The River Dearne is held by most to belong to South Yorkshire. In the course of its 19-mile (30km) journey to its confluence with the River Don at Conisbrough, then ultimately into the North Sea at Goole as the River Ouse, it flows through such South Yorkshire towns as Wath upon Dearne, Bolton upon Dearne and Adwick upon Dearne. Yet the river has some of its finest moments in West Yorkshire, and indeed has its source in that county.
Through ancient woodland to the source
This walk is an expedition to that source – at least, as close to the source as the rights of way network allows you to get – and along the way takes in some of the beautiful, semi-natural ancient woodland that exists along its banks. Stephen Wood, the first woodland encountered, was once owned by the Wentworths of Bretton Hall, as were others in the area. Some 6.25miles (10km) east of its source on Birdsedge, near Upper Cumberworth, the Dearne flows through the Bretton estate, now home to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Later woodland owners included the Bosvilles of Gunthwaite, and 19th-century mill owner Walter Norton of Rockwood House, who also created the pond passed on this walk. Many of the sycamore and beech trees in the woods were probably planted to be used as rollers in textile mills, though with the overall decline of the British industry they have since been allowed to flourish.
The woods, now owned by a building products company, are looked after by Upper Dearne Woodlands Conservation Group, and are a haven for wildlife. Among the bird species seen here are tawny owl, flycatcher, tree creeper and the goldcrest, Britain’s smallest songbird. Large colonies of hairy northern wood ant also makes their homes in large nests on the woodland floor, while the grey squirrel is a common sight, running up tree trunks and along branches. The variety of wildlife habitat has been significantly improved by the conservation group’s restoration of the pond.
Among the flowers that add colour through spring and summer are pink purslane, yellow saxifrage and red campion.
The source of the Dearne lies in a spring, in a field above the hamlet of Birdsedge. Many mills were powered by the river along its length; Birdsedge Mill, built in the 18th century less than a mile (1.6km) from the source, is the highest and its pond, home to mallard and moorhen, is as close to the source as the walk is able to go.
Walk down Park Lane and, at the second of two barns, turn right, then left with the lane. Within a few paces the lane turns right again but here take a path on the left, descending steps through the wall and a gate. Follow the fence on your left along a field-edge, toward woodland. Go through a second gate and over a stile into Stephen Wood.
Bear left, along the Dearne Way (marked by a miner’s lamp), at a fork by an information board. At the first junction bear right, staying with the Dearne Way, ignoring a path up to your left. When you see a footbridge below to your right, descend the bank and cross a Dearne Way-marked stile in a fence – don’t cross the footbridge.
Cross another footbridge ahead, over Park Dike, and go through a narrow gap between wooden posts into Green Wood, past an information board. Ignore paths off to your right, and stay ahead. Bear left at the next board, away from a pond on your right, to reach a step stile in around 40 paces. Cross this and turn right into a fenced lane, still on the Dearne Way, for 90yds (82m). Take the path on the right, over a footbridge and up steps to a stile.
Three options present themselves here: yours heads right, diagonally across a field towards the walled corner of a wood. There, pass through a stile to the left of a gate and keep ahead, along a faint track that parallels an airstrip over the wall on your left.
Pass through a gap stile on the side of the next metal field gate, into a walled lane, which soon curves right, around the far side of New House. Keep to the track that now bends left, ignoring a path to the right, past Birdsedge Mews and The Mistal to the road.
On the road, turn right. After 330yds (302m), just beyond a bus shelter and half-way along a patch of off-road residents’ parking, take an unsigned path to the right, descending past Birds Edge Mill and its old millpond. After crossing the pond’s outflow, turn right, ascending among trees to cross a stile into a field. Stay on the fence-enclosed path across the field, once again following Dearne Way markers, as the path kinks left, then left again onto an enclosed path alongside a field.
At the end, pass through a gap on the left of a gate into a walled lane. Turn right. The lane kinks left then right; leave the lane and the Dearne Way here on a signed field path that continues ahead, over a stile. Descend the field ahead, with the wall on your left, to stepping stones over Park Dike.
Ascend the opposite bank, bearing right, and climb the field against the right wall, to pass through a gate and gap at the top. Follow the right edge of the next field, under power lines, to a wide, 35yd-long (32m) field entrance, into Carr House Lane. Turn right, downhill, back into the village.
Good field and woodland paths; many stiles
Pastoral countryside with wooded stream and millponds
Dogs can run freely in the woodlands but should be on lead in fields and on roads
OS Explorer 288 Bradford & Huddersfield
Park considerately in nearby streets
None on route
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.