One-way ticket

Explore the little visited lanes and cycle paths between Doncaster and Selby.

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Owston Wood, near Bentley

It sometimes takes me ages to get around to cycling certain routes. I’d had this one mapped out for about 10 years but had been put off doing it partly because of the start in central Doncaster and partly because of the hassles of bikes on trains. I planned to take the train one way from Selby and then cycle back. When I arrived at the station I realised I’d left the map on the kitchen table. Drat. The start had become even more inauspicious. Following a dash to WHSmith in the shopping centre next to Doncaster station (the start point did have it’s advantages) I was soon off on my return journey.

I began by pedalling through an underpass below the centre and crossing two busy roads before finally reaching the start of the Doncaster Greenway. Within moments the grey of the Tarmac did, indeed, turn to green of the former Brodsworth mineral railway and my mood rapidly improved. I’d escaped to the country. Sights and smells became distinctly more agricultural as I passed a farm in the hamlet of Tilts and in a beautiful wood nearby a fawn bounded out in front of me. Ah, this was more like it. Curiously, the woodland path is concreted which made me wonder what purpose it served originally.

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Braithwaite drawbridge on New Junction canal

The Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) which I was now following crosses two level crossings in quick succession, the second of them over the East Coast mainline. I thought about having my sandwiches as my wait got longer and longer. I could almost have fitted in a three-course meal (not that I had one in my pannier) in the time it took for the four trains to pass and barrier finally to open. A road bridge over the line is under construction so such delays will soon be a thing of the past. Rail lines are ruled all over and canals gouged out of this landscape. Just as commonplace are pylons and overhead power lines lacing together the industrial north.

Sykehouse sign

Sykehouse sign

Well rested, albeit prematurely, I pressed on through Braithwaite and onto the towpath of the New Junction canal. A striking feature at this point is the first of three drawbridges. Further down up the canal at Sykehouse Lock was a modern tower that looked like it belonged to Checkpoint Charlie than a lock-keeper.

Sykehouse claims to be the longest village in Yorkshire. Quite how you measure the length of a village and what exactly qualifies as one isn’t specified. There’s no disputing that it has the only windmill on the route. Now a private residence with little square room with a view in place of its cap, it was once owned by Roy Clarke, writer of The Last of the Summer Wine TV series. I had sandwiches sitting beside the Aire & Calder Navigation.

Great Heck memorial

Great Heck memorial

Unassuming Pollington, my next staging post, had a minesweeper named after it: the HMS Pollington, no less. Why? In the 1950s the Royal Navy took to naming ships in the ton class after places ending in ‘ton’. Simple as that. Great Heck has a far greater claim to fame – or rather notoreity – than my two previous villages. In 2001 a Landrover drove off the nearby M62 and came to rest on the East Coast railway line causing a crash with 10 fatalities. I diverted to the village to visit its memorial garden overlooking the line.

The seemingly distant coastal town of Hornsea made its debut on the TPT signs as I slipped briefly into a corner of the East Riding of Yorkshire and out again at Gowdall. Having started in South Yorkshire and bound for North I did three sections of England’s biggest county in little more than an hour. Not bad going. Pollington used to be in West Riding so that nearly makes a full set.

Over the River Aire and up north I’d hoped for a snoop at Carlton Towers, a Victorian Gothic country pile that today is a conference and wedding venue. Disappointingly, however, one entrance to the estate was padlocked and the other was fitted with CCTV and a forbidding ‘by appointment only’ notice. I know when I’m not wanted. I made do with a glimpse of the clock tower poking above the trees during a swig stop watching the Carlton Towers cricket club.

Carlton cricket club

Carlton Towers cricket club

The next leg of the ride was one of my favourites and summed up the whole route. Nothing spectacular scenically (at this point the Drax power station rears up in front of you) but flat, very quiet, lots of interesting twists and turns yet still easy to navigate (thanks to clear signage) and without gates or rough bridleways to slow progress. In short, a great way to clock up some undemanding miles on a sunny day.

Gliding is popular here in an aeronautical sense too. After passing possibly the quietest level crossing in the county (and a great contrast to the double trouble earlier) the TPT led me around part of the perimeter taxiing lane of the former RAF station at Burn now home to a gliding club. This is one of the few Second World War airfields on which all runways and most of the hardstandings still survive and it was a great novelty to cycle on it.

A gap in the hedge (literally but still signed) took me towards my third and final canal of the day, the Selby, for the home straight into town. I had company for about the first time since I passed 14 fishermen in a match on the canal at Sykehouse. As the clock struck five I concluded the ride at the market cross in the piazza in front of the abbey, a fitting finishing post. Don’t know why it took me so long really: both getting geared up for the ride and completing it. Four hours in the saddle, 18 minutes on the train.

Selby Abbey

Selby Abbey

Fact file

Distance: 35½ miles.

Time: 4 hours excluding stops.

Directions:

From the station turn left through the underpass using the cycle path beside the carriageway. Bear left over North Bridge and at The Three Horseshoes pub fork right still on signed cycle path. Cross a footbridge (with slope for bikes), pass under the railway, turn left towards main road. Cross it twice (using the crossings). Turn right and, after 100 yards at the car wash, turn left down Centurion Way which becomes the Doncaster Greenway. After about ½ mile turn right onto the signed Transpennine Trail (TPT) and follow it all the way to Selby.

TPT sign

TPT sign

Note: To divert to the Great Heck memorial garden leave the TPT just after crossing the canal at Pollington. Turn left down East End. At The George & Dragon pub bear right up Pinfold Lane. At crossroads turn left signed to Great Heck. The gate for the garden is on the left just before the rail bridge and opposite a layby. To complete a loop back to the TPT go over the railway, bear right, pass under the motorway, turn right at t-junction (onto the A645) then left to Gowdall where you will pick up the TPT signs to Selby again.

Map: here

Eating:

Have your sandwiches in Sykehouse and enjoy this view

Have your sandwiches in Sykehouse and enjoy this view

There are few pubs on the route. These look the best:

The Old George freehouse, restaurant and carvery, Sykehouse, DN14 9AU. 01405 785635. Large pub with tables outside.

The George & Dragon, Pollington, DN14 0DN. 01405 948151. Recently reopened, lively family pub.

The Sloop Inn, Temple Hirst, YO8 8QN. 01757 270267. Modern pub attached to campsite with beer garden.

Recommended sandwich spots, all with seats:

Drawbridge over the canal at Braithwaite.

Opposite Holy Trinity Church in Sykehouse.

Brayton Bridge over the canal near Selby.

Trains:

A single ticket from Selby to Doncaster costs £7.70 at weekends and the journey takes 18 minutes. See hulltrains.co.uk for (infrequent) times. You can reserve one of the three free bike spaces on each train by booking your ticket in advance on 08450 710222. However, this still doesn’t guarantee one of the spaces, I was told! The carriage for bikes can be at the front or rear of the train. Look for the symbol on the door.

Barge approaching Selby

Barge approaching Selby

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Golden brown

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.

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Wharncliffe Wood

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.

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Wortley church

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.

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Grenoside Wood

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.

IMG_1492Only 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.

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National Cycle Network signpost on TPT

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.

Greno Wood

Greno Wood

Fact file

Distance: 17 miles.

Time: 3 hours.

Directions:

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… the sort I like!

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.

Map: here

Pubs and grub (all passed en route):

Countess Tea Room, IMG_1438Wortley. 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.

Wind and water

A largely off-road trail in South Yorkshire

Turbines on Spicer Hill

Turbines on Spicer Hill

I first did this bike ride on a glorious evening last summer but, at just nine miles long, it’s well suited to the shorter winter days too. Much of it is off-road on narrow bridleways so you will need a mountain bike or you could always consider the route as a long walk instead.

Start at Denby Dale station. Follow Wood Lane down to the A636. Turn left onto this road and, after a short distance, take the first turning on the right, Norman Road, by the HSBC bank. At the junction at the end of the road turn left along Dearnside Road then right at a t-junction up Miller Hill. Soon afterwards fork left along Hollin Edge. Continue to climb as the road leaves the town. At a junction at Exley Gate carry on and keep right as the road passes Dry Hill to meet a crossroads with the A635 by The Dunkirk Inn. Continue ahead on B6115 into Upper Denby. Bear left at the green after The George pub and bear left again at the church to carry on along Falledge Lane across Low Common towards Penistone.

St John's Church, Upper Denby

St John’s Church, Upper Denby

At the junction with the A629 turn left and then first right down Wellthorne Lane and past The Fountain, a coaching inn parts of which date back to the 17th century. (Other snack spots nearby are a rather plain picnic site or beside the trees a little further round the reservoir). Bear left at the sharp bend in the road and then along the top of the dam. Turn right a t-junction, take the first left and then bear sharp left where a track joins from the right.

A long ascent takes you to the top of Spicer Hill. Here you should pause and breath a sign of relief for you have reached the highest point of the ride, albeit a humble 310 metres. The view is worthy of close examination too. In opposite directions and on the horizon are towers of contrasting usefulness. The Emley TV transmitter pricks the sky like a needle to the north while the folly, Hartcliff Tower, is discernable to the south, though easily mistaken for a farm silo. To the left of the tower is a splendid viaduct spanning the Don and close by, right on the summit, are 13 wind turbines. Their tight-fitting steel doors are submarine-like and, close up, they whir like the rinse-cycle of a washing machine.

Ingbirchworth Reservoir

Ingbirchworth Reservoir

All around are reservoirs like giant puddles, most notably Ingbirchworth Reservoir (passed earlier) which was built in the 1860s to provide water to Barnsley after the town’s previous supply, the River Dearne, had become too polluted.

Return the way you came but after 300 metres turn right off the road and onto a signed bridleway which provides a gentle descent. At the bottom pass through a gate and continue uphill along a walled track until you reach Ingbirchworth. Turn right and continue over the bridge to the main road at Cockle Edge, opposite the pub. Turn right onto the A629 and soon turn left onto a signed bridleway.

Follow the blue bridleway signs across the fields through several gates. Eventually, at the B6115 in Upper Denby turn right and then first left down Bank Lane. Continue following this lane as it gets rougher, ignore turnings off to the left and right, and continue down through Hagg Wood on the cobbled pathway. This bridleway meets the A635 in Denby Dale. Turn right and immediately under the rail viaduct and then first left down another Bank Lane. Turn left down Norman Road to retrace your route to the A636 and finally left back to the station.

Giant pie dish at Denby Dale

Giant pie dish at Denby Dale

No trip to Denby Dale is complete without a visit to the world’s largest pie dish. (Find it by turning right onto the A636 rather than left). Sited unassumingly beside the road, the dish is basically an 18-foot long, oblong metal trough that these days is planted with flowers. The pie’s origins can be traced back to 1788 when the first mega-pie was baked to celebrate the short-lived return to sanity of George III. This curious form of celebration is believed to have been facilitated by the existence of large ovens for the local manufacture of earthenware pipes. Other occasions deemed worthy of the pie treatment have included the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, the repeal of the Corn Laws, Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and, most recently, the Millennium. The 1964 pie marked four royal births but was also known as the “Darby and Joan pie” to raise funds for a community centre for local pensioners. It is the dish for this pie which is outside Denby Dale Pie Hall today.

Denby Dale cricket match

Denby Dale cricket match

Fact file

Distance: 9 miles.

Getting there: Denby Dale station lies on the Sheffield-Huddersfield line. Alternatively, there is plenty of on-road parking in the village.

Terrain: Some of the bridleways are so narrow they are more like footpaths and there are some steep hills. Likely to be muddy in winter. Much of the route is through woodland and reasonably sheltered.

Map: Pick up a free leaflet in the ‘Bike Rides in Kirklees’ series at local Tourist Information Centres.

Rail viaduct at Denby Dale

Rail viaduct at Denby Dale

Underground overground

An exploration of the industrial past of a corner of South Yorkshire.

Huskar Pit memorial

Huskar Pit memorial

They kneel, hands forward and heads slighty bowed. The setting is so still and the figures so prominent yet small you feel as if you’ve interrupted a pair of foraging mice. Sculpted from stone and positioned under an arch in a glade, the figures commemorate the 47 children who died when a violent thunderstorm flooded the coal mine where they were working near Silkstone Common. The accident happened over 150 years ago and the memorial was built in 1988 but the sense of loss and tragedy remains. When I visited flowers had recently been laid beside each child as if in memory of the victim of a recent road accident than of an industrial disaster from another age. Following an enquiry into the deaths, children in Britain never worked underground again.

The spot was the most memorable point on a bike ride of surprises in an area promoted as Pennine Barnsley. The first of them was a herd of deer grazing at Round Green. As I stopped to take a picture, they stood up and glared towards me oblivious to the lorries whizzing by behind them on the M1.

The Barn, Wentworth Castle

The Barn, Wentworth Castle

The hills in this region provide the sort of fantastic views more associated with the north of the county rather than the south but the going ups are more than compensated for by the coming downs. The first up ends at Wentworth Castle now home to the Northern College for Residential Adult Education. Boosted by the impetus of an appearance on BBC TV’s Restoration programme in 2003, the grounds of the college are currently being restored to their former glory. At their heart lies Stainborough Castle, a folly. This is another place with a tranquil, undiscovered air about it. On its open days, you can find your way along a path between masses of rhododendrons and heather to reach the castle as if in an adventure in a children’s novel. It was built as ruins in the 1720s by the Earl of Stafford to suggest a medieval structure with battlements, keep and four towers named after himself and his three daughters. Among the other quirky features in the grounds is a monolith in honour of the woman who introduced smallpox vaccine to Britain.

A little further on is Wortley, an unsung village that’s every bit as quaint as many of its Dales cousins. Postman Pat would be at home here and even the working men’s club appears to be half-timbered. The rural idyll continues on a sweep down towards the River Don and Wortley Top Forge, an 18th century ironworks and industrial museum. Horses graze in peace, bushy trees providing sound proofing and shelter from the breeze.

Wortley

Wortley

Sounding like a theme park dedicated to cartoon character, Thurgoland is the next village on the route and provides a link to a great vantage point where the Emley Moor TV transmitter pierces the sky. A pair of electricity pylons stand beside it looking like milkmaids carrying yokes and just as humble compared to their distinguished neighbour.

At the bottom of a descent into Silkstone – and hidden in woods behind a petrol station – I came across a cricket match. Scores of people were watching the action and enjoying the sunshine. In fact, it appeared to be such a community occasion I felt like an imposter as I pushed my bike around the oval to find somewhere to sit down. The grand new pavilion would befit Geoff Boycott who started his career playing for nearby Barnsley CC. This is serious cricketing country.

A solitary coal wagon – staged beside the main road and within a cricket ball’s throw of the pavilion – was one of many built in 1809 by The Barnsley Canal Navigation Company to transport coal from the collieries in the valley 2½ miles away across to the terminus of the canal at Barnby Basin. The children later killed in the mining disaster are commemorated by a memorial beside the parish church in the village centre.

Wagon at Silkstone

Wagon at Silkstone

The last bit of the route is the best: a blast along the Trans Pennine Trail cycle route. It winds this way and that gently downhill along the track of a former railway line and initially along a path above it where the line passes through a closed tunnel. The ancient woodland of the area consists of a canopy of oak, ash and birch trees with bramble and bracken underneath and bluebells in spring. You should also look out for herb rocket and yellow archangel while ox-eve daises can be seen along the hedgerows and surrounding meadows.

Alternatively, put your map away, clasp your fingers lightly on your brakes and look forward to resting with the ducks back where you started in Worsborough Mill Country Park. Unusually, the 200-year-old reservoir at its core was not built to supply water to the local population but to store and feed water into a branch of the Dearne & Dove Canal, now disused. After such a scenic ride it’s easy to forget about the region’s industrial roots.

Silkstone Cricket Club in action

Silkstone Cricket Club in action

Fact file

Distance: 21 miles.

Time: 2½ hours excluding stops.

Parking: Car park (small charge) at Worsborough Mill Country Park, south of Barnsley on the A61.

Directions:
L out of car park then L down signed Trans Pennine Trail cycle route. At first junction with road leave Trail and continue L to pass under motorway then at t-junction R to pass entrance to Northern College. Take next L signed ‘Wortley 3’. In Wortley, L onto A629 then R down Finkle St, signed ‘Timberland Trail’. Over bridge then R signed ‘Thurgoland’. Cross over traffic lights and up Smithy Hill. Follow road round to left and then right down Thurgo Hall Lane signed ‘Silkstone Common 2’, your next destination. In village after Station Inn, L down Cone Lane to Silkstone. Cross over the A628 and continue down High St to reach church memorial. Retrace route to Station Inn. Cross B6449 and down Moorend Lane. (To find stone figures memorial pass under former railway bridge then look for stile on right). Join Trans Pennine Trail by ascending to top of bridge. Turn L onto Trail and follow east all the way back to the A61 then R back to car park.

Refreshments: Stafford Arms, Stainborough. Countess Tea Room and Wortley Arms Hotel, Wortley. The Bridge, The Green Dragon and The Horse and Jockey, Thurgoland. The Station Inn, Silkstone Common. The Ring o’ Bells and The Red Lion at Silkstone.

Deer at Round Green Farm

Deer at Round Green Farm