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Posted by: mike on Aug 14, 2013

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Northern Pennines

Rochdale Canal:  Tuel Lane Lock, Sowerby Bridge

In the 1960s it made perfect sense to highway engineers to clear a bottleneck in the road through Sowerby Bridge by clearing away two locks of the Rochdale Canal.

After all, no boat had travelled along the canal since 1937, and it had been formally abandoned in 1952.  As a waterway, it couldn’t possibly be of any further practical use.

In fact, within a decade, after the safeguarding of the Ashton Canal which connects with the Rochdale, there were serious proposals to restore the Rochdale to link Lancashire and Yorkshire more directly than the remaining Leeds & Liverpool Canal.

Over nearly twenty years the Rochdale Canal Society invested energy, time and money – in practical and political terms – to bring back through navigation.

This involved circumventing road improvements, dealing with mining subsidence, demolishing a Co-op supermarket and – at Tuel Lane, Sowerby Bridge,– engineering the deepest canal lock in Britain, opened in 1996.

Tuel Lane Lock is numbered 3/4, because it replaces two in the sequence of ninety-two locks that end in Manchester’s Castlefield, and it’s 19 feet 8½ inches deep.  The major engineering challenge was to ensure that the lock could take the full-sized seventy foot barges that all the other locks on the canal were designed for.

The canal tunnels under the main A58 road, and boats are only allowed to lock through under the supervision of a professional lock-keeper.

It’s a major piece of canal engineering which demonstrates the thrust of the waterways preservation movement that first got underway in the 1960s.

The journey through the tunnel and lock at Tuel Lane is portrayed at http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/rochdale/rc5.htm.

A different page of the same site leads to illustrations of other restoration achievements along the Rochdale Canal:  http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/rochdale/rc10.htm.

The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Waterways & Railways across the Northern Pennines tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Feb 3, 2012

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Northern PenninesTransports of delightLife-enhancing experiences

Dent Station

Dent Station on the Settle & Carlisle railway is the highest main-line railway station in England.  It stands 1,150 feet above sea level.  Its remoteness is such that it lies four miles from the village of Dent, six hundred feet below in the dale.  The site is so bleak that the stationmaster’s house was built with integral double-glazing.

The stretch of line to beyond the summit at Ais Gill (1,168 feet) was notoriously difficult to keep open in snow.  The trackside snow-fences of wooden railway sleepers are a gaunt reminder, even at the height of summer, of conditions in the worst of winter.

In 1947 the drifts reached to the road bridge north of the station platforms and took three weeks to clear. 

There is a story, related in the Settle-Carlisle Partnership website [http://www.settle-carlisle.co.uk/stations/dent/storyinfo.cfm?c_Stn=004] of a signalman dying in the Dent signalbox, and his relief laying him on top of the locker until they were relieved at the end of the shift.

After the station buildings were sold in 1985 Neil Ambrose spent twenty years restoring the down-side building.  In 2006 a quantity surveyor, Robin Hughes, bought it for £250,000 and spent a further £150,000 upgrading the interior as holiday accommodation for six.

The adjacent Snow Hut, provided as a base for the track workers who battled, often unsuccessfully, to keep the line open in winter, is now a studio bunk barn for two (or, at a pinch, three).

Details of Dent Station and the Snow Hut are at http://www.dentstation.co.uk/index.php.

The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Waterways & Railways across the Northern Pennines tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Feb 1, 2012

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Northern PenninesTransports of delight

Garsdale Station

There’s really no other reason to get off the train at Garsdale except to go walking in the wild scenery.  There are numerous round walks of varying degrees of difficulty starting from the station.

Nevertheless, Garsdale Station has numerous claims to fame. 

Opened with the Settle & Carlisle Railway in 1875, it was originally known as Hawes Junction, because it was the starting-point of the branch line up Wensleydale to Hawes and onwards to Northallerton.  The branch closed to passengers in 1964 and was dismantled west of Redmire.  There are plans eventually to reopen the entire line [see Yorkshire railway with potential].

A locomotive depot was planned at Garsdale but never built.  It proved easier to bring banking engines up the line than to service them in such a remote spot:  indeed, the locos would routinely have frozen solid.  The 40,000-gallon water-tower that fed the highest railway water-troughs in the world was steam heated, and its base was used as the village hall with a 200-volume library.  The waiting room was regularly used for church services.

Garsdale was also the location of a legendary incident in 1900 when the wind caught a locomotive on the turntable and spun it uncontrollably until the crew poured sand into the pit.  As a result, a timber stockade was afterwards built round the turntable.  The actual turntable is now installed at Keighley.

Hawes Junction was the site of a collision between a northbound express and two light engines on Christmas Eve 1910, caused by a signalling error, which killed nine people.  The signalman, when he realised the collision was inevitable, instructed his colleague, “Go and tell the station master that I am afraid I have wrecked the Scotch Express.”

The station closed, along with almost all the others on the line, in 1970, and reopened from 1975 to serve the Dalesrail trains by which the Yorkshire Dales National Park and other bodies regenerated the line in the face of government opposition.

The up platform of Garsdale Station has a memorial to Ruswarp (pronounced “Russup”) the border collie which along with 22,265 people registered an objection to the closure of the railway in the 1980s.  As a regular fare-paying passenger the dog was permitted to register an objection with a paw-print.

Named after a railway viaduct and a station near Whitby, Ruswarp was the companion of Graham Nuttall, one of the founders of the Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line.  Graham and Ruswarp went walking in the mountains above Llandrindod Wells in January 1990 and did not return:  Ruswarp was found, guarding his master’s body, eleven weeks later.  The fourteen-year-old dog was so weak he had to be carried from the mountain:  cared for by a local vet, Ruswarp lived long enough to attend Graham Nuttall’s funeral.

On April 11th 2009, twenty years to the day after the line was reprieved, the statue of Ruswarp, by the sculptor JOEL, was unveiled.  Ruswarp is shown gazing across the line to the bench that commemorates his master.

Mark Rand, chairman of the Friends of the Settle-Carlisle line, told the Daily Telegraph [August 29th 2008], “Having a statue there of Ruswarp will symbolise not only the successful fight to save the line but also the loyalty of man’s best friend...This is the silver lining to a very bitter-sweet story.”

The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Waterways & Railways across the Northern Pennines tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jun 25, 2011

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Northern PenninesTransports of delight

Summit Tunnel west portal

One tunnel-mouth looks very much like another – see Trouble at t'summit, O, brave new world, The Flute, No light at the end of the tunnel, Great Central and Slow boat to Cromford – but the stories are different.

The 2,860-yard Summit Tunnel, which takes the Manchester & Leeds Railway through the watershed from the Roch to the Calder valleys was, at the time it opened (1841), the longest railway tunnel in the world.

It was the scene of a particularly spectacular railway accident, even though the derailment took place underground almost exactly a thousand yards from each portal.

On December 20th 1984, a southbound train of petrol tank wagons was derailed by a defective axle-bearing almost at the mid-point of the tunnel.

The three-man crew evacuated to raise the alarm at the nearest telephone outside the south portal.  This meant walking or running along railway sleepers in the dark for something like three-quarters of a mile.

Under fire-service protection, they re-entered the tunnel, where the tankers were already ablaze, and with some difficulty detached the first three wagons which were still on the rails and drew them out of the tunnel.

The remaining ten wagons blazed on, and two of them melted.  Vapour flew up two of the tunnel ventilation shafts at speeds estimated at 110mph, bursting into flames 150 feet high in the open air.

Seventy local people were evacuated as a precaution, but no-one – train-crews, firefighters or members of the public – was injured in any way.  It was a remarkable emergency operation.

The tunnel was too hot to enter until December 27th;  the fire brigades eventually handed it back to British Rail on January 3rd.  Train services through the tunnel resumed on August 19th 1985.

Alongside the bravery and expertise of the fire and police officers at the scene, the sang-froid of the railwaymen is impressive.  They had to unhitch tankers full of petrol from other tankers well ablaze, reversing the diesel locomotive to push back and unhook the couplings.  Then they drove out of the tunnel into the dark night.

The Department of Transport report [http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/documents/DoT_Summit1984.pdf] states that later the same night "after inspection this part of the train went forward to its destination".

That's cool.

The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Waterways & Railways across the Northern Pennines tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on May 27, 2011

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Northern PenninesTransports of delight

Leeds & Liverpool Canal Foulridge Tunnel

When I gave a lecture recently to the Driffield Wolds Decorative & Fine Arts Society [http://www.nadfas.org.uk/default.asp?section=209&page=1046], I met Ian Toon, who was about to canoe the Yorkshire length of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal from Foulridge Tunnel down to Leeds.  I was impressed.

I can see that canoeing a canal is an excellent way to see every yard of waterway at close quarters, and to enjoy the wildlife as well as the history.  How much of the scenery you see from water level is another question, but it's an experience most of us will miss.

Foulridge (usually pronounced "Foalridge") is a good place to start an exploration in either direction, by canoe, by narrow boat or on foot, because it's downhill all the way in either direction.  It's also a relevant place to consider the dilemmas the original canal surveyors faced as they plotted their routes across the Pennine hills.

The traditional, James Brindley solution was to hug the contours regardless of the distance:  this is what the Leeds & Liverpool Canal does, and it's 127¼ miles long with two tunnels.  The alternative was to save mileage with a tunnel:  the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, highest in England at 684 feet above sea level, punches the three-mile Standedge Tunnel through the hillside;  it's not quite twenty miles long, but it took seventeen years to complete.  The Rochdale Canal, 33 miles long, has no tunnel, was finished in ten years, and was bedevilled by water-supply problems.

There was a major argument when the Leeds & Liverpool Canal was under construction about whether it would be cheaper to tunnel at Foulridge, or to carry the canal higher and increase the mileage further.  The engineer, Robert Whitworth, airily declared that building Foulridge Tunnel would be "a small affair...compared with what has been done in other canals".

In fact, it took five years, 1791-6.  It proved a liability when the lining failed in 1824 and again in 1843, and there were such difficulties in between those dates that the canal company engineer, Samuel Fletcher, estimated it would cost £23,000 to open it out as a cutting.  In the end, the tunnel was repaired, and it's been kept in repair ever since.

The main problem on the Leeds & Liverpool is and remains, ironically, water supply:  for much of the nineteenth century the company kept building additional reservoirs, the last in 1893.  As recently as 2010 the upper stretch of the canal was closed for lack of water.

Hindsight is easy, of course:  it was a different matter for an eighteenth-century engineer staring at a hillside without so much as an Ordnance Survey map and deciding the best strategy.  All three canals did their job, and the Leeds & Liverpool maintained traffic against rail competition until the early twentieth century and has always remained navigable.  The other two trans-Pennine canals are once again navigable, despite decades of neglect [see The return of the Ring and Longest, highest, deepest].

Now you can walk, cycle, canoe or sail along these waterways with relative ease.

The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Waterways & Railways across the Northern Pennines tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Mar 3, 2011

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Northern PenninesTransports of delight

Wensleydale Railway

The Wensleydale Railway [http://www.wensleydalerailway.com/index.html] at present is, in essence, a seventeen-mile railway siding through some of the most attractive landscape in Yorkshire.  Its staple rolling stock consists of those wonderful 1950s diesel railcars when you can sit at the front looking over the driver's shoulder at the track ahead.  It potters through stations serving the towns and villages of the eastern end of Wensleydale – Bedale, Finghall, Leyburn.  It has really exciting potential, and a hard-headed management team that shows every sign of achieving its targets.

The line served as a link between the East Coast Main Line near Northallerton and the Settle & Carlisle Railway at Garsdale.  Opened in stages between 1848 and 1878, the section east of Hawes was owned by the North Eastern Railway;  west of Hawes belonged to the Midland Railway but the through service was operated by the North Eastern.  The stretch west of Redmire was dismantled after 1964, while the line east remained in use for quarry traffic until 1992.

In response to the imminent threat of final closure, the Wensleydale Railway Association was formed in 1990, initially committed to restoring environment-friendly passenger transport to the towns and villages of the dale and – given the assurance that the long-threatened Settle & Carlisle would after all remain open – ultimately dedicated to the long-term reinstatement of the whole line.

Assisted by a Ministry of Defence undertaking to use the line to transport military vehicles from Catterick, the Association agreed terms with Network Rail to lease the existing track and reopened passenger services between Leeming Bar and Leyburn in 2003.  The service was extended to Redmire the following year.

Though the line uses historic rolling stock, including on occasions steam haulage, it is not so much an exhibition line as a serious transport route.  Its administration is committed to hastening slowly, first upgrading the well-used existing track, next reinstating a link into Northallerton [http://www.wensleydalerailwayassociation.com/resources/NorthallertionOptionsAssessmentNov+09.pdf] and then extending from Redmire to the popular tourist destinations of Castle Bolton and Aysgarth Falls [http://www.wensleydalerailway.com/091009_Final_Wenselydale_Railway_Socio-economic_Study_Issue.pdf].  The more ambitious project to restore the missing link to Hawes and Garsdale – which requires repurchasing land, rebuilding bridges and in effect constructing a new railway – must wait.  Earning revenue by providing a service comes first.

For the moment, this admirable line provides an enjoyable outing between Leeming Bar, just off the A1, to Redmire, linking with a vintage single-deck bus service to and from Ripon, calling at Jervaulx Abbey, Castle Bolton and Aysgarth Falls.

One day, it will be possible once more to make a round trip along the East Coast Main Line, the Wensleydale Railway and the southern part of the Settle & Carlisle.  Serving that traffic will need more than a couple of diesel railcars.

The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Waterways & Railways across the Northern Pennines tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Mar 1, 2011

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Northern PenninesTransports of delight

Keighley & Worth Valley Railway (1975)

Keighley & Worth Valley Railway:  outside Keighley Station (1975)

Among the preserved steam railways of Great Britain, the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway [http://www.kwvr.co.uk] was notably quick off the mark.

British Railways closed the branch from Keighley to Oxenhope in 1962, the year before the publication of the Beeching Report, and the Keighley & Worth Valley Preservation Society had the line running again by 1968, the year that steam traction finally disappeared from main line British railways.  (For comparison, the narrow-gauge Talyllyn Railway opened in 1951;  the standard-gauge Bluebell Railway in Sussex opened in 1960.)

As a result the K&WVR remains the only British heritage railway that operates a branch line in its entirety, and in its relatively short five-mile length it offers the traveller connection from the main line at Keighley, two tunnels, a significant viaduct and a succession of stations with attractions of ranging from rolling-stock displays to tearooms.  The penultimate station on the ride up to Oxenhope is Haworth, the key location in understanding the writings and personalities of the Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne.  (Their brother Branwell was, briefly, a ticket clerk at Luddendenfoot station on the Manchester & Leeds Railway:  he was not a success.)

The line also benefitted, both financially and in terms of publicity, as the location for the Lionel Jeffries' 1970 film The Railway Children and John Schlesinger's 1979 film Yanks.

One of its other proud claims to fame is that it is the only railway that serves real ale in its buffet car.  The railway's real-ale festivals are, by all accounts, jolly affairs.

This branch, opened in 1867 and operated from the outset by the Midland Railway, was not the only railway in the valley.  The rival Great Northern Railway reached Keighley in 1882 by a contorted system connecting Bradford, Halifax and Keighley linked by an unusual triangular station at Queensbury.  The Queensbury-Keighley route trailed into the Worth valley through the 1,533-yard Lees Moor Tunnel, built on a ninety-degree curve that was no fun to drive a steam loco through.  Almost all of this improbable network has disappeared and can be best explored at http://www.lostrailwayswestyorkshire.co.uk/Queensbury.htm.  Lees Moor Tunnel became, of all things, a caravan park:  http://www.forgottenrelics.co.uk/tunnels/gallery/leesmoor.html.

The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Waterways & Railways across the Northern Pennines tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Feb 27, 2011

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Northern PenninesTransports of delight

Bingley Five Rise

The Leeds & Liverpool Canal, begun in 1770, climbs the valley of the Yorkshire Aire on its way to the watershed leading to Lancashire.  As you walk up the towpath through Bingley you encounter one of the 91 locks, then a staircase of three, the Bingley Three Rise, and then a further staircase of five, the Bingley Five Rise.

This magnificent piece of engineering was one of the wonders of England when it opened to traffic in 1774.  Thirty thousand people came to see the first boats along the canal, and the Leeds Intelligencer reported –

This joyful and much wished for event was welcomed with the ringing of Bingley bells, a band of music, the firing of guns by the neighbouring Militia, the shouts of spectators, and all the marks of satisfaction that so important an acquisition merits.

The first journey down the Five Rise, a fall of 59 feet 2 inches, took 28 minutes.

The Five Rise is a staircase, which means the bottom gate of the top lock serves as the top gate of the next lock down:  once a boat starts to ascend or descend it has to keep going to the level pound at the end.  Now that the traffic consists entirely of leisure cruising a professional lock-keeper supervises all transits:  his name is Barry Whitelock, a man so celebrated that he was awarded an MBE for services to inland waterways in the North of England.

This is an excellent spot for the spectator sport of gongoozling:  gongoozler is the boatman's term for people who stand and stare at other people working hard. [See the completely straight-faced entry at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gongoozler.]

The Five Rise is also a place to contemplate the energy and pride of the eighteenth-century canal builders, hoisting the country into the industrial age.  Take a look at the impeccable stonework, the robustness of the gates and paddles, and the utterly straightforward management of water under gravity.  It's not actually true to say they don't make them like that any more:  the moving parts were renewed as recently as 2006.

To see the stretch of canal before and after the Five Rise, go to http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/ll/bingleyfiverise.htm.

The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Waterways & Railways across the Northern Pennines tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Dec 1, 2010

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Northern Pennines

Sowerby Bridge Wharf (1979)

Sowerby Bridge Wharf (1979)

It's interesting to compare the history and geography of the Rochdale Canal with the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.

The Rochdale is broad, while the Huddersfield Narrow was built narrow to save expense.  The Rochdale climbs over the Pennine ridge without tunnelling:  though its summit is lower than the Huddersfield Narrow (600 rather than 648 feet), it has more locks (92 rather than 74).  Consequently the Rochdale always had more difficulty with water-supply, especially after its reservoirs were sold to the Oldham and Rochdale Joint Water Board in 1923.  The Rochdale has a more circuitous route, yet it carried more traffic.  It also avoided railway ownership:  the Manchester & Leeds Railway (later the Lancashire & Yorkshire) remained a competitor, and the Rochdale Canal Company controlled the waterway until it was transferred to the Waterways Trust in 2000.

It went the way of most commercial waterways in the twentieth century, however.  The last through voyage was in 1937.  Most of the route was formally abandoned in 1952.  Only the Rochdale Nine, the locks connecting the Ashton Canal behind Manchester Piccadilly Station with the Bridgewater Canal at Castlefield, remained nominally open, though I know people who endured a nightmare voyage down that flight in the 1970s.

Indeed, when the motorway network around Manchester was constructed in the 1960s, the course of the Rochdale Canal was considered fair game and was breached in several places. Once the Ashton Canal was reopened in 1974, allowing leisure craft to navigate the Cheshire Ring (covering the Macclesfield Canal and parts of the Trent & Mersey, Bridgewater, Rochdale, Ashton and Peak Forest Canals), the future of the Rochdale Nine was secured.

That made it feasible for the Rochdale Canal Society to begin its painstaking, seemingly impractical campaign to restore navigation all the way from Sowerby Bridge to Manchester.  This was accomplished – the isolated section between Todmorden and Hebden Bridge in 1983, extended to the summit in 1990, reconnected to the eastern waterways at Sowerby Bridge in 1996 and, finally, the western section in July 2002.  Like the parallel scheme to restore the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, the final phase involved the support of the local authorities – in this case Rochdale and Oldham – with financial contributions from the Millennium Commission and English Partnerships to a total of nearly £24 million.

The work involved was prodigious, requiring numerous diversions and bridge replacements, the construction of the deepest canal lock in Britain at Sowerby Bridge, the deepening of Anthony Lock following mining subsidence and the demolition of a Co-operative supermarket in Failsworth.

All this makes possible the South Pennine Ring, navigating the Ashton, Huddersfield Narrow, Huddersfield Broad and part of the Rochdale Canals and the Calder & Hebble Navigation.

There is a virtual cruise along the whole length of the restored Rochdale Canal at http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/rochdale/rc3.htm, and detailed illustrations and explanations of the restoration work at http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/rochdale/rc10.htm.

The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Waterways & Railways across the Northern Pennines tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Nov 29, 2010

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Northern Pennines

Huddersfield Narrow Canal, Slaithwaite (1978)

Course of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, Slaithwaite (1979)

The building of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal is an epic story – nearly twenty miles of waterway spanning the highest canal route in England across a summit 648 feet above sea level, by means of 74 locks and the Standedge Tunnel, longest in Britain by far at 5,698 yards.  The canal's construction was marred by the failure of two aqueducts and two reservoirs.  Begun in 1794, it eventually opened in 1811, six years after the death of its engineer, Benjamin Outram.

Owned and duplicated by the London & North Western Railway from 1848, it declined before and after it was legally abandoned in 1944.

Indeed, when I first knew it in the late 1970s, whole stretches of waterway had been filled in and some built over.  Most of the locks on the eastern Colne Valley stretch were cascaded.  It seemed that boats would never again climb to Standedge and penetrate the Pennine massif.

In fact, from 1974 onwards, a group of enthusiasts, the Huddersfield Canal Society, was steadily building momentum to make that dream possible.  A collaboration between the Society and three local authorities, Kirklees, Oldham and Tameside, together with British Waterways, engineered a restoration programme costing £30 million, most of it contributed by English Partnerships and the Millennium Commission, to restore the locks and, where necessary, reroute and regrade the canal.

The Huddersfield Narrow Canal fully reopened to navigation in May 2001.  A virtual trip along the entire canal is available at http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/huddersfield/hnc3.htm.  (The Slaithwaite location illustrated above is at http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/huddersfield/hnc56.htm.)  The same excellent website provides before-and-after images of the major restoration projects at http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/huddersfield/hnc5.htm.

A visitor-centre was opened in the transhipment warehouse beside the Marsden portal of Standedge Tunnel, from where trip boats make a short journey into and out of the tunnel.  Once a month, on the first Saturday, it is possible to go all the way, so to speak – though you have to find your own way back, on foot or by bus.  Navigating the full length of the tunnel takes three hours:  http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/huddersfield/standedge6.htm shows the view from the bow of the boat.

Serious boaters can travel through under their own power three days a week.  Book early to avoid disappointment at http://www.standedge.co.uk/tunnel_trips.htm.

The Huddersfield Canal Society website is at http://www.huddersfieldcanal.com.

The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Waterways & Railways across the Northern Pennines tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Nov 27, 2010

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Northern Pennines

Ribblehead Station

Ribblehead Station

The Settle & Carlisle Railway need never have been built.  The Midland Railway company, infuriated by the cavalier treatment of its passengers by its rival, the London & North Western Railway, was looking for an independent route for its Yorkshire and North Midlands passengers to Scotland.  A plan to connect Settle with the East Coast Main Line fell through, and the company went to Parliament for approval to build a route from Settle to Carlisle on the West Coast Main Line to connect with its Scottish partner railways.

This might have been a feint, like the Ecclesbourne Valley railway [see The branch line that thinks its a main line], and indeed the L&NWR in due course offered improved facilities if the Midland would drop their plans, but the Midland's partners lobbied Parliament to insist that the line was built, at the very worst possible time, the economic slump of 1866-7, when two major railway companies went bankrupt and the Midland was already involved in building other main lines to London and Manchester.

The Midland's manager, James Allport, recorded his feelings when he realised they would have to go through with the project:

I shall never forget, as long as I live, the difficulties surrounding the undertaking.  We walked over the greater part of the line from Settle to Carlisle, and we found it comparatively easy sailing till we got to that terrible place, Blea Moor.

Building the line was a nightmare, and operating it through some of the most stunningly beautiful and inhospitable country in England has never been a picnic.  Settle & Carlisle signalmen and stationmasters grew used to controllers in Leeds and Carlisle flatly refusing to believe their weather warnings, because snow on the fells frequently coincides with calm, dry weather in the lowlands.

In 1963 several trains were completely buried and a member of one snow-clearing crew, tramping through the drifts, suddenly disappeared though the cab roof-light of an otherwise invisible locomotive.

A plan to build a loco depot at Garsdale was abandoned because the engines would have frozen up standing idle in the winter:  the Garsdale water tower had to be steam heated, and the turntable was walled in after a loco caught the gale and spun round uncontrollably for hours.

There is no other railway quite like the Settle & Carlisle.  Its builders created – against huge odds – a high-speed main-line railway, opened in 1876, across the backbone of England.  Generations of a distinct breed of railway crews kept it going in often unenviable conditions.  And a particular generation of local people and rail enthusiasts fought a twenty-year battle from the 1970s onwards to oppose closure.

It's hard to believe, sailing across the hills in modern rolling stock, or watching the trains go by from the numerous vantage points along the route, that it's only in the last decade and a half that the line that should never have been built in the first place has secured a firm future in the modern railway network.

The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Waterways & Railways across the Northern Pennines tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.


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