Garforth, now one of the busiest small commuter towns serving the city of Leeds, built a proud – but, sadly, long-gone – heritage on coal mining, an industry first started by the area’s major landowners, the Gascoignes, who arrived at Parlington Park in 1546 and developed their mines on the edge of Garforth in the 17th century.
Mining boomed in the 19th century and with the arrival of the Leeds-Selby railway in 1834, Garforth prospered to become the bustling, vibrant community of today, now sustained by a growing number of small industrial concerns..
But Garforth’s history pre-dates the industrial age by many centuries. This is a Saxon settlement taking its name from the Old English gara, a triangular piece of land, and the Old English ford – the ford by the triangular plot of land. Fragments of a Saxon cross are to be found at the parish church.
Domesday Book records the manor as the property of Ilbert de Lacy, staunch supporter of William of Normandy in his quest for the English throne, who was rewarded with numerous estates, perhaps the most important being the Honour of Pontefract. De Lacy was constable of both Pontefract and Clitheroe castles.
This circuit, right on the doorstep for the people of Leeds, is a mix of the good and the not-so-good and one way of improving the not-so-good bits is to make sure you do this walk on sunny day when everything takes on a rosier hue.
The good bits crop up at regular intervals whenever the route hits open country; the other side of the coin is when the route encounters some of the old pit communities along the way, sadly spoiled by unnecessary litter. Pity.
One of the better features of this outing is the fine path along the bed of the old Garforth-Castleford branch line, closed some 50 years ago, but now rejuvenated as a popular cycling and walking trail known as The Lines Way. It leads us pleasantly to the unknown Townclose Hills Nature Reserve which offers a vital green “lung” on the edge of the old mining village of Kippax.
PARKING: Use the free car park in Barley Hill Road, off Main Street, Garforth. Barley Hill Road is opposite Garforth Medical Centre in Main Street.
GARFORTH and the PRESTONS
7 ½ miles: Allow 3 – 4 hours. Map: O/S Explorer 289 Leeds
From the car park in Barley Hill Road, turn left into Main Street, turn right for a few yards and then turn left over the pedestrian crossing to the Medical Centre, turn right for a few paces and then turn left along Church Lane (no nameplate) with Medical Centre on your left and library on your right.
After about 150 yards – just past a bus shelter on your left – turn right along a path between tall hedges. Enter street, cross it and turn left for a few yards to a fingerpost and turn right and follow this enclosed path for about 600 yards to its end, eventually passing Garforth College playing fields and then bearing half left on a tarred path and then half right to pass under the A63.
Enter the bed of the old Garforth-Castleford branch line, now a cycle and walking route, and follow it for a long half mile to a bench on your right at a crossroads of tracks. Turn LEFT along the unmade Brecks Lane. Go up the slope, past a property (Sparrow Hall) and onwards along vehicle track to edge of Kippax.
At start of tarmac, turn first right along Green Lane which soon becomes a genuine green lane on passing vehicle barriers. Playing fields to your left. At end of Green Lane, enter street and go straight ahead. Turn left with the street for a few yards to a fingerpost and turn right – down left side of hedge! - past an information board for Townclose Hills Nature Reserve.
At top of slope, go straight ahead into field, past information board, and continue along right side of hedge, over brow of field, and straight on to strike a strong cross path. Turn right with an old quarry appearing down to your left. Stay on the main path. At next cross path, turn right and, immediately, take left branch at fork.
At next fork, take left branch and go straight past a wooden post, ignoring a steep path down to your left. The path soon curls left down steps. At bottom of steps, at fork, take left branch.
At next fork (at metal post), go straight ahead on the main path. This path leads into a field – go straight on towards a pylon. Follow the path over the field to gain an information board and turn right, through barrier, and immediately turn left along hedge, past a bench and a Townclose Hills sign.
1: At bottom of slope, turn right along a strong path along the backs of houses. Enter next field and go straight ahead with Kippax Leisure Centre to your right. Enter road and turn right along pavement, past leisure centre, and press on to enter Great Preston and then keep going up the slope. Go past Great Preston sports club and The New Inn to T-junction at Whitehouse Lane.
Turn right for 50 yards and then turn left along Whitehouse Crescent. After about 150 yards, turn left at fingerpost to pass between properties, then go through vehicle barrier and then take the right fork, soon passing a three-sided fingerpost and going straight ahead for Little Preston.
After a good half mile, just before end of this track – at a concrete culvert with steps to your left and a stone on your right saying Parish of Great and Little Preston – turn right and follow the fine track for half a mile into Little Preston with Little Preston Hall appearing on your right. Turn left through the village.
Little Preston was recorded in the Domesday Book survey of 1086 as Prestun, the farmstead or settlement where the priest lived. The manor of Little Preston, together with the surrounding estates of Great Preston, Swillington, Garforth and Temple Newsam, was granted after 1066 to the Conqueror’s companion Ilbert de Lacy, Lord of Pontefract. It descended upon the Crusader knight Roger de Lacy who fought with Richard the Lionheart in the Holy Land in 1192. Roger was one of the barons present when Richard’s brother, King John, signed Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215.
In 1663, Little Preston and several neighbouring manors came into the possession of the Lowthers, a great Cumbrian family, who resided at Little Preston Hall until they built the much grander Swillington Hall in the 1690s. It was at 17th-century Little Preston Hall that Sir William Lowther, MP for Pontefract and a former Sheriff of Yorkshire, born in 1639, died in 1705. The Lowthers sold their land to a colliery company and this led to Swillington Hall being severely undermined, leading to its demolition in 1950.
Go up the hill (Hall Road) to a T-junction, cross the road half right to a fingerpost and continue along an enclosed path to enter field and go straight ahead on a decent path towards the A642 Wakefield-Garforth road.
2: Bear left with bushes to enter the road at a wheel nameplate for Swillington and turn right along pavement for 350 yards to a fingerpost pointing right at a yellow-topped post.
Take this path (Leeds Country Way) which passes through a wide break in the trees ahead, past old picnic benches, to emerge in a road (Whitehouse Lane). Turn right for 50 yards and then turn left at Leeds Country Way fingerpost.
This fine path between tall hedgerows eventually turns right and then, soon, it turns left to enter an access vehicle track – go straight on to enter Brecks Lane and turn right. Go through farm premises to a fingerpost and turn left along vehicle track.
Sweep left with the track and keep on for a few hundred yards to pass under telegraph wires at twin poles – make sure you spot these wires! - and then pass through a hedge line and IMMEDIATELY turn right along a narrow path with hedge on your right.
Descend to cross a footbridge over the Kippax Beck and go up the other side, soon entering a path enclosed between wires fences (can be very muddy). Continue along another enclosed path to emerge in the A63 at the Gaping Goose on the edge of Garforth.
Cross with care and go up Nelson Close opposite and then, at top of cul-de-sac, bear right along a tarred path to emerge in a street. Cross it to enter playing field and turn right along hedge for 50 yards to a telegraph pole and then turn left across the football pitch to root out a narrow path between properties at a hedge corner.
Enter street and turn right for a couple of hundred yards and then turn left along Knightsway – look for the street nameplate! - and follow the street to its end. At T-junction with Barley Hill Road (bowling club), turn right for 300 yards to the car park and the finish.