Calder & Hebble Navigation. A Rough Guide

The Calder &Hebble is my favourite waterway, being a mix of canal, quirky lock gear and river with some great views, sturdy Yorkshire towns and plenty of pubs selling good beer. However, its the river sections that cause some people, Jeannette included, some disquiet. The river floods often with the canal sections protected by flood gates rather than locks. Coupled with flood markers than seem be set incorrectly means some care needs to be taken. Life jackets and an anchor are a must as is a boat shorter than 60 feet!

The canal starts at the junction with the Rochdale at Sowerby Bridge and runs to Wakefield where it joins the Aire & Calder Navigation. It is deep and fairly wide all the way.

The first few miles from Sowerby Bridge is lock free until you arrive at Salterhebble Top Lock, set at right angles to the canal. Carry on a bit more to the end of what used to be the branch up the hill to Halifax. Abandoned years ago it is still possible to walk the route into the city. There is a pub at the end of the arm and a useful McDonald’s across the road.

Salterhebble is an interesting set of locks. You will need a handspike to make full use of all the paddlegear. A length of 3 x 2 will suffice but if you are cruising the C & H regularly it is worth investing in a proper hardwood one. There is a sanitary station in the pound below the top lock with the middle lock on the right on a curve. The bottom lock has a guillotine bottom gate and an unusual separate tunnel under the road to carry the towpath.

There is now a long tree lined stretch to Elland. I know from person experience that the canal here is about 7 get deep! Elland village is a stiff climb uphill but if it is refreshment you want then The Barge & Barrel is canal side selling a range of ales from their own brewery. Alternatively, another lock down is the Colliers Arms, a Sam Smiths pub with its own moorings.

The locks combat regular intervals until you arrive at Brighouse. There are ample moorings here at the back of Sainsburys or a large Tesco is only a short walk away. The High Street supports a range of small shops including 2 or 3 butchers, bakers, a fantastic pie shop and a specialist cheese shop. You probably won’t hear the eponymous band but get there on 29 June and you will be rewarded with a free display of hymn and march tunes from the Brighouse Festival. Another useful sanitary station before dropping down 2 locks to enter the river for the first time. The warehouse alongside used to be the home of Sagar Marine, builders of particularly fine Dutch Barges.

A mile or so brings you to the first of the food locks. It has an awkward entry on the right hand side of the river and one of the gates is often swinging in the wind as CRT seemingly can’t afford a new bit of chain to keep it open. This is Kirklees Cut and there are very pleasant visitor moorings just above the next lock. The 2nd lock gets you back onto the river which crosses the mouth of the lock. It can be a bit awkward getting the boat against the landing stage just round the corner on the right. Best to put your nose out slowly and let the stream pull you round rather than charge out and then struggle to get back to pick up your lock workers.

Next up is Cooper Bridge. If you are planning to enter the Huddersfield Broad Canal keep to the right and look for the lock landing just through the road bridge. For the C & H go through the flood gate. More visitor moorings on the left before arriving at the lock taking you back onto the river. It can be a bit difficult getting onto the bank here as it is quite high. There is a lock keeper stone hut here and the old lock house on the other side will sell you fresh eggs though you might have to push the chickens out of the way to get to it. Getting back onto the boat should be no problem with a large floating pontoon newly installed.

The towpath changes sides at the next floodgate, the lock being on the right immediately after the graceful footbridge. This is Battyeford with the South Penine Boat Club moorings just before the next lock. Unless it has been repaired recently this lock is hard work, with the bottom gates leaking almost a quickly as it is filling meaning a long wait until you can open the gates.

A pleasant stretch of river brings you to Ledgard flood lock on the left and the town of Mirfield. Heron Boatbuilders used to occupy the buildings on the left. The weir is just below the entrance to the cut and exhibits a strong pull on the boat as you are crossing the river to enter. The stone pillar sticking up in the middle of the water used to carry the towpath across the river. Walkers now have to make a long detour.Mirfield is another pleasing Yorkshire town with ample moorings. A Lidl is conveniently right by the canal but beyond you have a Coop and plenty of other shops. Cross the bridge and turn right by the builders merchants brings you to the Navigation which sometimes holds its own beer festival.

At the end of Mirfield cut is Shepley Bridge. This used to be a maintenance yard for the navigation but is now occupied by a boatyard. There is a sanitary station here but such is the operation of the boat yard that it can be difficult to see and more difficult to get your boat close to it. Don’t be afraid of mooring alongside another boat here. Likewise, the lock landing on the opposite side is also often obstructed. This is one of the locks that was lengthened when the C & H was trying to attract more trade but you now use the intermediate gates to make a normal length lock.

You can see the next set of flood gates a 100 yards away across a loop of the river. This is Greenwood Cut. Be careful when getting into the landing stage to collect your crew when entering the river. There are some rocks below the surface which can be a problem if the water level is low. We are now on the river running down to Thornbill, passing the new gas fired power station just before entrance to the next cut. There used to be a coal fired power station here and the remains of the unloading staithe remains on the right. Thornhill Double Locks are in a pleasant setting, in contrast to the bit of canal you have just cruised. There used to be a water tap here but it disappeared in the late ’90s when the lock house was sold off. Below the lock are some visitor moorings on the main line or you can turn left and travel a mile to Dewsbury basin. Now occupied by a boatyard, you will have to ask for permission to moor. It is a bit of a trek to the town centre but the boat yard does have its own pub. I’ve been there once and never the need to go again!

The next few miles of canal are the most interesting in my opinion, with the right hand side showing many signs of its industrial past, mainly coal mining. Millbank Lock is one of the shortest on the navigation but not as short as the BW list of dimensions used to show. There are the remains of stone walled embankments running just inside the trees that, I assume, carried railway tracks or roads from Hartley Bank Colliery. Just past the disused railway bridge are some bollards for a nice, informal mooring and a clamber up the railway embankment allows you to cross the canal and walk in the woods.
The next locks are called ‘Figure of Three’. The more observant of you might notice that there are only two. The name supposedly comes from either the fact that there was a thpird lock leading down to the river, the remains of which can be seen by the side of the lock house, or from the curves the river made before it was straightened to make way for the railway marshalling yard. The two locks are big with some unusual ground paddles. Carrying on down the canal, the next overbridge is Horbury Bridge. There is a sanitary station a couple of hundred yards before the bridge but it is not very accessible. To us the elsan you just need to moor and cross the road but for water you will need to turn your boat through 90 degrees and nose into the archway leading to the residential moorings where there is a tap just to the right. The remains of another lock here that lead down to the river. There are visitor moorings just through the road bridge outside the Horbury Arms.

Another tree lined stretch with more disused railways now leads you to Broadcut. This is one of the few places where you may see one of the original C & H bridge number plates. A discreet yellow and blue triangle most of them have been swept away by the corporate BW nameplates. The loading staithes for British Oak Colliery are slowly mouldering away on the offside before you get to the first lock. There are extensive visitor moorings below the lock outside the Navigation and another loading staithe opposite. A stroll up the road brings you to a few shops and an excellent chippie. Before the locks were built the navigation continued up the river on the other side of the pub which is why the front door seems to be on the wrong side. It is possible to cross the river here, there being a foot bridge slung under the railway bridge but it is a dark and gloomy crossing. Just before the bottom lock there is a water point.

Back on the river again and you pass under the M1 before entering the next cut. The flood gates here are not at the entrance but halfway along. There are two locks at Thornes but only one is now in use. It is possible to turn upriver here to moor upstream but the main line is to the left and along the river to Wakefield. The flood lock here is in the form of a large basin. There has been a lot of redevelopment here in the course of which the sanitary station has been swept away. Hopefully the visitor moorings will remain despite the new houses overlooking them. Wakefield has plenty of sights. The prison, cathedral, art gallery and the bridge. There are only 3 Chantry Bridges remaining in England, I think! Wakefield, Rotherham and St. Ives being the only one you can navigate under. The bridge is now car free and should be crossed to get to the town where the Cathedral dominates the High Street.

The prison I’ve never visited but the Hepworth Gallery should not be missed. Don’t be put off by the outside appearance. Its whats inside that matters. Besides plenty of Barbara Hepworth scuptures there are many other works of art. There is a large picture window overlooking the weir and Chantry Bridge and compare it to the scene painted by JMW Turner in 1797. Except that Turners view is from the other side and someone has built a huge road bridge in between!

If you like sculpture or just want a nice day out then the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is an easy bus ride away. Set in huge grounds around a lake it is a fantastic place to spend a warm summers day.

Leaving Wakefield the canal turns at right angles to approach Fall Ing Lock. There are residential moorings here and water taps that you can probably use in an emergency. The toilet block, however, is out of bounds to the likes of us, having a non standard key. There is the remains of another coal loading staithe here. The present lock used to be two locks until combined into one long and deep one. It is slow to fill and slow to empty. Out onto the river and you are now on the Aire & Calder. If you are coming off the river here take care to stay well back in the lock so as to avoid the turbulence from the to paddles. They can be very fierce.

So that’s the C & H. Enjoy it.