This visit to South Yorkshire’s own miniature Lake District turned out to be simplicity itself.
The almost-adjoining reservoirs of Langsett, Underbank and Midhope lie at the extreme north-east limit of the Peak District National Park, some two miles south of Penistone and eight miles south-west of Barnsley and easily attainable by taking the M1 south.
Country walking couldn’t be easier. The outward leg follows the bed of a long-defunct narrow-gauge railway built in the 1890s to bring in materials during construction of the reservoirs. Then, a permissive path laid out by Yorkshire Water allows a return along the picturesque shore line of Underbank Reservoir. You can’t put a foot wrong!
Langsett Reservoir, the starting point, covers 125 acres and holds 1,400 million gallons of drinking water for the people of Sheffield and other towns and villages of South Yorkshire. Work began on the reservoir in 1898. More than 500 navvies were employed and soon a shanty town sprang up, as it did at many other mammoth Victorian building projects, including Scar House Reservoir in Nidderdale and at Ribblehead Viaduct.
The makeshift “town” had all the facilities of a local community, including a school and hospital. Stone for the construction of the embankments at Langsett and its neighbouring reservoirs of Underbank and Midhope were brought in by a single-track, narrow-gauge railway, the route of which provides the gentle outward half of this circuit.
Underbank Reservoir, the centrepiece of today’s outing, was started a year earlier than Langsett, in 1897, and took ten years to complete.
The start of this circuit uses the car park adjoining the Langsett information centre (toilets) which opened in 1993 and is based in an impressive barn which has survived from the 1600s. The barn was built originally to store hay and corn and has a central aisle into which horse and carts arrived to disgorge their loads.
APPROACH and PARKING: From the Leeds area, follow the M1 south and leave it at Junction 36 (Sheffield North). Turn right over the motorway and follow the A61 to a large roundabout and turn right on the A616 for Manchester. After 8/9 miles, pass through Midhopestones (Waggon and Horses) and, almost immediately – slow down! – spot the blue Yorkshire Water sign on your left and turn sharply into the Langsett Barn Car Park.
LANGSETT and UNDERBANK RESERVOIR
7 miles: Allow 3 – 4 hours. Map: O/S OL 1 The Dark Peak.
Exit car park by the way you entered to gain the A616, cross with great care and turn right along the footway. After 50 yards, cross over the Millhouse-Penistone road and then, within 10 yards, turn left along vehicle track up to a property.
Pass to left of garage with white door to a kissing gate, go through and turn right along wall, passing the property which is on your right. Follow the broken wall on your right. Go through a small metal walkers’ gate and onward, past a redundant kissing gate, and then through a kissing gate where the wall turns right.
Go straight ahead over the field, through kissing gate and onward with wall on your left. At field end, cross a stile and footbridge and turn left, over next footbridge and press on with a vehicle track down to your right.
On entering this vehicle track – the bed of the single-track railway built in the 1890s to bring in materials for the reservoir building work - plough on, soon through two tall metal riders’ gates. Keep going with no diversions whatsoever, eventually passing a huge farm complex and then continue through Hollin Wood. Crack on in fine style for a short mile to cross a bridge over a road with Midhopestones to your right.
1: Keep on along the old rail bed through Sheephouse Wood with, soon, Underbank Reservoir to your right. Saunter on through the trees, eventually passing a huge works complex, a former wire-manufacturing concern.
Just after passing the end of these works, the path finishes by descending leftwards into the works access road with concrete blocks. Turn right to the A616, cross with care and turn left along pavement for 60 yards and then slip off to the right at fingerpost to follow a stout green wall, soon using an old road.
On passing a vehicle barrier, immediately turn right across the Underbank Reservoir dam. The reservoir was started in 1897 and completed in 1907. Three major farms were lost under the water.
At end of embankment, turn left and sweep left down to a bridge spanning the reservoir outflow. On crossing the bridge, turn right and then go straight ahead with the outflow on your right. At end of this path (information board), do not bear left out into the street, but go straight ahead for a few paces and then turn right round the fence corner.
A lovely path now leads along the edge of a wood with the reservoir on your right. Follow it to the Underbank Outdoor Activity Centre and, just before the centre, turn left, past a climbing wall, to enter the activity centre’s dirt access road.
Cross over the dirt road – wooden HQ to your right – and go straight ahead on a narrow Yorkshire Water permissive path. This fine track continues along the reservoir shore line. Follow the path to its end – it continues beyond the end of the reservoir – to emerge in a road at Midhopestones.
Turn left along the pavement, past Ye Olde Mustard Pot, and immediately turn right along Chapel Lane and follow it, eventually sweeping left past the ancient St James’s Church, which dates originally from 1350 when it was the private chapel to nearby Midhope Manor. The present church has a datestone of 1705.
2: Press on up Chapel Lane which sweeps right to become Midhope Hall Lane. Now stride out for just over half a mile, soon descending and then sweeping left and right over Hagg Bridge with the outflow of Midhope Reservoir on your left.
Climb up the road to where it soon sweeps left (Lop Farm) and, here, go straight on past a vehicle barrier. Follow the fine vehicle track to its end to arrive at a metal gate with ancient metal walkers’ gate to its left.
Pass through and continue with broken wall to your left. Go straight past a yellow arrow to spot a metal gate in a wall to right of tractor tracks (yellow tape). Continue with the Little Don River down to your right and then cross a stone stile ahead (ignore bridge on your right).
Press on through Cliff Wood, gradually climbing to strike a broad path at arrow. Turn right for 10 paces only and then turn left (arrow) up to top wall of wood, cross the tall stone stile and turn right. Pass through opening in wall and go a quarter left up field by wall on your left to a prominent fingerpost on skyline at a wood corner.
On emerging in road at fingerpost, turn right and charge down the hill and then cross the Langsett Reservoir embankment to a fingerpost on your left. Take this path, soon passing through an opening into a wood to strike a cross path within 40 yards – turn right up to the car park and the finish.