Sunday, 2 September 2012

Leeds Country Way #4: Barwick in Elmet to Swillington Bridge 07/04/12

So onward, full bore into Active April, with another five days of walking on the schedule, and the early Summer of late-March has already passed, and we're back in the midst of a regular Northern Springtime. Starting with the long weekend of Easter, an opportunity to take down a significant portion of the Leeds Country Way, the first half took no time at all, so the second half ought to be a breeze! However, It's an odd thing to discover that catching the 64 bus from Morley to Barwick, takes longer than it would riding the 51 to Leeds and then boarding the 64 half-way. Such are the vagaries of public transport, I suppose.

Active April: Day One

Leeds Country Way #4: Barwick in Elmet to Swillington Bridge  9.9 miles

Self at Barwick in Elmet, at the Maypole

Take myself to the Maypole and note a 9.40am start, aiming to land the 2.40pm train at Woodlesford, and take in the Grey-pudding skies that will rule for today. Gone is the summery idyll of ten days ago, and Barwick now looks a whole lot more prosaic, and the LCW's trail out of the village via Main Street and Carfield Road is probably the least attractive part of the whole settlement. Perhaps it's good to know that such villages can appear to be thunderously ordinary. Immediately, this stretch of field walking takes feels dull, this is not going to be a day to warm the walking soul, there's not a lot to see by way of interest: a big flappy bird in the sky, a fire somewhere near the A1, the towers of Whinmoor, rapeseed that has grown to waist-height in the last week. Arriving on the edge of Scholes, provides a moment of having something to look at, it's an odd ribbon settlement that seem to have grown along the length of one road, but once across Leeds Road and onto Bog Lane, the boredom starts up again. Bog Lane? It's hardly a name to warm the soul is it? Grey skies and no views to speak of, and joining Barnbow Lane, the tracks and woods feel as remote as anywhere I've walked so far. Toward the end of the lane something finally shows up in the landscape to tickle my brain, an avenue of trees on the edge of the lane, odd looking raised terraces like old foundations in fields to the left and sturdy block houses off to the right. Has all the look of an old POW camp or some sort of military encampment to me. (Of course, nothing on the internet can provide any clues, so it's probably just farm buildings and my imagination getting overactive.)

A Mysterious Landscape, near Shippen House farm
Shippen House farm, pebble-dashed grey to match the skies, is the first sign of civilisation in a while, and there are feed tub lids everywhere telling folks to keep dogs away from the sheep (I'm starting to wonder if anyone farms cows around this city?), and the farmer is out to tootle over the field in what looks like a high-speed invalid carriage. Follow him up to 'Weak Bridge' and the Leeds - York line, cue Trans-Pennine Express tearing by, and the the path leads over the M1and the least interesting section of the LCW comes to a welcome end. There's a bit of a view here towards Cross Gates and Whitkirk, and Emley Moor transmitter (Yorkshire's signifier) makes its first appearance since leaving Gildersome. Eastwards we go, past deserted farms, fallen trees, expensive house and industrial units on the drag down Barrowby Lane. Feels odd to come right down into the heart of a small town after all these miles in fields, and I'd never noticed just how post industrial this part of the world is, just take a look at the houses on the north side of Garforth and it's pretty clear that this used to be a colliery town. Cross the A642 for the first time, and beyond Garforth's Main Street is about as generic as they come, but there are plenty of people out and the shops are largely occupied, a dubious economy doesn't seem to have adversely affected this town. Pubs appeal, but it's too early in the day for booze, and sights include the snazzy public library and another cricket ground (should have been counting these too!), before we hit a couple of paths sneaking down alleyways where ancient rights of way have been built up to on both sides leaving just a metre wide space behind many back gardens. This finally opens out by Garforth Community College, and the we join a more interesting path as we pass under the A63, this is The Linesway, the former North Eastern Railway branch from Garforth to Castleford. I become an inordinately happy walker when given a bit of old railway to walker, can't really explain why, and I'm delighted to see the world and his dog are out to enjoy it too. Also the Kippax Hot-Steppers, and I defy you to find a better-named running group. Pity it's only half a mile, but there is a picnic bench and a raincloud at its end, so lunch time!

Our westward phase starts here, and Brecks Lane is followed to see bluebells in Brecks wood and slurry farming and poly tunnels at Brecks farm, odorous in the extreme and thence south down a forgotten and isolated grassy lane to Whitehouse Lane, and at the junction with the A642, the saddest sight imaginable, an abandoned picnic area. Sealed off to prevent use by Travellers, or anyone else for that matter, but its such an odd place to have such a thing. I can't trace the path in the long grass, so make for the nearest spot that I can get over the fence and then go for a stretch along the A642. This road is just insane, it seem to be the avoiding road for those travelling east of Leeds and not wishing to use the motorway, and the speeds of many of the drivers suggests that they might have a death wish. Glad I don't have to cross it, as we go back into post-industrial lands of brickworks and collieries north of Swillington, and the path goes back into the fields to give a bit more country flavour, for more sights of horse farming before joining the road into Little Preston. Never heard of this village before, and the reason is because it's a dead end, and a very odd one too. Expensive new houses at the top, a sizeable old house in the middle with many farm buildings and then many chalets and caravans surrounding it, strange in any situation but perplexing here. We have a path that continues south into the heart of the old coalfields of this district, and first sight is Astley Lane, the coal road with no traffic. Then follow the drainage ditch that surrounds the old opencast site at St Aidan's, and miss a photograph of a hovering kestrel which annoys me no end, and as this site is only a short walk in the wrong direction, it's worth a brief trespass. Climb over the fence and up the hill to the edge of the natural ground and below the vast expanse of the site opens up before you. I'd visited the Walking Dragline here before, but this vantage point illustrates the sheer scale of the mining activity of the past, it might be becoming a nature reserve, but this is still a scar you can see from space.

St Aiden's Opencast Mine / Country Park
Return to Old Astley Lane, the now disused coal road eaten up by the opencast mining, and to the Old Coach Road, which used to be the back way into the Swillington House estate. Once a major country seat, but ruined when mining took over in the area, and the house was demolished due to subsidence in the 1950s. Still has a snazzy house in the stables block, and a well-regarded organic farm and fishing club within the walls, but largely looks like an estate gradually returning to nature. Also along here is a field full of wooden pylons, a surreal sight and inexplicable as there is no substation near here, maybe it's where riggers practice? I can't offer a better explanation. And the the dreaded moment of the walk, crossing the A642, and watching the motorists pelt down towards the blind corner and having a flashing 'slow down' working overtime means you are taking your life in your hands. Escape unscathed, and lament that the Bridge House Hotel is no longer a pub as it's at exactly the right spot for me wanting a pint, but next is the crossing of the River Aire at Swillington Bridge and another significant stretch is done, as am I for the day. 1.50pm, and I can easily make for the earlier train at Woodlesford, probably my fastest day of walking so far.

To Be Continued...

1,000 Miles Cumulative Total: 69.1 miles

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