The Don Valley

For as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated by the Don Valley. I love the sheer variety of sights you see along its banks as it transforms steadily from rural trickle to past industrial power source. I’ve tracked it many times, having spent many a sunny evening after school following – as faithfully as possible – its meandering route on my bike. Tree and birdsong gives way to brick wall and traffic roar; goarse bush to barbed wire; gravel to broken glass, as the industry once so reliant on the Don’s fast flow gradually begins to cling tightly to its banks. For the inquisitive inner city adventurer, the snicketts and ginels that make up the route offer an alternative and fresh view of previously familiar areas. There’s a lot of activity down that there valley too, and when I see the work of the many projects that are slowly bringing life back to its long ignored banks, I’m left with a sense that the river will once again return as a focal point of the city.

Well I’m a graphic designer, and like 99% of graphic designers I’m inflicted with a helpless adoration of Harry Beck’s magnificent London tube map. And after a recent trip down the Don (armed with the camera that took the above shot) I was inspired to produce my own map of the valley – as a homage to Beck – showing its many attractions and transport links (click for full version on Flickr):

Don Valley Map

I should point out that for the moment this map is half reality and half semi-fantasy. I have taken the liberty of assuming that:

  • Those of the Don Valley Railway project have succeeded in their marvellous plans to return trains to the line between Deepcar and Nunnery Square (artistic licence sees my line terminate further downstream at Rotherham) and to build gondola cable cars to take people up the hill to the Ski Village.
  • The Upper Don Walk is complete, linking the Five Wiers Walk from Meadowhall with the Transpennine Trail at Oughtibridge, thus providing an unbroken traffic-free pedestrian and cycle route along the entire valley.
  • Steve Peat’s mountain bike skills loop is complete, in its place alongside the Ski Village on Parkwood springs

These are all projects that exist, and at various stages of their development. I’ve also added in a couple of my own suggestions for additional projects:

  • Turning the empty showroom and a couple of arches at the Wicker into a small transport museum, involving youth groups to get involved in the restoration of clapped out old british buses, cars, taxis and the like.
  • Running regular pleasure-cruises down the canal from the currently woefully underused and isolated Victoria Quays all the way downstream to the ever-popular Magna, incorporating multi-lingual commentaries on the industrial heritage of Sheffield as they navigate the route.
  • Linking in the above projects with a redeveloped Victoria Station atop the Wicker Arches, with elevator service down to street level.

Personally I’d also love to see Hollywood style lettering wobbling across the hillside of PARKWOOD too, though that might just be me. But the basic network is already in there. Many of the projects are underway, the ideas set and the foundations in place, and wonderful people up and down the valley are beavering away to make their own little bits happen.

Sheffield is so unique in its geography, and the Don Valley offers so much scope for a fantastic series of leisure and tourist activities. The city already accommodates rock climbers, skaters, cyclists, walkers, paddlers, anglers and skiers. Get the canals and the railways running again and see how it could all come together. When I travel down the Don Valley, it’s easy to see beyond the rapidly disappearing dereliction and vandalism and be filled with enthusiastic visions of its potential.

So I decided to design the map linking all these things together, with the useful inclusion of the tram route. In proper Beck tradition the design prioritises diagram clarity over geographical accuracy, but it gives a good idea of what goes off down the valley and how you’d navigate your way around the various attractions. The river takes the correct side of the various routes and stops, and the lines follow faithful courses relative to each other. I should perhaps revisit the river’s course around Tinsley, and get hold of the proper font really but still, looks cool eh.

I genuinely and enthusiastically hope that one day, visitors to the newly built attractions in this fascinating city will carry such a map in their pocket.