Ecclesall Woods – Where to Go and What to See and Do

Encompassing gently sloping expanses of beautiful wooded terrain home to abundant wildlife, Ecclesall Woods is the largest ancient woodland in Sheffield.


Lying to the southwest of Sheffield city centre, Ecclesall Woods covers almost 140 hectares (345 acres), physically divided by roads into three areas of richly wooded land. With tangled roots, babbling brooks, sun-kissed glades and stream-side flowers, this magical landscape is a valuable example of Sheffield’s ancient woodland heritage. Mature oak, sweet chestnut, European larch and Scots pine comprise much of the tree canopy, alongside silver birch, rowan and sycamore. There are also clusters of large spreading beech trees which are particularly captivating. Distinctive woodland areas within the woods support a wide variety of plants, ferns and wildlife. Plentiful birdlife includes threatened species such as song thrushes and bullfinches, while resident mammals range from badgers and hedgehogs to grey squirrels and rabbits.

The history of Ecclesall Woods

Known to have existed since at least 1600, Ecclesall Woods is the largest of more than 80 surviving ancient woodlands lying within the boundaries of Sheffield that serve as reminders of the city’s long industrial history. From the mid-16th to the late 17th century, the woods were a major source of charcoal and white coal. These fuels were used for smelting during steel production, prior to the Industrial Revolution when they were replaced by coke. Today, you can still see evidence of kilns that were dug in Ecclesall Woods for white coal production, in the form of large pits found mostly on sloping ground. Until the latter half of the 19th century, the woods were also managed as coppices, meaning many trees were periodically cut down to the ground, or coppiced, to promote the growth of multiple stems, while others were allowed to mature. In this way, the coppice provided wood, while the mature trees provided timber. Much of the latter was used in the construction of timber-framed buildings.

Today, the woods are carefully managed by the City Council to enhance the naturally historic landscape and protect its wildlife. Valuable for locals and visitors, you can enjoy and appreciate the woodlands by exploring around 15km of winding trails and bridle paths that criss-cross through them.

When to go to Ecclesall Woods

The inherent beauty in the trees, plants and wildlife in Ecclesall Woods means it is always enchanting, no matter when you visit. Spring is especially wonderful when shafts of sunlight illuminate carpets of wild flowers. Sun-dappled glades burst with colourful displays of bluebells, wood anemones and wild garlic. Pause for a moment and listen to the birdsong. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a woodpecker. In summer, stay cool in the shade of towering trees, enjoy a stroll alongside Limb Brook with an eye out for a water vole or a kingfisher, before visiting the resident frog and newt colonies at Collier’s Pond. The woodland is a symphony of fiery reds, yellows and oranges during autumn. Take in the earthy scents and cool air as leaves rustle beneath your feet and squirrels scamper up the trees. And when the leaves have fallen from the trees and the robin flits down amongst their bare branches, wander amongst the twisted trunks as the sun casts a pale light out of an icy blue winter sky.

The woods are just a 30-minute bus ride, or a 15-minute drive from the centre of Sheffield. The nearest bus stop is on Abbey Lane. Parking is freely available along the roads near the woods and there are car parks at the Woodland Discovery Centre and at the picnic area off Limb Lane.

What to see and do in Ecclesall Woods

JG Graves Woodland Discovery Centre

Named after the Sheffield businessman who helped the city acquire Ecclesall Woods, the JG Graves Woodland Discovery Centre occupies contemporary wooden buildings in the heart of the woods and is a great place to start your visit. Set yourself up with a bite to eat in the Woodlands Coffee Stop and browse the free woodland guides and walking route maps before you start exploring. The centre hosts regular events from yoga and meditation to walks and woods runs, as well as a full range of traditional skills and craft courses. Local artisans can lead you through fascinating days learning wood carving, pole lathing, blacksmithing or willow weaving. If you’re visiting in April or October, look out for two popular annual family-friendly events, Spring in the Woods and Feast in the Forest, featuring free guided walks and nature activities provided especially for children.

260 Abbey Lane, Sheffield S7 2QZ. Open Tue-Sat 10am-3pm

Ecclesall Woods walks

The paths and trails in the woods offer walking routes to suit all fitness levels and abilities. Enjoy a leisurely stroll or a longer exploration of the wonderful woodland areas – whichever route you take you’re sure to discover something delightful. An hour-long circular walk along well-trodden trails passing through a variety of habitats, starts from the Woodland Discovery Centre. Heading towards the woods, turn left after the gate and follow the trail downhill until you reach a small bridge over a stream where you turn right and continue into the woods. From here you wind your way down, cross over Limb Brook, then head up a rugged incline until the public footpath signpost where you turn right, pass through the meadow, then head back to the Discovery Centre.

Ecclesall Woods wildlife

The rich biodiversity of the woods provides habitats that support a huge variety of wildlife. Its ponds are home to frogs, newts and toads, while woodland mammals include red deer, badgers, foxes, moles and shrews. You are most likely to spot water voles near Limb Brook, grey squirrels scurrying up trees, or rabbits disappearing down their holes. The ancient woodland also supports abundant birdlife, and local enthusiasts have monitored the avian population for decades. Among around 45 breeding bird species in Ecclesall Woods, look out for crows, sparrowhawks and herons that nest in the canopy, nuthatches and woodpeckers that live in tree holes and hollows, and wood warblers, chiffchaffs and blackcaps that build nests close to the ground.

Historic sites in Ecclesall Woods

Among the sunken lanes, ancient trees and moss-covered bridges you can discover a number of fascinating historic sites. Seek out the remains of Ryecroft Mill, a water mill on Limb Brook that was used for lead smelting as far back as the 17th century. The remnants of numerous charcoal hearths and Q-pits that were used in charcoal and white coal production for smelting can also be found – look out for wide circular pits on sloping ground sometimes surrounded by stones. The most remarkable evidence of historical charcoal burning in Ecclesall Woods is a gravestone from 1786 in commemoration of George Yardley, a wood collier who perished in an accidental fire in his woodland home after an evening out in the local hostelry. The oldest site of interest in the woods is a very rare prehistoric cup and ring-marked stone dating from the late Neolithic or Bronze Age era. Pick up an archaeological walk map from the Discovery Centre to help you find all these sites and more.

Attractions near Ecclesall Woods

Abbeydale Miniature Railway

Set amongst woodland off Abbeydale Road South, on the edge of Ecclesall Woods, Abbeydale Miniature Railway makes for a wonderful family day out. You are sure to enjoy sitting astride a small steam engine and whizzing around the track almost as much as your kids do. The railway comes complete with two stations, level crossings, footbridges and a multitude of steam-powered locomotives. Check the timetable before visiting.

Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet

Step back in time to discover the story of the steel industry that built the city of Sheffield. Formerly the site of the largest water-powered industrial site on the River Sheaf, Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet is built around the dam that was the source of its power. Marvel at the huge waterwheels, massive tilt hammers and crucible steel furnace, before exploring the reconstructed worker’s cottage, the dam itself and the beautiful millpond.

Abbeydale Road South, Sheffield, S7 2QW. Open Thu-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 11am-4pm. Admission free.

Our recent articles