Finding the 44 Steps

Unfamiliar Geography

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 Quarries is the local name for Portland Park. These two postcards are both labelled The Quarries. The first one is from 1913 and the second one from 1955. The first one was produced by Mrs A W Lane and the second one by Maltby and Griffiths

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).

Some of grandad’s diary references to the 44 steps

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.

I am grateful to Mark Hibbert for sharing a copy of this photograph of the 44 Steps which also appears in “Kirkby & District A Second Selection” by Frank Ashley, Sylvia Sinfield and Gerald Lee and “Ferrets, a Tin Whistle and Haircuts at Home” by Mark Ashfield.
These photos were posted by Jean Waring on the Kirkby Living Memory Facebook Group. They are from the 1990s (left) and 2018 (right) respectively. I am grateful to her for permission to include these here. The one on the left shows Jean’s mother and her mother’s two sisters on the 44 steps. The two boys in the foreground are Jean’s son, Ellis, and his friend

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.

Photo posted by Priscilla Cockayne on Kirkby Living Memory Facebook Group showing her dog on the 44 steps in 2022. Used with permission.

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.

Hand-drawn map showing “quest” to find the 44 steps

Looking back towards St Wilfrid’s along the path we had walked. This is approximately location ❶ on the map.

Railway Crossing

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!

This is location ❷ on the map. We saw the white gate and headed for it…
This is also location ❷ on the map looking right. If we had headed along this field edge we would have come to the base of the 44 steps. However, I am not sure we would have found them as they are very overgrown. We only found the base once we had located the steps at the top.
Footbridge close to location ❷ with missing board about which we were warned. On 20 September 2023, Julian Butler posted on Kirkby Living Memory Facebook Group that this had been fixed.
Photo of repaired footbridge in October 2023

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!

There is a pedestrian crossing across the current railway. It is at location ❸ on the map. Photo below is approaching the crossing from the Wild Rabbit Café side
This photo and map, supplied by Mark Hibbert, shows the crossing and its location on the map

Turning Back

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.

Approximate location of point ❹ on the map. The railway crossing is along the path to the right. That is where we had come from and the way we returned

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.

Lindley’s Lane car park which is point ❺ on the map

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.

Photos taken on walk from Lindley’s Lane car park to rail crossing
We had two interpretations of this sign. I thought the arrows nearest to the words indicated direction. So, ponds to the right and visitor centre and café to the left. However, my wife Jo pointed out that the words and arrows were on separate signs so ponds to the left and visitor centre and café to the right
Another photo on the route from Lindley’s Lane car park to the rail crossing

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.

This sign is just after the gate that we went through after turning sharp left after the railway crossing. 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.

The top of the 44 steps at point ❼ on the map
The top of the 44 steps. The near post looks new and as if it had a closure or warning notice on it. This was not in place when we visited.
We visited again in October 2023 and the top of the steps has been partially cleared

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.

While it is extremely hard to see them because of how overgrown they are, this is the bottom of the 44 steps.
In October 2023, now that some of the vegetation has been cleared, the steps are visible from the bottom
View towards base of 44 steps. St Wilfrid’s church is visible in the distance. The well-demarcated path that we used the first day is to the extreme right. The photograph is taken fairly close to the railway crossing

Railway Bridge

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.

Photograph of railway bridge 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.

Model of railways in the quarries located at the Wild Rabbit Café. The model was made by Donald Walker in 2009 and is on loan to the café from Kirkby Heritage Centre
I later received this map from Mark Hibbert with the 44 Steps marked on them. This can be compared with the model above and my own hand-drawn map

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.

This area was once criss-crossed by railways. I am not sure if these photos are railway-related. Others may know better.

One response to “Finding the 44 Steps”

  1. Christine Evans Avatar
    Christine Evans

    Such a shame it has been allowed to become so overgrown and not accessible but maybe thats because it isnt as used as much now days. When Bentinck pit was open miners would cut through the quarries to get to work and go up the steps my Dad included. I spent most of my childhood down the Quarries or on the Acre and the steps were always clear back then (1970.s). A lovely read by the way theank you.

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