Walks in Wakefield

Polly Checkland Harding

Wakefield’s walks are remarkable in their variety. Looking for an urban tour of the city’s best heritage sites? Start at one of only three surviving bridge chapels in England, then wend your way through Wakefield’s streets, taking in the Cathedral, Gissing Centre and Theatre Royal Wakefield on the way. After a better understanding of an industry that has had a profound influence on British life? Both the woodland trails and underground tours at the National Coal Mining Museum offer a unique insight into the workings of a coal mine. Or perhaps you want to truly escape to nature, for the chance to watch bats feeding above the mirror of a lake along your route? Head to Newmillerdam Country Park, a 14 minute bus ride from Wakefield city centre, where you’ll find luscious woodland perfectly replicated in the polished surface of the water, and paths that trace their way across the landscape.

You’ll be following in the footsteps of writers and artists alike, who’ve long been inspired by the natural beauty of this part of the world. It’s a connection that’s best celebrated by the international centre for modern and contemporary sculpture Yorkshire Sculpture Park. A walk around the beautiful parkland here is also a chance to encounter around 100 outdoor artworks by artists including Ai Weiwei, Andy Goldsworthy and Barbara Hepworth – while The Hepworth art museum in Wakefield city centre commemorates its namesake’s connection to the landscape through its large free public garden.

Alongside Wakefield’s urban, industrial, nature and art-filled routes, more variety still is on offer for walkers, with the opportunity to explore the site of historic moments in British history on foot. Sandal Castle and Pontefract Castle are two such spots, both with incredible backstories. With the pleasure gardens at Nostell Priory and a fun Ossett Brewery tour also in the mix, our top walks in Wakefield guide offers something for everyone. Read on to discover more.

Here are our picks

  • 1. The Hepworth Wakefield

    The Hepworth Wakefield

    The Hepworth Wakefield, Gallery Walk, Wakefield, Yorkshire, WF1 5AW - Visit now

    Wakefield’s £35m art museum The Hepworth won the prestigious Art Fund Museum of the Year award in 2017 – and has one of the UK’s largest free public gardens on site. This is the perfect starting place for an art-themed walk around the city; designed by acclaimed landscape architect Tom Stuart-Smith, the garden features outdoor sculptures by the museum’s namesake, Barbara Hepworth, as well as Rebecca Warren, Lynn Chadwick and Sir Michael Craig-Martin. Formerly an unused plot of land, the garden’s design reflects the striking shapes of the David Chipperfield-designed gallery, has its own garden café, and is close to a path that leads along the banks of the River Calder. Alternatively, head back into the city centre and on to a pre-booked session at Neon Workshops, or the year-round programme of exhibitions, events, residencies and more at The Art House.

  • 2. Yorkshire Sculpture Park

    Yorkshire Sculpture Park

    Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, Wakefield, Yorkshire, WF4 4LG - Visit now

    There are always around 100 sculptures and installations to discover when walking across Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s stunning parkland, including site-specific commissions, long and short term loans and gifts from individuals and artists. Encountering art in the open air is a fantastic, unique experience – particularly when the works include a monumental orchid by Marc Quinn, created using 3D scanning technology, Ai Weiwei’s Iron Tree, assembled from 97 different tree elements cast in iron, and Marialuisa Tadei’s playful, mosaic-covered octopus. Alongside its indoor galleries, this award winning international centre for modern and contemporary sculpture is situated across the fields, hills, woodland, lakes and formal gardens of the 18th century Bretton Hall estate – 500 acres of land that provide artists with the opportunity to develop outdoor sculpture, and the public an incredible chance to encounter it while exploring on foot.

  • 3. The Chantry Chapel of St Mary the Virgin

    The Chantry Chapel of St Mary the Virgin
    Courtesy of The Friends of the Chantry Chapel of St Mary Wakefield

    The Chantry Chapel of St Mary the Virgin, 3 Calder Vale Rd, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, WF1 5DL - Visit now

    Built in the mid-14th century, The Chantry Chapel of St Mary Wakefield is a Grade I listed, scheduled ancient monument – and a must-visit site on a heritage-themed walking tour of Wakefield. It’s among the city’s most historic buildings, with a fascinating past. Only a 12 minute walk away is Wakefield Cathedral, which boasts 23 stained glass windows by the renowned Victorian designer Charles Eamer Kempe. If walking as whetted your appetite, you’ll find the Cathedral Kitchen on site. Five minutes from the Cathedral is the Gissing Centre, a Georgian house that was the childhood home of Victorian author George Gissing; the memorabilia and manuscripts inside offer a great introduction to the life this overlooked writer. For more architectural splendour, continue on to the Theatre Royal Wakefield, a Grade II* listed building designed by the celebrated theatre architect Frank Matcham, or journey on to Wakefield Museum for a brilliant overview of the history of the city itself.

  • 4. Nostell Priory and Parkland

    Nostell Priory and Parkland
    National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

    Nostell Priory and Parkland, Doncaster Road, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, WF4 1QE - Visit now

    This National Trust property combines an 18th century architectural masterpiece with 300 acres of gardens and parkland – and options for a multitude of different walks. There are the pleasure grounds, with a circular path through oaks and sweet chestnuts that leads to the Lower Lake, with its boathouse and bridge, and the chance to see woodpeckers, swans, ducks and herons along the way. Alternatively, you can explore the estate’s landscape gardens: follow the Nostell Menagerie Garden Walk to discover the garden that was once home to exotic birds, monkeys and even lions, or explore the recently created Kitchen Garden, with its orchard, vegetable patches, herbaceous border and insect-friendly flowerbeds. Here, vegetables true to the 1700 and 1800s are grown, as well as produce for the Courtyard Café. Beyond this, there’s Joiner’s Wood, where the trees were once the source of timber for the estate, and the Obelisk Park – currently being restored to its 1848 blueprint. There are even monthly guided walks around the parkland if you’d rather not come up with your own route.

  • 5. Newmillerdam Country Park

    Newmillerdam Country Park
    Lee Ward @ LAW Photography

    Newmillerdam Country Park, Barnsley Road, Newmillerdam, Wakefield, WF2 6QP - Visit now

    There’s something magical about the reflection of trees in a body of water – especially as the foliage changes colour with the seasons. Newmillerdam Country Park is a spot that features this natural alchemy: here, a central lake is surrounded by woodland slopes, the water a burnished mirror to the greenery and the stately boathouse, built in the 1820s for the family who once owned the land. Now a café for walkers, with food made from fresh, locally sourced produce, barista coffee and great cakes, the boathouse used to be the jumping off point for those who came to shoot waterfowl from punts on the lake. Today, the country park is actually a site for conservation and an important breeding ground for the Great Crested Grebe; visitors are treated to a number of different avian species throughout the year. For a longer walk, follow the disused Chevet branch railway line, accessible from the south west corner of the park, out into the surrounding countryside.

  • 6. Sandal Castle

    Sandal Castle
    Wakefield Council

    Sandal Castle, Manygates Lane, Sandal, West Yorkshire, WF2 7DS - Visit now

    Walk around the ruins of Sandal Castle and the surrounding grounds, and you’ll be exploring the setting of a Shakespeare play. Several scenes from Henry VI, Part III take place here, as did the Battle of Wakefield in real life; fought below the castle, this was one of the major events in the War of the Roses, in which the Duke of York was fatally wounded. Left unscathed by the fighting, Sandal Castle itself fell into ruin over the years that followed. Very little is left of the castle itself today, but there are superb views, as well as events and activities year-round. Better still, there’s a family-run and dog-friendly café in the former visitor centre, perfect for a meal or light refreshment on site.

  • 7. National Coal Mining Museum for England

    National Coal Mining Museum
    National Coal Mining Museum for England

    National Coal Mining Museum for England, Caphouse Colliery, New Road, Overton, Wakefield, WF4 4RH - Visit now

    Located at the former Caphouse Colliery, the National Coal Mining Museum not only has six galleries and buildings that tell the story of the coal mining industry in Britain, but is also surrounded by the acres of woodland that occupy the sprawling site. Here you can follow a Nature Trail that starts at the picnic area and leads through lush greenery to the museum’s Hope Pit displays. Filled with plants and wildlife, this is where the process for cleaning excess water from the mine and pumping it back into the local river is explained. Also outdoors is the Stable Yard, home to an 18 hand Clydesdale horse and several ponies – alternatively, take a walk underground on one of the museum’s ‘Meet a Miner’ tours. After a 140m descent in the cage, you’ll discover the harsh realities of the industry from a former miner. You couldn’t ask for a more unusual way to stretch your legs…

  • 8. Pontefract Castle

    Pontefract Castle
    Wakefield Council

    Pontefract Castle, Castle Garth, Pontefract, West Yorkshire, WF8 1QH - Visit now

    Some walks are particularly special for the experience of encountering an historic landscape – the sense that significant events have taken place on the ground you’re walking across. This is definitely true when exploring Pontefract Castle, close to Wakefield and one of Yorkshire’s top heritage sites. King Richard II was captured and imprisoned here by Henry VI, King Henry VIII visited in 1541 with his young wife Catherine Howard (later executed for her alleged affair with Henry’s courtier and friend), and the castle played a key role in the first use of liquorice as a confection. Display cases in the visitor centre showcase cannon balls and coins minted when the castle was under siege during the Civil Wars, while the aptly named Liquorice Café offers a spot from which to soak all this history in.

  • 9. Ossett Brewery Taproom

    Ossett Brewery Taproom

    Ossett Brewery Taproom, Kings Yard, Low Mill Road, Ossett, West Yorkshire, WF5 8ND - Visit now

    Admittedly this pick offers more in the way of libation than exercise – nonetheless, if you book an Ossett Brewery Tour, you’ll be on your feet for around 55 minutes while discovering how the company’s award-winning beer is made. Ossett Brewery made the difficult transition from a microbrewery to an international brand, winning several World Beer Awards along the way; this tour is an opportunity to find out how, and to sample the freshest possible samples of three Ossett Brewery beers. The tour ends at the Taproom, an elegant bar right next to the cutting-edge brewing equipment, with picnic tables and lovely countryside views outside. The Taproom is also regularly host to street food stands and live music performances. We can’t think of a better reward for a ‘walk’.