A Colne Valley Walk
Taking the Towpath Way
This Colne Valley Walk is one of many walks around here but you’ll find this to be the easiest of the Colne Valley Walks. It’s one of my favourite canal walks in Yorkshire. Taking us through some really delightful countryside we also get to see old and crumbling mills – relics of the industrial revolution. This is an easy walk as it follows the Huddersfield Narrow Canal through Marsden, Slaithwaite and Milnsbridge. There are no hills except around the locks as they lift the canal, stage by stage up the valley.
The full length of this Colne Valley Walk is just eight miles – from Huddersfield to the Standedge Tunnel above Marsden. You could, of course walk both ways – up and down the valley – but I would suggest you park your car at one end or the other, walk one way and take a train or bus back to the start point.
Of course, being lazy, I would opt to park the car near the railway station in Marsden. You’re onto the canal towpath right outside the station and as we’re now at the top of the valley, it’s downhill all the way from here!
At the summit of the canal is the Standedge Tunnel – The Highest, Longest and Deepest canal tunnel in Britain. As well as the opportunity to take a boat ride into the tunnel itself, you’ll find fascinating facts and intriguing information at the Visitor Centre just close by.
If you want to visit the Standedge Tunnel and Visitor Centre – and you should because it’s only a quarter of a mile away along the towpath – take a right out of the railway station onto the canal towpath, right by the lock. You’ll see a signpost directing the way. Click here to visit the Standedge Tunnel web site (A new window will open so you won’t lose your place. I’ll be waiting for you when you get back!)
Enjoy your visit to the tunnel? Right – if you’re fit – it’s time to head off down the towpath along the Colne Valley Walk, through some great scenery. By the way, did I tell you? One of the good things about this walk is that you have so many options. We’ll be walking through the villages of Slaithwaite (about three miles) and Milnsbridge (about six miles) en route. There’s a railway station at Slaithwaite and bus connections from both Slaithwaite and Milnsbridge. So if you feel the need to cut short your walk – time running out – feet killing you – kids off the rails, you do have options – always nice to have!
Ease your way down the steep little hill by the lock and under the bridge – mind your head, it’s a bit low in places! This takes us to a steadily dropping section of the canal as it passes through a number of locks close together. Across to the right are good views over Marsden and to the hills beyond. There are still working mills here. Along the towpath we’ll pass over an old wharf. One of the buildings here was the lock-keeper’s cottage. The next lock is hard by the lane as it crosses the canal. If you need a shop for water or snacks – just cross the wooden bridge and go out onto the lane through a little gate. There’s a shop about 150 yards along the way.
A little further along the towpath the canal passes between a canal storage reservoir and a large mill pond. The Sparth Reservoir stores water to help keep the canal full. There were originally ten of these reservoirs along the length of the valley, capable of holding almost 340 million gallons of water between them. Even so, there were times of long dry spells when the boats couldn’t get through because the canal dried out.
Both of these expanses of water are popular with anglers. In hot weather, the peace and quiet will, as likely as not, be shattered by shouts and laughter as youngsters cool off in the water. As we pass by a picturesque row of mill cottages, across from the Cellars Clough Mill, be sure to look out for a flock of Canada Geese. Most migrate north for the summer months, but there are usually a good few remaining year round. From here the locks are further apart as the valley drops less steeply. You’ll find benches have been placed along the wayside – nice to rest awhile and savour the tranquillity. Over to the right we catch glimpses of the River Colne as it rushes over rocks and man made weirs.
Approaching Slaithwaite (pronounced Slathwaite or Slawit by locals) we pass the only working guillotine lock gate in the country. Upper Mill’s weaving shed doors may be open as we pass by. We might just catch a glimpse inside and hear the clatter of the looms. You’ll find cafes and tea shops along the canal side in the village. Since the Huddersfield Canal Society’s restoration of the canal, Slaithwaite is the only town in England to have a canal running alongside its main street.
Continuing our Colne Valley Walk along the towpath, cross Britannia Road by the pedestrian crossing and onto the towpath on the other side of the road. If there’s time, though, Slaithwaite has some good pubs and cafes for refreshment and nourishment to see you through the remainder of your Colne Valley walk.
One of the options I mentioned earlier is to finish here in Slaithwaite and return to your starting point by train or bus.
Resuming our Colne Valley Walk alongside the main street we pass through the shadow of the Globe Mill as it towers over the village. The towpath passes through an industrial estate as we leave Slaithwaite – but you would hardly know it. The way takes us under mature trees and hedgerows that very effectively hide most of the modern day warehousing and small factory units. We will soon emerge, once more, into beautiful open countryside with long distance views of villages sitting high up on the valley sides.
We pass the massive bulk of the old Titanic Mills. Opened in 1912 and named for the ill-fated liner that was sunk on its maiden voyage. Dominating the surrounding landscape, the mill provided work for valley dwellers and survived its namesake into the 1970’s – before succumbing to the rapid decline of the UK textile industry. Coming out of retirement it is now being restored and converted into a spa hotel, shopping complex and modern apartments. Once more bringing much needed work to the folk of the Colne Valley.
Look out for old weavers cottages clinging to the valley side as it climbs away from the valley bottom. Their many mullioned, top storey windows give them a very distinctive appearance. The weaver’s hand loom was housed at the top of the cottage – where the windows captured as much daylight as possible. This allowed work to start early and continue until all daylight was gone – important when the only light was by very expensive candle and payment was by finished woven length.
Before we reach Milnsbridge on our Colne Valley Walk the canal makes an “S” bend as it crosses a restored aqueduct – leaping over the River Colne. Here, below us, the river tumbles over a semi-circular weir. You can see it if you look down through the trees. A few more locks lower the canal still more, before it passes under the main road leading into Milnsbridge.
Another option to cut short our Colne Valley Walk presents itself at Milnsbridge. You could catch a bus on Manchester Road to take you back to your start point. Walking from Marsden and Slaithwaite, leave the towpath before it passes under the main road. If you’re walking from Huddersfield pass under the main road before leaving the towpath. Once on the main road, climb the hill to Manchester Road. You’ll find a bus stop on this side of Manchester Road for buses into Huddersfield. Another on the other side for buses to Slaithwaite, Marsden and Oldham.
Milnsbridge has shops, cafes and pubs to take your mind off the walking for a while. Leave the towpath and walk down the main road into the village.
Continuing our Colne Valley Walk, by dropping down the short steep hill by the lock and under the road bridge, will bring us to a section lined with new apartment blocks and converted mills. About a mile further along, after walking beneath the railway viaduct, we must leave the towpath because the restored canal tunnels beneath buildings in Huddersfield. The Pennine Waterways web site has a good map of two alternative routes that take us from lock 4E – returning us to the towpath for a walk through Huddersfield University’s campus. (A new window will open so you won’t lose your place. I’ll be waiting for you when you get back!)
Walk under the low bridge at the end of the campus – before the ramp up to the busy Wakefield Road. This will bring us to the end of our Colne Valley Walk at the Aspley Marina on the Huddersfield Broad Canal. You will find a Pub/Restaurant – “The Aspley” – near to the marina. The railway and bus stations are a five minute walk through Huddersfield town centre. You’ll be able to catch a train or bus that will take you up the valley to your starting point in Marsden, Slaithwaite or Milnsbridge.
I hope you enjoy your Colne Valley Walk alongside the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and have found this article to be useful – Happy Wandering!