Why settlement built on steel is now seen as a shining example of how to establish a post-industrial town as a destination for outdoor folk.
Stocksbridge town centre is now permanently full of bicycles: yellow Tour de France and blue Tour de Yorkshire bikes on walls and house sides to celebrate the regular passage of national and international bike races through the nearby countryside.
Last Monday, a few yellow share bikes had even found their way to Stocksbridge, perhaps on a trip out from Hillsborough before returning inside the official usage boundary by the evening.
But what locals want us all to understand is walkers are welcome in Stocksbridge too.
“There was a bad joke I remember about the ‘Welcome to Stocksbridge’ signs at the edge of town when Stocksbridge was a bit more dark and grimy a few years ago,” said Chris Prescott.
“People used to say, ‘Yes, you’re welcome to it.’”
Chris, who’s lived in the area for over 40 years, has worked with a network of other local walkers over the last seven years to establish Stocksbridge as an official ‘Walkers are Welcome’ town, part of a national network of over 100 locations launched ten years ago ‘to encourage towns and villages to be welcoming to walkers.’
Stocksbridge is now seen as a shining example of how to establish a post-industrial town as a destination for outdoor folk, and Chris has been invited by the Japanese Footpaths Association on a tour later this year to talk about making walkers equally welcome in the islands of the South Pacific.
And now Stocksbridge is taking another step towards walking stardom as finalist in the national ‘Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhood Award’ organised by The Ramblers charity.
“We’re the only place in Yorkshire to make the final shortlist, so we hope the whole of Yorkshire is going to vote for us,” said Chris.
“We’ve got lovely countryside here, and very strong industrial heritage all accessible on foot through a great series of footpaths,” said Gill Wolff from Stocksbridge Walkers are Welcome, who describes the local landscape as ‘gritty and realistic’ rather than ‘pretty pretty.’
“You can access the Transpennine Trail, Langsett, or the Peak District, and there’s plenty of choice to use footpaths to get around town.”
The ‘Best Walking Neighbourhood’ initiative is about town walking as much as countryside rambling and Gill pointed out, despite the steep hillsides, the network of paths makes it easy to get around within the town, often quicker than by car.
New trails have been going in too, and this year the latest stretch of the Little Don Link track will be laid between the Fox Valley development and Deepcar. (The cycle track and footpath will eventually stretch from beyond Langsett reservoir all the way to Hillsborough).
Many local businesses like Fox Valley are fully behind the Best Walking Neighbourhood initiative, not least because walkers (and runners, cyclists and other outdoor citizens) bring plenty of trade to a town that wants to make the most of its proximity to the Peak District: the edge of Stocksbridge is about 500 yards from the National Park boundary.
“We’re getting more and more walkers coming in, or setting off from here,” said Kirsty Gibson of the Coffee Apple Cafe. “Winning this award will be fabulous for Stocksbridge.”
More young people are moving in to the area too, often attracted by the local countryside, said Gill. But at 12 miles north of Sheffield, Stocksbridge is sometimes a bit divorced from the rest of the Outdoor City.
“There are preconceptions to overcome, but they are changing. We want to promote Stocksbridge as an important part of the Outdoor City,” said Chris Prescott.
Stocksbridge will never be seen as a ‘honey pot’ Peak District town like Castleton or Bakewell, he added. “But it’s got plenty of potential. Maybe we should see it as a home-made jam pot instead.”