Walking the Peatlands Way in three days

One area I have never explored on foot is the countryside covering the vast peat lands which occupy the area between Doncaster and Scunthorpe and include the Isle of Axholme. This would make a walk of three days covering the permissive paths that cross the Thorne and Hatfield Moors and a sparely populated area. During the summer of 2019 I set out along this trail on an adventure which didn’t quite go to plan. The latest Ordnance Survey maps show the route plotted and from my research I was expecting the trail to be well signposted but as it turned out, way marking was virtually nonexistent.

The trail can be found on the following website www.bing.com/maps

Following the Peatlands Way across the Isle of Axholme. Good paths under big skies.

Day 1 – When the number 87 bus saves the day

The Peatlands Way, is a relatively new recreational path around an area not normally associated with walking. I had planned this trek out carefully by using buses and trains and so on this first day it was merely a case of catching the train from Crowle Railway Station where I had parked the car, to Hatfield and Stainforth Railway Station and then walking back. The train was on time and I nearly had a free journey as the conductor only reached me as we pulled into Hatfield and Stainforth Station.

To reach the Peatlands Way it was a walk through this ex mining community which today has little appeal but there has been a settlement here since Anglo Saxon times.

On the northern edge of the community I looked for way markers for the Peatlands Way but there were none. I crossed the narrow and busy road bridge over the River Don and struck out north eastwards along a good riverside embankment with little to note in the flat countryside. I later left the embankment to enter the far more attractive village of Fishlake. People were out tending public gardens and a host of women were cleaning the church. This as I soon found out was the ‘Monday Club’ a group of retired residents who looked after the village. What a good idea I thought. I had a wander around the church and entered via the fine Norman south door. Much of this fine church dates from the 14th and 15th centuries. According to Wikipedia there is a local myth called “The Cockatrice of Church Street”. The story goes that the mythical beast resides near the Churchyard, and those unlucky enough to hear it’s call are said to never sleep again. Let’s say that after a good day walk I always get a good night sleep and I never heard anything untoward.

Entering the attractive village of Fishlake.
The fine Norman south door at St Cuthbert’s Church in Fishlake.

I returned to the embankment and shortly took a path to the left through trees then over a road before following a series of enclosed tracks which gradually became overgrown but improved again later. Reaching the next road I found the road bridge over the River Don closed due to refurbishment and my negotiations with the workmen to cross the bridge failed. This was a major blow and after studying the map, my only option was to return to Stainforth which was almost back to where I started out. I was fuming as I headed back but this time I followed the embankment the whole way despite it not being a right of way. Nearing Stainforth I walked closer to the River Don as this was the true right of way but a route few used. I had however at the start of my walk today noted the bus timetables when I set out from Stainforth earlier and knew that there were buses every twenty minutes towards Thorne. It was the only sensible thing to do was to catch a bus to Thorne and pick up the trail again there. From the bus stop timetable, a bus was due anyway and the number 87 whisked me through to Thorne. If I had walked the whole way to Thorne it would have been around twenty three miles of walking today.

Alighting in Thorne I calculated that I was only around an hour behind schedule but I felt a bit like Julia Bradbury or Tony Robinson who set out on a walk when they are presenting a television programme only to ‘cheat’ by hitching a ride part way through the walk.

I now headed through the town along Finkle Street, lined with small shops, and today quite a bustling place. Beyond, it was a case of following residential streets before following a path across wasteland full of bramble bushes and tethered gipsy horses on any grassy areas. A further downside was the amount of fly tipping in this area. It was lunch time as I reached another ex mining community of Moorends entering via Bloomhill Road and leaving via Grange Road. This community was quite an unattractive place with many shops boarded up and even vandal bars at places of worship. There were youths hanging around and I really just wanted to get out of the place as soon as possible. Leaving the community I did find a recreation ground with a vandal prove seat which was adjacent to the Thorne Colliery Football Club. It wasn’t the best of places to stop for lunch with youths riding mopeds around with no helmets.

I was keen to set off and soon rounded the abandoned area in which was once Thorne Colliery. Still I had no way markers to follow but at least I had marked up the route of the Peatlands Way on my Explorer Maps. A reasonable track led out onto Thorne Waste or Moors which formed part of the massive Humberhead Peatlands National Nature Reserve. This area forms the largest lowland peat bog in Britain and I was about to cross it. Now route finding wasn’t going to be too clever but I reached the point where there were several information boards. Crikey! This place is full of snakes I thought as I read the details and warnings on the information boards. Adders and grass snakes were in abundance in this part of the world and there were several signs to remind you. Out came the walking pole so that I could prod the ground in front of me if required.

I thankfully came across the first of several way markers for the Peatlands Way – a symbol of the nightjar and these moorlands is one of the best areas in Britain where they can be found not that I saw any.

Information boards on Thorne Waste. Beware of the snakes was not an under estimationas I was soon to find out.
I nearly stood on this fellow as it blended in with the ground. Backing off I got my camera out to get this photograph before it slithered into the undergrowth.

With eyes peeled to the ground I set off along a series of paths looking for any movement in the grass. The only trouble was that the grass hadn’t been cut for some time and so it was more than ankle deep. Way-markers were often hidden in wayside vegetation and so I stopped several times and estimated how many minutes it was to where I had to look for a turn. In places I was walking between tall reeds and half expected to meet Doctor David Livingstone coming the other way. After several twists and turns I eventually came to an straight track which I would follow east southeast for around one and quarter miles and I estimated that this would take me around twenty five minutes before looking for a path on my right. The countryside was very flat and full of lakes and bogs and the only sign of the modern day world was a distant chimney of a power station and the top of distant wind turbines. Time to get moving I thought so I upped my pace and less scanning the ground ahead of me as I was now on a clear track. After a quarter of a mile I stopped dead in my tracks as I was about to tread on a fully grown adder. I carefully backed off and got my camera from my rucksack before creeping up on the reptile to get some close up photographs before it slithered away into the undergrowth.

For the next few miles I paid more attention on what was on the path ahead of me as again the path made several turns. Timing the points to look for a turning was paramount as missing a turning on this sort of terrain would have been time consuming. I was always glad when I found a way marker. I was still on the correct route when I came across an information board which routed the Peatlands Way a completely different way to how I had marked it up. I decided to ignore it as the path looked more overgrown. It was almost late afternoon as I emerged from the ‘jungle’ and somehow relieved to be walking on a surfaced lane towards Crowle. Reaching the village, I didn’t really have the appetite to explore the place. My feet were beginning to get tired and this part of the village didn’t have much appeal. The area does lie on slightly higher ground being at the northern end of the Isle of Axholme with Crowle Hill rising to a staggering twenty metres. By Violet Hill Farm I took a track south crossing mildly undulating countryside and reaching the next village of Ealand, I joined the village street to get back to the car.

So I had completed the first day and thankfully the bus number 87 had saved an otherwise very long walk. As for the Peatlands Way, the way marking had been virtually nonexistent and it had run through some very unattractive areas. Crossing the Thorne Waste had it own interest and would have suited someone far more who had a keen interest in ornithology.

Day 2 Crossing the Isle of Axholme

A fine morning for my second walk starting out from the village of Haxey and heading first towards the fine village church.

For this second walk along the Peatland’s Way I wanted a nice day as it crossed slightly higher ground over the Isle of Axholme and passed through more interesting villages. I drove into Scunthorpe then walked to the bus station and with plenty of time to spare I had time to walk around the shops before catching bus 399 to Haxey. There were very few passengers for the journey and I alighted in the village centre.

Haxey is quite a fascinating place and I made my way towards the village church pausing on the way to study an information board. A great fire in the village on the 28th-29th February 1744 which started in a flax manufactory destroyed sixty two houses. Further up the village I stopped to look at the fine St Nicholas’s Church which is a Grade I listed building dating from the 12th and 13th centuries. The building has been described as ‘The Cathedral of the Isle’.

Turning right I now followed a minor lane to the edge of Upperthorpe and here turned right on a path running north. Sadly deliberate attempts had been made to block this path with garden rubbish and dog waste. It was most unpleasant and a little beyond, a maize crop had been planted at right angles to the path and there was simply no way through. I forced my way around two sides of a field to reach the Peatland’s Way. This was certainly a poor start.

I was now on the Peatland’s Way and despite it now being a good path, there were no ‘Peatland Way’ signs again. I crossed a road at Coney Garth and skirted around to the northern edge of Haxey before joining the road east to reach the A161.

A glorious day for the walk across the Isle of Axholme with good paths and big skies. This photograph was taken near High Burnham.

What now followed was some fine walking on good field paths with wide views all the way to Epworth. The countryside here was marginally higher than the surrounding area and it made for some very pleasant walking in the warm sunshine but shower clouds were around. One such shower was well to the southwest but heading my way and was developing. In excellent light for photography I stopped several times for photographs as I neared Epworth and passed the remains of Thompson’s Flour Mill as I entered the village. From my map the route of the Peatland’s Way avoided the village centre which was a pity as Epworth in my opinion is the most interesting village on the whole trail. I therefore opted to divert and turned left passing the Old Rectory which is now a museum. This was the home of Samuel Wesley who with his wife had nineteen children one of which – John Wesley was one of the founders of the Methodist Church. I continued through the village then up to the St Andrew’s Parish Church which unfortunately was locked. The churchyard contains the grave of Samuel Wesley. On the north side of the church I found a suitable place to sit for lunch but rain clouds were bearing down and through the trees that surrounded the churchyard, the countryside to the north had misted away under a veil of rain.

Threatening clouds as I near Epworth on the Peatlands Way.
The Armada Beacon north of Epworth and the view towards Brooks Mill. For now, gone were the sunny skies of earlier.

After lunch, and keeping an eye on the heavy clouds around I decided to continue north but the next part of the walk was very much through open countryside with no shelter should the heavens open. After following an open field track, I crossed the A161 by Brooks Mill which dates from 1812 and made my way to Maw’s Mill, which dates from 1783. Both mills had been restored but are minus their sails. To rejoin my route I skirted around the edge of a wheat field then descended to join the track bed of an old railway which had been converted into a path cum cycleway. This was once the Axholme Joint Railway which ran between Goole and Haxey. I stayed with the railway path up to and through Belton which passed a visitor centre on the way. The visitor centre was merely a cafe with information boards and nothing in the way of local literature to pick up.

I did have thoughts of visiting the church at Belton but the link path from the railway was full of nettles and impassable.

With a bit of a push I would time it just right for the 15.07pm train from Crowle to

Scunthorpe and as the service was hourly, I didn’t fancy spending an hour on Crowle Station even if it was a fine afternoon.

A good track ran northeast from Belton and later I continued via an accommodation bridge

over the M180 motorway then doubled back along the northern side of the motorway.  Heading north on a grassy track I got caught on the tail end of a shower and by Temple Drain I opted to shelter under some trees rather than donning waterproofs. I continued alongside Folly Drain before passing beneath an old railway viaduct then west along a wide track between two drainage channels. The rain suddenly came on again but with limited time I just pressed on. Reaching the A161 I had no choice but to follow this busy road north. It was a very unpleasant half mile and having to leap up onto grassy banks every time a vehicle sped past. This road was also frequented with much heavy traffic and I was glad to get over the A18. At least on the far side there was a path which was initially well away from the road. I next crossed Crowle Bridge which spanned the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation and the railway before turning right on the road leading around to Crowle Station. If I had done my research, I could have caught a Scunthorpe bound bus here as one came by as I neared the station.

At the station I still had a few minutes to spare and anyway, the train was running a few minutes late. I was the only person to board and the conductor never even bothered to come and take my fare.

So summing up day two I felt that this part of the Peatland’s Way which crosses the Isle of Axholme is in many respects the most interesting part of the trail but the bit at the end on the A161 is very unpleasant. The weather had given some good opportunities for photography.

Day 3 Filling the gap

This was my third and last walk along the Peatland’s Way and today I set off to drive to Haxey. As it was school holiday time, I parked the car in the primary school lay-by and walked down through the village to the bus stop by the Co-op. I was in good time and the number 291 bus arrived on schedule. En route to Doncaster we picked up many passengers so that the bus was almost full. At the large underground bus station in the Frenchgate Shopping Centre in Doncaster, I just missed my bus connection by seconds but the number 87A would be along in ten minutes. Catching this, I alighted in Stainforth and set out east along Thorne Road and Kirton Lane. From my observations a couple of days earlier from the bus, I noted a signed path leading off over an old spoil heap. The Peatland’s Way however was marked on the map detouring  around this area and would have added an unpleasant mile of road walking then along a muddy track.

East of Stainforth I decided to leave the road and take the path south which climbed steeply over disused mine spoil workings. First of all I had to cross a ditch which had been made to stop scrambler bikes from accessing the area. A steep but short ascent followed onto a level area of rough grazing but no sign of any path. Thankfully I came down about the right spot as there was a bridge over the railway ahead of me. The walk south was along enclosed tracks through an area of dereliction and rough grazing. Fly tipping was everywhere and indeed this seemed to be an area where fridge freezers came to die. A new development known as the Hatfield Link Road was in the early stages of construction which will bring much needed investment into the area. Overall I was glad to leave this part of the world and cross the M18 motorway via a farm accommodation bridge. I now had to follow the A1146 for a short distance before setting off on a field path east then south to cross the A18 to reach the village of Hatfield Woodhouse. It had been spitting with rain for some time and it was turning out a very grey day. I turned left in the village along the A614 before turning right on Remple Lane then Hollin Bridge Road and later continued with Moor Dike Road which I expected from my map to be a track but this as it turned out was a surfaced lane. Prior to White Bridge Farm I stopped at some concrete blocks under a tree for lunch. The weather was closing in with driving fine rain and before I set off I donned full waterproof gear as the weather forecast indicated a wet afternoon.

A typical view across the Hatfield Moors with a combination of bog, heath and scrublands.

There was very little of interest in this flat and rather drab landscape on a day like today. The surfaced road continued but where it went onto towards Lindholme Hall, I turned off along a good path running between ponds and woodlands. I now was skirting the western then southern edges of Hatfield Moors and unlike my walk across the Thorne Moors two days earlier, the paths and tracks here were well defined. In the meantime the rain hadn’t materialised and so I found a seat to remove my waterproofs. There wasn’t a great deal of interest with a high security fence and the H.M. Prison Lindholme dominant on my right and thick woodland on my left. I continued south passing a semi empty car park before veering left along the southern edge of Hatfield Moors. There was the occasional Peatlands Way marker but they were a bit patchy on the ground. At least I had the route marked on my map and followed it around to the north of Ellerholme Farm and afterwards I carefully looked for the path going south to reach Moor Lane. After what seemed like hours of walking through the tree canopy I emerged into open countryside. What a gloomy afternoon it was with bad light and little of interest. Reaching the East Ring Drain I met a local dog walker and so I asked if it was feasible to walk east along the river embankment rather following the long road route around via Wroot. She told me that I could cross the footbridge north of Common Lane and then follow the southern bank of the

channel to Tunnel Pits Bridge even though it wasn’t shown as a right of way. From what I could see, it was a far better route even though it was along straight riverside embankments. Furthermore it would save me walking along two and a half miles of straight roads. I thanked her and set out along this route hoping that I wouldn’t need to back track. Ironically the footbridge over East Ring Drain even had a Peatland’s Way sign on it.

I was glad I found this footbridge over East Ring Drain.

I reached Tunnel Pits Bridge without any problems then continued east on a straight and low level road with little interest but at least it was quiet. Later I turned right along a private drive which later continued as a track beside Greenholme Lane Drain. About a mile and a half along here I turned left onto a pleasant wooded path through Haxey Turbary Nature Reserve. By now the rain had returned but it was only very light and not enough to warrant donning waterproofs. I pressed on and later turned right to join the path soon passing Haslams Farm. Beyond here, the ground started to rise and I later turned left with the track. In another quarter of a mile I had completed the circuit of the Peatland’s Way.

The attractive path through the nature reserve at Haxey Turbary.

I now turned right uphill and continued over to Cross Hill and turned left along this lane. The weather was closing in with rain to the south misting away distant power stations along the Trent Valley into the afternoon gloom. I set a good pace towards Haxey, taking a track to the north of the village before turning left again along the road called The Nooking. The rain was getting heavier and yet I was so close to the car. If I had caught the bus I had just missed in Doncaster earlier in the day I would have been back to the car by now. It was raining steadily as I reached the car and hurriedly changed out of walking boots as the rain turned quite heavy.

Summing up the Peatlands Way, my impression is that overall I was disappointed with the lack of signage along the trail. It will appeal to the ornithologist and naturalist as the trail passes through several nature reserves but in some places I questioned the reason why the trail had been routed via a less interesting route using roads when a suitable nearby path was available.

There are however a few areas where the walking is interesting especially crossing the Isle of Axholme where ‘big skies’ are the order of the day. On the other hand there are some grubby areas the trail also visits.