Another tale from the wastes of lockdown, featuring an afternoon's wander along the Huddersfield Narrow Canal in the Colne Valley, and assorted ramblings about beer, pubs, and this and that....
The weather had been brighter and warmer of late, the days beginning to stretch out ever so much, and with me having had my first jab and talk of roadmaps and pandemic restrictions gradually easing, I felt bold enough to venture a little further afield for my weekly walk. It was only 8 miles or so from home, but the Colne Valley felt like a new world. I walked the towpath of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal from Slaithwaite, as I had done last spring as far as Marsden, but this time I carried on further to Tunnel End. Here the towpath stops as the canal and the adjacent railway line disappear abruptly into the Pennine hillside. The walk was by default muddy, but also quite wet underfoot in parts with the canal even spilling on to the path here and there, and so, along with an assortment of fellow walkers, cyclists, and dogs, it meant having to carefully negotiate a series of extra large puddles, plus the odd pothole.
|Tunnel End, near Marsden, West Yorkshire|
As I approached the end of the first half of the walk, I passed the former Tunnel End Inn, situated at the top of the road that leads down to the canal and currently-closed Standedge Visitor Centre. This is now a private house, but had been run as a pub, on and off, until 2012. It is a pub I remember fondly. A surprisingly roomy place, it had a very friendly, welcoming atmosphere, and some good beer. Black Sheep Bitter was always on, as was, if memory serves me well, Taylors Landlord. It was also, notably, a regular outlet - and a rare one in these parts - for Golden Globe from the now-defunct Shaws Brewery who were based in Dukinfield, Cheshire. Several times I had enjoyed a pint sat in the sun in the seats outside the Tunnel End Inn, and every time I walk past these days I always think it is a real shame it is no longer a pub.
|The former Tunnel End Inn, near Marsden (Image: The Huddersfield Examiner)|
Incidentally, I have always thought that the building that houses the cafe beside the canal as it disappears into the tunnel under the Pennines would make a good pub! Work on constructing the tunnel started in the mid-1790's, but due to the practical difficulties and funding issues it was 1811 before it finally opened. It was, and remains, at just over 5 miles, not just the longest, but also the deepest and the highest canal tunnel in the country. It links Huddersfield with Ashton-under-Lyne, a distance of nearly 20 miles. The lack of towpath meant that before they had engines, canal boats had to be 'legged' through the dark tunnel, which essentially involved the bargees lying on their backs and working their way along the canal using their legs against the tunnel wall. It must have been hard work; it would take up to 3 hours to get a fully-laden boat through the tunnel.
At its height up to 40 boats a day passed through the tunnel, but competition from the Rochdale Canal a few miles to the north and then from the railway line occupying two of the three adjacent tunnels led to its decline, with the last commercial boat passing through in 1921. The canal fell into decline and the tunnel became unsafe. Eventually though the canal was restored, and the tunnel cleared of obstacles, and it was re-opened to boats in 2001. A few years ago, I caught the train to Greenfield, met up with a couple of friends from Stalybridge, and we walked along the canal from there to Diggle, where we boarded a narrowboat to take us through the tunnel. Fortunately, we didn't have to leg it through, but it was easy to imagine the old days, the tunnel walls a mix of brickwork and bare rock, the only light for much of the way from the boat itself, until a tiny pinprick appeared in the distance, slowly increasing in size as we approached the other side. The quiet hum of the boat's engine and the splosh of dripping water into the canal were occasionally drowned by the passing whoosh and rumble of a passing train from a neighbouring tunnel.
We emerged at Tunnel End, eyes blinking, our two-hour underground odyssey feeling like a proper journey. We headed on this occasion to the Railway Inn, ten minutes walk along the towpath, and just opposite the station so my companions could catch their train back home, after a couple of well-deserved pints of course! It is several years since I have been in this Admiral Taverns pub, but it has always been decent when I have been in, serving beers from the Marstons range, although at one time it used to sell beers from the former Burtonwood brewery from Warrington. And, needless to say, when I walked past on this latest trip, the doors were firmly closed.
|The Railway Inn, Marsden (Image: Admiral Taverns)|
I walked down the hill into the small town. There were a few people queuing outside a takeaway, a few sat eating food by the bridge at the bottom of the hill. Here there was until recently the Swan pub, which stocked Thwaites pubs last time I went in, but now appears to have closed and changed to selling pet supplies. A different slant on walking the dog to the pub, I suppose. Across the other side of the bridge is the Riverhead Brewery Tap, a regular haunt of mine over the years.
The Riverhead is a solid-looking building as befits an old Co-op. Now run by Ossett Brewery, it contains its own brewery, which dates back to the previous owner. As I wrote in this piece from last year, beers from the old Riverhead brewery were all named after local reservoirs, with the strength dictated by the height of the reservoir above sea level. One or two of the old names still appear on the bar of the Riverhead although of course, as the sign in the above picture makes clear, they are only operating a click and collect takeaway service at the moment. Maybe due to my current transient state I remembered it was a place I often visited when I was between jobs around 15 years ago. I recall some glorious afternoons in that particularly warm spring sat outside in the sun with the soothing babble from the adjacent River Colne as a backdrop, nursing a pint of Butterley Bitter or Cupwith Special before getting the train homewards.
I turned round from the spot where I took the photo at the beginning of this piece, and noticed that in the premises of the former Peel One bar, there was now a sign saying 'Arcade Marsden'. I peered inside but couldn't make much out, but I wondered if it was a new venture for Arcade Beers in Huddersfield. This was confirmed as being correct when speaking on the phone to my friend Alex (@quosh) later in the afternoon. So that is a new place to look forward to trying once pubs start to open up again. As they say, woo-hoo!
I crossed back over the bridge and turned up Warehouse Hill Road, making my way back to the canal towpath for the return journey to Slaithwaite. The walk back seemed quieter than the outward journey, with less people and dogs about. The canal travels through some lovely countryside and is certainly a more enjoyable journey than the drive along the main road along the valley, the A62, with its virtually constant 30mph speed limit, frequent traffic lights, and limited views from between the grey grit ribbon of houses, shops, and takeaways. The canal provides in abundance the sights and sounds of nature, and yet in some parts of the valley is only a stone's throw away from the main road. But with ever-changing views it offers a fascinating hour or two's escape, be it from lockdown or the rigours of normal life. I got back to Slaithwaite, checked the walking app on my phone, and found that the journey to Tunnel End and back, with a couple of deviations away from the canal, clocked in at 6.9 miles.
At the start of the walk I'd noticed that Empire Brewery, based in one of the old mills alongside the canal, were selling beers from their bottle shop, but when I got back it was all locked up, thus scuppering a half-formed plan to buy a couple of bottles to take home, a souvenir if you like of my trip to the Colne Valley. The pubs in the village were closed of course; no trade at the Commercial, the Silent Woman silent, an enforced cold shoulder from the Shoulder of Mutton. There was nothing else to do but head back home and reward my efforts with a pint from the weekend's mini keg of choice. But it is just not the same as drinking a celebratory pint in a pub at the end of a walk.
And that is one thing I am really looking forward to being able to do again....
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