What a difference it can make to a wood when a group of people befriend it.

Buck Wood, at Thackley, has always been an interesting place. Half a century ago cattle used to graze in part of it, nipping off the shoots of new trees before they had a chance to establish themselves.

In recent years, the cattle long gone, the silver birch have grown up in that part of the wood, alongside the rowan and the slower-growing young oaks. The holly copses are denser and taller than they were. Those features of the wood which once seemed so large are still there, but appear to have shrunk by comparison: the two chestnut trees near the path, the solitary boulder our children used to climb on as toddlers, the twisted tree nearby on which our son - who will be 40 next year - carved his initials when he was seven.

Until recently, though, Buck Wood has had a neglected look. Its footpaths were overgrown and muddy. There was litter around the place. No signs identified it or welcomed visitors to it.

Then in the early spring of 2004 the Friends of Buck Wood was formed with the purpose of working with Bradford Council's Parks and Landscape Service to make the woodland more user-friendly. Less than three years on it's been transformed. The main paths have been drained and semi-surfaced and are wheelchair friendly. Stiles have been installed along with information boards. The litter has gone. The ancient wood, which in the Middle Ages took its name from the Buck family who were leaseholders of the land, now looks as though somebody loves it.

To mark its rebirth, the Parks and Landscape Service has worked with the Friends to produce a booklet featuring four walks around it in its Walks in Parks and Woodland series.

The other week I revisited Buck Wood, taking the path from the main entrance in Ainsbury Avenue, almost opposite the football club, and following it round the edge of the plateau created with material dug out when Thackley railway tunnel and the ventilation shaft leading to it from this point were excavated. Beyond it used to sit the famous Open Air School, where sickly youngsters from inner-city areas were sent to have their health restored in the cleaner air.

I strode down through the wood on a path which is now wide, sound and mud-free and at a junction of paths continued down the sunken track which has also had a good surface added to it.

This is an ancient route which, I've been told, once led from Thackley past Esholt to Rawdon centuries before the canal was dug along the valley side. That canal came gradually into view between the autumn-thinning trees and soon I was looking across one of the several meadows that punctuate this 40 hectares of woodland and beyond the canal to Hollins Hill on the far slope.

The path reverted to mud here. Clearly the improvements are a work still in progress. Soon I was walking past another canal-side field towards the rusting iron bridge which once carried the trains which operated around Esholt Sewage Works across the canal.

The booklet suggested that from this point, instead of crossing the bridge, you should turn left and follow the narrow canal-side path back to the swing bridge at the bottom of Buck Wood, climb the cobbled path up past the house and its grounds, go left up the steps to eventually reach a facing gate and then follow the road in front of you to meet Thackley Road and walk up it back to the start.

I, though, had other plans. I turned right, away from the bridge, and followed the waymarked bridleway that wound up the hillside to emerge into Ainsbury Avenue. I walked down this to the point when the road swing sharp left. Here I struck up through the edge of Dawson Wood, up a steep path which used to be known as The Catsteps. The steps have now gone, but the cobbles of the path at the top remain.

I followed them briefly before taking the level path that winds through Dawson Wood past long-abandoned quarries and a half-formed millstone - another remembered relic from the days when the trees up here were mere tiny green shoots. Now they're dense.

It was the same when I arrived at what used to be a broad, level, grassy area above the Apperley Bridge end of Thackley tunnel. The woodland now extends to the very edge of the tunnel top. Nature has reclaimed it.

I followed the path eastwards from here as it climbed and twisted past the cellar ruins of a long-lost farm and then, via a stile, followed the field edge past the rear of another farm to the controversial playing fields created by Bradford Council on land that used to be worked by the tenant farmer.

I strolled down Park Road back to the start pondering on the changes that had taken place on this walk, largely wrought by Nature but with a bit of a hand from man. After a gap of maybe 15 years since I'd walked the Dawson Wood stretch it was like visiting a sort of parallel universe where everything was familiar but different.

A bit spooky really. But then, Dawson Wood always was.

Step by Step

  1. From Thackley Methodist Church follow private road (Ainsbury Avenue) up hill past cricket club. Where road levels off, just opposite entrance to livery centre on right, go left through gap stile next to wide gate into what once were grounds of Open Air School. Follow main track round right-hand edge of plateau and continue into wood, descending with it.

    At junction of tracks go more or less ahead on broad, sunken path heading down into next part of wood. Stick with this to pass a field on left, go under a pylon, and pass alongside another field to another junction of tracks with iron bridge on left.

    Go sharp right here, turning back on yourself a little, to follow blue-topped waymark posts as bridleway winds up hillside through trees and levels off at top to arrive at gap in wall next to large sycamore tree. Go through gap and follow enclosed track right to arrive back in Ainsbury Avenue.

    Go left through pedestrian gate and walk down road. Where it swings sharp left go right through stile in fence and climb steeply up the right-hand and most clearly defined of two paths. At top, with field wall ahead, go left up cobbled path and keep ahead on level path into Dawson Wood.

    Follow this path. At fork where right-hand route climbs slightly, take left-hand one and descend eventually to meet crossing path. Go right along this to eventually head for wall with field beyond. Turn left and walk down through trees to arrive at another crossing path running along tunnel top.

    Go right, following occasionally muddy path across stream and up other side, winding round to right. Where path turns sharp left, veer right to stile in wall corner. Follow fieldside to another stile and continue with rear of farm on left to stile on to playing fields.

    Go leftish to stile in wall into Ellar Carr Road. Turn right to Park Road, and right again to return to start.

Fact File

  • Set-off point: Thackley Methodist Church at junction of Thackley Road and Park Road.

    Time for 4-mile walk: a couple of hours.

    Going: easy apart from two steep uphill pulls.

    Map: OS Explorer 288 Bradford & Huddersfield.

    Buses: 610/11/12 from Bradford or Shipley to Thackley Corner then walk down Thackley Road to start.

    Parking: in Park Road alongside chapel.

    Refreshments: pubs and sandwich shops in Thackley.

    Toilets: none along route.