Friday, April 21, 2006
Huddersfield Narrow Canal
For our first major bike ride of the year, I decided to search for pastures new and chose to do a stretch of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. This canal starts in Ashton-Under-Lyne, about 8 miles east of Manchester at a point where 3 canals meet. The Ashton canal that runs to Manchester, and the Forest Peak canal that runs south towards the Peak District in Derbyshire. The canal rises very quickly through numerous locks towards the Pennines and at Diggle, it enters the Standedge Tunnel which runs for approximately 2 miles under Pule Hill to Marsden. Unfortunately there isn't a tow-path, so for us to reach Huddersfield, we'll have to go over!
Jayne and I, armed with our Greater Manchester Ranger tickets, set off by train from Hindley to Greenfield which is about 5 miles north-east of Stalybridge, about 9 miles up the canal from Ashton-Under-Lyne. Here, we joined the canal and started riding north-east up the canal towards the Pennines.
It becomes very quickly apparent that this canal is not for the faint hearted. It is a rugged, tough, no-nonsense canal. The locks are many and most of them have steps rather than a slope up the side so bikes have to be pushed. However, the hard work is rewarded by the magnificent views of the hills and the changing countryside the canal transcends.
We cycled on to Diggle and stopped to re-assess the situation. I could clearly see the hill we would have to go over, and in our present state of fitness, I felt it would be a step too far, so I decided we would descend the canal and cycle down to Stalybridge. This was a reasonably straight-forward ride, and it was interesting to see how the countryside changes from rugged moorland to a softer, more gentle countryside the further down we went. Throughout the ride, we never really lost site of the dark imposing bulk of Saddleworth Moor, and the canal has constant companions in the form of the railway and the River Tame.
Stopped for lunch at the Tollemarche Arms in Mossley and enjoyed a refreshing pint of Hatters. In the beer garden, there is a bench that commemorates a favoured local - now that's the way I would like to be remembered! From there, the canal drops down towards Stalybridge, running through Scout Tunnel which has a towpath. It was a bit creepy in the middle, but there were railings to stop us from falling in.
Arriving at Stalybridge, we found the station, and in particular, the station buffet bar which is a reasonable restoration of a 1930's/1940's buffet bar, - think Brief Encounter. It serves good food, and an interesting range of real ales, - mine was a pint of Miller's. From there we got the train back home.
Not a massive ride, but a tough workout none-the-less. I saw enough to make me want to go back again, and a few more rides will ensure that we can make it over the hill next time, - even if we have to walk it!
For a complete set of pictures, you can find them here.