The hidden cloughs and woods of Blacka Moor, where Sheffield meets the Peak District, and the Wuthering Heights-esque character of the moorland make a wonderful walk at any time of year. Perhaps it's the changing character of it that appeals from month to month. One week you're feeling raw and exposed on the open moorland that's bereft of much life, and a few weeks after you feel positively embraced by the bracken and birch.
The walk suggested here takes you through a variety of habitats, and hopefully will inspire you to explore further and discover hidden treasures. To get there from the bus stop on Hathersage Road, walk back in the direction of Sheffield for about 200 metres, towards the car park next to the Strawberry Lee Plantation.
1. Follow the track down towards Totley Moor until you get to the compost bins, which contain chipped rhododendron that has been removed from the adjacent woodland to make space for native species, as well as bracken that has been cut and harvested.
2. Go through the kiss gate and follow the route across Cowsick Bog. This is probably one of the richest areas of the reserve, as it contains a great variety of plants – cross-leaved heath, cotton grass, hare's tail cotton grass, sphagnum mosses (the stuff that peat's made of), cranberry and a wonderful display of the locally rare bog asphodel.
3. Continue through the heath, which looks wonderful in July/August when the heather is in full bloom. As the cattle graze and trample here they help to create and conserve the conditions needed for ground-nesting birds and a variety of insects for birds to feed their chicks on.
4. You'll then get to the bracken plots. Bracken can completely inundate heather and bilberry, so its spread is controlled. But it does look spectacular as a splash of rust-colour in the drab winter months.
5. Off Strawberry Lee Road (track), you can just about see evidence of a stone circle just south of the track – but only in winter. Protruding from the bracken is a single standing stone. Find that and, with a bit of probing with your feet, you'll feel a circle of stone from that one, hidden amongst the dead bracken.
6. As you head left from the Lenny Hill 'crossroads' the path narrows, and down the steep, boulder-strewn bank is the rushing torrent of Blacka Dyke. You'll get to the wooded clough of the dyke, which provides welcome shelter in the winter months and shade in the summer.
7. As you come out back onto the heathland to the right, you'll see the sea of purple in late July/August. The heather is so dense here, that you'll feel immersed in honey, so intoxicating is the smell. Stonechat can usually be seen and heard here, with their distinctive whistle-chat-chat song.
8. This section of the walk is perhaps one of the best parts of heathland. The mix of open heather and bilberry and the scattered birch somehow have a magical quality – you can imagine deer, wild boar or wolves lurking in these kinds of places, with patches of shade and open glades adding to the atmosphere (there's only have red deer here, not the latter two!). The firebreak further on hosts a wonderful mix of cowberry, crowberry, heather, bilberry and grasses.
9. It is worth exploring Strawberry Lee Plantation – this wood is very different from the other woods at Blacka Moor. It has a distinctive atmosphere, as the rhododendron protects the wood from the winds, creating a microclimate suitable for mosses and lichens to thrive and creating stillness, which is unusual in this part of the Peak District.