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

9 comments on “Walking The Huddersfield Narrow Canal

  1. Nilly says:

    A fascinating walk and an interesting subject which is new to me – historical geography. I am interested in how “historical geography” is defined. Is it about the effects of historical events on the landscape, as with the expansion of the canal system during the Industrial Revolution?

  2. Yes, Nilly, that would be precisely my definition – the effect of history (man, usually) on the landscape. So the late 18th and early 19th century canal building altered the landscape of the Colne Valley.

  3. dovegreyreader says:

    Barbara, is this the canal that has that section of loads of lock gates in quick succession?? There was one on TV a while back that was being drained and repaired and the public were being allowed to walk on the canal bed. It is incredibly picturesque to look at but must be every canal-navigator’s nightmare. Passing the canal (? which one, must look it up) on my last trip to London I noticed and followed it for ages, fascinating to see the levels of the land changing…clever things canals aren’t they.

  4. Well, Lynne, there are 42 lock gates between Tunnel End and Huddersfield – where it meets the Huddersfield Broad Canal – in 7-8 miles so I think that HNC could be the one! I can’t find a link to it on TV though. Most of the gates seemed to be fairly separate, unlike Bingley Five Rise where they are all linked. Still it all looks like hard work to me – for a holiday. If I ever feel as if a canal boat holiday is coming on I always remind myself of this comment made in a Landmark Trust logbook :
    http://www.landmarktrust.org.uk/BuildingDetails/Logbook/191/Lock_Cottage

  5. Dave Andrews says:

    Hi,
    I work at Huddersfield Uni and my office overlooks the stretch starting at lock number 1. For many years a group of us would walk half a dozen times every spring/summer from Town up to Marsden via various watering holes and catch the train back. The scenery definately improves after Slawit although you do get a feeling of the bygone industrial age up to that point. The last time I went was sadly about 4 years ago, but you could still hear the clatter of the dobcross looms at certain points along the way!!
    My greatest challenge was about 10 years ago when one of our French researchers joined me in the “ultimate canal walk”.
    We set off early and caught the Manchester train to the closest point to Ashton basin we could find. After a 15 minute walk we arrived at the start of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal at 9am.
    We walked at a fair old pace and reached the Diggle Hotel in time for refreshments and a meal around 1pm.
    It would have been nice to get the boat through the tunnel, but the journey takes about 3 hours and I guess you have to book in advance. So we headed over the hills back down into Marsden and onwards to Huddersfield.
    By the time we arrived in Milnsbridge my French colleague wanted to pack in, but I said we’ve only about 2 miles to go!!!
    We finally arrived at Aspley Marina at 6pm and I reckoned must have walked about 26 miles with the detour over the moors. I bet Monsieur Jacques Bellons will never forget that day…lol
    I hope to repeat the adventure sometime in the near future. Maybe start at Lock Number One and finish at Ashton!!!

    • Thank you for this interesting comment, Dave, and telling about your HNC experiences. I didn’t even make it down to Lock One so am truly impressed by the 26 mile effort! Well done. Having more or less completed the East section I’m now intrigued to try the West but no way the whole length in one go. I’m afraid the clatter of looms can no longer be heard – but there are some very nice looking teashops/bakeries. My ‘instructions’ also indicated nearby pubs but we stuck to the path religiously without straying from it. Good luck with the proposed repeat – I hope you manage it!

  6. that’s where I’m from. I remember when they opened the bit of canal in Slaithwaite.

  7. […] a couple of built-up and industrial areas that added to the interest of the walk. Unlike the Huddersfield Narrow Canal it can accommodate much wider […]

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