The next stage of my journey around the perimeter of Cliffe Castle Park is an exercise in not getting lost.

Sketch of where the path divides

A fork in the path calls for a decision. As you enter Moorside Wood from the Beechcliffe end you soon come to a place where the path divides.

It’s obvious that if you go to the left, you’ll follow the edge of the field and climb uphill keeping the open ground of the park visible through the trees. This path is still visibly paved with old tarmac which in places is as smooth as the trunk of a beech tree (there are plenty here for comparison which is why I thought of it) and it can be slippery – whereas the path that goes off to the right is unpaved but well trodden, and anyone coming into the wood to explore would be likely to choose this direction. This path leads off in a promising way and seems to be well used…..

Sketch of tree on the lower path that leads nowhere

…… and it carries on looking as if it’s going somewhere for several hundred yards, until it loses confidence and fades away, leaving you wondering what on earth has happened. (A large yellow arrow painted on the trunk of a beech tree adds to the confusion as it points, for no reason, away from the path.) When I explored it again a couple of months ago determined to find a reason for this the same thing occurred and I ended up in the undergrowth in the no-man’s land between the wood and the school with nothing much to show for my determination, so I retraced my steps a bit and discovered an ancient drystone wall along this boundary, most of it now almost completely fallen down. It’s covered in moss, but clearly visible, and a compelling thing to draw so I took cover from the light rain that had started to fall and lurked there sketching for half an hour.

Green moss growing on a tumble down section of drystone wall

The discovery of this wall did nothing to explain the disappearance of the path, but walking back this far made me realise how to remember the way through the woods from here. The ground slopes steeply uphill through a stand of magnificent beech trees and if you walk straight up this bank and bear to the right, before long you find yourself joining the path that leads to High Utley.

The path towards High Utley

Although it’s less obvious now, this is not one wood, but in fact two. Moorside Wood is the older part and has tall, old, mature trees – beech, oak, ash, holly – and there’s even a walnut tree at the very edge of the field. The beech trees are some of the tallest I’ve ever seen, and standing beneath them is always for me the best part of every walk here. I never get tired of the way the sight of them takes me by surprise – this is a very small wood, but there’s something about these trees that could make you think you were in a forest.

Beech trees in Moorside Wood - photo, in spring

But the part of the wood that extends towards High Utley is a long narrow strip, planted much more recently and consequently it has a different character. It has a different name, too; Steepfield Wood. I’ve only recently discovered this, from an old Cliffe Castle Discovery Trail published (I think) in the 1970’s – and this younger bit of woodland is mostly sycamore, lime and oak, and a lot of ornamental cherry trees that were planted along the path here many of which are now falling down (not being a very long-lived species). I’m going to explore this part of the park in the next post, as there’s a lot more to discover.

Briefly though, and backtracking a bit to where I started at the fork in the path – to the winding route that climbs up at the edge of the field just inside the wood. It’s a lovely walk, with beautiful views, and recently it’s been cleared so that the old tarmac is clearly visible and all the more interesting for being in a dilapidated state. You can see the layers of hardcore and tar, the thickness of it and how it was laid. Add to that a sprinkling of glowing autumn leaves and there’s such a richness of colour and texture that I could spend a whole day here just in this tiny bit of wood, drawing and taking photos, and still not get enough of it.

Old tarmac on the path at the edge of the woods

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