Thursday, 14 April 2016

Sheffield Burbage Valley Fell Run

Click here for route map
Length 7.2 km (4.5 miles), terrain: hilly, gain 132 meters

If you're in Sheffield, earn the title "Fell-Runner" with this run that you'll never forget. This stunning route circles a quiet valley in the Peaks District, a part of the Pennines, just east of Sheffield, accessible via city buses.

NOTE: "Fell" is barren, swampy hill country, taken from the Viking word for mountain.
This is fell-running!
The Peaks District is a big area of barren, heather-covered hills in the middle of Britain's industrial heartland, the Midlands. Much of the area, including this route, is within the Peaks District National Park. It's criss-crossed with official- and unofficial trails. The area has long been used for "walking" ("hiking" in American terms), a working-class activity that allowed workers to get out of the smoggy towns and into the fresh air on weekends.

This route circles Burbage Valley, a quiet dale surrounded by gritstone-walled ledges and peaks.
 
It's easy to get to from Sheffield city. Just take the 271 or 272 public bus from the Sheffield Interchange bus station to Fox House near Hathersage. It costs about 4 pounds for a day-ticket, and the buses leave about once an hour, with a 40-minute ride. Look up the schedule here. The double-decker buses also drive through the nice western suburbs, so you get to see a different side of Sheffield.
Fox House Inn: the run starts just to the left of the pub
And the best thing is that Fox House is a comfortable pub, so if you bring a backpack with some decent clothes, you can change at the end of the run and hang out at Fox House Inn for a well-earned pint.

Start the run: right where the road turns right, just past the pub, cross the road and take the public footpath through the stone wall, heading downhill to the little parking lot for Longshaw. Longshaw is an old hunting lodge, built by the Duke of Rutland, now owned by the National Trust.
The gate to the woods
At the parking lot, cross the little entrance road there to follow the footpath through the next gate, heading north into a little, sparse woods. In the woods, the path splits: follow the right-hand fork as it takes you back to the main road in a few steps.

Now cross the road and enter the gate and you are on the main trail, the Duke's Drive. Start running north on this wide, fairly smooth trail. You'll run past some upright gate-stones and the valley will open up before you.
The start of Duke's Drive
You're heading gradually uphill, with the cliff-face of Burbage Edge above you along the right. The area is full of gritstone (course sandstone) boulders that have rolled down from above. There is no road through the valley, so it's soon nice and quiet out there.

NOTE: You can also take the trail that heads up to the right at the stone gates, running along the top of the "Edge", but it is very rocky and is more of a hike than a run. 
View up to the Edge from the trail
As a flatlander, it felt hard running uphill at first, but I soon got into the rhythm, and before the 2-kilometer mark, the trail flattens out.

You will soon see an unmarked spot where the trail forks, with the left-hand trail heading downhill towards the logging area on the valley floor. DON'T head down there. Just stay on the main trail as it heads gently uphill.
Heading towards the bridge in the distance
The map said the trail crosses to the other side of the valley at a place called Burbage Bridge, so I expected it to go down to the valley floor. But the bridge is at the pass at the north end of the valley, almost as high as the surrounding peaks.

When you reach the pass, at about the 3-kilometer mark, you'll see it has two little stone bridges spanning two streams that pour into the valley from here. You can run over the bridges, of course, but true fell-walkers and runners disdain such bridges: they ford the two streams beneath the bridges, hopping across the big gritstone boulders. The two streams merge into Burbage Brook just below.
At the bridge
There's a car park for walkers on the west side of the bridges, and the public footpath heads south from there, to the left, heading along the other side of the valley. There are actually two paths: the smoother one heads down below the peaks, and the rough one heads up over a field of stones and heather and mud, over Fiddler's Elbow. Take that one over the top, heading to Higger Tor peak in the distance.
A fell runner at Fiddler's Elbow
The going is difficult but do-able, and there are great views. Higger Tor is a flat-topped peak, basically a boulder-strewn lawn. (NOTE: a "tor" is a rock outcropping.) Just after the 4-kilometer mark, the trail climbs the short distance to the Higger Tor peak.
View of Higger Tor, with a few sheep
Now follow the trail from the peak as it heads west above the southern-facing cliff. When you get to the end of the peak, you'll have to follow the most-used path down among the cliff rocks (not hard to do). This spot is popular with rock-climbing groups, as you may well see. 
Rock climbers on Higger Tor cliff
Notice the unfinished, carved millstones lying among the boulders, evidence of earlier days when the gritstone rocks were quarried to shape millstones for grinding grain. Before you descend, take in the view of the Hope Valley to the west.
Descending the cliff
As soon as you get down to the open fields below the cliffs, turn left to follow the little trail that heads east, parallel to the cliffs right above. Off to the side a bit you'll see the next little peak, Carl's Warf.

After a while, the trail you're on will run into a bigger trail that heads to the right, directly downhill towards Carl's Warf. Before the 6-kilometer mark, the trail then rises to that peak, passing along the man-made stone walls facing westwards. The dry wall is made of immense gritstone blocks.
Approaching Carl's Warf
(NOTE: Unfortunately, my iPhone battery died just before I reached the warf, so no pictures of it!) Carl's Warf is a pre-Roman iron-age hill-fort. Nobody knows exactly who built it or why. You can go up and have a look around. The original entrance is that narrow gap on the south side.

When you leave the fort, heading south, you are heading directly back to Longshaw and the Fox House pub. Both are visible ahead, in the distance.

The trail heads downhill through ever-swampier ground. Did I mention yet that you will get your feet wet? Ooops. Well, this is the spot. These high moors are typical in the Pennines. You can even find them on a steep slope, with the water defying gravity by clinging to the mountainside.
Mud: it gets worse from here
You can try to zig and zag your way through, but your feet will get wetter as you head downhill. And the high ground is not necessarily drier than the low spots, thwarting any effort to escape with dry feet. Finally, after having my feet totally submerged in muck, I just gave up trying to stay dry, and I headed straight through the swamp from there, freed of my dry-foot illusions.

At the bottom, you'll need to ford a stream, Burbage Brook again, where you can conveniently wash the mud off your feet. On the other side of the stream, you'll rejoin the Duke's Drive trail at the stone gate-posts.

Now just follow the same way back as you originally came. And don't forget: if you have time before the next bus to Sheffield comes, the Fox House Inn is waiting with good Doombar beer on tap, which you can drink inside or sit on tables outside with a splendid view of the surrounding peaks!
The Fox House Inn beer garden: time to relax!

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