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Barnsdale, or Barnsdale Forest, is a relatively small area of South Yorkshire, England which has a rich history and the region is steeped in folklore. Historically part of the West Riding of Yorkshire.[1] Barnsdale lies in the immediate vicinity north and north-west of Doncaster, and which was formerly forested and a place of royal hunts, and also renowned as a haunt of the outlaw Robin Hood in early ballads.

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Boundaries and features of Barnsdale

Barnsdale historically falls within the West Riding of Yorkshire within Yorkshire.[1] The villages within Barndale are today part of the local government administration area South Yorkshire, the southern villages are more specifically now part of the Metropolitan Borough of Doncaster. While the villages and hamlets of northern Barnsdale fall within the City of Wakefield metropolitan borough of West Yorkshire.

The small South Yorkshire village of Hampole is generally considered to lie within the dead centre of what was once the Barnsdale Forest area 53°35′10.0″N 1°14′0.00″W / 53.58611°N 1.23333°W / 53.58611; -1.23333. It is recorded that Richard Rolle (1300-1349), the famous Latin and English religious writer and Bible translator, spent his final years at Hampole as a hermit, secluded in the dense forest.

The area was once thick woodland, rich with game and deer; and the monarchs of England are sometimes recorded as having gone on royal hunts in the Barnsdale forest. It is believed that at some point in the early medieval era, Barnsdale Forest was probably huge and may have covered most of South Yorkshire (in the same manner as Sherwood Forest probably once covered most of Nottinghamshire). It is possible that the large town of Barnsley, some fifteen kilometres to the west of Hampole, probably got the name from the forest.

Barnsdale Bar is the site of the junction of the A1 (the historic Great North Road), the A639, and Wrangbrook Lane, Woodfield Road and Long Lane (junction 38 of the A1). Now a service area lies just north of the junction, about eight miles north-north-west of Doncaster. Three limestone quarries exist nearby, and archeological digs at the site have turned up some fascinating materials, architecture, and preserved farmland dating back to the medieval era, the Dark Ages, and beyond (read article here)

All that now exists of Barnsdale Forest is small gatherings of trees at the side of the A1 trunk road at Barnsdale Bar 53°37′3.12″N 1°13′53.05″W / 53.6175333°N 1.2314028°W / 53.6175333; -1.2314028. There is however a wooded area around a half a mile wide, lying around a mile south of Hampole. It is called Hampole Wood, and although a small wood, the trees there may be direct descendants of the trees of Barndale Forest. The same could be said of the woodland that resides around a nearby stately home, Brodsworth Hall. At Woodlands (q.v.) there is Hanging Wood, which also was part of Barnsdale Forest.

At Barnsdale Bar there is a 1,226 yard railway tunnel which although closed to passenger traffic in 1932 and completely in 1959 is in remarkable condition and is part of the former Hull and Barnsley Railway.

Connections between the Barnsdale area and the Robin Hood legend

In the earliest medieval ballads of Robin Hood, the 'bold outlaw' is stated as having made Barnsdale Forest his abode and base of operations (as an example, see A Gest of Robyn Hode [1]). This is in direct contradiction of what many believe - that Robin Hood resided in Sherwood Forest, some fifty miles to the south of Barnsdale, in Nottinghamshire. Some believe that this is evidence of a historical Robin Hood who was a Yorkshireman. However it is possible that the two forests were so large that they conjoined together at this period in history; indeed, the two forests may even have been one great forest in this respect.

There is also Robin Hood's Well, a small monument (apparently designed by John Vanbrugh) lying right next to the A1 between the Red House junction and Barnsdale Bar; in between the villages of Skelbrooke and Burghwallis. It was however moved around 1960 when the junction was being constructed, so the real well is now beneath the A1. For an interesting article on the well, see this page: [2]

Yet another well - Little John's Well - lies to the west of Hampole, between Wrangbrook and Skelbrooke (but closer to the latter). It is also called Little John's Cave. Situated by the A638, to the west of Barnsdale, it was once engraved with the outlaws' name but is now derelict.

South of Barnsdale Bar, the A1 follows the old Roman Road of Ermine Street - north of Barnsdale Bar the A639 follows the course of the Roman Road more closely whilst the A1 follows a more recent route. A number of villages and geological features along this route are mentioned in the early ballads of Robin Hood as being places the outlaw would visit.

In Hanging Wood, also known as Highfields Wood, which lies between Hampole and Highfields, 53°33′39.96″N 1°11′58.68″W / 53.5611°N 1.1996333°W / 53.5611; -1.1996333 a small stream known as Robin Hood's stream springs from underneath the Roman Road and runs into the Pick burn.

The 'Woodlands' Model Village

Perhaps the best known feature of modern-day Barnsdale, is the model village of Woodlands which lies about 4 miles south of Barnsdale Bar between the Roman Road and the historic Great North Road, here numbered as the A638 following the construction in 1960 of the A1(M) Doncaster by-pass.

References

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