Hunting the Herd of Sheffield
I cooked up the plan to try and see all 58 Herd of Sheffield elephants towards the end of our holiday in Sri Lanka. We were staying at a cool colonial hotel in Bandarawela. Wonderful to look at, but not much to do, and very quickly I got bored. So I decided to catch up on what had been going on in the running world while we’d been busy seeing temples and buddas. And I read about the Accelerate Herd of Sheffield ‘run out’, taking in the 45 elephants in the centre of Sheffield. Which rapidly led to the thought ‘why don’t I try seeing all of them in one day?’, followed by ‘I can do it the Sunday after next when the OH is off to Cambridge for work’. And so I put an OS map of Sheffield in my amazon shopping basket, ready to order the moment we got home.
While waiting for the OS map to arrive I started investigating the locations of the outer elephants, and routes between them using google maps. And had a bit of a shock. The Our Cow Molly farm was (in retrospect unsurprisingly...) right on the edge of Sheffield and while it doesn’t take long to drive from Meadowhall to Crystal Peaks, they’re actually ~8 miles apart. This was going to be a longer day than I’d initially realised.
After marking the outer elephants on the map, the next step was plotting a route linking them. Since I’d be getting the train to Sheffield I decided to clear the city centre elephants first, then head out to the Botanical gardens via Weston Park, nip back to Bramall lane, followed by a big 3/4 circle taking in the outer elephants at Graves Park Animal Farm, Forge Dam, Our Cow Molly Farm, Hillsborough Walled Garden, Meadowhall and finally Crystal Peaks. The advantage of finishing at Crystal Peaks was that I could get the tram back to the station at the end if I wanted. Initially I fancied doing a closed loop by foot. However that was before I’d realised quite how many miles were involved. Plus, while there was a nice-looking off-road route from Meadowhall to Crystal Peaks, from Crystal Peaks to anywhere else (the station or the next elephant around the outer ‘circle’ at Graves Park Animal Farm) would involve lots of grim road miles. I decided to leave the decision about how to get back to the station to the day. I also wasn’t sure whether to just ‘do’ the big elephants or try to see the smaller elephants which were clustered at various indoor locations as well. All but one of the small elephant clusters were in the inner city, so I plotted routes with and without the one outer cluster at Abbeydale industrial hamlet and again decided to make the call on the day.
A couple of spanners were thrown in the works in the days running up to my elephant hunt. First I re-discovered that the 1st train to Sheffield on a Sunday wasn’t until 10am, and then I learnt that some of the big elephants were in locations with restricted Sunday opening hours. The most constraining ones were the Millennium Galleries (11-4) and Graves Park Animal Farm & Hillsborough Walled Garden (both 9-4). I briefly considered doing an out and back to Hillsborough while I was in the city centre, but decided against it, because it would add quite a few miles and the route wouldn’t ‘flow’ as well. Getting to Hillsborough for 4 looked like it should, just, be doable.
I set off on the Sunday with a fairly large rucksack containing 3 litres of water (it looked like it was going to be a hot day), snacks and the usual running bits and pieces. First up I bagged The Warrior at Sheffield station and the 2 elephants outside in Sheaf Square. And rapidly rued the fact I hadn’t put the ‘Herd of Sheffield’ app next to the camera on my phone. Next up was Park Hill followed by the 2 elephants at Victoria Quays. Here I encountered my first and biggest problem in finding and tagging elephants. The 1st elephant was obvious, but then either the locations in the app weren’t right or my phone GPS wasn’t updating fast enough and I couldn’t find the 2nd one. I eventually gave up (convincing myself that it had been damaged and taken away for repairs), but fortunately found it on my way to the next location.
From Lady’s Bridge I headed along the river to Kelham Island. After tagging the outside big elephant I went to investigate seeing the cluster of small elephants indoors at the museum. It was 10.50, the museum didn’t open to 11 and already there was a substantial queue. So, since I didn’t have time to spare if I was going to make Hillsborough for 4, I decided not to do the small elephants. Next was a sweep through the high density of elephants in the city centre. None of them took too long to find, but I’d been at a dark matter conference at the Cutler’s Hall all week and wished I’d spent some time checking their locations out. I also had to keep explaining to considerate parents that I really didn’t mind their children being in the way of my photos.
One of the more awkward elephants, was also one of my favourites: Tin Lizzie. Its location on the map wasn’t particularly accurate and, thanks to a permissive path being closed, I had to do an unnecessary loop to get at it. At this point the elephant at Bramall lane was showing on the map app, and it occurred to me that doing an out and back to it now might be more efficient than my planned route. But I decided to stick to my planned route rather than trying to plan a re-route on the fly, and potentially ending up trying to cross rivers and tramlines where there weren’t bridges.
Initially the streets had been fairly quiet, but as midday approached the city came alive, with other elephant hunters, picnickers and people listening to bands in pub gardens (I guess as part of the Tramlines festival). And, it felt good to be part of it (albeit in a slightly obsessive, anti-social way). Passing through the Botanical Gardens I kicked myself for not asking the OH exactly where the memorial tree to his dad is; it would have been nice to have passed by. Here I made my first ‘be lured away from my planned route my spotting the next-but-one-elephant’ mistake, but it didn’t cost me much time or distance.
On the way back towards the city centre to Bramall Lane, my route took me through Sharrow Vale cemetery, which looked fascinating. Definitely somewhere to re-visit in future. Outside there was a big lumpy rock. I thought ‘that’s a bit silly, given how many climbers there are in Sheffield, people are going to climb it’. And then I realised it was in fact designed for bouldering with rubberised matting underneath... Not long after it started raining. A bit shit for the picnicers, but I was glad of its cooling effect.
On the climb up through Meersbrook park I realised I’d been so focused on bagging elephants that I hadn’t had anything to eat, so I slammed down a Mars bar and a packet of hula hoops. The climb up to Graves park seemed to go on forever, and then it took a bit of wandering around inside the Animal Farm before I found the elephant. The farm looked, even to a farmer’s daughter, to have some interesting animals (including some huge pigs) and is another addition to the ‘come back and re-visit’ list.
It was already becoming clear that getting to Hillsborough for 4 was going to be a stretch, so I tried to get a move on down the hill to the A621. Usually if reality isn’t doing what you think the map says it should be doing, then you’re not where you think you are. However in this case, even in retrospect, I’m pretty sure that what the map said the roads & footpaths did and what they actually did were 2 different things. And I wasted 10 minutes, backtracking and ad-libbing to get down into the valley. Which was followed by a climb up another hill before the descent down to Forge dam, where people were ignoring the signs and letting their children climb all over the elephant. I was running a bit low on water, but the toilets only had annoying ‘hole in the wall washers’ (which dispense hot, soapy water) and there was a long queue at the cafe.
Next up was (surprise!) another long climb. I was overtaken by a runner who asked me if I knew where I was going. And when I said yes, he asked me why I was carrying a map then. I resisted the temptation to respond ‘so I know where I’m going’. After Lodge Moor the road plunged steeply into a valley and then my route took footpaths across the fields up the other side. At one point I thought I was going to have to take a detour to avoid a cow and calves. They stood their ground, but let me squeeze past. I could see a farm with a field full of cars, which had to be Our Cow Molly farm. But between me and it was yet another bloody valley...
I’d been promising myself a stop for ice-cream (and water), but the queue was huge. It was already 3.30, so I definitely wasn’t going to make Hillsborough for 4, but still I wanted to keep pushing on. Eventually, on the edge of Hillsborough, I found a supermarket where I bought a litre of water and a six pack of cheese and onion rolls-food of the (ultra-running, vegetarian) gods. In the absence of a bench, I sat on a grubby pavement and ate a couple of the rolls. I arrived at the walled garden at 4.45 to find that it had in fact closed at 4.30 rather than 4.00. Damn! If I hadn’t stopped for food, and had just pushed a bit harder and/or not messed my navigation up after Graves park I’d have made it. I walked around the edge of the walled garden, peering through gates, desperately trying to spot the elephant. I was close enough to tag it with the app, but couldn’t see it. Thankfully the walls were too high for me to contemplate climbing them...
From Hillsborough to Meadowhall was a long, not particularly pleasant, haul. The knowledge that I wasn’t going to manage to see all the elephants took the shine off things. And a planned short cut ended up adding a mile on to the route, because I thought I was going even slower than I actually was, mistook the A6102 for a minor road and over-shot a turn. Running past the Northern General brought back painful memories of the week my FIL sent in the ICU there after an (ultimately fatal) heart-attack. And I really wasn’t in the mood for banter from teenagers (‘only 10 miles to go’). They were, coincidentally, about right though.
At Meadowhall I bagged the elephants in the wrong order, but thankfully the shopping centre was still open so I could go through it rather than around the outside. I’d rattled through all the water I bought at Hillsborough and desperately needed some more for the final stage. The toilets only had hot water and the vending machines were all either out of order or out of water. Eventually I found a (filthy...) disabled toilet with a cold tap. Drinking this water didn’t seem like a great idea, but I didn’t have much choice. I sat down by the 3rd and final Meadowhall elephant and refuelled for the final stage with the rest of the cheese and onion rolls.
I’d decided to take the Trans-Pennine trail from Meadowhall to Crystal Peaks. A little bit longer than the shortest road route, but hopefully a lot more pleasant. In fact it turned out to be one of my favourite parts of the day. Apart from a short stretch of industrial estates (where I encountered a fox and a rat) the trail mainly went along canals (bringing back memories of various races) and through parklands. The 8+ miles took me more than 2 hours, but it felt like a lot less. I arrived at Crystals Peaks just before dark, got heckled by some small children and took a rare selfie with my final elephant. The day had been longer, and hillier, than I’d expected so there was no question of run-walking back to the station (not least because I might not have made it back for the last train home...)
It turned out to be a bigger challenge than I was expecting (navigating using an OS map in an urban area is tricky and Sheffield is even hillier than I realised). But it was fun, and a good way to ward off the post holiday blues. Not seeing the elephant in Hillsborough Walled Garden is frustrating, and initially I was planning to repeat the entire exercise. With a few route refinements, and knowing exactly where all the elephants are, I think I could do it significantly quicker. However, on 2nd thoughts I don’t think the route is appealing enough to want to repeat it.