Tuesday, 10 April 2018

A Walk in Ecclesall Woods

A map of Ecclesall Woods  courtesy of Sheffield City Council

Getting off the bus from Sheffield at Parkhead Cricket Ground on Ecclesall Road South, my exploration of Wood 1 at Ecclesall Woods – my first leg of the Sheffield Round Walk - was very brief and walking down the slope towards the River Sheaf, which is underlain by mudstones, siltstones and sandstones of the Pennine Lower Coal Measures Formation, the most notable feature was the abundance of streamlets that criss crossed the woods.

Converging streamlets

Although a warm spring day, the trees were still bare and, apart from a very occasional clump of daffodils and a few shoots, conditions were perfect to see exposures of rock, but none were to be seen and I quickly walked down to the Wood Collier's Memorial in Wood 2, which was the only point of interest marked on the maps that I had downloaded.

The Wood Collier's Monument

Being very grateful for these, as it is easy to become disorientated even on a sunny day, I then made my way own to the Woodland Discovery Centre, which was an unexpected surprise – having expected facilities that were much more basic. On a Wednesday in the middle of March, the cafĂ© was closed but having purchased a coffee from the vending machine in the well stocked information centre, I sat down to read the Archaeological Trail that I had picked up, which described various points of interest in the woods that I had walked through.

The Archaeological Trail

Only having a very casual interest in industrial archaeology, I have to say that I didn't notice the Q-pits, charcoal hearths or even the old ganister quarries and if I ever get the chance to wander around Ecclesall Woods again – to find the cup and ring stone carving - this leaflet will prove very useful and, if it hasn't been done already, it would be good to see it as a download.

A view of Limb Brook

Having had a short break, I set off again on the next leg of my walk to investigate the Whirlow Wheel and Mill Pond, which is set near to Hathersage Road, and on my way I had to ask for directions. Following the path round the inaccessible bird sanctuary, which I later discovered was where poor quality coal was dug extensively, there are spectacular views of the Limb Brook where a thick sandstone formation forms a very steep escarpment.

An old trackway

Walking down to the brook, and up to the other side of the valley, I noted one of the several sections of sunken trackway that can be seen in all three of the woods that make up Ecclesall Woods and then headed up the hill – along the banks of the brook wherever possible. Although disappointed to discover that the Whirlow Wheel constituted a few ruined buildings, with an interpretation board, I had at least encountered various outcrops of a flaggy variety of the Rough Rock in the stream bed.

An exposure of Rough Rock in Limb Brook

Heading back down the hill, I then continued my walk along a path above the south bank of Limb Brook, before dropping back down into the broad valley that runs down all the way to Abbeydale Road South. Here I encountered a few outcrops of massive bedded sandstone in the hillside and what appears to be a natural spring that discharges iron rich, ochreous water.

The ochreous spring

Often associated with coal mining activities, where the oxidation of abundant iron pyrite is further enhanced by is bacterial action, I had never seen anything like this before and its vividly coloured natural displays – which continue to stain the stream bed downstream - proved the geological highlight of my visit.

The ochreous spring joins Limb Brook

In total, I spent over 3 hours exploring Ecclesall Woods and from a geologist's point of view Wood 3 is the most interesting part and, given that this part of the woods has a history of coal mining and quarrying, deserves further investigation and I am sure that this would have formed the basis of one of the geology events that were organised for the public during the early days of the South Yorkshire Regionally Important Sites (RIGS) Group.

An old interpretation panel

Leaving Ecclesall Woods at Beauchief, for anyone who wants to add a couple of extra hours to an already enjoyable walk in the woods, Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet is only a stone's throw away. Although I thought that it had obviously suffered from budget cuts, and I was very disappointed when I visited it after a wait of over 30 years, back in 2013, it has since had a considerable amount of money spent on it. 

A view across the dam at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet

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