Narrowboat holidays—Huddersfield Narrow Canal

Published: Wednesday, 19 January 2011

THE Huddersfield Narrow Canal, passing through the Pennines, though extremely strenuous to work for boaters, as part of Pennine waterways can be the most rewarding for the experienced boat holiday maker.

The fact that is has 74 locks over 20 miles will put off all except the most hardy of holiday hirers, but the experience of the Huddersfield Narrow is one that will be long remembered, being entirely different from any other on the entire system, offering scenery second to none as the waterway climbs up then down the Pennines.


It was in 2001 that this Pennine waterway was restored, its restoration resulting in some of the most remarkable achievements ever attempted in the re-opening of a waterway, including moving an entire works and its contents, constructing a tunnel, then putting everything back, as seen in the two photographs.  It even meant moving a bus station and a market, where the original canal had been buried.

But it is Standedge Tunnel that is its crowning achievement, the longest and deepest in the country, as well as the highest, and now with boaters able to take their own boats through, though with a 'helper' to make sure all is well, makes it the most rewarding experience of anything on the waterways.

Many problems

Since it's restoration there have been many problems, and though passage has to be booked, it is quite feasible that yet more water leaks, breaches or lock failures will cause your cruise to be cancelled, and yet in the case of this waterway the authorities do all they are able to keep it open, having spent upwards of £30 millions in its restoration.

Moorings tend to be restricted to certain areas, as lack of dredging and leaks can leave a boat on the bottom if not careful.

The locks are so close that all too often the pound drops so quickly that a boat can be stranded, as being around ten feet deep, the locks take a fair amount of water.

Some locks are difficult to operate, especially for the new boat hirer, with one lock in particular so difficult to move it needed a boat roped to its gate  to get it to open so that the boat could be taken in.

Some paddle gear too is of two 'man' operation, it being so difficult to work, with two spindles provided for this purpose, as shown above.

On the positive side as the waterway climbs up the Pennines then descends the other side, the holiday makers brave enough to attempt the 'Narrow' cannot but admire the breathtaking scenery, and will certainly   forget the 'mountains of Wales' as the blurb says about the Llangollen—it cannot hold a candle.

Standedge Tunnel

Then there is Standedge Tunnel—over three miles of it, which is the great attraction of this waterway, and though in the early days of its restoration boats were pulled through in convoy by an electric tug, further work in the tunnel means that boaters can now steer their own boats through.

The tunnel took seven years to complete at a cost of 50 lives. It is like no other canal tunnel in the country, part brick, part stone but mostly just hewn rock as it bores its way through the Pennines, giving boaters an experience like no other. Being over three miles long and taking a very long time to get through, the old adits are used that connect it to a disused railway tunnel, to make sure all is well, with personnel in attendance as seen in the above picture.

Would not fit

During the canal restoration, it was soon realised that the outline of the modern narrowboat would not fit the confines of Standedge Tunnel built for the restricted shape of the barges of old, so a great deal of work was undertaken to rectify the problem with many 'pinch' points taken out and parts of some of its roof treated.  Further work was done during the past few years to further make passage easier for narrowboats.

Owing to the shortage of water, British Waterway crews assist boaters at the flights at both end of the tunnel, to a strict timetable, that at least takes some of the effort out of working the 74 locks.

During its 20 miles the waterway must be the best for supermarkets in the country with an Asda built over the waterway just beyond its junction with the Ashton Canal, a Tesco with moorings by its car park at Stalybridge and a Sainsbury's right by its side at its junction with the Huddersfield Broad Canal, again with its own moorings.

But please note that though a waterway guide gives the Huddersfield Canals as taking 70ft boats, this is inaccurate, as the Huddersfield Broad Canal locks were built to a maximum length of only 57ft 6ins, but even boats that length are known to be virtually impossible to get through the locks, so there is only one route for boats over this length.

The Huddersfield Narrow Canal is one of its own, it is hard work though very rewarding, with the trip through Standedge Tunnel well worth the effort. With the hard work required for some locks, and the sheer volume of them, it is not recommended for beginners.

The waterway is 20 miles long, has 74 narrow locks including a guillotine lock, two tunnels but with no lift or swing bridges.

Ease of operation

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The more black stars the better.