As I stepped off the train in Sowerby Bridge I was face to face with an old climbing friend, Sandy, whom I’d not seen for a few years. A brief chat before the doors closed and he was on his way to Leeds. One of life’s unusual coincidences.
My walking trip around the South Pennine Ring was interrupted last week with the arctic weather which cut off this area.
From Sowerby’s main street the last section of the Rochdale Canal is reached and a couple of locks go down into the town’s basin. This morning I was pleased to see a barge coming up, a couple had taken 6 months leave to follow an ambitious circuit of the country’s canals. In the historic basin itself little moved. This was the beginning of a short section on The Calder and Hebble Navigation which travels to Wakefield and is part canal and part River Calder, hence the name ‘Navigation’. It was engineered by a renowned 18th century canal builder, John Smeaton. The work started in 1759 and the canal opened in 1764, much earlier than the others.
Walking out of town I was surprised by the amount of house building on low ground between the canal and the river- watch this space in a few wet winters’ time! A long level towpath, popular with walkers and cyclists, brought me to Salter Hebble locks where previously a branch ambitiously climbed up to Halifax. Lots of interesting canal architecture on display as I dropped under busy road intersections to a calmer stretch. An electric guillotine lock lies at the bottom. Down here are the usual grouping of canal, river, rail and road. There are some impressive arched bridges constructed by the railway companies. More industrial heritage followed, some ruinous others renovated and reinvented. Balconies on mills mean apartments. I lost my way a bit in Elland where roads have blocked the towpath which swaps sides, a short diversion over a bridge and down Gas Works Lane had me sorted. Elland was noted for the production of Gannex Macs, a favourite of Sir Harold Wilson. More of him later. High heeled office staff from canalside offices were walking to lunch, I was heading to Brighouse, The river was in close proximity ready to join in the action.
Two tall towers, disused wheat silos of Sugden’s Flour Mill, greet you at Brighouse. They are now unusual climbing walls. My excellent lunch was taken at the busy No 43 cafe, canals get you to the heart of these Yorkshire industrial towns. The canal basin is alongside shops and car parks. Unfortunately soon my way was blocked and I took to the desert of an industrial estate, is this what keeps Brighouse alive? Interspersed with the metal sheds were remnants of workers back to back cottages.Where do the workers live now, not in the luxury mill apartment conversions I bet.
Canal trust workers were busy tree cutting and lock mending but I squeezed past to a surprisingly rural section. Up to now the towpath had been a metalled walkway but from here on after the M62 was a muddy path, soon to get worse. Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway markers remind one that as the canals lost their influence the railways took over. The River Calder joined the canal for several sections. The path alongside became dangerous and I had doubts that I could reach Cooper Bridge where the Calder goes off to Wakefield and I would join the Huddersfield Broad Canal heading back up west. Opened in 1776 it was known as Sir John Ramsden’s Canal, a wealthy Huddersfield landowner at the time. Coal was carried from East Yorkshire to power stations until 1953. A friendly man lives in the lock-keepers cottage at the start of the canal.
The canal immediately starts climbing. Industry reappeared, its never been far away in these valleys, with a mixture of derelict structures and modern sheds. The light was fading as I entered Huddersfield, dubious characters and graffiti appeared so I cut short the day at the elaborately engineered Locomotive Lift Bridge, a vertical lifting bridge from 1865 now under electric operation, and climbed past the seven storey Brierley mill to the station for a quick trip back to Manchester. Things will look better in the morning.
A long walk and hence a long post – two canals in one day.