South Yorkshire Walk - Roche Abbey, near Maltby, Rotherham
PUBLISHED: 18:59 12 March 2013 | UPDATED: 21:08 05 April 2013
Amble along woodland tracks and across fields to discover church history in South Yorkshire. Words and photographs by Terry Fletcher.
South Yorkshire may lack the vast open country that is the hallmark of its northerly neighbour but what it lacks in expansiveness it makes up for in history. This walk, close to Rotherham and Doncaster and easily reached via the M1 and A1, starts at the 12th century Cistercian ruins of Roche Abbey and crosses arable fields and woodland to take in the even older All Saints Church at Laughton en le Morthen.
From the car park by the entrance lodge to the abbey take the path which goes down the left hand side of a wire fence and marked with a green Doorstep Walk arrow. The abbey ruins, which are in the care of English Heritage, can be visited for a fee but are easily seen from the path as well. At the end of the ruins go through a gate and turn immediately right to follow the fence before passing through another gate and crossing the footbridge into Kings Wood, a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
At first it appears that the sometimes muddy path merely circles the ruins but, by some stepping stones, keep left following the yellow arrow along the broad track along the valley floor. A few hundred yards further on the path forks by a tree with two arrows. Again take the left hand track which climbs up through the trees. At the top of the hill the path turns right to emerge into a large field. Follow the path rightwards beside the trees with occasional glimpses across the valley.
Where the trees finally peter out the sky-piercing 185ft tall spire of Laughton en le Morthen church comes into view, providing an unmissable landmark ahead. Continue along the path, now with a hedgerow to its left. Eventually it becomes enclosed by hedges. Where it emerges onto a broader track, turn left for a few paces before breaking off rightwards along a signed footpath heading directly towards the steeple. The path criss-crosses the fence but always heading unerringly for the church until, just short of the village, it emerges into a large field where it turns leftwards uphill along the field edge to reach the St Leger Arms pub.
Unfortunately this has been closed but turn right up the High Street and you will see the other village pub the Hatfield Arms in front. At the crossroads just before it turns left along School Road - unless the pub proves too tempting. Go along School Road for about 300 yards to pass the village school itself before taking a flight of steps and footpath immediately beyond it. The path skirts the playing field and becomes an enclosed track before reaching a kissing gate. Continue along the edge of a field with the treeline on your left and All Saints away to your right.
When the path reaches the corner of a stone wall, climb a stile to its left and continue ahead following the Doorstep Walk waymark.
It is worth a brief detour to admire All Saints, which has been such a striking feature of this middle section of the walk. As a place of worship it dates from Saxon times and though the current church was built in the 14th century, the Saxon doorway remains. The huge grassy pudding-basin mound by the church is known locally as Castle Hill and is often thought to be the remains of a motte and bailey castle of the kind the Normans built to consolidate their initially fragile hold on England. In fact it is now known to date from Saxon times and pre-dates the Conquerors invasion.
Returning to the path follow it to a road. Here turn right for 20 yards before taking Brookhouse Lane on the left. Follow it downhill for 300 yards before taking a signed footpath heading away rightwards on the apex of a left hand bend. Follow this track downhill before crossing a footbridge and stile to a lane by the Travellers Rest.
Turn right along the Tarmac until, immediately after the speed de-restriction signs, you can take a footpath on the left which passes along the field boundary to reach the railway embankment before turning right to run beside it. The path, now tightly enclosed by a fence, passes by paddocks and buildings before crossing a narrow lane and continuing ahead in much the same vein.
When the path reaches an open field continue to follow the line of the embankment for a couple of hundred yards before a footpath sign points the way down across the field into the valley. When you reach the bottom turn left beside the brook until it reaches a footbridge and boardwalk. Cross this and follow the path uphill. After a couple of hundred yards it reaches a fork, when it joins the outward route. Continue straight ahead along the valley to the abbey.
Start/Finish: Roche Abbey, near Maltby, Rotherham
Distance: 6 miles/9.5km
Time: 3 hours
Terrain: Field paths and woodland tracks
Parking: At Roche Abbey or on A634, near the Abbey
Refreshments: Pubs in Laughton en le Morthen and Brookhouse. Seasonal refreshments at the Abbey (summer only)
Map: OS Explorer 279 Doncaster, Conisbrough, Maltby and Thorne