Huddersfield to Staithwaite (Slawit)
8th August 2011
5 miles - 21 locks - 7 hours
Let me say, right from the start, that I love the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. It's my No1 favourite canal and I am a paid up member of the Huddersfield Canal Society as a tangible gesture of support for this wonderful waterway. It was miraculous when it was first built 200 years ago (exactly) and it's still miraculous today.
10E at Milnsbidge
We will be spending four days covering its diminutive 20 mile route and I love every furlong. I may point out some of its foibles, but don't think for one minute that I am warning you off if. Far from it, its difficulties are massively overstated and providing you set realistic cruising expectations the effort involved is no more than you would expend on many other routes. The thing is that with 72 locks, a stonking great tunnel and a shallow cut it will never be quick and you won't get hours of lock free cruising. But the scenery and experience of the whole waterway makes up for that extra bit of effort.
Tranquility on the HNC
This canal deserves to be used more and whilst I cherish the solitude I find high up in the Pennines, I would encourage anyone to make this passage - its one of the all time great inland waterway journeys.
Ok, eulogy over - back to the trip report. The Huddersfield Narrow is a bit short of good moorings (shallow) and its a good idea to have a plan of where you will stop. With the through passage limited to 9 boats each way per week (3 over the summit on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) the moorings will never be oversubscribed. Today's destination is Slaithwaite - or Slawit as the locals call it - a mere five miles and 21 locks away.
Crane in Aspley Basin
The moorings at Aspley Basin offer a good jumping off spot for the HNC - both in terms of boating facilities and the presence of a big Sainsburys a few minutes walk away. Then it's through a low bridge and into the first lock deep in the heart of Huddersfield University. This canal does not go for prosaic lock names sticking to a functional 1E from the Huddersfield end and 1W at the Ashton end.
Then it's into the ultra utilitarian Bates and Sellers tunnels. Actually tunnels is too grand a description for them. They are concrete covered steel channels which carry the restored canal under a couple of major obstacles - a functional means to an end. But 10 years after being opened life in Huddersfield has moved on, Sellers Engineering have closed and their site is being redeveloped. Guess what? They want the canal to be opened up and landscaped into the new university complex, so we will have been one of the last boats to pass through the tunnel and even as we passed the engineers were preparing to lift the lid. I don't see anyone mourning the passing of this bit of modern canal heritage!
Farewell Sellers Tunnel - RIP
This end does not show the HNC to its best advantage - shallow, dirty and slow but reserve your judgement till you are past Milnsbridge. The canal creeps up the Colne valley, crossing the river at Paddock Aqueduct which releases a deluge of water into the river every time the adjacent lock chamber is filled.
HNC's botanical lock gates
You soon encounter a 'feature' of this canal in the form of its lock landings. The towpath bollards may look reassuring but there is rarely more than a few inches of water beneath them. The accepted approach is to run slowly into the jaws of the lock and the crew member to alight via the steps from the front of the boat - emptying the lock as the boat is held against the gates with the engine. To be honest, most locks are so close together that a crew member commonly concludes that it is a nice day for a walk and stays ashore for the duration.
Huddersfield Railway Viaduct - as picturesque as it gets!
Milnsbrige offers a good half way point for lunch. In our case we stopped in the lock chamber and ate our sandwiches keeping an eye out for any other boats. The old mills of Milnsbridge have been redeveloped into attractive housing - far better than demolition. One navigational note, the lock chambers of Milnsbridge leak like a sieve and we are asked to empty the locks after use as the river down the high street isn't appreciated by the locals.
As we left Milnsbridge we passed our only boat of the day, the Lynn G, an event so unusual it is memorable. From there on the leaky locks get leakier with 12E being the worst. The gates are so bad that it refused to make a level staying stubbornly 3" down and taking two of us heaving on the balance bean and the boat bumping the gate itself.
These locks are pi**ers extrordinaire, some are high and some are low but they spurt all over the boat catching the unwary steerer full in the ear!
Free boat wash...
Industry continues to clutter the narrowing valley floor, rubbing shoulders with the canal and river before finally giving way to agriculture after lock 14 as the huge Titanic Mill hoves into view. Its not that the mill was a spectacular failure, but rather that it was built at the same time as its unfortunate nautical namesake.
Then its a steady slog up to Slaithwaite, five locks and one mile distant. 250 feet up and five miles along seems a modest return for seven hours of effort but that's the HNC for you! All in all is not so very different in dynamics to the Wolverhampton 21 which is achieved in half the time.
We moored in Slaithwaite Basin, a peaceful spot close to the town and its shops. This was the night of the riots across Britain, but there were no fire bombs in downtown Slawit!
I like this place, a lot.
Back to index.