Tag Archives: Canals


What could have been an uninspiring day in the hinterland of Bradford and Leeds turned out to be almost a green corridor of pleasant walking. It was not difficult to keep close to our lateral line with the proviso from Sir Hugh to incorporate a visit to his primary school in Thackley.

From the rail station in Saltaire we quickly reached the Leeds – Liverpool Canal to follow it off and on throughout the morning. At first all was industrial, historically relating to the canal with some fine mill buildings brought into the 21st century.

There were a few scattered sculptures including this one which was a pun on the Salt Mill connection…Hanging on the wall of my garage is an Ellis-Briggs cycle frame, probably 40years old, so I was delighted to pass their establishment which has been building steel frames since 1936. The cycling scene was booming in the 1930’s and the other notable established builder was W.R. Baines, whose factory was based at Thackley, see above and further into the walk. Coincidentally I rode a 1950’s Baines ‘Flying Gate’ cycle for many years.


Some nondescript scenery followed enlivened by some dubious and unsuccessful canal boat manoeuvering, it is difficult to do a three point turn.

Climbing away from the canal on cobbled paths above railway tunnels we entered Thackley, a mixture of old stone houses and modern estates, and found Sir Hugh’s school still open and extended since his time. Up here was the local cricket club with a very challenging sloping pitch, Sir Hugh’s father had been a member.

From the map we were not sure whether we could access the canal towpath from open country but thankfully there was a bridge. Soon we were sat on a bench looking down locks near Apperley Bridge, this was a busy stretch with pedestrians but no boat movements.Crossing busy orbital roads took time unless there were lights. We switched from the canal to follow the River Aire alongside the sports grounds of Woodhouse Grove School. The river continued through remarkably rural scenery despite being close to the railway and new housing developments.

Pleasant suburbs gave us twisting streets heading for Hawksworth Park which turned out to be a wooded valley. More parkland and upmarket housing and we arrived at our excellent budget hotel for the night.



There were several unexpected highlights on today’s walk and despite heading into the congested Aire Valley we enjoyed rural walking throughout on one of the warmest sunniest February days I remember.

Continuing our straight line walk meant once again logistics of two car parking. Sir Hugh suggested Saltaire as a finishing point so we arranged a rendezvous in the large free car park there, all went well with my journey until I became stuck in early rush hour traffic, not the best of starts for a day’s walking. With the late start and more traffic problems we drove back to our last point in the Ponden Valley.  Sir Hugh seemed to know all these intricate Pennine roads and little villages or at least the lonely Public Houses where he spent his money when living in the area as a young man. We were stunned when the lane up to our isolated parking spot was closed necessitating back tracking and finding an alternative route on what was becoming a frustrating morning.

At last we set off down a bridleway high above Ponden Reservoir only for Sir Hugh to realise he’d left his phone on the car, fortunately we hadn’t gone far. This initiated a conversation on things left behind on walks and the cut off distance where one is prepared or able to return. Poles, passports, waterproofs, cameras and particularly hats were prominent on the list. We ran into problems with unmarked, difficult to follow and blocked paths in the Oldfield area and at West House farm admitted defeat and took to the road for a while. None the less there were many interesting houses passed.

High above Ponden Reservoir.

Before he’d realised his loss.

We were concerned with our poor progress after the delayed start on what would be a long day but as often happens things suddenly improved and remained so all day. We encountered a deep gorge not apparent on the map and decided to take the old flagged path alongside down to the River Worth which was then followed for a mile or so through green fields. We reached a road at an old mill that had been restored to provide modern living accommodation. There were several pack horse type bridges on this stretch reflecting the days when the valley was thriving with small riverside mills.

On the edge of Haworth I had noticed on the map a ‘Railway Children’s Walk’. The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit, published in 1906, was set in Yorkshire and a 1970 film used The Keighley and Worth Valley Railway as a backdrop. I remember watching a BBC TV series back in the 50s. Thus Haworth’s tourism benefits from both the Bronte connection and the preserved steam railway.  We followed the lane across the Mytholmes railway tunnel made famous in the film …

… I regret now not going the extra few hundred yards to view the authentic Oakworth station featured prominently in the film. No trains today so we climbed up the steep hill to the busy Cross Roads and would you believe it – halfway up a steam train came into view way below us in the valley, bad timing. Up on the road the stone houses all bore that blackened look of the industrial past.

At Barcroft we reached high open countryside and enjoyed marching out with distant views to Bingley. In the fore ground was a prominent rocky tor, Catstones, and we speculated on the climbing possibilities and the height of the faces.

A bench below was perfect for lunch, I didn’t have the energy to ascend to the rocks. An inscription was dedicated to a Cllr. Ron Senior who pioneered a circular walk around Cullingworth, Senior Way. We felt well qualified to follow it.

We ended up just using the pavement through Harden but then entered St.Ives country park for a popular woodland walk to the edge of Bingley. The park is yet another old estate taken into council ownership providing a wide range of activities, we only skirted the edge.

A lane dropped down to bridges and fords at Beck Foot, a site of old mills, all very picturesque in the sun. An ecyclist proudly showed us his bike and extolled the virtues of battery powered leisure, not sure what it is doing for his fitness.

The River Aire, on its way into the industrial Leeds, was followed through fields to give another aspect to this day’s walk. Surprisingly rural although there was rubbish evident. A last stretch of woodland linked to the Leeds Liverpool Canal which took us into the heart of Salts Mill at Saltaire. Formerly a textile mill, now an arts centre, built by the philanthropic Sir Titus Salt in 1853, along with the adjoining Saltaire village in the hope of improving the conditions for working people. The whole complex is worthy of a day’s exploration. We found our car as the sun was setting and joined the heavy traffic home.



We are out walking our SD 38 line again. A lane leads steeply out of Barrow through mainly new housing, ribbon development if ever I saw it. Crossing the busy A59 we continued climbing into Wiswell, an interesting little hamlet with a famous gastro pub. A van was delivering organic vegetables to houses, one of these expensive subscription ideas where you probably finish each week with a box still full of potatoes and carrots. From here the route became moorland onto a ridge which was really an outlier of Pendle Fell, the mast marked on the map seems to have disappeared. We had climbed 500ft in a mile and were beginning to steam in the mild weather. Sabden could be seen in the distance. Below us was the large hidden valley of Sabden Brook and we slowly made our way down to pick up tracks into the village. I mentioned the famous Sabden Treacle Mines of which Sir Hugh had no knowledge, sadly they are no more and I will leave those with curiosity to investigate. We followed lanes to the 19th century church and then out past a farm from where a pipe led into the fields. This pipe actually came out of the midden slurry tank and snaked  into the fields, a tractor pump was starting up to inflate the pipe which we followed almost hypnotically for several fields. Eventually the pipe seemed to connect up with another tractor with spreading machinery, but nothing happened. By now we realised we were off track so diverted back onto a rough farm road. This led to the 16th century Dean Farm  with its wonderful mullioned windows and incongruous 19th century extension.  Muddy fields and rough reedy grass below the ridge of the so called Forest Of Pendle led us to lunch on the wall of Tinedale House. A climb onto the grandly named Rigg of England which was mainly equestrian farms. Up here were good views back to the massive bulk of Pendle and across to Newchurch in Pendle which we had visited on The Lancashire Witches Walk.Below to the south was the industrial Burnley – Nelson – Colne corridor. It didn’t look too bad from up here. Ancient tracks down the hillside brought us into Fence alongside the White Swan pub where I recalled a seasonal wild garlic meal.  Where do these memories unexpectedly come from?

We made a mistake in trying to follow footpaths parallel with the busy road, we were hemmed in by unnecessary plastic ‘hedging’ on the boundary of more equestrian enclosures. Escaping eventually into a large graveyard, where we were surprised by the number of Muslim graves. We started dropping down into the valley alongside a small beck. Surprisingly green paths led us into the heart of the Lomeshaye Industrial Estate. At the large Wellocks complex we enquired what  ‘The perfect ingredient‘ was but unfortunately only Polish was spoken. Subsequently we discovered that it was a high end food distribution firm to the restaurant trade founded originally by a potato merchant whom Sir Hugh had known from his Yorkshire days. It was pleasant to enter Nelson through Victoria Park with its bandstand and paths alongside Pendle Water.

Under the motorway, over the canal and then a steep road heading up into Nelson town centre where we found the modern bus station which gave us a busy ride back to Barrow.






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.