The Hollies, Meanwood Valley trail & Woodhouse Ridge, Leeds

There are lots of hidden green gems around Leeds. With it being so hilly there are lots of valleys and ridges to explore.

A couple of days ago, myself and a friend did a 2 hour loop around 3 areas that link together so well. Offering a scenic escape from the city on our doorstep.

I thought I had over dressed in a hoody and a retro 80s ski fleece. When we met each other at my front door the sun was still out, the ground and air had been heated through out the day leaving the early evening still warm.

We set off towards Hyde Park. One of the rougher, ghett-ee-oo student areas of Leeds. Rows and rows of red brick terraced houses, mostly painted with crude graffiti tags by the local roadmen. Occasionally some walls are blessed with legit artwork commissioned by local businesses. It’s always busy in Hyde Park. Students wander between convenience stores and takeaways in groups. Wearing their finest hoodies, sweat pants with socks and sliders. Some will have just crawled out of bed for the chance to grab snacks from the shop with their housemates. Asian men in their taxis speed up and down the streets picking up and dropping off lazy young professionals after a days work. Asian owned fruit and veg shops spill their produce out on to the street in large plastic crates, 2 for £1 it says, as mothers and daughters shop for their families. All within the shadow of the Hyde Park Mosque that cuts away from the lines of terraced brick. It’s turquoise dome a stark contrast against the red aged bricked of old Leeds.

Past Hyde Park we come to the beginnings of Woodhouse. A similar area, just quieter. If you can navigate the streets and alleyways you’ll find an entrance to Woodhouse Ridge. A wooded area with veins of pathways through the vegetation. Occasionally a clearing is found which is home to small farms and allotments. If you keep your eyes peeled you will find horses and goats grazing the fields. The Ridge is steep. The paths zig zag down wards towards Meanwood Valley. At the top of the ridge towards Headingley is a more affluent area. Through the trees at the top, vast houses painted white, standing tall over the ridge, looking out towards Meanwood. Some of those houses can be seen for miles around. Their perfect lawns and pristine hedges with perfectly places flowers and shrubs are a far cry from the wilderness down the ridge. Try not to fall, it’s a long way to roll.

We emerge out of the ridge, a main road cutting into our path. We run across dodging the rush hour traffic. Straight into the bushes on the other side, Meanwood Valley Trail. The sun is setting, the heat is evaporating and I am glad of my fleece and hoody. The air is filled with tiny bugs flying in swarms. There are countless streams and ponds in this valley all pooling into one at the river. The bugs dance over my short hair and I swipe my head every few seconds as I can feel every little bug that lands on me.

Amongst all the nature, there are still clues we are very much in a big city. The graffiti has carried through, meshing with the forest, creating an urban jungle. The subtle signs of the youth of a city, disappearing into the valley to partake in probably illegal activity.

After some time we come to Meanwood Park. Dogs are running around on the grass, sniffing dangerously close to the stream edge. Children and parents are laughing and playing on the park with swings. Cutting through the park leads you into the Hollies.

The Hollies was created from a quarry. Picture the shape of a quarry. A vast expanse cut out of the earth. With ridges only giants could use as steps. It later was landscaped and turned into a garden of Eden.

The only noises you can hear are the birds in the canopies above and the streams running adjacent to your path. tread carefully or you’ll step into a rush of moving water cascading over pebbles and roots. The blossom is late this year. So we have a cross over of blossom and summer flowers. Clusters of pink and white blossom cling on to the branches of leaf-less trees. Their skinny branches weighed down by the adorning clumps. Amongst these, there are signs of new life. Sticky buds, coiled up leaves, husks and shells of floral getting ready to burst through into a magnificent bloom. Whoever designed these gardens did it well. We were too early on this trip to see the flowers in all their glory but I have seen it the year prior. Fuchsia, crimson, lilac, cream, pastel pink, indigo, fiery orange and delicate white flowers tower over you as you walk through. You must dip and bend through some of the branches just to get past.

The groundsman is a mardy git, I’ve heard. He moans that the Hollies have been left to get out of control and needs a good tidy up. At the top of the Hollies are some more immaculate gardens where the grass never goes above 2 inches and the flowers have their place. Boring. The Hollies are a fairy land. Over grown and unapologetically wild. You can see the Hollies were once created by man. You can see it was once a deliberate arrangement. But it has taken on it’s own personality, forcing walkers to tread carefully and to respect the Hollies with each step, as to not disturb.

Climbing up and up through the Hollies. Winding, bumpy paths and wobbly stone stair cases needing both feet and two hands they are so steep. Passing by tennis courts and a stately home we arrive at Headingley. Headingley doesn’t have those sad red brick terraced houses. Headingley was built in sandstone. Cottage dwellings and substantial mansions all built in the same stone. The ground is still uneven here, so many houses are down steep driveways or up unsteady stairs. It’s hard to see the beautiful houses when it gets to summer. The towering conker and oak trees hide them away so us paupers don’t get to have a nosey.

Headingley is full of bars, shops and restaurants. Otley Road runs through, lined with alfresco dining, stalls and shopfronts. It’s busy tonight as we’re easing out of lockdown and everyone wants to do something outside of their home. Cutting through the lively heart of Headingley, we cross a bridge over the train tracks and back into Burley.

Burley, not as rough as Hyde Park, not as fancy as Headingley. Just, somewhere in between.

Photo by Repent of Your Sins & Seek Lord Jesus on Unsplash – unfortunate name…