Tuesday, 11 June 2013
Huddersfield Narrow Canal
I had to go to Dewsbury the other day, to collect a new car-seat for my granddaughter to use when she visits. Never one to miss an opportunity, it seemed a good plan to travel a bit further to visit the Pennine village of Marsden, which I have long intended to explore. It is surrounded by the high Pennine moorlands and was a place from where lots of packhorse tracks crossed the moors to Manchester. The tracks were replaced in the 1700s by turnpike toll roads.
A boat, however, could carry the same load as 150 packhorses and so the trans-Pennine Huddersfield Narrow Canal was started around the end of the 18th century, part of a network of canals throughout the north of England. Its construction was beset by problems, related to the tough terrain and to lack of organisation. It took 17 years to build in the end, largely because it needed 74 locks along its 20 mile length, and because it required the longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel ever built in Britain, the Standedge Tunnel.
The canal eventually enjoyed a few boom years - though the narrow tunnel was a huge bottleneck as barges had to queue up to be 'legged through'. The tunnel has no towpath and the boat-horses had to be walked over the moors to the other side.
With the coming of the railways, the canals gradually ceased to be used. The Huddersfield Narrow Canal fell into disrepair, parts of it were covered over or filled in. In 1974 enthusiasts set about the enormous task of restoring it and in 2001 the whole canal became navigable again.