When cycling home through Kirk Smeaton and Barnsdale I was reminded about the early ballads of Robin Hood. Barnsdale on the Great North Road (Watling Street) is in the extended parish of South Kirby Yorkshire, and Sailes (willow) wood is in the parish of Kirk Smeaton overlooking the Great North Road. ‘Smiths Place Names of the West Riding 1953/4’

These are extracts from the earliest ballad of Robin Hood written about 1450.

A Gest of Robyn Hode

Robyn stode in Bernesdale,
And lenyd hym to a tre,
And bi hym stode Litell Johnn,
A gode yeman was he.

And walke up to the Saylis,
And so to Watlinge Strete,
And wayte after some unkuth gest,
Up chaunce ye may them mete.


The Robin Hood Legends place him in the late 12th. cent. in the area to the east of the Pennines between the rivers Trent and Wharfe, where the Great North Road with many variations of line, runs on narrow corridor of undulating land between the Pennine hills, and the marshes of the Vale of York. Four well known Lines of this Great North Way which linked London with York and Richmond are;

The Great North Road which ran from Newark with its castle on the river Trent. The bridge here was built by 1225. Then to Doncaster, which had a bridge by the time of Henry V111, and castle on the river Don. The road then passed though Barnsdale to Pontefract castle and ferry on the river Aire, to the fords on the river Wharfe at Wetherby or Tadcaster.

Ermine Street Roman Road which ran from Lincoln with its ford and castle on the river Witham to the ford on the river Trent at Littleborough then through Bawtry to Doncaster and Barnsdale, then via Castleford to Thorp Arch ford on the river Wharfe.

A Celtic/Roman Road which ran from Nottingham ford via Sherwood and Harthill to  Strasforth (Street Ford) near  Conisbrough  on the river Don. Then through Hampole to join Ermine Street or the Great North Road. This road followed a narrow outcrop of Magnesian Limestone and is called British Way on the 1841 one inch Ordnance Survey Map. Confusingly this road has also been called Ryknild Street   (Ricknield)
    Another name for the river Don is Dun the ford at Strasforth or Dunstras could be the Dubglas that Nennius, a ninth century Welsh monk/historian wrote of
.  A  branch  from this road  turns west  at  Barnburgh  Cliff   to  go  via  Street Balk  near  Clayton  to  Howell Lane  and  on to  Brierley Gap where it follows the B6273 to Nostell. From Nostell it follows a series of lanes leading north along a Wapentake boundary the ford over the river Aire at Castlford.

The Western Road which came from Oakham and Melton Mowbray, to the Nottingham where the river Trent was bridged by 920. Then on to Rotherham with its Chantry bridge on the river Don, then via Barnsley ford on the river Dearne, Grange Moor, Kirklees ford on the river Calder, Denhome, Skipton castle on the river Aire, and Grassington to Richmond. Details of this road can be found in an atlas by John Ogilby dated 1675


These roads all pass through places named in the Robin Hood Legends. In the Norman and early English times this area needed the control of, at eight major castles and at least as many minor ones. It seems most likely that woven into the tale of Robin Hood were warnings of the most dangerous points for the traveller in north east England.

The best known of the Robin Hood sites being Sherwood Forest with the Major Oak and Edwinstowe Church. Barnsdale with wells named after Robin Hood and Little John , Kirklees with Robin Hoods grave at the priory. Loxley near Sheffield, and the grave of Little John at Hathersage. It would be possible for a band of outlaws to move freely between these places. Try to pin Robin Hood down to any one place and he will evade you just as certainly as he did the Sheriff of Nottingham.

There is a possibility that some of the tales of Robin, who dressed in Lincoln green have evolved from a Celtic god who was known as the Green Man. "Do not go into the forest the Green Man will get you!"

The Great North Way together. with several ancient Pennine crossings, notably from York via the Air Gap at Skipton, and the Cheshire, Wood Head, Doncaster Salt Way, formed the base of our modern road grid. 0lder roads can be recognized by the way they climb to high land very steeply and run where possible along ridges to avoid what was then marsh and thick woodland in the rivet valleys. They also give good views of distant landmarks, as at Woolley Edge, Kirkheaton, and Queensbury on the Western Road.