Penistone to Sheffield (15 miles)
The next morning, I retrace my steps to the trail. As I am approaching Shore Hall Lane level crossing, I am surprised to find an old sign warning of the overhead lines still in place. The keeper’s cottage is also still intact and there is even a bit of rail embedded in the road.
There is a bit more rail at the next crossing, Bank Horse Lane, and I wonder if these are the only sections of permanent way remaining between Hadfield and Penistone.
I pass the village of Thurlstone and eventually arrive at a sign on the approach to Penistone that invites me to “take time out and visit the town”. I will return tomorrow, so for now I continue.
I reach Penistone station and look over to its derelict Woodhead line platforms. Just behind the station was the building that served as the electric control centre for the whole Manchester, Sheffield and Wath lines. Today it is in private use.
Back in 1979 our cycle trip to Woodhead had left us with a desire to travel on the line through the tunnel. That was easier said than done though. There were no scheduled passenger services save for a few occasional diversions from other routes. The only real option was to keep an eye out for a suitable rail tour: a special enthusiasts’ train that was routed via the tunnel.
I had already seen one scheduled for May, it had been organised by the Worcester Locomotive Society and had been called “The Pennine Rose” and although it had seemed to fit the bill quite well, the dates had not worked at all; exam revision, I think.
Then the August 1979 edition of the Railway Magazine carried an advertisement indicating that the whole trip was going to be repeated in October. The date worked this time and we sent off for details.
Looking at the schedule of the “Pennine Rose” we had worked out that the nearest point we could join the train was Birmingham. This was far from ideal, but as the special train was not due to leave Britain’s second city until after 10am we knew we could get a connection down from Blackpool. On the way back the train was scheduled to pause at Crewe so that made things a bit easier. Two tickets were ordered.
I walk to the front of Penistone station. It is located at the junction of the line from Huddersfield and was originally shaped like a letter “V” . Although the Woodhead platforms on one side of the “V” have gone, those on the line from Huddersfield still exist and there is an hourly service that continues south via Barnsley to Sheffield.
As I set off again, the track that heads to Barnsley runs parallel with the trail. There used to be a wide expanse of railways here with overhead gantries, signal boxes, sidings, and turntables.
After a while, the line to Barnsley goes off to the left. This used to be Barnsley Junction and was also where the electrified line from Wath that I intend to walk tomorrow joined the line from Sheffield.
The Trans Pennine Trail following the track bed of the old main line to Sheffield continues. Soon I pass through Oxspring. There was originally a station here; it opened when the line opened in 1845, but (like another one further on at Thurgoland) was closed in 1847 after just two years. I wonder if Beeching ever gets blamed for this one.
Passenger services on this part of the line didn’t end until 1983. Even after the Woodhead passenger services went in 1970 and for two years after the freight trains were withdrawn, diesel trains from Huddersfield came down this line and then reversed along the Nunnery curve into Sheffield Midland station. It was only in 1983 that they were diverted via Barnsley and this section was finally lifted.
Eventually I get to the site of Thurgoland Tunnel. The original 1845 tunnel has its mouth blocked up. This bore originally served both tracks, but it was discovered that there wasn’t enough clearance for electrification wires. One plan was to daylight it (take the top off and convert it into a cutting) but eventually it was decided to build a second tunnel alongside to take one of the lines.
The day of the “Pennine Rose” finally arrived. We got to Birmingham on time and boarded the special tour. It was filled with enthusiasts of all ages; there was a great atmosphere on board, and we soon made new friends. The train was formed of Mk1 corridor compartment stock and the Worcester Locomotive Society had set up a makeshift buffet and a shop in one of the guard’s vans. They were doing a roaring trade selling memorabilia, sandwiches, and drinks.
After a trip of a couple of hours that took in the large freight yard at Toton on the outskirts of Nottingham, the train finally arrived under the electric wires at the exchange sidings at Rotherwood just east of Sheffield. We all watched in anticipation as the diesel locomotives that had hauled us from Birmingham were exchanged for a pair of Class 76s.
Then we were off, heading west. After a few minutes we passed through the sad remains of Sheffield Victoria. It had been closed in 1970, it was derelict, but it still looked recognisable as a station. The train then gathered speed as it climbed past Wadsley Bridge and through Thurgoland tunnel. After Penistone, the Pennine Rose continued to climb and I, like many others, stuck my head out of the window. At 13:30 we passed through Dunford Bridge and entered the Woodhead tunnel.
Inside, the concrete-lined tunnel looked light and there were no signs of the soot covered walls, remnants of steam days, you found in other tunnels. There were little lamps along the walls too. Out again in the daylight we went past the spot where we had photographed a few months before, down through Longdendale and Torside where we had cycled, through Hadfield and finally to the scheduled 3-hour stop at Dinting.
Some of our fellow enthusiasts spent the next few hours touring the steam centre next to Dinting station. There was an optional tour by coach to Reddish locomotive depot and we took it. We toured the works where the Class 76s were based. They had started to withdraw a few of the locomotives by then and as we were leaving, we saw a siding full of them lined up.
The rest of the trip home was an anti-climax in comparison, but we were happy in the knowledge that we had finally been through the tunnel. We were just in time as it happened; the line closed for good less than 2 years later.
Back at Thurgoland I have now moved across to the mouth of the 1949 tunnel. It was built for a single track and hosted the westbound line. The original tunnel took the eastbound tracks moved over to the centre to allow clearance for the wires.
The project was begun under LNER in 1947 but completed in 1948 under BR. There are two headstones, one for each company and date.
The Trans Pennine Trail goes through this tunnel. It is curved but relatively well lit inside. With a length of only 900 feet, it doesn’t take long to get through it.
On the south side I see that the portal of the older tunnel has not been completely blocked up. For the foolish or daring there is a way in to squeeze in and explore. There are YouTube videos of people doing just that. I don’t have the time or the courage to try it.
I press on and eventually I reach the site of Wortley station. The track bed part of the Trans Pennine Trail ends here just before the main A616 road.
I know that it is possible to walk a little further along the track bed here before it ends just ahead of Deepcar station, where the current freight line from Stocksbridge joins it, but I decide to leave it.
Instead, I elect to follow the Trans Pennine Trail and head off on a roughly parallel but much higher course through Wharncliffe Woods. The journey through this steep and rocky forest quickly becomes quite monotonous. I conclude that it must be a great place to ride a mountain bike, but it is a long boring slog for the walker.
Eventually I spot the railway line again, now with its single track, down below and before not too much longer I am out of the woods and looking down at the track at the site of Oughty Bridge station.
I have now left the Trans Pennine Trail for good and for the next few miles I put my own route together from a string of footpaths that keep me relatively close to the railway.
First, I go north of Beeley Wood and then through open fields with great views of the Don Valley in the distance, before eventually and inevitably arriving in the outskirts of Sheffield.
Now I am walking in a more industrial area past factories and warehouses. It is a complete contrast to what I have seen over the past few days. I pass a large Sainsbury’s supermarket and come to the place where Wadsley Bridge station used to be. The station closed in 1959 but reopened occasionally until 1996 to cater for football specials for Sheffield Wednesday, whose Hillsborough stadium is not far from here.
I push on a bit further and reach the Wardsend Viaduct, popularly known as the Five Arches. A little path leads off from here into the woods parallel to the line and I follow it.
This leads me to Wardsend Cemetery which the line intersects. The graveyard closed to new burials over 50 years ago and has fallen into neglect. Walking through it is interesting but a little strange.
I pause for lunch and sit on the banks of the Don. The river here was once dead from all the industrial pollution but as a sign near where I am sitting explains, they have been working hard to restore it; Brown Trout and Grayling can be found swimming in it again.
I continue along the riverbank negotiating my way through a traveller settlement before emerging into a modern industrial estate. This area is Owlerton, and it is famous as the home of George Bassett & Co. Ltd. makers of one of Sheffield’s most famous food products, Liquorice allsorts.
A bit more of a walk and I reach Neepsend. As I go across the railway once more, I get a view looking back down the valley towards Wardsend. The view in the other direction is obscured but just ahead here is the site of the original terminus of the line from Manchester, Bridgehouses.
It closed as a passenger station in 1851 after just 6 years but was active into the mid-1960s as a goods depot. It inspired the title of the wonderful 1969 BBC documentary “Engines must not enter the potato siding”, which features its demolition and the withdrawal of passenger services on the Manchester to Sheffield line.
On my final stretch I negotiate a large traffic-filled roundabout and walk alongside the Wicker Arches. This 660-yard viaduct, now Grade II listed, was built in 1848 to take the railway on from Bridgehouses towards a new station at Sheffield Victoria closer to the centre of the city.
There are 41 arches and many of them are now occupied by small businesses. The largest arch crosses the Wicker, one of Sheffield’s main thoroughfares. I cross this busy street and then make my way under the railway using the Cobweb Bridge.
This newer structure is a footpath suspended from the arch that bridges the River Don. It got its name from the spider-like cables that secure it. It forms a short cut across the river and under the railway.
I finally reach the site of Sheffield Victoria. The outlines of the platform and the single-track heading to Stocksbridge are still visible here.
From here the electric wires once continued a little further to exchange sidings at Rotherwood and then later they were extended around to Tinsley Yard.
The station featured two long island platforms and the lines that ran through it went east to west in contrast to the north-south pattern of the lines serving the city’s other station, Sheffield Midland.
When the Great Central extended its line to London Marylebone via Nottingham and Leicester in 1899, Victoria featured non-stop trains to London which reached the capital in 3 hours and were in direct competition with those from Sheffield Midland to St Pancras.
There is talk about reopening Victoria for passenger rail use, for the Sheffield Supertram or for a proposed heritage “Don Valley Railway” scheme.
There is nothing left of the old station building itself, but the hotel associated with it is still standing and seems to be thriving.
Royal Victoria Hotel
The Victoria hotel was opened in 1862 and got its Royal prefix after a visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1875. It was sold to the MS&LR in 1889 and over the years passed to the ownership of the GCR, to the LNER and then to British Transport Hotels.
Closure was rumoured in 1970 when the station itself went but in the end the hotel survived and, in 1989, was partly extended over the site of its demolished neighbour. Since 1995 the building, its retaining wall and approach ramp have been Grade II listed. In the past few years, it has been rebranded as the Royal Victoria Crowne Plaza.
It seems the logical place to end my journey.
I go in and after examining the old photographs near the lobby, I wander into the impressive old bar room. I am willing to bet not many people have arrived here from Manchester Piccadilly via the Woodhead route recently.
I plonk my rucksack on the floor, sit down and order a beer.