The best way to get to know a place is treading its paths and connecting its history with the sights you see on your way. The 2-mile circular Town Walk, devised by local rambler Terry Howard, lets you get your teeth into Sheffield’s past, leading you to places that were significant before it became a city in 1893. The pace you set is up to you: brisk canter or leisurely stroll, there’s plenty to stop you in your tracks.
Start at Sheffield Cathedral, one of a handful of Grade I listed architectural icons in the city and a place that tells many a tale. It’s worth a look in. Weave your way down to High Street and Fitzalan Square, now a bustling transport and shopping interchange, but formerly the site of Sheffield’s notorious Rambles district and abattoir quarter in the 18th century. Ponds Forge Leisure Centre is known for its Olympic-sized swimming pool and for hosting national diving championships: but did you know it takes its name from the forges and millponds that powered the steelworks from the 1500s? It’s only a few steps on to Victoria Quays, where you’ll find the Sheffield to Tinsley Canal, dotted with canal boats and surrounded by hotels.
In no time you’ll reach the site of Sheffield’s castle, long since gone, but where stone foundations were uncovered in the 1920s. A stone castle was built on the site after the original Norman motte and bailey was destroyed. A prison to Mary Queen of Scots for many years, the castle fell into the hands of Parliamentarians after the English Civil War, when it was destroyed. A 60s addition – shopping area Castle Market – was recently demolished. Just opposite the castle site, don’t miss the glorious old Town Hall, used as a courthouse till the 90s and now facing an uncertain future.
Cross the unusually-named Blonk Street and you’ll find yourself on the oldest bridge in Sheffield: Lady’s Bridge, crossing the River Don and immortalised by Richard Hawley in his 2007 album. In 1864, the Great Sheffield Flood almost put an end to Lady’s Bridge, and in 2007, the Sheffield floods tested its resolve once more. On the other side, pause to read the information board – you'll learn more about the area, as well as the history of the orange, out-of-place-looking building opposite, whose past lives include horse hospital and the birthplace of mushy peas.
Follow the Upper Don Walk along the river and before long, you’ll be in one of Sheffield’s cradles of industry: Kelham Island. Stop off for refreshments at one of the quarter’s fine pubs or delve deeper into its history at Kelham Island Museum.
You’ll wind your way back towards the courts and legal quarter. A 1736 map of Sheffield locates Sheffield's workhouse on the site of the current court buildings.
The heavenly-sounding Paradise Square is where John Wesley preached in 1779, and where Chartists met in the 1830s. Look out for the old synagogue on the corner of North Church Street and St Peter's Close, built by Sheffield’s small Jewish community in 1872. And don’t miss the oldest surviving brick built house in Sheffield: the Old Bank House at the other end of St Peters Close, dating back to 1728.
Walk up the passageway onto Campo Lane, then cross and turn right, taking a left turn into East Parade. You’re back where you began, ready for refreshment and enriched with new knowledge about Sheffield’s city centre heritage.