Cycleways and waterways

Five years ago this month the Rochdale Canal was reopened and the Calder Valley Cycleway came into being. Paul Kirkwood takes a look at the waterway from his bike.

Hebden Bridge

Hebden Bridge

A main road, the Rochdale Canal, trans-Pennine railway and River Calder are threaded along the Calder Valley like wires in a cable. The most recent route, the cycleway, provides the perfect way of untangling these strands and exploring the industrial heritage of the region.

Completed in 1804, the canal runs 33 miles in total from Sowerby Bridge to Manchester and includes 92 locks. Space for a canal was so limited that, in some places, it was built into a ledge created by blasting away the rockface of the valley sides. Initially it was successful as a cross-country waterway link but increasingly from the mid-19th century the traffic was localised at the two ends. The lack of through traffic resulted in slipping standards of maintenance. Much of the canal had become unpassable by the 1940s. It closed in 1952 only to reopen 50 years later following restoration.

Canalside in Todmorden

Canalside in Todmorden

I began by taking the train from Sowerby Bridge to Walsden where I joined the Calder Valley Cycleway. (It actually starts a little further up the valley on the Lancashire/Yorkshire border at Warland but there’s no station there). The glory of taking the train first and cycling back rather than the other way round is that you start from the top – the nearby village of Summit is just that – and can freewheel down all the little slopes beside all the locks. And if you run out of puff you can always hop back on the train as there are three stations along the way.

Chimney near Mytholmroyd

Chimney near Mytholmroyd

The route follows the canal closely from Todmorden until Hebden Bridge. On this occasion I didn’t have the time to explore the town properly but even on from the towpath I got a distinct whiff of its famed Bohemian ambience. Callis Community Gardens consists of allotments roughly cut out of the ground with borders formed from upturned bottles and old railway sleepers. A little distance further on I propped my bike up against a green trellis fence outside the Canal Café and went inside. A sign in the café advised of where you can recycle used candles and the toilet was a privy with handpainted sign above the outside of the door. I set off passing the Hebden Bridge Alternative Technology Centre and Green Shop and a woman with red hair reading The Guardian on her doorstep.

I left Hebden Bridge in second place – ahead of the canal boat to my left but behind of the train to my right. On the opposite side of the canal there were lots of little boathouse-like huts, one promoting driftwood sculpture and, at the end of the row, a couple were erecting a greenhouse. The town is hardly a buzzing metropolis but, equally, it made a pleasant change to get away from it and onto a quieter stretch of the cycleway with just occasional boats and ducks for company.

Branwell Bronte sculpture, Luddendenfoot

Branwell Bronte sculpture, Luddendenfoot

The route includes 12 artworks depicting themes relating to the canal and its corridor. Earlier, at Todmorden, I’d passed models of its town hall and Stoodley Pike through which the real monument can be viewed. My favourite – and by far the most perplexing – artwork is the sculpture of Branwell Bronte, brother of the literary sisters, at Luddenden Foot. Bronte was employed as clerk in charge at the village’s station before being dismissed after just nine months in 1842 and was previously assistant clerk at Sowerby Bridge station. The sculpture gives his dates as 1840 to 1878 which is straight forward enough. But he appears to be standing in a sort of castle and arranged around his feet is jumble of images including Todmorden town hall, a fish, canal boat, blackbird, set of cogs, boot and pair of scissors cutting a coin that bears a Latin inscription and skeleton.

At Sowerby Bridge you can continue along the towpath for another four miles to Halifax via the Calder & Hebble Navigation and Hebble Brook. If you’ve had enough then head for the award-winning redeveloped warehouses of Sowerby Bridge Wharf where you’ll find a pub, coffee shop and restaurant.

Bank of bluebells at Luddendenfoot

Bank of bluebells at Luddendenfoot

Fact file

Distance: 10 miles – short enough to walk, if you prefer.

Bikes on trains: Northern Rail allows bikes free of charge. The door for bikes is usually in the middle of the train and indicated by a bike symbol. A cheap day single from Halifax to Walsden costs £2.35 and the journey takes 26 mins.

Refreshments: There is plenty of choice in all the towns you pass through. You cycle right past the Stubbing Wharf pub (with tables outside) and Canal Café at Hebden Bridge. The pub at Sowerby Bridge Wharf is called The Moorings.

Canal milepost

Canal milepost

Directions: From Walsden station cross over the main road via the zebra crossing heading for Alma Road. Go over bridge and take first left down Hollins Road. From this point follow your map and the signs for Route 66 of the National Cycle Network. Do not make the mistake of thinking that the route simply follows the canal towpath all the way. It doesn’t! In places it splits from the canal and runs closer to the railway. There are signs for Route 66 but not at every turn which is why you need the map.

In Todmorden this is particularly necessary as a short section of the mapped route under the railway viaduct after Stansfield Road is currently not accessible. Instead where the route meets the Burnley Road turn right and under the viaduct. Just after the left turn for buses only, dismount and walk your bike past the side of the Public Market. Pass under a height restriction barrier, fork right, pass between two stones and continue ahead beside the river – and back onto the cycle route.

Todmorden sign

Todmorden sign

Map: A map is essential for this route. You can get a free pocket route map from the Hebden Bridge Visitor & Canal Centre at Butlers Wharf in the town or, by post, by ringing 01422 843831. Mapping is also available from http://www.sustrans.org.uk.

Canal bridge at Luddendon Foot

Canal bridge at Luddenden Foot

Bicycle ride made for two

Is it possible to make a bike ride a romantic gesture? Haworth is as good a place to try as any.

Bronte Parsonage, Haworth

Bronte Parsonage, Haworth

For me cycling is an essentially solitary pursuit although I’ve tried to make it romantic on two occasions. One of them was a bike ride near Castle Howard with a female companion. I had a heaving heart, yes, but only because I couldn’t keep up with her. I remember seeing her appear and then disappear as we rode up and down a series of dips on the long road to the obelisk, me always a dip behind. I took a later girlfriend (and now wife) on a ride to the local country pub on a second-hand shopping bike I’d bought especially for the trip. The wheel’s didn’t move freely and, on this occasion, she was the one out of puff.

So when I heard about some Valentine-themed destinations being promoted by Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity, I viewed finding a route between them as something of a challenge.

Mill at Hallas Bridge

Mill at Hallas Bridge

The starting point had plenty of promise, though: Haworth, home to the Bronte sisters and the inspiration for some of the greatest love stories of all-time, of course. Most of the landmarks associated with them – such as the Bronte bridge and Top Withens – are out of bounds for bikes but there are lots of other places with romantic connections to the east of the village.

The route I’ve devised also gives you the chance to ride along a new cycle path over two grand viaducts. Originally, they formed part of the “Alpine route” from Queensbury that railway historians consider to be the pinnacle of Victorian railway engineering and construction. The first viaduct is at Cullingworth and it is quickly followed by the longer Heweden viaduct. Both were reopened as part of the National Cycle Network last May, 50 years to the day that the last passenger train ran. Built in 1880/81, Hewenden viaduct is Grade II listed and consists of 16 masonry piers rising 38 metres above the beck.

Hewenden viaduct

Hewenden viaduct

Just after the viaducts look out for a gnarled tree next to the ruins of farm outbuilding overlooking the valley on your right. With a little imagination – well, actually, a lot – this could almost be Top Withens, supposed rendezvous of Cathy and Heathcliffe in Wuthering Heights. Appreciate the full magnificence of Heweden viaduct as you continue along the route towards Hallas Bridge. Now this really is romantic. Leave your bikes beside the footbridge over the stream and walk about 50 yards in the opposite direction to the mill into the woods and you will find the two Goit Stock waterfalls. Take care descending. The handrail on the rocks is more something you hang from rather than lean on. Whether you’re in love or not this is a blissful spot for a sandwich stop.

A long climb then takes you up to The Guide Inn, the highest point on the route. You’re right up on top of the wiley, windy moors now. As you gently freewheel down from Hainworth, a hamlet pinned to the east side of the Worth valley, you get a fabulous scrolling view of Oakworth and south Keighley on the west side.

Damems station

Damems station

The dive down ends at Damems Railway Station which lies on the Keighley & Worth Railway featured in The Railway Children film. Watching a train arrive sums up the romance of the age of steam. A perfect place for a close encounter.

Oakworth Park

Oakworth Park

On the final leg of the journey call in at Oakworth Municipal Park which is far more interesting than its name suggests. In the Bronte era, it was the site of Oakworth House, home of Sir Isaac Holden, an inventor and textile manufacturer. Now a bowling green takes the place of the house but the former gardens remain. They are honeycombed with grottos, caves, and walkways, some elevated and reached by stone staircases. Holden’s greatest feat, however, was the construction of a winter garden with Turkish bath (no longer standing) at the back of the house for his wife to use in inclement weather. Now that is love.

As the light starts to fade you will be glad to return to the cosy, cobbled glow of Haworth. If the ride has gone well then head straight to Emma’s Eating Parlour and indulge in two slices of hot passion cake with whipped cream. And what if your romantic ride has gone wrong like mine once did? Copy Branwell Bronte and drown your sorrows at The White Lion.

Fact file

Distance: 13 miles

Time: 2 hours excluding stops.

Terrain: Mainly bridleways, tracks and unmade-up roads. All of the route is passable on a touring bike but you will need to walk for one or two short stretches. A mountain bike would be better. The route is strenuous – but short too.

Eating: Pubs including The Station Hotel, Harecroft and The George, Cullingworth. Lots of cafes and pubs in Haworth.

Map: Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure 21: South Pennines.

Nearest bike hire: Blazing Saddles, Hebden Bridge, 01422 844435.

Parking: At car park opposite Haworth station. All day costs £1.20.

Directions:

Sham fossil at Oakworth Park

Sham fossil at Oakworth Park

R out of car park. At roundabout with A629 take second exit up Bingley Rd. L at t-junction then R at chicken coops down bridleway. After Sugden House Farm pass through fieldgate then R, up edge of field keeping wall on R. After fifth tree follow hoof and bike tyre marks veering L towards a ladder stile beside which is a bridlegate. Pass through and along walled bridleway beside ponds. Pass over ex-railway bridge. At lamppost among rhododendrons turn R up bridleway, passing lake. Pass under ex-railway bridge then L onto track. Just after houses under construction turn L back over ex-railway line then first R down Highfield Terrace. Pass through two bollards, round a football pitch, skateboard park and school playing field to mini-roundabout to join ‘Great Northern Railway Trail’. Pass over the two viaducts. Where cycle track stops turn L up to Harecroft on B6144. Turn L then first R down Bents Lane. Turn L down bridleway signed Hallas Lane. Follow the road round to the R to cross stream. Continue ahead then R up Green Side Lane then R again onto Halifax Rd then L signed ‘Keighley 3’. At Guide Inn, turn L down Goff Well Lane then fork R. At stone sign for Hainworth fork L and pass through hamlet. Just after wooden bench follow track round to right and continue descent. Turn R onto A629 then after 500m L down track to Damems station. Pass over level crossing and uphill to new housing estate. Keep ahead. At t-junction turn L up Goose Cote Lane signed ‘Oakworth Mill’. Turn L onto B6143. (Look out for Holden Pk on R). Turn L down Providence Lane signed ‘Bronte Parsonage Museum’. To reach Haworth centre turn R up North St then L down Chain Gate.

Haworth

Haworth