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Upper Don Valley trail

Exploring a valley emerging from an industrial past.

 

Minimum time 3h00

Distance 20 miles (32.2km)

Difficulty Medium

Suggested map  OS Explorer OL1 Dark Peak

Start/finish  car park at Dunford Bridge; grid ref: SE 158024

Trails/tracks  old railway track, mostly well-drained, occasionally muddy near far end point 1

Landscape  moorland, pastoral valley, woodland and some urban fringe

Public toilets  portaloo at start

Tourist information  Holmfirth, tel 01484 222444

Bike hire  The Bike Shed, Scissett, Huddersfield, tel 0800 018 4753

Recommended pub  Bridge Inn, Thurgoland

Notes Moderately steep ascent and descent on lane to pub at far point

 
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© Automobile Association 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

Getting to the start

From Holmfirth, head south on B6106 for about 1.5 miles (2.4km) to Longley, fork right through Hade Edge and follow the road past several reservoirs into the Don valley. Large car park on the left just before the bridge.

1 From the bottom of the car park go through barriers and out on to the obvious trail. Bear right and drop down slightly on to the main line of the old railway trackbed. There is a sort of 'dual-carriageway' structure, with the intention being that the left-hand side is for cyclists and walkers, the right for horses. Even when there are no horses to be seen, 'their' side can be rougher (and pose certain other hazards!). Once past the old station platforms, the surroundings open out, with moorland up to the right. Go under the bridge on to a narrower section - single carriageway - and continue to Hazlehead. The old station buildings are now a private residence.

2 A bridge takes you over the A616. Pass a couple of smaller bridges and emerge on to a short elevated section. On the right, some obvious diggings are part of the old Bullhouse colliery. The most obvious feature is the settlement lagoon, part of a project to improve water quality of the river (a signboard explains all).

3 Pass some industrial buildings and a wind turbine on the colliery site, and cross a bridge above the A628. After a more open stretch, cross a lane. The barriers are tricky for adults to negotiate but small children can ride straight under them, so watch for traffic. Another track crosses the route and then an alternation of cuttings and open sections leads to a recreation ground, complete with skateboard park, on the outskirts of Penistone.

4 This section inevitably has a more urban feel but for the most part is surprisingly well insulated. Pass an old engine shed on the right, then go over a bridge, overlooked by the tower of the village church. Another cutting and another bridge lead to the overgrown platforms of Penistone station. Just beyond is the still-active railway line linking Huddersfield and Barnsley, with the current station away to the left. Follow the trail alongside the railway for about 0.5 mile (800m).

5 The railway swings away and the trail continues to pass under another bridge on the outskirts of Oxspring. At this point the trail divides. The left branch goes towards Barnsley, presently joining the Dove Valley Trail (see Route 22). If you don't want to go the full distance, you can follow this route down to the main road and a short way right to the Waggon and Horses at Oxspring.

6 Otherwise, keep straight ahead in the direction of Sheffield. Negotiate more barriers to cross a farm track and then cross a bridge high above the River Don. A sign warns of the tunnel ahead and then the cutting closes in. The trail may be muddy here, and the air can be considerably colder too. The tunnel itself is well lit but still has a certain dank and gloomy atmosphere. From its far end continue for about 600yds (549m), cross a bridge over a lane and reach some picnic tables. Drop down to the lane here and follow it left, under the trail, to reach the Bridge Inn. Once refreshed, you can retrace your tyre-tracks to the start. If you don't want to go back through the tunnel there is a waymarked alternative route.

As numerous signs indicate, this route is part of the Trans-Pennine Trail (also encountered on rides 21 and 22). Described as the country's first multi-user long-distance route, it is open to walkers and cyclists throughout its length, with large sections also available to horse-riders and wheelchair users. The full distance, coast to coast, is 215 miles (346km), with extensions and branches adding up to a grand total of 350 miles (563km). The Trail is also part of the National Cycle Network and links to the E8 European long-distance path, which will eventually stretch all the way from the west coast of Ireland to Istanbul.

A stone's throw from the start is the eastern entrance to the Woodhead Tunnels. The first single-track tunnel was completed in 1845, with a second bore added in 1852. It is claimed that 3 per cent of the labourers working on the original tunnel lost their lives. Almost exactly 3 miles (4.8km) long, the original tunnels, from which smoke and fumes never cleared, were also unpopular with train crews on the open footplates of the steam engines. The line was part of the Great Central Railway, and later the London & North Eastern Railway before the railways were nationalised. A third, twin-track tunnel opened in 1953 and the line was electrified the following year. However, passenger traffic ceased in 1970 and the line finally closed in 1981.

Why do this bike ride?

The Upper Don Valley Trail follows the former main line between Sheffield and Manchester. In its entirety, this is a long ride, and it's downhill all the way to Thurgoland - so it's uphill all the way back. The gradient is always gentle but it is persistent. Those looking for a shorter outing can turn round anywhere, but an obvious place to do so is on the outskirts of Penistone.

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