One of the best recreational “playgrounds” in the southern region of our great county is centred upon Anglers’ Country Park just beyond the south-eastern outskirts of Wakefield.
Here you will find lakes, reservoirs, woodland, rolling pastures and miles of good country walking on well-laid-out and easy-to-follow paths and tracks.
At the heart of this popular attraction is Anglers’ Country Park lake itself with paths all around its perimeter and with an adjoining visitor centre and cafe. Its car parks are full to overflowing every summer weekend, testament to its favoured place in the hearts of local walkers, cyclists and family strollers.
The park lake is much younger than the two neighbouring stretches of water, Wintersett and Cold Hiendley reservoirs. Wintersett Reservoir took shape in the 1790s and Cold Hiendley in the 1850s to supply water for the nearby Barnsley Canal. But the Anglers’ Country Park lake was different – it was created specifically as a local attraction out of the devastation left behind by an open-cast mining operation.
In 1975, the patchwork of fields and hedgerows on the site were destroyed in the search for coal. After a mere seven years, in 1982, the coal ran out - and an immediate reclamation programme swung into action.
It took two years to create the lake. Huge sheets of polythene four inches thick were welded together and sandwiched between layers of clay before 275 million gallons of water were pumped in from the disused Walton Colliery. Plants and wildlife soon colonised the area to present the picturesque landscape on view today.
This circuit is a joy and shows how this part of Yorkshire has returned to the rural idyll of centuries past with the demise of the once-great coal mining industry.
ANGLERS’ COUNTRY PARK
7 miles: Allow 3 – 4 hours. Map: O/S Explorer 278 Sheffield and Barnsley
Anglers’ Country Park – also known as The Heronry - lies one mile south of Crofton, near Wakefield, and four miles due east of Junction 39 of the M1. Use the free car park at the Country Park (toilets and cafe).
From the car park, go through gate at a green sign for Visitor Centre and then go straight ahead, past green signs for Lakeside Walk and Bird Hide, along a man-made track with the park lake opening up ahead.
Just before the lake, there is a prominent fork in the dirt track – take the left branch (green sign for Bird Hides). Follow this broad track all the way, ignoring signs for bird hides and any other paths. At head of lake, on joining another path coming in from your right, go forward a few paces only and turn left at a hidden footpath sign for Crofton (just before a Lakeside Walk fingerpost pointing back the way you have come).
Go through trees, through kissing gate and straight ahead along left side of hedge. At field end, go through kissing gate in bushes in field corner and continue up right side of hedge. At end of this field, go through kissing gate ahead and press on up right side of hedge.
At field end, enter road and turn right over road bridge and continue along the quiet road, eventually sweeping right to emerge in the centre of Crofton at mini-roundabout.
Turn right along pavement, crossing to lefthand side of road when convenient. Press on past The Goose and Cowslip pub. The building dates from 1665 and was the childhood home, in the early years of the 19th century, of Sir Titus Salt, the renowned Yorkshire industrialist and founder of Saltaire village.
Keep going until the road sweeps right at a large white building – a former pub – and turn left (sign for Crofton Community Centre) along Spring Lane (wheel embedded in grass at bus shelter).
1: At end of street, go straight ahead past three white posts on a dirt path and follow this with no diversions to emerge with open fields on either side – press on for a good half mile to a marker post on your left with two blue waymarks for the Wakefield Wheel, a local cycle route. Don’t miss these waymarks.
Here, turn right through an avenue of trees and then continue to a blue Wakefield Wheel sign and turn right and follow the stout track through the wood with no diversions. On emerging from wood, go past a blue Wakefield Wheel marker to the next Wakefield Wheel sign and, here, turn left off the main track.
Follow the good path through scattered trees with a lake opening up on your right. On arriving at a cross track (blue Wakefield Wheel signs), turn right for 10 yards to a three-sided fingerpost and turn left for Havercroft and Ryhill.
Stride out on this strong path, eventually passing under the Wakefield-Doncaster railway and immediately turn left (no waymark!) into bushes at a point where the concrete track finishes. This path follows the field edge. After a short distance, ignore path going into trees on your left – keep on along the field edge to its end to emerge in a road at a barrier and a fingerpost for Foulby.
Cross the road to a fingerpost for Havercroft and Ryhill on your right (and a blue Yorkshire Water sign). Turn right along a concrete access track with a large house/farm on your left to gain a water tower.
At water tower, cross the stile ahead and go straight down middle of crop field (on our visit) on a good path left by the farmer. Press on, eventually passing a marker post with arrow, to continue along left edge of crop field. Ignore a fingerpost pointing half right – keep on along edge of fields.
After a while, the path becomes vehicle tracks and then continues up left side of hedge towards silos at a farm (Horncastle).
2: Stay alert! Just before the entry to Horncastle Farm, spot the narrow path going off to your right with marker post and yellow arrow – don’t overshoot it and end up in farm premises.
Go past the marker post to gain a two-sided fingerpost with houses ahead and turn right for Common Ing Lane and Ryhill. This good path – always visible through the vegetation – eventually bears right passing, on your left, a gate with a blue metal gatepost. Stride out along the ever-broadening track, eventually crossing a dismantled railway. Keep straight on.
On entering a street (Common Ing Lane), go straight ahead. On arriving in main road in centre of Ryhill (bus stop), turn left along pavement, crossing to righthand side of road when you can. Go past St James’s Church and Victoria House and turn right for Cold Hiendley.
After about 150 yards, turn right at fingerpost for Ferry Top Lane and Wintersett Reservoir. Go through kissing gate and drop down field by fence. Go through next kissing gate and go a quarter right across the field – barns and green hay bags on your right – to gain a wood corner.
Go down side of wood for a few yards, through a squeeze stile to left of a barrier, to arrive at an immediate fork – go straight ahead through trees into field, passing through the line of a dismantled railway.
On entering the field, go straight ahead to link up with the hedge line on your right within 30 yards. Continue with hedge/bushes on your right for 20 yards and then turn right through the hedge, over footbridge and stile, and press on through the crop (on our visit) on a good path.
On crossing this field, go over a stile, turn left to enter a minor road and turn right with Wintersett Reservoir through the trees on your left. After a couple of hundred yards, just before the road goes uphill through trees, turn left, past a hidden “Private fishing” notice, to gain Wintersett Reservoir.
Now follow the lakeside path to a vague fork – either branch will do as they soon link up. On arriving at fence surrounding dinghy park, sweep right and then left through an avenue of trees.
On emerging in tarmac, turn right for a few yards into a minor lane, turn right for a couple of yards and then turn left into the Anglers’ Country Park car park and the finish.