Cycle, climb, run and relax … at Sheffield’s festival of outdoor activities

A celebration of all things active, the Outdoor City Weekender highlights the Steel City’s appeal to sport fans and its potential as a gateway to the great outdoors

At the top of a dual slalom mountain bike track, I grip the handlebars and prepare to push off. The course is about to unfurl beneath my tyres: two parallel tracks, around 300m long and riddled with banked corners, or “berms”, and rolling bumps known as “whoops”. In the lane next to me, my opponent appears calm and collected beneath his helmet and body armour.

Happily, this is just a friendly contest – a fun afternoon tearing down the trails of Parkwood Springs, the UK’s only inner-city mountain bike facility, on the edge of Sheffield. But this weekend (17-19 March), local international downhill pro Steve Peat will race in earnest down a dual slalom track through the heart of the city in The Howard Street Dual.

Sheffield is fast becoming a centre for outdoor activities and adventure sports, and is hosting its second Outdoor City Weekender. This three-day festival features an international climbing competition; a road bike race that takes in seven of the city’s toughest climbs (including the gruelling Côte de Oughtibridge, which featured in the 2014 Tour de France); city orienteering; yoga in the plant-filled Winter Garden glasshouse; and the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival.

Ellie Ross, right, and fellow cyclist on the roads near Sheffield.
Ellie Ross, right, and fellow cyclist on the roads near Sheffield. Photograph: Band Of Birds

The weekender is part of an initiative to position Sheffield as the UK’s first outdoor city. It follows a 2014 report by Sheffield Hallam University (Everything grows outside – including jobs and the economy), which found that the city has the highest household spend on outdoor equipment in the country, and that outdoor recreation in the city generated £53m annually and created more than 1,500 full-time jobs, with more than 200 outdoor equipment businesses.

“The proximity between city life, outdoor adventure and rural escapes can’t be replicated anywhere else in the UK,” says Leigh Bramall, deputy leader of Sheffield city council.

Sheffield is a gateway to the outdoors: one third of the city sits within the Peak District national park and it is one of Europe’s greenest cities. It’s also a hotbed for climbing, thanks to its natural crags and world-class training centres, The Climbing Works and The Foundry. Famous climbers and mountaineers, including Joe Simpson, Pete Whittaker, Steve McClure and Shauna Coxsey, choose to live and climb in Sheffield.

Visitors try scaling the walls at The Climbing Works, one of Sheffield's indoor climbing centres.
Visitors try scaling the walls at The Climbing Works Photograph: Band Of Birds

Within the city itself, the Sheffield Parkour and Freerunning group lists dozens of central training sites on its website, including Peace Gardens, Hallam Square and the dedicated parkour area in Endcliffe Park.

At Parkwood Springs, the 2km of manmade mountain biking trails were created in 2012 as part of an initiative to regenerate the area, which is home to the derelict slopes of the former Ski Village.

I get to discover just how good the access to the outdoors is the morning after my mountain bike race, when I run from my hotel to the edge of the Peak District. The 7km route wends its way west, through Endcliffe Park with its duck pond and picnic benches, and into the thick woodland of Porter Clough, where mud squelches underfoot. I spot a heron fishing in Porter Brook, before running up a series of bridges and arriving at Ringinglow, where the landscape opens up to fields of grazing sheep and swathes of moorland - all under an hour’s jog from the city.

Sheffield running
A river, run through it … Mayfield Valley which runs up to the Peak District. Photograph: Band Of Birds

I switch my trainers for cycling shoes to explore further afield on my road bike. Pedalling along the tarmac with the city skyline behind me, the earth begins to buckle into gentle folds of heather before rising to long craggy escarpments of exposed rock. I have reached Stanage Edge, hailed by the climbing community as Britain’s best gritstone crag. It’s still close to Sheffield (less than nine miles away) and, should rain put an end to your climb, is only a 25-minute drive back to indoor adventures at The Climbing Works.

Yet this rugged landscape, today almost devoid of people, feels like the wilderness. But, having reached it all under my own steam from the city centre, it’s a most accessible wilderness.

The Outdoor City Weekender, 17-19 March

Ellie Ross

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Let’s go to … Sheffield
Take in the city’s Sensoria festival and a gory new sculpture in the cathedral … then refuel on great beer and tasty budget bites

Ellie Violet Bramley

22, Sep, 2015 @11:34 AM

Article image
Starry, starry nights: dark skies festival in North Yorkshire
The UK’s Dark Skies Festival begins today, offering stargazing in the best light – real dark. Our writer spies the heavens in North Yorkshire

Lizzy Dening

09, Feb, 2018 @10:58 AM

Article image
The alt city guide to Brighton
Brighton’s festival scene in May could be the reason for a spring visit but this artistic, creative and collaborative seaside town has inspirational art, music, food and drink on tap year-round

Tony Naylor

19, Apr, 2017 @5:30 AM

Article image
Sheffield’s real steal: a cutting edge city break
An industrial city famed for snooker finals might make for an unlikely getaway, but its vibrant arts scene won comedian and writer Jon Holmes over

Jon Holmes

11, Oct, 2015 @6:00 AM

Article image
What a Shambles: a walk around York’s ancient walls and alleys
A grand railway station and one of Europe’s largest gothic cathedrals contrast with tiny medieval lanes on this stroll through the ancient capital of England’s north

Alan Franks

12, Jul, 2017 @5:30 AM

Article image
10 of the best city music festivals in the UK for 2019
For those who love music but hate camping, these multi-venue urban festivals showcase music and art without the mud and creepy-crawlies

Tony Naylor

19, Apr, 2019 @5:30 AM

Article image
Walking with dinosaurs: fossil hunting on the North Yorkshire coast
This dramatic coastline is fertile ground for fossil hunters, with 160-million-year-old ammonites (and dinosaur footprints) common on the seashore. Kevin Rushby takes a tour through pre-history

Kevin Rushby

11, Mar, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
Walking the new St Hilda’s Way: a journey of lost souls
St Hilda’s Way is a new 40-mile walking trail across the North York moors to Whitby that takes in the churches inspired by the seventh-century saint

Dixe Wills

23, Sep, 2016 @5:30 AM

Article image
Take the kids to … Millennium Gallery, Sheffield
This free art gallery and museum celebrates Sheffield steel along with big-name artists, including the work – and cats – of John Ruskin

Phoebe Taplin

29, May, 2019 @11:55 AM

Article image
Top 10 craft beer pubs in Sheffield
One of Britain’s great beer cities is celebrating the fifth annual Sheffield Beer Week – but in these pubs there’s an exhaustive range of craft brews on tap year round

Tony Naylor

12, Mar, 2019 @6:30 AM