42: Fordoles Head Lane, Doncaster

Conisbrough Castle from afar
Conisbrough Castle, viewed from afar.

Date: 25th October 2021.

Weather conditions: Very pleasant on the whole. Some cloud, and the wind occasionally had a bit of an autumn nip to it, but the sun shone for most of the walk.

County Top bagged: Fordoles Head Lane, the summit of which is marked by a trig point at SK512933, and stands at 472ft/144m above sea level. The track which passes just by this point is given that name on the OS map, but other names could be assigned to this place; the label ‘Mere Flats Holt’ also appears in the vicinity on the 1:25,000 map, for instance.

Summit trig point
The summit of Doncaster…. approximately.

Whatever one calls it, this is the highest point in the local authority of Doncaster, and it has been a County Top since the dissolution of South Yorkshire, along with all the other former metropolitan counties, in 1986. Although the trig point sits in the middle of a flat field, and there is a suspicion that around it there may be some very slightly higher land, it is at least a properly marked summit, and you certainly feel you are up in the air.

As far as I can tell from my geological map, today I more or less walked along a ridge of limestone that follows the Tees-Exe line, the basic divide between lowland and highland Britain — essentially, two slabs of land that were once widely separated but came together many millions of years ago. Limestone is made by the carcasses of ancient shellfish, so this ridge is probably the remnants of a coastline of unimaginable age.

Local fauna.

By altitude Fordoles Head Lane ranks 132nd on the list of modern Tops, and 155th on the full list.

[ << Mount Battock, Kincardineshire (41) | (43) Poll Hill, Wirral >> ]

Start and end point of walk: Started at the bus stop outside Maltby leisure centre at roughly SK529920 (served by bus #10 from Doncaster bus station) and finished at the stop outside Conisbrough Castle, at roughly SK513987 (service #221 or #X78 back there). Conisbrough also has a train connection back to Doncaster.

The walk took me about 2½ hours. I’m sure the experience would be much the same if done the other way around.

St Peter's, Conisbrough
St Peter’s, Conisbrough. Apparently a church has been here since about 750AD.

Pub at (nearly the) end: The Alma Inn, Conisborough. Quite nice inside although blighted by overly loud music — I have nothing against loud music, but if I’m one of (and the youngest of) only three customers, do we really need the same 80s crap as seems obligatory to play in all public places these days? It’s 2021, so haven’t we yet got beyond the need to listen to Tina Turner’s Simply the Best at half two on a Monday afternoon, at full volume? Or, even worse, Spandau Ballet’s True? I ask you.

I also highly recommend The Draughtsman bar on Doncaster station, a classic station pub.

Feet of ascent: Not a lot — there are only two appreciable slopes, one up from the starting point to the summit, and an additional short one after crossing Firsby Brook about ⅔ of the way through the walk. All in all the total ascent can’t be more than about 330ft/100m.

Fordoles Head Lane
The not-very-steeply-graded Fordoles Head Lane.

Distance walked: 6 miles/9.7km approximately.

Difficulty: ★★. Gradients are gentle at best and most of the walk takes place on hard-topped lanes, but there is one stretch, near the summit, which looks as if it will get very muddy in wetter periods. For this alone I must advise proper walking footwear, so it’s getting two stars.

Ease of access: ★★★★. Doncaster railway station is one of the best-served in the country, which is why, with the possible exception of Crewe, it attracts the most trainspotters. The town’s (mostly subterranean) bus station is right outside. Therefore, although you do need use a bus to get to Maltby, and a bus or train is required back from Conisbrough, this really is not a hard walk to reach by public transport.

Doncaster mural
A very good mural, just outside Doncaster station.

By car, it might seem even easier, with Maltby being just off junction 1 of the M18. However, if that’s how you get there — and this to me is always the major disadvantage of driving to a walk — there’s then no option to do a point-to-point walk, as I did today. While buses to/from both termini are regular to Doncaster, Maltby and Conisbrough don’t connect up well with each other. So despite the proximity to the motorway I still think this walk is best done by bus and train.

Scenic qualities: ★★. Although there’s nothing at all dramatic, the views are (unexpectedly) extensive. I did consider a third star, but it is all fairly standard countryside, and the M18 doesn’t help the tranquility. However, on a sunny autumn day these were not unpleasant surroundings.

View west from the summit
View west from the summit, remarkably without the M18 being visible.

The area: This is about as far south in England as one can get while still being culturally considered ‘in the North’. Apparently Doncaster is the largest of all England’s former metropolitan boroughs by area. Over in its eastern sections the borough gets very flat, with the marshlands around the end of the Humber estuary being mere inches above sea level.

The “caster” on the end of the name indicates its Roman origins, so the town has plenty of history, as do the satellite towns I also visited today, Maltby and Conisbrough, both of which are mentioned in the Domesday Book. Not that all this history has necessarily been good to the place. I’ve been here several times before but only for football. On none of these trips has the town itself delivered a bad time (the football matches… well, a couple) but it does feel like a rather strange place sometimes, and very low-rent. If it has a posh bit I’ve never found it. Maybe the village of Braithwell.

Map: OS Explorer 279: Doncaster was worth keeping to hand, not least to wave at landowners seemingly ignorant of the fact that a right-of-way crosses their property (see route notes). On this summary map, the route extends from south to north.

Map of walk 24

Route: No one is going to drop dead of either excitement or strain on this walk, but it’s a pleasant way of passing a sunny afternoon, and you get better views than might have been expected. The going is all very easy, and although there are urban outbreaks at each end, the main body of the walk is rural.

From the bus stop outside Maltby leisure centre and the Don John pub (where you could sup beer at the end of the walk if doing it the other way), go up Braithwell Lane, then straight on (technically, left) up Lilly Hall Road. This rises gently for about ¾ mile. At the point where it crosses Dale Hill Road, carry straight on. Where this lane reaches the gates of the privacy-conscious Lilly Hall Farm, bear left and keep following the ‘Public Bridleway’ signs.

This path continues up the gentle hill until finally passing the last houses of Maltby on your right and entering both the territory of Doncaster (as opposed to Rotherham) and a substantial field, in which the trig point that marks the summit is plainly visible. Whether this is actually the highest point in the immediate area is not easy to ascertain, but it’ll certainly do as a ceremonial top.

View back to the summit area
View back to the summit area: the highest point is behind the trees in the distance.

Carry on along the lane ahead; this is where the route gets muddiest. At the end of this track, when it comes back out onto a road by the farm buildings, turn left. There is then a passage alongside a road that has no pavement, but good visibility means it’s safe enough for pedestrians. Keep going until you cross the M18 and then take the second track on the right, which is again signposted as a Bridleway.

From here this should be a straightforward route but there is one exception, where the right-of-way passes by Birk Lodge farm. A sign pointing to the right, just before one descends to the farm buildings, is really needed here. Not knowing any better, I went down to the farmyard and was told by the person in attendance that the path in fact lay back up the hill, where the sign was not. The map’s evidence of a right-of-way further down, by the buildings, was considered irrelevant by my informant. The path is obvious enough once reached, but a clear signpost would save everyone’s time — walkers, farmers and landowners alike.

Conisbrough Lodge farm
Part of the remnants of Conisbrough Lodge farm.

The correct track drops down to a stream then up again in the second, and last, real ascent of the day. After this point all is dry underfoot and straightforward to follow. The lane heads past the impressively derelict Conisbrough Lodge farm, just past which you get your first view of the castle, and then reaches the outskirts of Conisbrough itself.

At the end, turn right down the road, head past the cemetery gates and then, because walking along a main road is sometimes too much hassle, turn left down Poplar Grove and then right at the end. This road (Park Road) takes you more peacefully into town. The Alma Inn, where I stopped off for a couple, is down on the right as you enter the town centre proper.

After braving that pub’s 80s music, carry on down the way you were going, then turn left down High Street and you will pass, first, St Peter’s Church — apparently one of the oldest Christian places of worship in the country — and then reach the castle, which features in Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and is also of great antiquity. The stop for the bus back to Doncaster is just to the right of the castle entrance.

Conisbrough castle
Conisbrough Castle, closer up.

Commentary: Down the years I have become used to regular trips abroad whether for work or pleasure. I realise these are a privilege that not all enjoy, but it’s still been a wrench to have to give them up recently. After I went up Craig y Llyn in December 2019 I had one more trip out of the UK, to Romania in late January 2020, but then nothing more until two weeks ago. Therefore, all of the CTs from number 7 (Pavis Wood) to number 41 (Mount Battock, last month) were done in the span of a 615-day period of time — more or less, one year and eight months — spent entirely in the UK, the longest such period in my life in a quarter century, at least. You know why.

However, October did finally see me get away, to Toronto, Canada. This was a good trip, worth making. Partly because it allowed me to discover, unexpectedly, that Canada had legalised cannabis (no ifs, no buts — it’s now legal there, and it works, too) and also to remind myself just how valuable it is to be able to interact with colleagues face-to-face, not in the ersatz way that Zoombification imposes. Jesus, though, it was hard to get permission from Uni to do my job. 19-page risk assessments, having to pass the ‘PCR’ test (does it stand for Potentially Completely Random) — letting me know whether I have a disease so deadly I need a test to be sure.

Birk Lodge farm
The (slightly annoying — see above) Birk Lodge farm.

But though I did look into it there was no walking to be had there, and I wanted another hike before October was out. Today was booked in as a walk some time ago, and the weather played ball, but my original plan was to do the one walk that doubles up on both my remaining Wainwrights (of which I only have 46 of 330 to go) and the CTs, namely Helvellyn, third highest mountain in England and the Top of Westmorland.

Once I realised that I wasn’t going to get out without working today, though, lugging my laptop up to Penrith, then Patterdale, then up Swirral Edge, looked a lot less appealing. I decided that a later start and a more agreeable — meaning flat and less strenuous — walk was the order of the day. Hence this trip. Exciting it was not, but the pleasant weather and some reasonable views combined to make it enjoyable enough. Nothing at all aggrieved me about the walk. Doncaster is never going to rate that highly on most people’s choices of tourist destinations but today perpetuated its record of never actually pissing me off.

Cloudscape near Conisbrough.

There won’t be any more CTs (or Wainwrights, come to that) until at least December, however. Toronto was a prelude but in two weeks’ time I am going to one of the most remote places on Earth, namely the island of St Helena, 1,200 miles from anywhere else at all, in the South Atlantic Ocean, for four weeks. As this is a British Overseas Territory I have decided to consider it a ‘bonus’ CT, and do intend to get up to its summit, called Diana’s Peak, the highest remnant of the volcano that long ago, formed the island, at 2,684 ft/818 m a.s.l.

I’ve got to get through my ten days of quarantine first, but assuming I don’t come out of that foaming at the mouth or wanting to marry the King of the Potato People, I should get this walk in before November is out. Stay tuned…


4 thoughts on “42: Fordoles Head Lane, Doncaster

  1. Didn’t even realise Doncaster had a county top. My only visit there was an overnight stop in the Holiday Inn on the way to Northumberland.

    I agree re the music and the utter unnecessariness of it on a Monday afternoon even if it is 80s classics – I suspect we may be of a similar vintage.

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