibly made up of Anglo-Saxon ‘wir’ (myrtle) and ‘halh’ (sheltered nook’) – so meaning ‘a nook of land where myrtle abounds’. The ‘all’ or ‘hall’ at the end of a place name is usually topographical and does not necessarily mean ‘hall’.

Place names just past Underhill Farm, on the other side of the Don valley, include Great Hollins Wood, Hollin Hill, Hagg Hill, Holly House and the Hagg. The root of all these words is the Anglo-Saxon ‘hollin’, which refers to the Holly bush. This shrub was an important winter fodder crop for sheep, and was often planted in small enclosures or compartments called ‘hagges’.

The Birley Stone may have a medieval base, though the shaft is later. In 1161 it was an agreed boundary point between lands belonging to the lord of Hallamshire and the Benedictine abbey of St. Wandrille in France. The nearby viewfinder was erected by Wortley Rural District Council as part of the 1951 Festival of Britain celebrations.

Sheffield is one of the most wooded cities in the UK, containing within its boundary at least 35 ancient woods. ‘Ancient Wood’ has a precise scientific meaning – a wood that, from documentary and landscape evidence, is known to have existed since at least 1600. The Sheffield Country Walk passes through several of these ancient woods, especially between Worrall and Wincobank. At least from medieval times to the late nineteenth century, these were working woods, firmly integrated into the local metal-working and mining economy. A period of decline set in during the twentieth century, but in the last decade or so attempts have been made to reverse this trend, as the woods have been recognised as having valuable ecological, educational and amenity value.

Prior Royd, Wheata Wood and Greno Wood are three such ancient woodlands, though Romano-British settlement sites dating from the first to the fourth centuries (Christian Era) have been discovered in Wheata Wood and Greno Wood, suggesting that the present woods are not direct descendants of the primeval wildwood, but have regenerated after a period of settlement and clearance. ‘Prior Royd’, on the edge of the formerly huge parish of Ecclesfield, suggests that this wood was once owned by Ecclesfield Priory – ‘royd’ meaning ‘clearing’. Wheata Wood gets its name from the Whete family, who had tenant rights in the late fifteenth century. ‘Greno’ relates to the Anglo-Saxon word, ‘graefen’ – ‘to dig’ – and it refers to quarrying activities in the area. As the walk route proceeds down Greno Wood it passes through two compartments – conifers on the right, silver birch on the left. At the bottom of Greno Wood is the hamlet of Woodseats – a settlement in a wood.


Section Seven: Woodseats to Meadowhall.

Past Woodseats and Barnes Hall is Foxfield Spring, a tiny remnant of woodland at Burncross that has been managed as a spring wood. Management of spring woods involved cutting most of the trees close to the ground, so that from the stumps a number of poles would spring. The poles were known as ‘coppice’, ‘underwood’ or simply ‘wood’. In a survey of the Manor of Sheffield completed for the Earl of Arundel and Surrey in 1637, John Harrison listed 36 separate spring woods in which the underwood varied in age from four to 40 years. The poles were cut periodically in a coppice cycle of seven to eleven years, sometimes 25 years or more, and they had many uses, including fencing and the manufacture of pole handles.

The South Yorkshire Forest is one of twelve community forests planned for the UK with the idea of creating opportunities for wildlife, work, education and recreation. In medieval times, the term ‘forest’ was used for an area set aside for royal hunting, and it was not necessarily a wooded area. The term has however come to be associated with woodland rather than, for instance, open moorland, and it is this sense of the term that is used in the modern community forests, which are intended to spread around the edges of conurbations, forming a rich mosaic of wooded landscapes that soften the hard edges of urban geometry.

From Wheata Wood, the Sheffield Country Walk often crosses and sometimes shares the same route as the Trans-Pennine Trail (TPT), which runs from coast to coast between Liverpool and Hull, and links the seaside resorts of Southport and Hornsea. The TPT connects major towns and cities across the North of England, including Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Chesterfield and York, and it has been designated as the English section of European Long Distance Footpath Number 8 (E8), a walking route from the west of Ireland to Istanbul.

A church at Ecclesfield once served the whole of Anglo-Saxon Hallamshire, and it has been suggested that the place name element ‘eccles’ was used by the Anglo-Saxons to describe a Romano-British religious foundation. The moorland section of the Sheffield Country Walk sometimes follows closely the south-western boundary of what was Hallamshire, and it was for this reason that the seventeenth century antiquary, Roger Dodsworth, called St. Mary’s Church at Ecclesfield ‘The Minster of the Moors’. Blackburn Brook, slightly to the east of Ecclesfield and Butterthwaite Lane, formed the north-eastern boundary of Hallamshire.

Woolley Wood is an ancient woodland later managed as a spring wood and as a source for oak bark used in leather tanning. After almost a century of neglect and decline, woodland management was re-commenced in the early 1990s in accordance with the Woodland Policy adopted by Sheffield City Council in 1987. There is a rich variety of trees in Woolley Wood, including oak, sycamore, beech, alder, sweet chestnut, ash, hazel, holly, cherry, yew and hornbeam. The name probably means ‘a clearing where wolves abound’.

Wincobank Hill overlooks the Lower Don Valley, and it is crowned by what remains of an Iron Age hill-fort, dated from around 500 B.C..There is also evidence of earlier occupation, flint tools having been found which date from around 8000 to 3000 B.C..The Romans built a fort on the opposite side of the Don at Templeborough, possibly guarding a river crossing later called ‘Deadman’s Hole’.

The original Meadow Hall was on the opposite side of the Blackburn Brook to the American-style shopping mall opened in September 1990. Modern Meadowhall was built on the flattened site of Hadfield’s East Hecla Works, one of the vast steelworks that crammed the Lower Don Valley from the late nineteenth century to the 1980s. In 1981 East Hecla was the scene of mass-picketing during the bitter steel strike, and in 1983 it was closed by its owners, Lohnro.


Section Eight: Meadowhall to Treeton.

After Meadowhall and before Sheffield Arena and Shepcote Lane, the Sheffield and Tinsley Canal is nowadays an oasis of peace, quiet and tranquillity, where anglers contemplate their floats and walkers stroll along the Five Weirs Walk. In the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century it was different. The River Don had been made navigable upstream from Doncaster to Aldwarke in 1733, Tinsley in 1751 and Sheffield in 1819, and it was from the latter date that this stretch of the canal played an important part in the industrial development of the Lower Don Valley. Where previously Sheffield’s edge tools and wrought iron had been transported by pack horse teams to the inland port of Bawtry, they were now taken by canal and river to Hull.

Sheffield Arena is on Broughton Lane, which was named after Spence Broughton the highwayman. He was gibbeted nearby in 1791 after being caught and tried for robbing the Rotherham mail on Attercliffe Common. The Arena was part of the 1991 World Student Games package, and represents an attempt by Sheffield City Council to regenerate the city after the depression years of the 1980s, which saw massive job losses in the steel and coal industries.

Tinsley Park Wood is an ancient woodland which, in the seventeenth century, occupied 400 acres and was used for charcoal-making. In 1657 it was one of thirteen woods that the second Earl of Strafford contracted out for ten years to Lionel Copley, a Rotherham ironmaster. The wood has a bank similar to the one on the west side of Holmesfield Park Wood, and its predominantly sycamore tree cover has grown over the hummocky remains of coal shafts and their associated spoil heaps. Nowadays it is reduced to a few acres.

In addition to mining and the metal trades, South Yorkshire had another major industry in glass-making. On the approach to Catcliffe, the Catcliffe Glass Cone can be seen, last survivor of six such cones known to have been built in the area, one of only six that remain in the UK, and the oldest in Europe. The glassworks at Catcliffe was started in 1740 by William Fenny, who moved from Bolsterstone, just north of Worrall. The glassworks continued until the beginning of the twentieth century, and the cone is all that survives, despite being threatened with demolition in 1962.

Coal mining has caused subsidence in the Catcliffe and Treeton area, and the result has been flooding and the creation of water-filled hollows like Catcliffe Flash. This is now a nature reserve whose combination of open water and thick beds of reed mace, common reed and willow trees attracts large numbers of wading birds and wildfowl.



Section Nine: Treeton to Rother Valley Country Park.


Treeton Colliery was to the left of Well Lane as you ascend the hill. It was opened in 1875, but in 1977 it was converted to a surface-drift mine. It closed in 1990. Across the Rother Valley from the fields past the thirteenth century Treeton Church and before Treeton Dyke, Orgreave is the scene of massive industrial despoliation. The place name elements - ‘or’ and ‘greave’ - have Anglo-Saxon roots, and probably refer to ‘ore’ and ‘digging’, indicating that the mining history of this area goes back long before the Industrial Revolution. Orgreave Colliery was a working coal-mine into the twentieth century, and Orgreave Coking Plant was, in June 1984, the scene of the ‘Battle of Orgreave’, in which picketing miners clashed violently with police. Like Treeton Colliery, the Coking Plant closed in 1990.

Treeton Dyke lies on the old course of the River Rother. Another vestige of this old course is the Ox Bow Pond, immediately to the right of the works at Woodhouse Mill. The river was straightened and deepened as a flood-control measure, and its new course is further to the west.

Woodhouse Washlands are owned by the Environment Agency and managed by the Sheffield Wildlife Action Partnership on behalf of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. The name ‘Washlands’ refers to the previous use of the site as seasonally flooded grazing lands. Designated as a Nature Reserve in 1994, it consists of a mosaic of wetland and grassland habitats. Parts of the reserve are cut for hay, and the whole site is grazed in autumn and winter by a mixture of sheep and cattle, including some rare breeds. Water voles, frogs, grass snakes, smooth newts and great crested newts, snipe, skylarks, lapwings, redshanks, reed buntings and about a dozen species of dragonfly have bred on the reserve in recent years. Mammals include foxes, stoats, water voles, rabbits, pipistrelle and noctule bats and harvest mice. The presence of fool’s water cress and celery-leaved buttercup reflects the site’s previous use as a wet pasture.

With the opening of the Meadowgate Opencast Coal Site in the mid-1970s, the opportunity arose for the creation of the Rother Valley Country Park, which had been the subject of feasibility studies from the early 1970s. The National Coal Board’s contractors reshaped the area to accommodate a nature reserve, parkland, woodland and a water sports centre, and the Country Park was opened to the public in the early 1980s. Bedgreave Mill was preserved during the Opencast operations and is now at the heart of a Visitor Centre. A water mill has occupied the site since at least the early seventeenth century, and Bedgreave Mill is one example of a dam-site that used millstones from Stanage, like the ones passed on the Sheffield Country Walk between Upper Burbage and Moscar. Rother Valley Country Park is home to canada geese, great crested grebes, mallards and mute swans, and it is a major wintering site for birds from the region, as well as a corridor for migratory species.


Section Ten: Rother Valley Country Park to Eckington.

After Rother Valley Country Park, the route crosses what used to be called Killamarsh Meadows – marshy, low-lying land from which Killamarsh gets its place name element, ‘marsh’. Killamarsh was recorded in Domesday Book as ‘Chinewoldemaresc’, which may mean ‘Cynewald’s marsh’. It is composed of four hamlets – Netherthorpe, Westthorpe, Upperthorpe and Church Town, the latter formerly called Kirkthorpe. ‘Thorpe’ is a common element of Scandinavian origin, especially in this part of the country which was within the Danelaw. It usually refers to a hamlet, farm or village, often outlying. In medieval times, the four ‘thorpes’ were four distinct manors, each with its own feudal landlord. Netherthorpe manor had its own forge, commemorated in the name ‘Forge Lane’, where it operated for several centuries. From this forge, the steel reinforcing for the first Transatlantic Cable was provided in 1866.

Chesterfield Canal was designed by James Brindley and built between 1771 and 1777. It runs the 46 miles from Chesterfield to West Stockwith on the River Trent, and it was used by boats called ‘Cuckoos’. One of the main cargoes was coal, but in the 1840s stone from Anston quarries was conveyed along this canal for use in building the new Houses of Parliament.

Not far from Eckington’s Parish Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, just up Church Street from the church and towards the town centre, there is a cruck barn belonging to Malt House Farm. Several cruck barns are passed on or near the route of the Sheffield Country Walk, one being at Aston End in Coal Aston, and another being in Concord Park above Woolley Wood. These are timber-framed constructions based on two curved blades, sometimes made from the same tree trunk split in two. South Yorkshire and North East Derbyshire have the highest concentration of cruck frames in the UK, there being approximately 120 known examples in South West Yorkshire alone, with more probably awaiting discovery. Cruck frames usually occur in barns, outhouses and former cutlers’ smithies, and are usually concealed by later stone walls and slate roofs. The age of cruck buildings has often been exaggerated – they are most likely late medieval or Tudor/Stuart, certainly not Anglo-Saxon.

Eckington marks the beginning and end of the Sheffield Country Walk, whose waymarkers bear the symbol of a wheatsheaf, based on a misinterpretation of the first element of the place name ‘Sheffield’ as meaning ‘sheaf’. Misinterpretation is a characteristic of the history of place names, so the symbol is nothing if not traditional. Domesday Book (itself full of misinterpretations) records the settlement as ‘Escafeld’, ‘Scafeld’ and ‘Sceult’, showing that the Norman clerks could not get their quills round the local ‘sh’ sound and had to insert a letter ‘c’ to express it in their own written language. ‘Feld’ usually means ‘open country’, open in the sense of being cleared of tree cover, or being an open and level area in hill country, both senses probably being applicable to a settlement at the confluence of the rivers Don and Sheaf, or maybe a little further up the Sheaf. Sheffield is named after the river Sheaf, from its Anglo-Saxon name meaning ‘boundary stream’, the boundary being between the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia. So ‘open country by a boundary steam’ would perhaps be a more accurate interpretation of the place name ‘Sheffield’.