“It’s about levelling up within the city,” said Howard Bayley, after taking a walk by a beautiful river, where ancient trees and old stone ruins lined the riverbank, water from the Pennines riffled over the rapids and a dipper fished in the winter sunlight.
A couple of dozen walkers, runners, shoppers, cyclists and people with dogs had passed by, enjoying their journey through Beeley Woods, part of a old woodland first recorded in the twelfth century, but still unknown to many travelling past 200 yards away on Penistone Road.
Where he lives, in south west Sheffield, there are any number of well maintained pathways for people to walk and think and enjoy the Outdoor City, Howard explained. But not so much in the north, he said.
Howard, from the Friends of Wardsend Cemetery was taking a stroll on one of the completed sections of the 21.5 km Upper Don Trail with colleagues from the Upper Don Trail Trust, David Holmes and Simon Ogden.
“If you create an accessible, well surfaced space along a beautiful riverside, people are drawn to it,” said David. “As we’ve seen today in the space of about twenty minutes.”
Along the way, the trail will connect people in the north Sheffield communities established along the river over centuries past, from Kelham Island to Hillsborough to Oughtibridge to Stocksbridge and beyond.
A few weeks ago, the trail was debated in parliament thanks to local Hillsborough and Brightside MP Gill Furniss (fellow trailside MP Miriam Cates from Stocksbridge is also a trail supporter). The Nature Recovery Minister, Rebecca Pow, said her department would work with the Trust and Sheffield Council to help find the remaining funding to complete the trail. She added: “I very much welcome the ambitions of the Upper Don Trail and recognise that its objectives align completely with the government’s.”
Longtime advocate for Sheffield waterways Simon Ogden (who helped complete the Five Weirs Walk along the lower Don years ago) pointed out that after several years’ work by volunteers from the Trust, the national trail-building charity Sustrans, and many officers from Barnsley, Stocksbridge, Bradfield parish and Sheffield councils, the Upper Don Trail already has 19km (nearly 12 miles) of its length either agreed and funded, or already in place.
The final sections, between Hillsborough and Kelham Island, include negotiating the convoluted roadways between Wardsend Cemetery at Owlerton and Clay Wheels Lane by the big Sainsbury’s at Wadsley Bridge, and sprucing up and resurfacing an existing right of way along Club Mill Road, alongside some stunning stretches of the Don above Neepsend. (A traveller’s camp on Club Milll Road is temporary, and Howard, who chats to the travellers near Wardsend regularly, says they’re just waiting for an alternative site to be identified for them to move onto.)
Funding for some trail improvement work near Club Mill Road has been offered by the Sustrans charity, but agreement is still needed from Sheffield Council, who at present say for walkers and cyclists and wheelchair users they are prioritising “an urban network suitable for commuting and utility journeys.”
Howard, Simon and David are men of a certain age, with plenty of patience, but note that the world has changed over the last two years. The times when Sheffielders commuted to the town centre five days a week are gone, and these days, homeworkers and families everywhere, including Southey, Hillsborough, Oughtibridge and Kelham Island, need green spaces to get about and keep themselves happy. No-one asks drivers if they’re urban commuters or on their way to the park, David said.
“So much of the trail is now complete, or already underway,” said Simon Ogden. “There’s only just over 2km left. So let’s not drop the baton on the last lap.”