The Huddersfield Narrow Canal
Nicknamed the 'Pennine Link' there is a leaflet specifically about the Huddersfield Narrow Canal available from the Tameside Tourist Information Centre.
This canal runs for 32 km (19 3/4 miles) via 74 locks from Ashton-under-Lyne through the Pennine Hills to the centre of Huddersfield. It is the highest canal in the country.
One of the its unique features is the Standedge Tunnel, indeed this formed part of the integrated programme of restoration works to reopen the whole of the canal to full navigation which was completed in May 2001.
The Canal linked Ashton with the Yorkshire waterways via the Sir John Ramsden's Canal in Huddersfield. It provided an integral part of an effective cross-country link between the Mersey and Humber estuaries. Construction took place between 1794 and 1811, at first under the direction of the Derbyshire engineer Benjamin Outram, and later by Thomas Telford - one of the foremost engineers of the 19th Century.
The canal travels up the Tame Valley via 32 locks to Diggle where it enters Standedge Tunnel, Britain's longest and highest canal tunnel. The tunnel is 3 miles 406 yards (5.2 km) long and 645 feet (196 m) above sea level, a monument to those early engineers. Descending from Marsden into the Colne Valley, the canal drops 493 feet via 42 locks to Huddersfield.
Severe problems and dangers were experienced in cutting the Standedge Tunnel, which led not only to escalated costs, but to over 50 men losing their lives. A five year anticipated building programme eventually became 16 1/2 years. The tunnel was officially opened in April 1811, completing the final link in the chain.
In 1845 the Canal was incorporated into the Huddersfield and Manchester Railway and Canal Company, which itself was taken over by the London and North Western Railway Company. In trading terms the Canal reached its peak in 1848, after which traffic declined steadily. The last trans-Pennine crossing took place in 1921, leading to the canals eventual closure in 1944.
In 1974 the Huddersfield Canal Society was formed with the aim of restoring the canal to its former glory. They faced immense obstacles after 30 years of dereliction. Following initial rebuilding work at Uppermill, a Joint Committee was appointed to oversee the Canal's restoration, comprising Kirklees, Oldham and Tameside Councils, British Waterways and the Society. Since restoration began in earnest in 1980, over three quarters of the original 74 locks have been restored and miles of canal opened to navigation.
The entire length of the canal is detailed in the Pennine Link leaflet. Here we look at the section within Tameside, a stretch of about 8 km (5 miles).
A short distance from Portland Basin the canal towpath passes a modern landmark, Asda ! It is worth taking a diversion here into Ashton town centre to explore the town's 700 year old history. Prominent amongst its attractions is the magnificent Ashton Parish Church which has superb fifteenth century stained glass and many other treasures. Ashton's Historic Market attracts visitors from near and far as does the Museum of the Manchesters within the imposing Town Hall. Close by is the lovely Stamford Park with colourful floral displays.
Returning to the towpath we walk on to the town of Stalybridge. In Stalybridge you may wish to visit the Local Studies Library housed in the library where you can delve into the history of the area's canals. Here also you will find the Astley Cheetham Art Gallery A short excursion will take you to the fine Cheetham Park and Eastwood RSPB Reserve on Mottram Road or Stalybridge Country Park on Huddersfield Road.
The RSPB reserve was given to the town by the Cheetham family. It is a 12 acre site located in an ancient broad-leaved woodland. It offers nature trails, birdwatching hides and a bird feeding station.
Stalybridge Country Park lies just over a mile to the north east of Stalybridge. It is based on the Brushes Valley with its four reservoirs and Cowbury Dale and adjoining land at Carrbrook. There is a visitor centre by the Huddersfield Road entrance.
The scheme to reconstruct the canal through Stalybridge has become one of the country's leading restoration projects. In the 1960s the canal was filled in and built over. The recently opened Staley Wharf is very close to the town's market and shopping centre, giving boaters the opportunity of sailing from the national canal network through Stalybridge.
At Stalybridge the walker will notice the distinct change in scenery as the Pennine Moors become close at hand offering varied walking opportunities. Pennine stone becomes the dominant building material and the character of the town seems more akin to the Pennines than to Manchester.
Continuing along the Canal and progressing up the Tame Valley, after a short while you will notice the remains of Staley Hall perched on the hillside to your right. This was the Tudor home of the Stavely family. The famous founder of Methodism, John Wesley, preached at the Hall in 1745.
Between Stalybridge and Mossley, road, river and rail run alongside the Canal in the narrow Tame Valley. Close to Mossley is Scout Tunnel through which the canal continues. This area is a popular site where benches and picnic sites are provided.
The attractive Pennine town of Mossley marks the northern end of Tameside. Like most Pennine towns, Mossley was a town built on textiles and features a number of mills from the era of the Industrial Revolution.
At Mossley we cross the boundary into the Borough of Oldham. The scenery remains predominantly rural and the keen walker can follow the canal through Greenfield, Uppermill and Diggle to the Standedge Tunnel.
Huddersfield Canal Society
For more information please contact British Waterways 01484 844298