Although I was born in Kirkby in Ashfield, I have never lived there. So, understanding the geography of my family diaries, which were set in Kirkby until the 1960s, has been a bit of a challenge. Many of the places, such as Station Street, Welbeck Street etc. were easy to find on modern day maps. However, many of the places grandad referred to were not. Many of these were local informal names, such as “the acre“, “the quarries“, “four roads end” and “Forest Hill“.
The 44 Steps
One of the places grandad frequently referred to was “the 44 steps“. They appear to have been a popular place to walk to and over, sometimes combined with walking in “the quarries” (Portland Park).
Others Also Referred to the 44 Steps
There is a photograph of the 44 steps on page 34 of the book “Kirkby & District A Second Selection” by Frank Ashley, Sylvia Sinfield and Gerald Lee which is part of the series of “Britain in Old Photographs”. They described the steps as on a walking route from Mayfield, Bentinck and Old Kirkby to Portland Park. The same, or very similar photograph, appears on page 30 of the book “Ferrets, a Tin Whistle and Haircuts at Home” by Mark Ashfield.
Looking for the 44 Steps
So, when the opportunity came recently to visit Kirkby, I decided to see if I could find and visit the 44 steps for myself. In trying to do so, I asked help from a number of local people walking in the quarries. A common reaction was a degree of puzzlement on two counts. First, people were somewhat baffled as to why I would want to look for these steps in the first place particularly as they were very overgrown and it was no longer possible to use them. Second, people were puzzled by the idea that the steps had to be looked for. Their location was very well-known. They had been in the same place for many years and had not moved!!
Asking for Help Prior to Visiting
Before travelling, I decided to ask for help and advice from members of the Kirkby Living Memory Facebook Group. I received many helpful suggestions including ideas of places to start – St Wilfrid’s Church, the Wild Rabbit Café and the Cricketers Arms in Nuncargate. There were also suggestions of routes and a number of warnings about the state of the steps and the nearby footbridge. Glyn Scothern guided me to a YouTube video of someone exploring old railways of the area which included the 44 steps. Priscilla Cockayne posted some photos from 2022 of her dog climbing the steps. There were also some questions about the number of steps along with recollections and stories of using the steps.
From St Wilfrid’s
As one person had suggested, we started our quest from St Wilfrid’s church. To aid understanding of the routes we took, I have compiled a map. Numbers relate to key locations and photographs which I will explain as I go on. From St Wilfrid’s we walked along a path down a hill and besides a graveyard.
We then came to a place where we could see a white gate in the distance. This is about location ❷ on the map. The gate is in fact where you can cross the current railway line, which is location ❸ on the map. Heading for this was in fact a mistake as, at this point, we were really close to the 44 steps without realising it! It was around this location that we crossed the footbridge with the broken board, about which we had been warned!
Crossing the Railway
The point at which it is possible to cross the current railway line is a key landmark in locating the 44 steps. It is location ❸ on the map. Unfortunately, the first time we got here, we were heading in the wrong direction away from the steps!
Once we had crossed the railway we continued on a bit until we met a man walking his dog. We asked him if he knew where the 44 steps were and also the route to the Wild Rabbit Café. He helped us on both counts but advised us that, if we wanted to go to the 44 steps, we needed to retrace our steps and go back over the railway crossing. We should then go straight and we would come to the steps.
So, we returned to the railway crossing and went over it. At this point, the way we had come seemed to be the most straight on although slightly to the left. We decided we did not want to go that way (which was a mistake!) so we headed off to the right and did a loop ending back where we had previously been! En route, we did meet two young men and two children. We asked them if they knew where the 44 steps were. They said they didn’t but that the river was wonderful to swim in. We asked them how to pronounce the name of the river but they said they did not know what the name was.
Lindley’s Lane Car Park
We decided to call it a day and walked back to Kirkby. We went via the Wild Rabbit Café, point ❽ on the map, and Lindley’s Lane Car Park. There, we had a conversation with a local man. When we asked him if he knew where 44 steps were, he responded that he did. We then asked him if he could tell us where they were and he responded that they were not near where we were. He also asked why we were interested. When I explained the background story, he gave us detailed instructions to find the steps and told us stories of using the steps in his childhood.
The next day, we decided to start from Lindley’s Lane car park. Although I have shown on the map that we went back via the Wild Rabbit Café, I don’t believe we did. Rather, we went out of the car park at the opposite end from the vehicular entrance and followed footpaths to get back to the rail crossing, point ❸ on the map.
Sharp Left and Through a Gate
After crossing the railway, at the point where we had gone wrong the previous day (!), we turned sharp left and through a gate. This is at point ❻ on the map.
On Old Railway Tracks
We then walked along what I think is an old railway track. At the end of a field, we took a fairly sharp right along what appeared to be another old railway track. This brought us to the top of the 44 steps at point ❼. Although they were overgrown and it was not possible to go down them, they were considerably easier to find from the top than from the bottom. It appears that there may have been some notices advising that the steps were dangerous and closed but these notices were not there when we visited.
Bottom of the Steps
We continued along the path and this brought us to point ❷ on the map where we had been the previous day. We followed the field edge to the right and this brought us to the bottom of the steps.
On the way back, we took a photo across the field to a railway bridge which featured in the YouTube video mentioned above. In that, he mentioned that the railway went under the bridge but I am not sure that this is correct. Others may know better. The bridge is at location ❾ on the map.
Wild Rabbit Café
After our success, we decided to head to the Wild Rabbit Café. There we found an excellent model of the quarries which shows the location of the 44 steps. It would have potentially been helpful to have found this first but it was nice to see it afterwards to confirm where we had been.
Criss-crossed by Railways
One thing the model shows is that this area was once criss-crossed by railways. It is hard to imagine it now although there are various bits and pieces all over the place that may be railway-related. Again, others may know better.