Walking The Huddersfield Narrow Canal

About once a year we each volunteer to lead the other Weekday Wanderers on one of our monthly hikes. My choice of walk usually involves  something more than just pleasant green paths, nice views and heart-failure-inducing climbs – although I love these too! (Well, not the actual climbs, but the resultant views and feelings of achievement). For some time simmering on the back-burner  has been my idea of using public transport and doing an end-to-end walk as opposed to a circular one. With my interest in historical geography and since I heard about its re-opening about 10 years ago I’ve been wanting to plan a walk along the towpath beside The Huddersfield Narrow Canal. My chance finally arrived yesterday when I did a practice run for my ‘turn’ to lead in April.

The Huddersfield Narrow Canal was originally opened back in 1811 at the time of the great expansion of transport by waterways across England. The Canal runs for 20 miles between Huddersfield to the east of the Pennines and Ashton-under-Lyne in Lancashire to the west. This was no mean feat of engineering. Some facts from the website state :

“The summit of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal is the highest navigable waterway in Britain.
Standedge Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal is Britain’s longest canal tunnel.
The canal has a total of 74 locks. It connects end on with the Ashton Canal and the Huddersfield Broad Canal.”

I travelled by train via Leeds and Huddersfield to one of the furthermost stations in Yorkshire – Marsden. Alighting at Marsden I chose to walk back up the canal, as far as one may go on this side of the Pennines in fact. About half a mile from Marsden is the Standedge Tunnel entrance and Tunnel End. Here there’s a Visitor Centre and the starting point in summer of public tours into the Standedge Tunnel in glass-roofed narrow boats.

Tunnel End

Tunnel End Visitor Centre and glass-topped tour boats

The tunnel being 3 miles long and with no towpath for a horse to pull the boat it was down to men to do their own “legging” to get the boat from Yorkshire into Lancashire or vice versa. These days the tour boats are hauled into the tunnel by electric tug boats.

It’s about seven and a half miles from the Standedge  (pronounced Stannige) Tunnel down to the centre of Huddersfield and this section also includes more than 40 locks. Yesterday the walk was very peaceful. There were no boats on the canal but I hope there will be more ‘action’ on our April visit. Each narrow lock area has its own number and character and it was intriguing to look down into the depths of the lock itself.

There are stretches of shady wooded paths, paths past green fields and reservoirs, past old out-of-operation mills, past mills now converted to a multitude of innovative uses such as The Titanic Mill (below) opened in 1912 and named for the ill-fated liner launched in the same year now a luxury hotel, spa and apartment building …

… and through small towns like Slaithwaite (pronounced Slawit) where we popped into the irresistible Slaithwaite Bakery, noted the pretty Moonraker Floating Tearoom, saw the only working guillotine lock gate in the country and ate our sandwiches under shadow of the towering Globe Mill between the canal and the main street.

At Lock 4E you are diverted away from the canal as it passes under buildings in Huddersfield. The Pennine Waterways website provides a useful map and directions to get you back on track for the last section to where the Huddersfield Narrow joins the Huddersfield Broad Canal at Aspley Marina. Reaching the town and feeling the solid pavement under my feet I felt ready to hunt out the station and start for my journey home.

Poster seen on an unoccupied shop building in Huddersfield town centre