Huddersfield Narrow Canal

I joined friends Paul and Christine on board NB Waterway Routes in Wakefield. After parkrun at Wakefield Thornes on Saturday morning (my first since I’d had Covid and much faster than I anticipated – very satisfactory) we spent a couple of days heading west along the Calder & Hebble, and then up the Huddersfield Broad Canal to Huddersfield, where we moored for the night.

After completing the last small bit of the HBC, we reached the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, and the first of the 42 locks up, where we’d booked a 9am passage with the Canal & River Trust. It doesn’t look good…

Please send water…
After some hours, and water being let down from higher up the canal, we eventually made some progress
Every one of these terraced houses had made a special effort including garden furniture to take advantage of the typical Yorkshire weather, except one.
Paul and Christine as we creep through some very low water levels.
Monday afternoon and we run aground as we reach Golcar Aqueduct
The view ahead. The water should be a good bit higher, and we’re not going to be making any more progress today.
Further along the pound a temporary pump is lifting water from the River Colne into the canal. It’s a moderately long pound, and I judge the water level is rising about
3-4mm/hour. It wasn’t working when we arrived – the generator had cut out in the heat of the hottest day of the year – about 38 degrees. An engineer was sent out, restarted the generator, and told to wait for an hour – he did, but it stopped again soon afterwards, and the canal level started to fall again as there is a leak somewhere in the pound. A return visit took place in the late evening when it had cooled down a little, and the pump left doing its thing, hopefully to run overnight.
So though it was still quite hot (down to about 30 degrees) I went for an exploratory run a few locks up.
…followed by a paddle in the River Colne by the aqueduct
Our aqueduct
Next morning, the water level has risen – but only a very little. After breakfast we proceeded to the corner you can see, and ran aground several times before retreating to the same spot, from which at least we could get ashore.
On a day which was if anything even hotter than yesterday, I went for a walk to the shops to get a few bits and pieces (including what turned out to be some very popular ciabatta since what was on my shopping list wasn’t available), not having quite realised from looking at Google Maps quite how high up the valley side my intended shop was located. Still, I had nothing much else to do as we waited for the water to rise – and the generator to stop again in the heat.
Next morning, after getting on for two days on the aqueduct, we finally managed to push our way around that corner, and are now approaching the pump, still adding to our water levels.
We ran aground trying to get into the lock, but Paul eventually managed to find a way through and progress was resumed – for a while.
Another very low pound. We did get stuck again, unable to exit a lock because of insufficient water over the cill, but CRT let down a bit more water from higher up, and we just managed to make progress.
Slaithwaite. It’s lunchtime but we’ve been instructed to go no further today because of insufficient water further up.
So I took a train from Slaithwaite to Marsden, from where I ran to the tunnel mouth, and then back along the canal towpath to Slaithwaite.
A former warehouse by the tunnel mouth
Looking past Lock 41 to part of Marsden on the other side of the valley
In general the pounds from lock 42 downwards were full with bywashes overflowing…
…until reaching Sparth Reservoir – the overflowing bywashes were flowing into the (very under-filled) reservoir, not down the canal.
The result is this – a shallow ditch, not even vaguely full enough for a narrowboat.
A shallow ditch, not a navigation.
Further down, a little better, but not much – and this is quite a long pound.
Next day, CRT agreed we should start and see how far we could get.
Passing the other intrepid explorers, heading down – we are, respectively, the last westbound and eastbound boats before the canal was closed for some months – maybe even until next year.
We had some waiting around to do while CRT manipulated the water levels, letting down the absolute minimum they could in order to allow us to progress. But while that was mildly frustrating, it’s important to remember to look up at the magnificent scenery.
This was the last of the padlocked locks where we needed to wait for CRT in order to proceed – the top one had been left unlocked for us
It’s Thursday afternoon not Tuesday afternoon as originally planned, but we’re here at the tunnel entrance, forming an orderly queue of one, ready for our tunnel passage in the morning.
Friday morning, and the gates have been opened. We have our safety briefing, and wait around for a while in the hope of our volunteer chaperone arriving – apparently they’d double-booked so there were two chaperones, and the failure of either to show up was presumably due to each thinking the other was doing it. A third chaperone identified – coincidentally the person who was chaperone last time Paul and Christine went through the tunnel – and we are soon underway.
A selection of some of the different tunnel profiles and linings we saw during our 1h57 journey through the Pennines.
Heading down the western side of the Pennines, we had no problems with lack of water
We moored for the night in Uppermill
Saturday morning saw Paul and me get an train from Greenfield station to Stalybridge, from where it was a gentle walk up to Stamford Park, checking out the return journey. The parkrun went well, despite the inclusion of steps (always a challenging thing to encounter on a parkrun) and afterwards we made a hurried departure, breaking into a jog as we headed downhill back to Staylbridge station to catch the hourly train back to Greenfield, making it with a couple of minutes to spare.
Continuing along the canal towards Stalybridge
Probably unique in being a location where you can take your narrowboat through the legs of an electricity pylon – a result of the pylon being put here when the canal was disused, so a narrow channel was built through the pylon as part of the restoration process.
And here we are, the end of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the start of the Ashton Canal – not, as some assume, at Dukinfield Junction, but just below lock 1W near the winding hole. We continued a short distance up the Peak Forest Canal to moor, and that was the end of my canal holiday – once again with great company and hospitality from Paul and Christine.

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