Bike Route: A family-friendly outing on canal

The Yorkshire end of Standedge Tunnel, at Marsden on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.
The Yorkshire end of Standedge Tunnel, at Marsden on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.
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I was looking after my 10-year-old nephew last week and as he’d read a few of these very columns, he’d asked if he could join me on one of my rides. I didn’t want to shatter his spirits by thrashing him around the fells so I found a nice, family friendly route in Welcome to Yorkshire’s handy pocket guide Discover Cycling in Yorkshire. It took us on a 14-mile, there-and-back trip along the Huddersfield Narrow Canal from the town centre to Marsden.

1We hit the waterfront right outside Kirklees College and marvelled at the major building work being undertaken there before heading out to the west of town under the Longroyd Viaduct. After a few hundred metres the tarmac was gradually replaced by a rougher and narrower towpath and I was relieved we’d opted for mountain bikes. It was interesting to see the giant old factories that harked back to an era when this waterway was a major driver of commerce.

2We’d escaped the shackles of town as we ventured past Milnsbridge and had to jump between our big and middle chainrings almost every time we hit the steep ramps running parallel to each lock. These varied from smooth, gravel-topped slopes through to rough, jutted sections which were surprisingly tricky. The succession of tunnels also gave us plenty to think about and I found myself having to duck under many of them whilst trying to keep my balance on the damp cobblestones beneath me.

3Of course, there were plenty of long, flat sections between these segments, and with no traffic to worry about on the side of the canal, we could take in our surroundings as we rode. There’s always plenty to see too, whether it’s barges on the water or the wildlife in the trees, and my sense of tranquillity was only temporarily shattered on the odd occasions. Fortunately he had a bell on his bike too, which meant he could forewarn any ramblers. I’d certainly recommend popping one on your bike to follow in our footsteps.

4 After an hour or so we arrived at our halfway point – the hugely impressive Standedge Tunnel. I didn’t know anything about it until I researched this route and found out it is the longest, deepest and highest canal tunnel in the country. It is three- and-a-quarter miles long and takes around three hours to get through it! Unfortunately we couldn’t venture down it as there is only room for barges but we peered in and saw two miniscule headlights slowly emerge way into the distance. It still hadn’t emerged by the time we’d polished off our lunch in the Watersedge Café.

5There is also a visitor centre at the tunnel and as much as we wanted to book a boat trip into the darkness, we had to head back to base. I don’t know if it was our refuelling that did it or the gradual drop in altitude, but our pace was significantly higher on the return leg home. The dried-out puddles made for a lumpy rollercoaster ride and we challenged each other not to put our feet down as we dealt with those tougher downhill ramps alongside the locks. A minor nettle sting couldn’t even hamper our progress and when we made it back to Huddersfield my accomplice was proud to complete the longest ride he’d ever undertaken. Whilst this is not the best route for very new cyclists, I’d heartily recommend it to those who are more comfortable on two wheels.