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Pennine Extremes
The Huddersfield Narrow Canal

The Huddersfield Narrow (74 Locks and 19.5 miles)

The Huddersfield Narrow Canal was one of several canals proposed in the 1790s to link the two distinct areas of the waterways system covering the industrial areas of Yorkshire and Lancashire which were separated by the barrier of the Pennines. It followed the old packhorse routes along the Tame and Colne valleys to link to the Ashton Canal. It was approved in 1794, the same time as the Rochdale Canal but was seven years latter opening in 1811. It took a different approach in that it took a much more direct route. It has 74 locks and a long summit tunnel of over three miles. It was also, perhaps unwisely, designed as a narrow canal connecting areas with predominantly broad canals. The difficulties in construction of the Standedge tunnel largely caused the commercial downfall of the canal as it took far longer and was far more expensive to build than expected. Meanwhile the Rochdale changed its plans whilst being built and added locks and reservoirs to avoid a summit tunnel and, as a result, opened many years earlier. The Huddersfield therefore never got the trade it expected and was never a great commercial success although it brought great prosperity to many of the towns on its route.

5th June 2007: We left a bit later than originally intended because of waiting for the last bits to come and finally started on the Huddersfield Narrow and the Pennine Ring at about 1030. The start of the Huddersfield Narrow proved much easier and quicker than we expected. The first lock was unusual with hydraulic bottom gates which took a while to work out how to use, from then on they were standard although all the paddles on the lower section had anti vandal locks taking a little extra time to unlock and re-lock. We started passing old mills and their chimneys - scenes which were to become very familiar as the trip progressed.

We quickly worked our way up to Stalybridge which was a complete contrast to what we had expected. Stalybridge has used the canal as the centrepiece of the regeneration of its centre and it runs through the middle of the new Armentiere Square and through new channels, bridges and locks. Everything is new and impeccably clean, tidy and well looked after - we kept passing groups of maintenance workers painting railings and generally keeping everything spick and span. There was a sense that the town had taken the canal to its heart and was proud of what had been achieved. There was not even much rubbish and poly bags in the canal. There were good town moorings with bollards for shopping below the Tesco in Stalybridge - possibly a bit noisy overnight but the the town gave an impression that vandalism of their pride and joy would not be tolerated.

As we carried on we left the urban area behind us and the old line took us under a power pylon to add some interest. There was a good new facilities block which even had showers. Progress was muck quicker and easier than we had feared and we only took 4.5 hours to reach the mooring recommended by Guy above lock 11 on the off side immediately before Scout tunnel - it was deep with piling and a view down on the river below, a wooden seat and with an excellent Cantonese with takeaway on the main road above 100 metres uphill (Fu's Express 01457 839638). We stayed two days as the others had a function they had to attend on the Wednesday.

We walked into Mossley which is not recommended for overnight mooring. There are moorings which look excellent just beyond Mossley below Roaches lock and Roaches pub however reports in the Aylesbury club magazine indicated they could be noisy and there have been problems overnight.

7th June 2007: We had an easy run the next day and again we had no problems with pounds or locks. We moored for the night at Uppermill at the 'BW meeting point' at the bottom of the final flight. We also passed good moorings in the town, which we walked round in the afternoon.

We walked up the flight in the evening and had a beer at the Diggle Hotel - the food and meals looked good and they had Timmy Taylor's and beers from the Copper Dragon brewery, we tried the Copper Dragon dark beer, like a mild, and their IPA and both com paired well to our old favourite Timmy Taylor's. We took the opportunity to top up the boats with water before we turned in as we wanted to get them as low as possible in the water but note the water tap was one of the slowest we had ever found on the system.

8th June 2007: We got up early and packed the more valuable items which could fall off shelves into stacking boxes at floor level and Pete took off the hatch lids which are wood and protrude outside of the line of the handrails, that also meant that our painting panels went on in place of the side doors because there was nothing to keep them closed without the lid. We were also informed that the Navigation lights had to come off which gave Pete some problems as the cables are reinforced and sealed onto the hole through the hull - we ended up taping them down with cloth tape. It would have been nice if the notes had indicated the particular vulnerability of navigation lights especially if at the front - our were mounted well back just in case.

We then went up the locks to the tunnel entry after BW unlocked the flight just after 0800. We were joined by Phil who had come to Diggle and walked down the flight to meet us. We were third of the four boats going up but were still up by 1030 and had a fair wait before the boats emerged from the other way. As stated before one needs to be full of water and diesel and take off anything that protrudes including navigation lights - we taped wires to side and were OK. The boats are covered in a series of heavy rubber mats over windows, front corner etc. and there is a BW employee on the back of each boat to fend off as required.

The transit was absolutely fascinating and a real experience especially as one can put on a safety helmet and go up front with the pilot Frank who was a fund of information all provided in a true local accent. The passage takes three hours and for information we will answer the most common question, yes the module has a toilet! They warned us it would get cold by the end and they were correct and we would advise you to take jackets as well as pullovers.

The boats merged dirty but virtually undamaged - we have a couple of marks on the paint below the gunnels which have not penetrated the undercoat and two tiny chips on side of handrail on one side and a three inch scrape on the handrail the other side. BW had laid on hoses ready for the clean up. One stays in Marsden overnight at Tunnel End and pub 200 yards up hill does family cooked food and good beer. They even sent someone down to the mooring to take orders when they thought we might be a bit late.

9th June 2007: The morning involved an early start as one has to go down the next 9 locks under escort to save water as pounds are short. The locks are opened at 0800 and 4 or more BW staff worked the 4 boats down in under two hours. We moored, as the BW staff recommended in the winding hole above the next lock as it has deepish water to the edge - think of mooring at the bottom of the flight as it is closer to get back to Marsden which is worth a visit.

We walked back and as we left the flight at Warehouse Hill we saw that Mike Lucas - the founder of the Micron Theatre Company that we sponsor - and his wife were in the garden. We had a chat before going into town - they recommended the Riverhead Brewery Tap both for the beers from their micro-brewery and for their food. We met up after our look round town with Malcolm, Dugald and Lesley there and were seduced into a lunch and we see why Mike had recommended it. The beers were also good and included a dark mild.

We had a barbecue on the lockside in the evening with a few wines to celebrate our passage of Standedge tunnel. The depth was however quite marginal and Priory was touching the bottom after another boat came through the look draining a little water. They reported that levels were a bit low in some of the pounds.

10th June 2007: In the morning we found that the pound two down was almost dry and even after the lockfull with Corinna in it was added it was still barely possible to leave the lock - Pete was hard aground within about 30 metres. He waited patiently for the water from the lock with Priory and 'surfed' down on the surge to the jaws of the next lock which Pauline then filled and he just scraped in. An extra lockfull was needed to get Malcolm who was deeper draughted through the same way - they should fill up again with the water from the boats going up for the Monday Tunnel unless there is a major leak. Locals were surprised at that pound being empty, they said if there was a dry pound it was usually the one above so maybe there had been a mistake the day before by someone.

Conditions were OK the rest of way down with only a few stiff paddles to contend with. In fact there was a side stream coming in a few pounds lower and from then on there was a strong flow over all the bywash weirs and in a couple of cases it was over the gates.

Features of note included an unusual guillotine lock (24E) on the entry to Slaithwaite (pronounced slough-it) and a floating, or more accurately aground, tea-room on a Narrowboat called Moonraker in Slaithwaite. The extra depth once we were clear of the water starved upper section meant quick progress and the ten locks to our final mooring in Slaithwaite were completed in 3 hours. The canal has been rebuilt through the middle of Slaithwaite in a series of narrow cuts and bridges, a real feature in the centre of the town. We moored below lock 22 and watered and pumped out - the pump out was still at the old price of £6.30 (12 units) and it went for long enough to do both boats with plenty of rinses. Note that the water tap has a non standard small thread on both sides and therefore needs an adapter for most hoses. We moved down a little to the end of the rings just clear of the apex of the winding hole. There are few deep moorings on the Huddersfield so one ends up in unusual places but with only 8 boats a week each way it is unlikely to be a problem - today we have only seen the aground boat selling teas and our first hire boat rushing round the South Pennine Ring - they left Sowerby Bridge on Friday 8th and go through the tunnel on Monday. They said they would be back before we cross the summit on the 21st - they will need all their crew of ten blokes when they get to the Rochdale to achieve that - 192 locks and 90 miles in 12 days is going to be hard work.

11th June 2007: We left quite late in the morning because Lesley had been to the laundrette. Even so we did not believe there was any need to hurry as the intention had been just to go as far as lock 8 where there were recommended moorings. However just before we left a BW man turned up and Pete had a long chat and his advice was not to moor lower than lock 11 and to continue to Apsley basin in Huddersfield. The countryside was imposing for the first stretch and the locks were comparatively easy to operate and Pete and Pauline drew away from the others after some incidents crossing other boats working there way up, two of which were behaving in totally unacceptable manner which took some of the gloss off a lovely area with views of the Pennines and lots of old mills including the famous Titanic Mill and the Britannia Mill.

It all changed to a much more urban and mostly run down surroundings at lock 11. The locks had not always been easy on the Huddersfield but they became much worse below lock 11 and it was almost impossible to raise the bottom gate paddles with even our longest armed windless. In the end we had to get out our exceptionally long River Wey style windlasses. They did not have the proper taper but fitted well enough to enable us to start the locks draining - the only alternative would have been to call out the BW staff to assist. The moorings recommended in many guide books at lock 8E were opposite some retirement flats and a nice small park with sculptures and an old loading arm with a crane base and had a long stretch of rings. It however did not feel right and there were several people with large bottles drinking steadily but alone on the seats. We took the BW man's advice and continued.

There was a nice aqueduct with a fascinating semicircular weir on the river below near lock 6 and lock 5 was build on an aqueduct under an impressive railway bridge. Locks 3 and 2 are new and easy to operate but need BW watermate keys to release the paddles. This part of the canal had to be re-routed through two single width tunnels without towpaths and equally narrow channels from which one emerges into the different world of the University Campus and a final lock drops one down onto the Huddersfield Broad Canal not far from Apsley Basin.

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Content revised: 24th July, 2020