Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Conisbrough, Sprotbrough, Hexthorpe, and Balby.

Another local walk today, taking advantage of my English Heritage membership to visit Conisbrough Castle - I didn't stay long though; there isn't much to see. It's a good location for taking some photographs though.

There are plenty of buses to Conisbrough from Doncaster, every ten minutes or so, and it's only a fifteen minute journey. The castle opens at ten o'clock, and so I didn't need to leave the house until 09:15.

I arrived at Conisbrough a few minutes before the castle was due to open and so popped into a shop to get a bottle of something to drink, and then made my way to the churchyard to photograph the church.

By the time I reached the castle it was open; I was told by the woman who works in the information centre that a large school party was due in a few minutes, so I decided to get a move on and headed straight for the keep and climbed the 123 steps to the top.

I only spent a few minutes up there, and just as I was coming down the final few steps I noticed some of the children, with their teacher, heading in my direction.

I waited for most of the children to be out of sight inside the keep before wandering around the grounds to take some more photographs; some of the children are still in this shot though.

Naturally, the castle is at the top of a hill; at the bottom of the hill there's a small wooded area called 'Mill Piece' with some obvious ruins of a mill. I was hoping that a footpath would lead off from this area down into the Don Gorge. If one does, I didn't find it and so did a short circular walk, ending up back where I started. I didn't have a map; I was relying on my sketchy local knowledge and decided that the only way to get where I wanted to be was to walk along the busy road for a few minutes.

I arrived down by the river after several failed attempts to locate a path: it was an obvious path though - a bridleway actually, which gradually went downhill through woodland. I passed underneath Conisbrough Viaduct, which always looks imposing to me when close up, and soon ended up in Steetley Quarry; one of Doncaster's hidden gems. Quite often busy with mountain bikers the quarry has been abandoned for many years and is quite safe and accessible. I was alone in the quarry today though; a rare treat. I could enjoy the unique environment and atmosphere; in my mind I was in the French Foreign Legion, on one of the Star Wars planets, or being ambushed by trolls in 'Lord of the Rings.' The quarry has an otherwordly, desert-like appearance; steep sided limestone hillocks created by the quarrying process have been sculpted, polished, and eroded by  tyres over many years into weird, giant tooth-like formations.

I don't think my photographs do the site justice and adequately convey the magic of the place; unfortunately there don't seem to be that many others online either.

The last time I was here I was at the top of the cliff, today I actually entered the bottom of the quarry. I assumed there would be an easy way out; but because of the adjacent railway line there wasn't. I had to climb out; every route was a steep scramble up loose ground with nothing to hold on to...a situation I rarely find myself in when hiking in the Peak District.

After reaching the path at the top of the quarry face I continued for a few minutes and then rested right at the water's edge to observe a boat travelling upstream.

Sprotbrough is about a mile further on; I crossed over the river and ordered a pot of tea at the Boat Inn. The barmaid said I must be mad drinking hot tea outside in the beer garden, in the mid-day sun. I wasn't alone in my madness though; a few seconds later the other barmaid took an order which included several pots of tea for a group of cyclists who'd just arrived.

My mobile phone rang; it was my friend Justin. I thought I'd try and make him a bit jealous by telling him what a lovely day I was having, and what a lovely spot the Boat Inn at Sprotbrough is. I failed miserably; he'd just enjoyed an expensive meal at a pub in the town centre.

I re-traced my steps and crossed back over the bridge to continue walking on the right bank of the river to Hexthorpe. I arrived at the park just as the council workmen were watering the flowers, spoiling any photo-opportunities, and so didn't linger. I walked down the street towards the main road, where I caught one of the frequent buses for the short journey back into town.


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