As the train emerged from Standedge Tunnel into Marsden the world changed to white. The roads around Huddersfield were treacherous with the snow that had fallen and frozen. It was all gone by lunchtime. Whilst at Huddersfield station I would recommend the little station buffet on platform 8, used mainly by railway workers, providing cheap coffee and basic eats. Fortified I retraced my steps down to the Locomotive Bridge over the Huddersfield Broad Canal. The statue of Sir Harold Wilson [local boy made good] by the station wore a hat of snow.
A short last piece of the Broad Canal took me to Aspley Basin with all its moorings taken. I shared the path with students from the surrounding University and the transition to the Huddersfield Narrow Canal occurs on campus.
Work building the Narrow Canal commenced in 1794 and though it was largely completed some five years later, the construction of 3.1 miles of Standedge Tunnel took a further eleven years. It runs 20 miles to join the Ashton Canal in Ashton-under-Lyne. Passing under the Pennines between Diggle and Marsden, the Tunnel is the longest, highest (above sea level) and deepest (underground) canal tunnel in Britain. The long narrow boats on this canal couldn’t access the shorter locks on the Broad, hence the need at Aspley basin for offloading and transfer. The Canal operated until 1944. Many sections were infilled by the early 1960s and later developed. What remained of the Canal fell into dereliction. A major effort has restored it to navigable status.
Some of this major restoration has taken place in the city itself with several tunnels being rebuilt. I soon have to take to the streets to avoid one such section where there is no towpath. Heading out now all the usual canal side developments are underway. The River Colne runs alongside and is crossed from time to time. The river provided the power for the mills, supplanting handloom working, and the canals subsequently improved transport before the railways came.
One stretch had been drained to allow workers to repoint the walls, the sad looking canal exposing its normally hidden treasures. This area, not sure where I was, was all a bit run down. Not much civic pride and ne’er do wells hanging about under bridges. I was glad to pass through and head for the hills.
A whole series of narrow locks gained height. A design feature was just one paddle on the upper side yet two on the other end, I couldn’t understand the logic to this, opening one paddle is simpler than two but why not both ends. Incidentally the E on the lock number denotes East side of the system.
Fields opened up at Linthwaite and across the way was the massive woolen mill – Titanic, an iconic building in the Colne Valley. It was built the same year as that fated vessel,1911. It has been restored as apartments and a health spa.
The canal enters Slaithwaite in a narrow channel rebuilt to take it through the village. It has become an integral part of the central area which today was busy with shoppers and visitors enjoying the afternoon sunshine. The old Spa Mill and the Globe Worsted Mill look down on the bustle. There are locks right in the middle of town. All very pleasant and what’s more I was directed to the Handmade Bakery and Cafe in the Upper Mill where I enjoyed soup and a basket of their famous bread. The other half of the mill is occupied by a microbrewery, Empire, which I wisely did not visit as there was more climbing up to Marsden 3 miles away.
The River Colne was always in close proximity with its weirs and mill races. Trains kept rumbling by heading for their Standedge Tunnel.Near Sparth Reservoir, one of ten built to ensure the canal’s water supply, were pleasing cottages and their ruined mill, Cellars Clough.
Marsden, to which I will return to, was glimpsed down below and now in close proximity to the railway Standedge Tunnel was a short distance away. It’s entrance has been described as a Mousehole in the Pennines. The trains to and from Manchester have their own tunnels above. When they were horse drawn barges were ‘legged’ through the tunnel, taking up to three hours. The horses fol owed trails over the hill. The nearby information centre in an old canal warehouse is full of canal history and worth a visit.I walked back down to the surprisingly busy Marsden, a typical gritty Pennine town, to find my accommodation for the night – the welcoming New Inn. Yet another varied walk on this circuit.