A taste of mountain biking in a hotbed of the sport.
Minimum time 1h30
Distance 7 miles (11.3km)
Suggested map OS Explorer 278 Sheffield & Barnsley
Start/finish Wharncliffe Woods car park; grid ref: SK 325951
Trails/tracks mostly good forest tracks with a few narrower and/or rougher sections
Landscape mature woodland, mostly coniferous plantations, with occasional views of farmland, heathland and crags
Public toilets none on route
Tourist information Sheffield, tel 01142 211900
Bike hire Cycosport, Barnsley, tel 01226 204020
Recommended pub The Wortley Arms Hotel, Wortley Some steep climbs and descents; beware some loose surfaces. For older, experienced children; mountain bike essential
© Automobile Association 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
From M1 junction 36, follow the A61 towards Sheffield for 1.5 miles (2.4km), over a roundabout. Take the next right turn to Howbrook. Go left at the crossroads in the village. Follow this lane for about 0.5 mile (800m), crossing the A629, to reach a T-junction. Go left and in about 2 miles (3.2km) reach the main parking area for Wharncliffe Woods (on the right).
1 From the car park turn left along the broad trail. At a collection of signposts turn right and then duck under a barrier on the left on to a narrower path. After another barrier the trail becomes broader again, descending gently through attractive woods of oak and birch. Negotiate another barrier and turn right on a track that descends more steeply. At the bottom of a particularly steep section is a 3-way bridleway sign.
2 Turn right, and continue through more downhill sections. Cross a small wooden bridge, and duck under a barrier, back into Wharncliffe Woods proper.
3 Turn left and continue downhill, swinging right on to a more gently descending section of track. At a fork bear left, emerge on to a broad track, and immediately fork right, passing a Trans Pennine Trail sign for Wortley. Continue downhill, taking great care on a section with a very loose surface where another track joins from the left. As a second track comes in from the left, look up to the right and you can see the first of the MTB downhill routes emerging on to the main track.
4 Now there's a slight climb followed by some gentle undulations, bringing you into a densely wooded section and coming close to a railway line on the left. After more level riding there's a fork, with a Trans Pennine Trail sign. Follow this down the broader left branch, swinging back right and rising where a narrower track forks off to the left. Now begin a long gentle ascent, which dips under power lines. Look out for Wharncliffe Crags on the right through the trees before a slight dip. The track levels out for a short way. When it begins to climb again look for a sharp right turn just beyond another Trans Pennine Trail sign. There are also signs for Wharncliffe Heath nature reserve.
5 The climb isn't excessively steep anywhere, but some sections are made really tricky by the surface, which is either loose sand, loose stones or a mixture. Anyone who completes the ascent without dismounting can claim to have passed the entry exam to real mountain biking. Keep straight on through a gap in a wall and along a more level sandy track, now with open moorland on the right and some fine mature oak woods on the left. After another short ascent, meet a slightly wider track and continue straight ahead. Just beyond this the path levels out, with the most expansive views of the entire ride. As you come back into woods, the track dips down, with quite a tricky section over rocks and mud, to a road.
6 Turn right and follow the road up a long gentle ascent. At the crest of the climb, coming back to woods on the right, another Trans Pennine Trail sign indicates a track that leads back to the car park.
There's no pub right on the ride route, though it could fairly easily be extended by continuing along the Trans Pennine Trail for about another mile (1.6km); pass under the A616 then soon after drop down to a minor road and follow it east to the A629. Turn left into Wortley.
Mountain biking is a relatively young sport, its origins usually traced to California in the late 1970s, but has grown hugely in popularity and cross-country racing has been an Olympic discipline since 1996. But it's the downhill variety for which Wharncliffe Woods is most notable. Double World Cup downhill champion Steve Peat learned his trade in this area and has subsequently been among those responsible for the construction of some fearsome routes here. Serious downhillers require some highly specialised gear, including body protection and full-face helmets. The bikes, too, are specialised, with beefed-up suspension front and rear and powerful disc brakes. There is also a sub-sport known as freeride, which involves tackling the biggest possible jumps and drop-offs.
The Wharncliffe Woods area has been subject to quarrying for millennia, with evidence of Iron Age activity on Wharncliffe Crags; in fact the name Wharncliffe derives from the word 'quern', which is a small hand-operated grindstone mostly used in grinding grain for flour. The rock is, of course, millstone grit. The crags are now popular with rock-climbers. Later the woods were managed to provide fuel for the iron industry that flourished in the Don Valley from the 16th century onwards. Today Forest Enterprise continues to extract some timber commercially but the woods are increasingly managed for amenity and conservation and areas have been planted with broad-leaved native trees such as oak and birch.
Wharncliffe Woods is a name that dedicated mountain bikers recognise. Competitions are regularly held here. Our route doesn't involve anything extreme, but it does give a little of the flavour, with some fairly steep but well-surfaced descents, and a challenging climb. For a more straightforward ride, follow the green waymarked route from the car park.