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Ecclesall Woods (Sheffield)

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Sheffield / South Yorkshire / England

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      10.05.2008 12:49
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      One of the oldest areas of woodland in South Yorkshire

      Ecclesall Woods are located about 3 miles (5 Kilometres) to the south west of Sheffield city centre. This area of woodland is vast and covers an area of approximately 140 acres making them the largest semi-natural woodland in South Yorkshire. The woods are a very popular visitor attraction and are particularly valued for their wildlife, and their historic and archaeological features.

      Ecclesall Woods are designated as a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) for the wildlife that they support, which includes several species of bird that are relatively common here yet not found elsewhere within the Sheffield area. These include Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Marsh Tit and Hawfinch.

      Exploring Ecclesall Woods is very easy since there are dozens of different access points. The main part of the woods are sandwiched between Ecclesall Road South on the northern boundary and Abbeydale Road South on the southern boundary. Since these are two of the most important routes into and out of Sheffield both of these roads are very well served by public transport.

      At the very bottom of the woods where they meet Abbeydale Road South this is where Millhouses Park begins. It could therefore be argued that this 32 acre public park is a further extension of Ecclesall Woods and it is certainly true to say that the majority of the woodland habitat that is found here is very similar to that found within Ecclesall Woods.

      The woods are full of different footpaths of varying length, size and quality. The larger, better quality paths form part of a multitude of different trails that are each colour coded and sign-posted. In fact there are over 15 kilometres of footpaths and bridle-ways within Ecclesall Woods. These include an 'Easy Going' trail that is suitable for the less able bodied and wheelchair users. At the intersection of these main footpaths there are sign-posts to assist the visitor but it has to be said that I am familiar with these woods and I find these signs very misleading. In short, without a good map it is very easy to get lost in Ecclesall Woods as so many of the routes look the same. Part of this confusion stems from the fact that three main roads surround the woods: Ecclesall Road South to the north, Wharncliffe Road to the west and Abbey Lane to the east. As the woods are roughly circular in shape it is often possible to find two or more different signs in the same place pointing to either one of these same roads.

      It is known that there are over 150 different charcoal hearths and over 200 Q-Pits within Ecclesall Woods. Q-Pits were used for the production of white coal. This white coal was a type of fuel that was produced by drying chopped wood over a fire. It differs from charcoal, which is carbonised wood and burns at a much higher temperature than charcoal. White coal was used in England to smelt lead ore from the mid-sixteenth to the late seventeenth centuries and evidence that Ecclesall Woods played an important role historically in its production is clearly evident.

      For many years I was never aware of the existence of these Q-Pits, nor did I know what such a thing was. It was only through reading the information signs that are located at the main entrances into the woods that I became aware of their existence. I have now probably discovered around 30 or 40 of these Q-Pits but suspect that many of the other remaining ones are now buried deep beneath the undergrowth. The best examples of these Q-Pits are almost perfectly symmetrical hollows. It is noticeable that whilst undergrowth like brambles does grow in these hollows trees do not.

      There are two different mills located within Ecclesall Woods. Ryecroft Mill is an old 18th century mill that was powered by a water wheel from the Limb Brook that runs through the woods. This mill was used for lead smelting. Unfortunately however today this mill is derelict and there is very little left of this original mill that remains. Ecclesall Saw Mill is a modern mill located right in the heart of the woods. This opened in 1962 and is operated by a local private company. There are currently plans to expand it.

      Ryecroft Bridge is a 16th century stone bridge that crosses the Limb Brook, this is Grade 2 listed. Another Grade 2 listed item within the woods is the Charcoal Burner's Grave. This inscribed gravestone commemorates the death of a man called George Yardley who was burned to death in his cabin in 1786 whilst producing charcoal. The inscription of the stone also mentions four other men and reads: "In Memory of George Yardley a Woodcoolier who was burnt to death in his Cabbin (sic) on this Place 11 October 1786. Also William Brookes Salesman David Glossop Gamekeeper Tho. Smith Besomemaker Samp. Brookeshaw Innkeeper".

      Perhaps the most remarkable object in the woods was only discovered in 1981. This is a prehistoric stone with unusual cup and ring markings. This two metre long stone was taken to the Weston Park Museum in Sheffield where it was dated to the late Neolithic or Bronze Age period around the year 2800BC. This was the first prehistoric carving to be found in the area and therefore caused a great deal of excitement. An extensive search around the area where this object was found later unearthed further objects and the remains of ancient earthworks, rock paintings and rock art. This location is a carefully guarded secret and an area of 20 metres in diameter and has now been designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM). It was only recently and quite by chance that I discovered this area thanks to a local man who pointed me in the right direction.

      Finally there are a few strange and rather bizarre facts about Ecclesall Woods. Several of these include Pagan rituals which are said to still be practised here but the other involves the presence of Wild Boars, which many locals claim to have seen over the last 40 years. There are several photographs and a friend of mine claims to have seen one cross the road one night right in front of him last November. I have yet to come face to face with Wild Boar in Sheffield (although I have in Germany and Poland) but I will keep my eyes open

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    • Product Details

      Previously used for timber and charcoal, this mature semi-natural deciduous woodland provides over 15km of public footpaths through the woods.