Category Archives: South Pennine Ring.

SOUTH PENNINE RING – Marsden/Diggle to Ashton-under-Lyne.


Deja vu today.

This was probably the worst section of the ring, it started off well in the Pennines but became a dreary trudge after Mossley.

The Standedge Tunnel has no towpath so after a good breakfast in The New Inn, Marsden, I caught the bus over to Diggle. It has only just started going into the village after all the snow and ice they’ve experienced up here. This felt like cheating and I should go back one day and work out the route over the summit moors that the canal horses took to connect either end of the tunnel, it would only be about 4 miles. I’m told that in Summer boat trips can be taken through, that would be an experience. Anyhow this morning I’m at the southern gated tunnel entrance and setting off down the Huddersfield Narrow to Ashton. The surface of the canal is lightly frozen over but it is beautiful weather and the dog-walkers are out enjoying the sunshine.

Flights of locks head downhill quickly. This flight has uniquely single paddles top and bottom and on this side side of the Pennines have the suffix W denoting west. Local mills proclaim their names proudly from their chimneys or towers reminding one of the dominance of weaving in these hills. Shout it from the rooftops. Wool, cotton, coal, limestone were transported on the canal. Before long I was down eight locks and passing through Dobcross.

Just past was the old transhipment warehouse for transferring goods to mules prior to the Standedge Tunnel opening. I believe it is now used as the headquarters of the Huddersfield Canal Society. The smaller building was thought to have been a smithy. Also on the other side were old weaving sheds which have been transformed into unique accommodations.A massive railway viaduct looked familiar and further down stepping stones across the River Tame jogged my mind even more  – I had been here recently but couldn’t remember why. Uppermill was passed without realising it, a L&NW marker was a reminder of the railways takeover. A straight section had me alongside Tesco’s in Greenfield where the marina was backed by Alderman’s Hill with its obelisk. Snow patches clearly visible. I definitely had been here before but remember going off to the hills to the East. This time I kept to the towpath.

Woodend Mill and its chimney adjoining a lock at last jogged my memory – I had come out of the woods here on The Tame Valley Way just over a year ago.

At Mossley a mill building above me hissed, moaned, whistled, crunched and groaned like a Schoenberg symphony. apparently it is a timber recycling plant. Worth a listen…


Scout Tunnel could be traversed on a towpath in the dark before the countryside ran out.  The enclosed valley with canal, river, electricity lines, rail and road became increasingly grim. Past industries have left waste lands, an old coal conveyor bridge hangs above the trees in ruins, electric substations all a bit too close, And then you are in or mostly under Stalybridge, a lot of work was needed to reconstruct the canal through the centre of town.Rather grubby urban walking through a corridor of industry and dereliction followed and after a narrow cut the final lock,1W, joined The Ashton Canal at a small basin.  A couple were taking their barge for a spin, 10 years of restoration work on it so far – a labour of love. Disappointingly I was soon diverted away from The Ashton’s towpath as it disappeared underground somewhere. I found myself in an Asda car park with no obvious way out, not the end to the walk I’d imagined. However with a little improvisation and without getting run-over I found a way through and back down to the towpath just as it entered Portland Basin. This was a much more lively and pleasant place with a beautiful bridge over the joining Peak Forest Canal. The Ashton continues into Manchester but I’d walked that section in the past so my circuit of the South Pennine Ring was complete. I’d had 6 days exercise, varied scenery and lots of interest but I think I’ve had enough of canal walking for now.



SOUTH PENNINE RING – Huddersfield to Marsden.



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.

Britannia Mil 1861.


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.



SOUTH PENNINE RING – Sowerby Bridge to Huddersfield.

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.






SOUTH PENNINE RING – Todmorden to Sowerby Bridge.

When I was a youngster I would travel alone across the Pennines by rail to stay with an Aunt and Uncle in Manchester. A whole new world would appear to me as the steam train travelled down Calderdale, I have a long lasting vision of steep sided enclosing valleys, running streams and tall weaving houses with mullioned windows. All very atmospheric.  Well I was here again today –  stepping out of the train, albeit a diesel rail car, onto a platform deep in the valley.

Notices told me that Todmorden was Incredible-edible, an initiative focusing on local food and growing vegetables for the community. Throughout the town are plots planted up by locals with information on eating and crops to pick, well there wasn’t much at this time of year. An applaudable venture but I wonder how successful.

Everywhere was quiet as I slipped back onto the towpath in the town centre where there is a watering station for the boaters. Immediately there were boats, I should really be calling them barges, which had been conspicuously rare on the previous sections of the Rochdale Canal in the last two days. A basin full of lived in boats, alternative lifestyles are common in this valley.

Many mills have been demolished and replaced by anonymous industrial sheds.

I caught a glimpse of Stoodley Pike high up on the moor but most of the day was hemmed in by the valley sides, it was bitterly cold when in their shadow.

A canal barge chugged by with jolly occupants, the first vessel I’ve seen in motion. Obviously this area will be busy in the better months with canal traffic. I noticed there were several companies offering canal trips.The river Calder runs alongside the canal and severe damage was caused by the catastrophic floods of Boxing day 2015. A lot of repair work has been carried out in the intervening years.

Approaching Hebden Bridge are Stubbing Locks and Hebble Mill, the workers cottages here are classic ‘back to back’. Hebden Bridge’s centre is a crystals throw from the canal and is thronged with tourists visiting the new age emporiums. Thankfully I find a cafe on the edge, it turned out to be far superior to what its appearance suggested. Cool music, excellent coffee and tasty homemade quiche. Its long list of fancy teas betraying the town’s hippy roots. Back on the canal all was peace and quiet man.       Mytholmroyd was virtually bypassed.  It was the area where counterfeit ‘coiners’ operated in the 18th century, the industrial revolution brought many mills and foundries to the town and it was the birth place of Ted Hughes, the late poet laureate, whose early work was influenced by local nature. A cast iron statue by Kenny Hunter of a hawk  commemorates Hughes’ poem Hawk Roosting and has  connotations to the nearby Hawksclough Mill.        Sympathetically renovated mills and warehouses contrast with the sheds further on.       The canal continues with the River Calder alongside. In the area of Luddenden Foot there must have been vast mill workings judging from the amount of derelict land. A large complex of weaving sheds are being used for other purposes. The surrounding country side is surprisingly green and the canal is a popular recreational pathway in Calderdale.Approaching Sowerby Bridge mills crowd in and then suddenly the canal comes into a town centre car park where I mingled with shoppers. In front is the prominent parish church.The deep Tuel Lane Lock takes the canal under the main road on its way to join the Calder-Hebble canal – but that’s for tomorrow. That prominent Wainhouse Tower in the distance on the edge of Halifax is the tallest folly in the world. The nostalgic Jubilee Refreshment Rooms at the train station provided a good beer whilst I waited for my train.

A couple of extras …

Don’t feed the birds.

Good use of an old mill.                                                                                


As I write this the weather forecast for tomorrow is dire. Siberian winds bringing in snow, subzero temperatures and a significant wind chill factor. Maybe the east side of the Pennines isnt the place to be.



SOUTH PENNINE RING – Rochdale to Todmorden.

Three lovely  ladies were clearing litter from the tow path this morning.  They do it twice a week and there is always bagfuls.  To cover the optimum length they are riding bikes!       A Canal and River employee is also walking the banks checking for any problems. So it seems that this stretch is well looked after but why are there no boats? Apparently the locks this side of the Pennines are difficult to operate, some moorings are unsafe and there is often low water due to reservoirs previously being sold off. That all seems a shame considering all the work and expense to reopen the Rochdale.  The more you think about it the more audacious does the plan in the late 18th century to take water in a canal over the Pennines become.

Today’s walk had started by a side branch serving the town itself though only a short length remains. Close by is a fine bridge. A few more derelict mills and some housing developments  are passed and then the countryside is reached through bridge 56 with the Pennines in the background.

The inspection man.

This seems a popular stretch. Alongside runs the Manchester to Leeds railway with a boundary stone evident. The towered Firgrove Mill has workers cottages attached… … its redundant steam engine is in the Manchester Museum of  Science and Industry,  watch

Ahead at Clegg Hall there are some well kept former weavers’ cottages and a refurbished mill with apartments.I am heading towards Littleborough but my attention is drawn to a clock tower in the NW, it belongs to the closed Birch Hill Hospital which was built as a workhouse and opened in 1877. It had wards for ‘imbeciles’ and ‘fever’ patients, in addition to an infirmary block.The canal slides past Littleborough but I need a coffee so make the detour into a town bedecked with Lancashire red rose flags, maybe they don’t like being part of Greater Manchester. A busy little place and I find a great little cafe frequented by locals, Rebecca’s, for coffee and toasted teacake. Back streets lead me to the canal where new houses are being built.

I’m now heading for Summit the highest point of the Rochdale Canal by a series of locks in open moorland.There are bays where stone from the quarries was loaded and more mills, mostly derelict. I got chatting to a man who’d worked in Rock Nook Mill, originally a cotton mill but diversifying under Fothergills to high performance textiles.  A fire in 2015 devastated the mill and it now stands forlorn and open to the elements.An abandoned mill further up is unexpectedly the base of a theatrical scenery production firm supplying the whole country.

A few more locks and I arrive at the west end of the Summit basin at 600ft. At the top lock there is a lock-keepers cottage and then the canal widens and contours through rough moorland for about about a mile to the first lock going down the east side of the Pennines.The train line has disappeared into a tunnel.

Passing into Yorkshire 8 locks take the canal down to Walsden, whose church spire is prominent from a distance. The industrial landscape reappears with mills and weaving sheds canalside.

A little group of post war ‘prefab’ bungalows seem out of place. One of their owners, of a similar vintage, is proud they have lasted this long. Nearby are a couple of modern rabbit hutches – wonder how long they will last.At Gauxholme warehouses and boats appear and the canal passes under a cast iron railway bridge with Gothic abutments. More locks drop the canal down quickly passing back to back cobbled streets and then in front of you is ‘The great wall of Tod’. This massive wall of blue brick supports the railway high above, quite dramatic and hidden away from the rest of the world. How many millions of bricks? A Dipper, that iconic northern water bird, was passing up the canal, a Waterhen taking a lift on a plank and a Robin singing its heart out on this sunny day.

The canal entered  busy Todmorden at the main street with an abrupt guillotine-like lock dropping it down on its way, without most of the tourists knowing its there.. I had a train to catch so exploring the town will have to wait.



SOUTH PENNINE RING – Manchester to Rochdale.

This was a 12 mile day full of interest with old mills coming at me thick and fast. The Metrolink tram took me to Piccadilly and I quickly found my way onto the canal basin where the Rochdale Canal emerges from the depths having already passed 9 locks since Castlefield. 3 years ago Sir High and I had braved these subterranean passageways on our Cheshire Ring jaunt.

Today my way was blocked by a locked gate meaning I had to retrace my steps and try again on the opposite side. The numbers on the bridges didn’t seem to tally with my map until I realised I was confusing lock numbers with bridges.  Not a good start, you shouldn’t get lost on a canal!

The Ancoats area of Manchester where the Rochdale Canal next passes through is known, tongue in cheek, as The New Islington because of all the new buildings many which utilise the old mills and warehouses in luxurious conversions. Marinas dot the developments. It is good to see this rather than dereliction, vandalism and demolition. The cranes are busy again with city centre living.

Some famous buildings are passed – Brownsfield Mill the old AVRO factory for aircraft manufacture;  the Royal  Mill a rebuilt 20th century cotton mill now under residential use, originally named New Old Mill a plaque commemorates a royal visit in 1942 and hence the name change;  the Beehive a former cotton mill connected with Sankey’s soap at a later date now earmarked for commercial use. There are many more. Names allude to the past – Cotton Fields, Coal Pits Lock etc.

But before long I’m back amongst average housing, urban sprawl and litter. The honking Canada Geese are everywhere fouling the towpath. Even the graffiti is not up to standard. But the sun is shining, there are few people about and I feel glad to be setting off on a new exploration.

To compensate there is the fine 19th century Victoria Mill canal side, a former cotton spinning mill. It was designed as a 6 storey double mill with a shared central chimney. Now office and residential use.

The next area is Newton Heath which had an industrious past associated with the canal – die works, bleach works, a tannery, rope works, glass works, brick works as well as the textile mills. A row of maisonettes is named after one of the young Man United players killed in the Munich air crash, 1958, I wonder if the other 7 are likewise nearby, I wish I’d looked.

I nip up a side street for a morning coffee with toast and jam in a basic cafe frequented by locals lingering over their fried breakfasts. Modest housing fronts onto the canal in contrast to the large Regent Mill whose brickwork is exquisite.It bears the names of Russell Hobbs and Remington and I believe they are still trading there.

Failsworth arrives with Aldi, Lidl, Tesco and KFC, the latter temporarily closed due to lack of chickens which has almost reached a national disaster according to some news outlets. The canal continue obliviously to pass the large Ivy Mill. This cotton mill was converted for aircraft assembly during WW2 and is now office space.A brief stretch of ‘countryside’ was passed through before the canal is squeezed under the M60 without a towpath, an elaborate foot bridge over the motorway reunited me on the other side heading for the Boat and Horses pub. A name recollecting the passage of hundreds of horse drawn cargo boats, it did not look inviting today having become a rotisserie and carvery for roadside travelers. The  nearby J.W. Lees Greengate brewery has produced real ale since 1828 and is still family run. I couldn’t pass through the area without sampling their product so at the next more modest canalside pub, Rose of Lancashire, I had a quick half. This inn opened in the early 1800’s as the canal was being developed and was a haunt of local radicals and reformers trying to influence parliament to improve the lot of the working class. The Peterloo Massacre 1819, in Manchester, was a defining moment in that struggle. The canal winds its way through the outskirts of Oldham with the railway a constant companion. This is the Manchester to Leeds engineered by George Stephenson and opened in 1841, I was to become well acquainted with its course in the next few days.  In the vicinity the railway crosses the canal on a beautiful cast iron bridge.

Over the River Irk, past the open spaces of Chadderton Park before more locks rise at Slattocks.

The next barrier is the M62 where the canal has been diverted under a culvert with an ingenious floating towpath. The original line is a boggy passage to the left. A lad was fishing for pike with a large lure which he expertly cast down the water. A previous fisherman told me that it was too cold for the fish, there was almost a layer of ice on the water.

The way into Castleton was enlivened by a cheery mural from a local primary school.

Just when you thought you’d had enough mills the massive Arrow appears. Cotton has given way to storage. I’m not sure how the canal goes under the M627 but I was diverted through retail parks to meet up with it for the last pleasant mile into Rochdale where I was accompanied by many dog walkers. Well the canal, despite its name, ironically doesn’t go into Rochdale but skirts the town at a discreet distance. Things have changed in Rochdale since the mills closed.

The train journey back on that line to Manchester Victoria only took 15mins.





I can’t get away from canals at present. Family duties will see me down in Manchester for a few days so I decided to look at this circuit which I’ve had on the back boiler for awhile.

The South Pennine Ring is a 71mile circuit north of Manchester combining parts of the Rochdale, Calder & Hebble, Huddersfield Broad and Narrow and Ashton Canals.

Completion of the circuit by boat has only been possible since 2002 with the restoration of the Rochdale and of the Huddersfield Narrow. Enthusiastic and dedicated pressure groups made this feasible but major engineering work was needed, particularly where motorways crossed the defunct system. Money came from many sources and various plaques reflect the Millennium  Lottery Charity funding.There are a large number of locks, needed to cross the Pennines twice, and the highest and longest tunnel [Standedge] in Britain. The original canals played an important role in the area’s industrial and weaving heritage. Several interesting towns are visited and  there are reminders of the past everywhere. Obviously the only canal traffic now is pleasure boats but the towpath gives the additional benefit of a long distance circular walk.

The Canal & River Trust was launched in 2012, taking over from British Waterways, to oversee    canals, rivers reservoirs and docks in England and Wales. Throughout the walk there will be much evidence of their work, aided by volunteers, to maintain this important heritage.


I had previously walked most of the Ashton from Piccadilly to Portland Basin three years ago.  So the plan was to walk the rest in a clockwise direction over a few days using my son’s house in  Stretford as my base, taking public transport at the beginning and end of each day. An economical and fairly practical way of completing the ring. This would be another step towards my fully fit walking rehabilitation since overuse damage to my left hip’s ligaments last year.

An excellent map is available –