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Upton's Reclaimed Country

From the scars of Upton coal mine, a nature reserve is created.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 65ft (20m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Disused railway line and good tracks, no stiles

Landscape Reclaimed colliery land

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 278 Sheffield & Barnsley

Start/finish SE 478133

Dog friendliness No particular problems

Parking Car park on Waggon Lane, Upton, next to fishing lake

Public toilets None on route

1 To the left of the fishing lake is an access gate. Walk to the right, past the lake, to meet a broad cinder track: this is the trackbed of the old Hull-to-Barnsley railway. Follow the track, to the right, passing a small pond and then the platform of a long-abandoned railway station. There are a number of side tracks; just keep to the straight, obvious track and you won't go wrong.

2 Beyond a gate you will reach a roundabout on the A638. Walk left, around the roundabout, to locate another metal gate. A footpath leads downhill to rejoin the route of the railway trackbed. Soon your track is raised above the level of the surrounding fields. When the colour of the track turns from grey cinders to white, you may want to detour down to your right, on a path that leads to two more secluded ponds. Otherwise carry straight on, along the track. Follow a fence on the left, gradually uphill. Continue to follow the fence as it bears left at the top of the hill, to join a broad track descending to a larger lake, with three islands.

3 Keep to the left-hand side of the lake, on the track (unless you want to take the path around the lake). Turn left, at the far end of the lake, to follow a fence. The track bends first left, then right, to run parallel to the railway line you walked earlier. Follow this track to meet a road. Cross the road, and take the lane opposite.

4 Cross the A638, continuing in the same direction into the little village of North Elmsall. As the road goes left, past the church, take a step stile in the wall on the left (signed 'footpath to Upton'). Walk straight across one field, then another, pass a little pond and reach the railway trackbed once again. Go right here soon taking a path, left, to arrive back at the car park in Upton.

The scenery of the south-eastern corner of West Yorkshire, including the borough of Wakefield, contrasts markedly with the moorlands to the west. The landscape has undergone many changes in recent years, mostly due to the rise - and decline - of coal mining. But the effects have not been all-embracing. The villages of North Elmsall and South Elmsall, for example, have had very different histories. When Frickley Colliery opened in 1903, it transformed South Elmsall into a bustling town, leaving North Elmsall as the quiet backwater it still is today.

With the benefit of perspective, historians will look back on Yorkshire's coal industry as a brief period in the county's history. The remains of primitive mines, just shallow 'bell pits', can be found all around the county, but only in a few places were the coal deposits sufficiently extensive or accessible to make mining profitable for the early miner. The second phase of the Industrial Revolution - when the mills were converted from water- to steam-power - provided a huge financial spur. The Yorkshire coalfields now had the markets to make investment in deep-mined coal worthwhile. They became famous throughout the world, but there was a heavy price to pay. Long hours, dangerous working conditions and an explosive atmosphere was the miners' lot.

After the closure of the collieries, and the inevitable human and environmental deprivation that followed, it's gratifying to see these areas being given a new lease of life. Unsightly pits are being re-developed into lakes for wildfowl, insectlife and fishing. Disused railway lines are being transformed into footpaths and valuable new cycle routes. New industries too, are bringing life back to the local economy, and the bare colliery spoil heaps have been changed beyond all recognition as, replanted and grassed over, they have emerged as a valuable wildlife and leisure resource for the local communities.

This walk begins at the fishing lake created on land once occupied by the Upton colliery, sunk in 1924 but closed in 1966. It continues along the trackbed of the old Hull-to-Barnsley railway, which was another line lost to the Beeching axe, back in the 1960s. You pass the remains of Upton Station. The old railway is now a broad corridor for both wildlife and recreation. During the summer months there are songbirds and butterflies aplenty. At the half way point of the walk is Johnny Brown's Common, another area much altered, where a lake offers refuge to wildfowl.

Where to eat and drink

The Upton Arms, on Upton High Street, is conveniently placed for refreshments, near the start of this walk.

While you're there

It's only a short hop over the county boundary to Doncaster and the Earth Centre. This ecological visitor attraction has risen from disused colliery workings at Denaby Main. Visitors can see solutions to energy conservation, sustainable living and other threats to the survival of the planet, and have fun!

What to look for

The first part of this walk uses a section of the old Hull-to-Barnsley railway line. The trains are long gone; this narrow corridor, between the fields that stretch away on either side, is now a haven for wildlife. Judicious planting has created an excellent habitat for butterflies; look out for such colourful summer sights as the orange tip, the peacock, the painted lady and the red admiral.

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