Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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This article Pennine Waters is the copyright of Jim Shead - the Calder & Hebble, Rochdale and Huddersfield Broad Canal are visited in the fourth of "Jim's Jottings". Published in Waterways World October 1998
We have been through a great variety of locks in the seven weeks we have spent in Yorkshire; Aire & Calder locks 200 feet long, Calder & Hebble locks just over 57 feet long, many flood locks and the deepest lock in the country at Tuel Lane on the Rochdale Canal. In all this time we have not been through a narrow lock, our last was at Foxton in Leicestershire. Despite the hundreds of miles of broad navigations in the north the narrowboat still remains the chosen craft for the majority of boaters here. Are they all waiting for the opening of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal?
Today the 74 narrow locks of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal are cut off from the waterways system but are due to be opened by the end of 2000 (see WW August 1998). We made our way up the Huddersfield Broad Canal from Cooper's Bridge, where it joins the Calder & Hebble. It had been four years since our last cruise in these waters and we now found that the bottom lock and the pound above was covered with a thick layer of floating duck weed. The woman at the bottom lock told us that this had only been a problem since BW had installed overflow weirs, previously the weed would have washed over the gates of the locks and down to the river. The build up of weed is the price we must pay for no longer having to stand under a waterfall as we descend these short locks. Further up the canal the weed disappeared and we had no major problems on the journey, although some of the lock landing places were too shallow.
The Huddersfield Broad Canal presents an ever-changing scene, as we travel the 3 1/2 miles and 9 locks that take us into the town centre, parks and open areas alternating with industry, old and new. A peacock was sitting on the fence beside one of the locks, a resident of the nearby Huddersfield Community Farm. Just before the canal ends at Aspley Basin we pass through the unique Turnbridge Loco lift bridge of 1865, where turning a large handle lifts the whole of the centre of the bridge vertically. There are plenty of moorings in the centre of the town, either in the basin or beside the Sainsbury's supermarket. At present only about half a mile of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal can be navigated from Aspley Basin but when the whole canal has been restored it will be possible to do a Pennine Ring across the Huddersfield canals and back again using the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, a journey of over 174 miles through 220 locks.
After we left Huddersfield we went back to the Calder & Hebble and turned towards Sowerby Bridge and the Rochdale Canal. Our last visit to the canal was over two years ago, shortly after the opening of the new Tuel Lane lock and tunnel, which reconnected the Rochdale with the main waterways system. Since then some things have changed; a one week licence for a 57 foot boat has increased from £27 to £30, there is less weed on the first stretch of the canal, many (but not all) of the gates and paddles are easier to work and it is no longer possible to get past the summit level and down to Littleborough. This is not really a canal to do in a hurry; there are 35 locks in the 13 miles up to the summit, 17 in the last 3 miles. At least these locks are 74 foot long, a welcome change after the short ones on the Calder & Hebble. The reward for all this work is to progress up an increasingly steep sided valley to a point where houses, dry stone walls and flocks of sheep cling to the hillside high above the waterway.
Just below Longlees Lock, the eastern summit lock of the canal, is a short pound that offers moorings I find impossible to resist, not just because it is at the end of a strenuous climb up through the locks but because of the temptations offered by the nearby Bird I'th Hand pub. This is very much a food-focused place, having a small bar squeezed into the end of one of its three dining rooms, with an extensive menu of good value meals. Not that this is the only pub on the canal worth visiting, there are many along the route. Over its entire length the canal shares the valley bottom with a road that links Todmorden, Hebden Bridge and several small villages so we are never far from shops and eating-places.
The only problem that we had was at Gauxholme Lowest Lock, where the bottom gate refused to close completely, leaving a gap of over a foot. A call to the Rochdale Canal Trust brought a quick response. Instead of a man with a very long rake, which is the usual BW method of tackling this type of problem, we got a man with a diving suit, mask and snorkel who descended into the lock to locate the problem. After some splashing around and heroic submerging beneath the gloomy waters he emerged with a rather insignificant stone that had jammed under the bottom gate.
There are plans to complete the restoration of the Rochdale Canal by the year 2004. When this happens we will have another Pennine Ring formed by the Rochdale and Huddersfield Canals (69 1/2 miles and 197 locks) and a third formed by the Rochdale and Leeds & Liverpool (182 miles and 219 locks). Before I get carried away by the prospect of future choices of routes I must return to the present and head towards the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, which is now the only route for us across the Pennines, to Liverpool and on to The National Waterways Festival at Salford Quays, Manchester.
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