If you go down to these woods today you’re in for an easy, smooth, largely off-road ride that feels much more rural that you’d imagine from its location just north of Sheffield.
The calendar said that it was the last day of British Summer Time but, as I heaved the bikes onto the back of the car, I felt like we were in midwinter already. Still, the forecast was sunny and I was confident that my nine-year-old son, Bertie, and I had matched the right day and route for a classic autumnal bike ride.
As we set off in Wharncliffe Wood the leaves formed as much of a carpet beneath us as curtains beside us, the result of a windy night. The book which had brought my attention to the wood for a bike ride describes all sorts of hair-rising and navigationally complex mountain bike trails but we were quite happy to drift gently downhill on a broad, smooth forest track. All the way we were guided by signs for the Trans Pennine Trail as we were for practically all of the route.
Our swift progress was abruptly halted at the A61 underpass which had been flooded to a depth of about nine inches. I sploshed through OK and, following a further demonstration, encouragement from walkers passing by and lots of urging to keep going regardless, Bertie also got through the flood with only soggy socks to show for his efforts. You couldn’t pedal without a paddle.
A road, the River Don and a railway line all thread along the valley bottom like wires in a cable. Briefly, we cycled along the route of a former branch line of the railway and past a station built at the instigation of local resident, the Earl of Wharncliffe, in 1888. He had his own private waiting room and trains to London would stop at the station especially for him. It was closed in 1955 and the passenger line in 1970. The Earl’s seat, Wortley, was our next stop.
For a small settlement it provides some great lunch options and I’d planned the route with exactly that in mind. We had a look at the pub and farm shop (we weren’t smart enough for the country house hotel) but settled on the Countess Tea Room. I chose a cream tea as opposed to the Halloween “scream teas” advertised but not detailed. “So who’s the countess?” I asked blithely as I approached the counter to pay. The waitress said nothing but just gestured with a hunch and glance towards a customer she’d earlier addressed as “Lady Barbara” and to whom she’d recommended the parkin. Lady Barbara Ricardo, it transpires, was the daughter to the third Earl of Wharncliffe. She resided at Wortley Hall (now a hotel) before the Second World War and, after an adult life in East Africa and now aged 81, she lives in a cottage in the village.
A high class bike ride got classier still when we passed an old Rolls Royce and vintage double-decker bus passing through the gates of the Hall with wedding party on board. The route took us through Wharncliffe Estate – once an extended back garden to the juvenile Lady Barbara – and to within exhaust sniffing distance of the M1. At this point we could navigate by sound too.
Only a few minutes later the motorway seemed miles away as we encountered another fine-looking food option, the posh Tankersley Manor Hotel. If you get peckish or thirsty on this ride you never have to wait long for refreshment. We cycled through the hotel and beneath it’s arch to re-enter woodland either side of the main road. Our route seemed to be coinciding with what’s signed as the Timberland Trail (nothing to do with the footwear manufacturer!) as well as the Trans Pennine Trail so navigation through its many twists and turns wasn’t too difficult. We did, however, nearly miss a sign sending us onto a gentle cycle track beside a stream through Burncross.
What goes down must go up and we’d gone done a heck of a long way. In fact, we seemed to have been freewheeling most of the way to this point. The longer the general descent continued the steeper the gradient of the incline that was to come at the end. I was conscious that a region billed as Pennine Barnsley might be about to become Alpine. As it turned out we didn’t have to push that much and, given the amount of easy cycling we’d had up until that point, seemed to have done pretty well out of the deal. We had certainly tackled the route the right way round.
The ascent took us up to Greno Wood. Formed of birch and oak, it’s a little higher up and stiller than Wharncliffe Wood and the tracks were sandy rather than stoney but they provided just as good cycling. There were as many riders on horseback as bikes and the going was good for all. Like the other woods in the area, they provided fuel in the form of charcoal for the iron smelting industry until the late 18th century and for some steel makers well into the 20th century.
A “fungi foray” had been advertised at the entrance to Greno Wood and pumpkins were displayed outside Grenoside stores. On the map Grenoside looks like a detached suburb of Sheffield but has a cosy, villagey feel to it. I expect this is where wealthy city commuters live. ‘Easy going trail’ said the final sign that led us back into Wharncliffe Wood. Ah, that’s the sort of route we like and in minutes we were back at the car just in time for the football results. It had been a wonderful woodland wander.
Distance: 17 miles.
Time: 3 hours.
Leave the car park in a northerly direction following the signs to Wortley on the National Cycle Network Route curiously given as “(627)” which shares the route of the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT). Turn left then straight across at a crossroads of tracks. Go under the main road via an underpass then immediately left at a ‘Upper Don Trail’ sign to pass an old station and a riding school. Just before another bridge turn right off the track and onto a signed public bridleway on both the Trans Pennine and Timberland Trails.
Follow the bridleway to a road then turn left and uphill to pass Sycamore Farm. At the junction with the A629 turn left into Wortley. Follow the road as it bears right at the church then turn right to pass the entrance to Wortley Hall then, beside a horse chestnut tree, pick up signs for the TPT. The route takes you through the Wharncliffe Estate for just over a mile then, at a junction with a minor road (Carr Lane), keep in same direction still following the signs for the TPT and Timberland Trail East to Low Pilley. Go right up to the M1, pass under the A61 and then right at a t-junction signed for the Timberland Trail.
At Tankersley Manor Hotel turn left to pass through the hotel and under its arch. The road becomes a rough lane then a narrow track downhill which brings you out at the A61 behind a snack cabin. Turn right then after 100 yards turn right again over a footbridge over the A616.
Bear sharp left after the bridge then pass through the woods and along a bridleway beside the A616. (The TPT actually follows a route deeper in the woods but it isn’t signed). Emerging in industrial estate, turn right onto the road, descend, turn left at a roundabout then, just before a rail bridge, turn right onto the TPT (signed again). Soon after a pond the track becomes Bridge End Rd. At a junction, turn right then almost immediately left at The Barrel. After 200 yards at the junction with Blackburn Drive leave the road and pick up the TPT again (easy to miss sign). Follow the off-road track beside a stream to a junction beside The Bridge pub. Turn left and uphill. At the junction with the A61 continue ahead and up an unsurfaced lane. On entering Greno Wood bear left. You emerge at the top of Greno Gate. Turn left and downhill then, just after the Old Harrow Inn, turn right at the crossroads and up Stephen Lane and then right up Middle Lane (signed for the TPT). Re-enter Wharncliffe Wood and follow track back to car park.
Pubs and grub (all passed en route):
Countess Tea Room, Wortley. Open daily, 10.30am-4pm. 0114 288 3502. countesstearoom.co.uk.
Wortley Farm Shop. Serves breakfast, lunch, coffees, sandwiches and home-made pies. Open Tues-Sat 9-4 or 5pm.
The Wortley Arms. Upmarket pub. 0114 288 8749. wortley-arms.co.uk.
Wortley Hall. 0114 288 2100. wortley-hall.org.uk. Bar meals served daily.
Tankersley Manor Hotel, Tankersley. Former 17th century residence. 01226 744700.
The Bridge Inn, Burncross. 0114 284 7820.
The Acorn Inn, Burncross. 0114 245 5009.
The Old Red Lion Inn, Grenoside. 0114 246 8307.
The Old Harrow, Grenoside. 0114 246 8801. oldharrow.co.uk.
The Angel, Grenoside. 0114 246 8277.
Bike hire: Wortley Cycles, Wortley. 0114 288 8853. wortley-cycles.co.uk.
Places to visit:
Top Forge, Wortley. The oldest surviving heavy iron forge in the world. Open Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays from 11am-5pm from Easter to early November. 0114 288 7576. topforge.co.uk.
Wortley Hall & Gardens. Gardens periodically open to the public for events. 0114 288 2100 wortley-hall.org.uk.