Twisting tracks and tangled roots, sunny glades and shady cobbled paths, sparkling streams and waterside wildflowers. This is not just woodland, this is ancient woodland. Ecclesall Woods dates back to at least the 1600s and is made up of three woods, forming a rough crescent shape in the southwest of the city and offering nearly ten miles of tempting paths to explore.
Ancient woodland, with its historic value, unique biodiversity and ability to enchant and soothe, now covers only 2% of our little island. And whilst Sheffield has more of it than any other industrial city in western Europe, every inch is irreplaceable and therefore in need of our love and protection. Here are some tips on how to give Ecclesall Woods some love:
1. Enjoy the wildlife
One of the best times to visit is in May, when every sun-dappled glade bursts with bluebells, ringing in spring with their breathtaking colour display. Bluebells love ancient woodland, as do their starry white friends the wood anemones. Perch on a log and listen to the music of the birds; you might even spot a woodpecker near the bird sanctuary (the Friends of Ecclesall Woods sometimes arrange guided bird-spotting walks too).
In the summer enjoy the shade of the tall trees, stroll by the Limb Brook, and look for newts and frogs at the Donkey Field Pond, which is also a sweet spot for butterflies and other insects. Later, scamper with the squirrels as you take in the glorious colours and refreshing scents of the woods in autumn. And when the leaves have all fallen and the robin returns amongst the holly, wander amongst the witchy, twisted trunks, stark against the pale winter skies. The Sheffield Round Walk skirts the woods, if you're keen to explore beyond the trees.
2. Make things, do things, eat things
Sprouting from their surroundings at the Abbey Lane entrance are the wooden structures of the JG Graves Woodland Discovery Centre, indoor and outdoor facilities for a multitude of fun stuff. If you like working with your hands, here’s a place to have a go at some very satisfying activities: carving, sculpting, whittling and casting. Learn how to make spatulas, walking sticks and brooms. You can even make your own rustic table.
As a venue, the Discovery Centre hosts everything from woodland weddings and den-building birthday parties to school events and family activity days. You’ll find lots of info here year round, along with ideas for things to do. There are even some binocular-furnished seats inside, for some comfortable indoor bird-spotting.
Also in this area is the Woodland Coffee Stop, with their lovely toasties and cake. Order a cuppa, take a seat outside and sip to the sound of birdsong. A few steps from here and you’re at the start of the Chestnut Walk, a circular family walk with encouragement to make tiny houses from the natural materials around you.
3. Root around in the past
Under the watch of the ancient trees, take a walk along sunken paths and over mossy bridges on an archaeological trail. Find the 1786 Wood Collier’s Memorial and the remains of Ryecroft Mill. The ground in places is shaped by coal production in the 16th-18th centuries, whilst spots of blackened earth remain from 19th-century charcoal hearths. Then it gets prehistoric; there are carved stones here dating back to the Bronze or Neolithic Age.
Pick up a leaflet at the Discovery Centre for an archaeological walking map, or try the family-friendly audio adventure, The Mystery of the Factory in the Woods.
- Words by
- Nat Loftus
- Images by
- Gemma Thorpe