The official start of this Dales Way link is on Woodhouse Moor, Leeds, almost opposite the original main building of Leeds University. How could a purist like myself resist such a starting point, only a couple of miles from my home and an area I know reasonably well. The thought of starting a long distance country walk so close to home, through a very old part of the city, containing more history and famous people, than I could ever have imagined. JRR Tolkein, Captain Oates, John Atkinson Grimshaw and Henry Rowland Marsden, to name but four.
Woodhouse Moor is an open space approximately one mile (1.6 km) from Leeds city centre, West Yorkshire, England. Today it consists of 3 parts: a formal park, Woodhouse Moor (sometimes referred to as Hyde Park ), of around 26 hectares in area on the west of Woodhouse Lane (the A660), and two other open areas on the east of it. These are known as the Monument (or Upper) and Cinder (or Gravel, or Lower) Moors which are used for events such as circuses and sporting matches, and sometimes car parking. Woodhouse Moor is north-west of Leeds city centre and is bounded by Woodhouse, the University of Leeds, Burley, Hyde Park, and Headingley.
As of 2005 the park had just under 3 million visits a year and is the second most popular urban park in Leeds. The park has five main paths which meet in the centre, each is tree-lined and they divide the park into different areas of usage.
I didn’t feel out of place walking up Woodhouse Lane towards the Moor from Leeds city centre, even though I was carrying a rucksack and wearing my lightweight summer hiking boots, what you need to realise is, this really is student land, and, being without either of the previously mentioned objects, you’re likely to appear more out of place than you are with them, students, students, students, hundreds of them, like lemmings, they were everywhere.
Believing in my local knowledge wasn’t the best choice I was to make that day, although I am very familiar with the roads of the area, walking through Woodhouse/Hyde Park, down the footpaths and ginnels, wasn’t something I was familiar with and that’s where a great deal of confusion began, even taking me down a dead end street from which I had to back track, although, it did house a blue plaque on one of the old houses to a certain John Atkinson Grimshaw, Artist, 1836 – 1893.
This misguided sense of local street knowledge led me back to Woodhouse Cliff, on the northern boundary of the moor, close to the student stronghold of the Hyde Park pub. It was there, I noticed the old cobbled road, Cliff Lane, as Woodhouse Cliff was my destination, my mastery of basic common sense dictated that this could be a route to my intended destination, Woodhouse Cliff being the starting point within the woodland and the adjacent stream of Meanwood Beck.
The name Meanwood goes back to the 12th century, and is of Anglo-Saxon derivation: the Meene wude was the boundary wood of the Manor of Alreton, the woods to the east of Meanwood Beck. Dwellings and farms near the wood were known by a variety of names including Meanwoodside until 27 August 1847 when the parish of Meanwood was established] and the woods became known Meanwood Woods.
A skirmish, between Royalist and Parliamentarian forces, took place in Meanwood, during the Civil War. It is said that the “beck ran red”, with the blood of the fallen, hence, the place name “Stainbeck”
The Meanwood Valley was a place of industry as long ago as 1577 and continued up to the 19th century. The Meanwood Beck provided water and power for corn, flax and paper mills, dye works and tanneries. There were numerous quarries. In 1830 a turnpike road was established down the Meanwood Valley to Leeds. Public transport followed from 1850 and electric trams in 1890, meaning that it was practical for people to travel to work from greater distances, encouraging both industrial buildings and housing.
Finding Woodhouse Ridge, the well established track above, but adjacent to Meanwood Beck, was a relief, not that I was lost, more that it was a pleasure to leave the streets behind and join nature. I could hear some old friends voices already, ridiculing me for not knowing the area, I’ve known many lads over the years from Headingley and Meanwood, (my ears had every reason to be burning).
My whole idea for the day was to reach Adel on a route I’d never seen, the distance was probably about 4 or 5 miles and it was a start. Once on the footpath, there was no need for a route map, not only was the route well sign posted, but, it was clearly a matter of following the beck, even I couldn’t get lost along this one. Apart from crossing a main road, Grove Lane, which I must drive along 4 or 5 times a week, and another just further along, I could have being in another worldly location, this route was totally new to me, and, it was popular, being a sunny Autumn day, there were plenty of people around, but, it’s an absolutely stunning walk, with an abundance of history everywhere.
The path didn’t take me past the monument to one of Meanwood’s most famous sons, Captain Lawrence Oates, Antarctic Explorer, 1880 – 1912. Captain Oates (of the ill-fated Scott Expedition to Antarctica) often resided in Meanwood. His parents were from Meanwoodside and Captain Oates, although born in Putney, spent much of his childhood there. There is a monument to his bravery located close to Holy Trinity Church. The Lawrence Oates School (closed 1992) was named after him. In 2012, on the 100th anniversary of his death, a blue plaque was unveiled in his honour at Meanwood Park.
Once I’d settled into this wonderful walk, I kept asking myself whether I was on the Dales Way or the Meanwood Valley Trail, the truth was, I was on both, not that it mattered, but, in my own little world, I had to make a decision, so, as they vary from Adel onwards, and it was my intention to do the Dales Way, I had to make an executive decision, so, there it was, The Dales Way took the call.
It was interesting to see the white crayfish problem being prominent in the beck, in recent years, they’ve had a very rough deal. The American red clawed Signal’s were introduced to serve in British restaurants and farmed to meet the demand. Some escaped into the local rivers and they carry a plague, which, the native whites have no immunity. The native whites are now down to only 5% of their pre Signal numbers.
The stone structure is known as ‘Hippin Door’ and features on estate maps which predate the building of Hustler’s Row, 1849/50. Hippin is an old dialect word which mean ‘stepping’ and refers to the stepping stones which once crossed the beck where the footbridge now stands, just to the left of the structure. The crossing was used to drove sheep onto Hippin Lane.
After the recent heavy rain, the track was quite muddy and slippy underfoot, but, it failed to deter any of the others enjoying spending time there, but, the sun was now shining and it was warm and clear. That was the reason I’d decided to wear the lightweight summer boots, I’d worn them previously, but not for anything substantial, or, harder underfoot terrain. But, perhaps I should have worn my worn in winter boots, my left heel was rubbing and blistering as it rubbed inside the boot, the discomfort was quite noticeable.
The first Meanwood stretch of the walk terminates just before the busy Leeds ring road with the junction of Parkside Road. Having been spoiled for the previous couple of hours with wonderful surprises, this too only added to them. I’d seen this location many times, but, never connected the two to be part of the walk.
The steep woodland to my right, doesn’t really boast too many claims to fame, but, I can confirm it once served as a refuge for recreation and thought for another quite famous local. The author JRR Tolkein, lived very close by when he taught at Leeds University during his first academic appointment. On 3 November 1920, Tolkien was demobilised and left the army, retaining his rank of lieutenant. His first civilian job after World War I was at the Oxford English Dictionary, where he worked mainly on the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin beginning with the letter W. In 1920, he took up a post as Reader in English Language at the University of Leeds, and became the youngest professor there. While at Leeds, he produced A Middle English Vocabulary and a definitive edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with E. V. Gordon, both becoming academic standard works for several decades. He also translated Sir Gawain, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo. In 1925, he returned to Oxford as Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, with a fellowship at Pembroke College. I seem to remember, after reading his biography, how he used to often visit the woods and spend time there with his thoughts. So, to me, they are Tolkein Woods, I doubt if anybody will agree with me, but, that’s not a problem.
One thing that didn’t exist when Tolkein was familiar with the area was the tunnel beneath the ring road, the reason being, there was no ring road and the area was simply farm and woodland. Again, I was in for yet another surprise. This stretch of the busy ring road I use every week, driving both ways, but never have I being located, on foot, at the footpath, hidden again, in a dip, between the road and adjoining fields, so, knowing whereabouts the route I should follow lay, I followed the footpath easterly for a few minutes, I honestly had no idea where I would find a road crossing. I almost dropped to the floor when this hidden tunnel came into view. The day simply improved with each footstep! Here lay the footpaths crossing to the Adel section of the walk, The Dales Way.
I followed the tunnel beneath the ring road, it was muddy and slippy, and, as I passed beneath it, I estimated, maybe 100 cars may had driven above, with their occupants just as oblivious to the tunnel beneath as, until then, I’d being.
Emerging from the tunnel, the footpath was clearly visible, to my left stood Bywater Farm and to my right stood wonderful, deep woodland. My curiosity and fascination continued as I happily continued my journey. It was then, only a hundred yards or so further up the footpath, I was actually thinking how it would be unlikely to see anybody else on the path, I stopped to decide if I should pick the tempting elderberries from a tree, when, much to my surprise, I was being followed. Well, being followed or being paranoid, I wasn’t sure, but, there was a vagrant looking guy behind me, he wore a rasta style woolly hat, carried a brown holdall and had a very rugged, beaten face. He didn’t appear to be kitted up for a wilderness walk, in his shoes he was slipping all over the place. I was surprised to see him because I had no idea where he had appeared from, I came through the tunnel alone, I walked up the footpath alone, then, out of the blue, there he was. Maybe he was a vagrant and I’d disturbed him, I didn’t know, either way, on my guard, I let him pass.
Slightly surprised and shocked by the mystery man, I continued along the muddy footpath, he’d gone from sight and although I was vigilant, I wasn’t particularly worried. Then, moments later, a couple or walkers were approaching me, with, the vagrant looking guy between them, at first I imagined them to know him, but, I soon realised he’d simply turned around and headed back the way he’d come. They didn’t seem too concerned by him, the lady even smiled and said hello. It’s not everyday you see vagrants on outdoor excursions, but, there’s always a first for everything.
Adel Woods, another little gem I’d newly discovered, again, I’ve driven past them on hundreds of occasions, being aware of them since I was a teenager, but, never ventured into them, They are a wonderful woodland, Still maintaining a wilderness feel, rocky outcrops and a fast flowing stream running through the valley bottom, absolutely outstanding. When I can convince my son to try the great outdoors again, this is where I’ll bring him for a nights camp. They are perfect. On reaching the 7 arches, I decided it was home time, an hours walk to my house and tea, it was a fine location to end the afternoons trip. A great location to commence my next section of the walk, besides, the woods had a great deal more to offer than I’d seen, so, after a quick coffee, I headed home, gratified that, so close to home, I’d completed a little section of the Dales Way, only another 80 – 90 miles to do, and it’s done.