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Along the Colne Valley

The rural face of the valley between Slaithwaite and Marsden.

Distance 6 miles (9.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 550ft (170m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field paths, good tracks and canal tow path, 12 stiles

Landscape Typical South Pennine country, canalside

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 21 South Pennines

Start/finish SE 079140

Dog friendliness Tow path is especially good for dogs

Parking Plenty of street parking in Slaithwaite

Public toilets Slaithwaite and Marsden

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© AA Media Limited 2013. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 Walk along Britannia Road up to the main A62 road. Cross over, turn right and take Varley Road up to the left. Beyond the last house go right, through a stile next to a gate. Join a grassy track across a field to a stile on the right-hand end of the wall ahead. Follow a wall to your right, across a stile, to a very minor road. Go right here, and follow the road left to a T-junction. Go straight ahead here, on a track; after just 20yds (18m) bear left on a track between houses. Squeeze past a gate on to a field path, with great views of the Colne Valley. Follow a wall on your right; towards its end go through a gap in the wall and take the steps, to continue in the same direction. After a step stile, keep to the right, slightly downhill, following a wall to another stile taking you on to a road.

2 Go right, along the road, for 20yds (18m), then left on to a metalled track (signed 'Hollins Lane'). Continue as the track becomes rougher; when it peters out, keep left of an old cottage and go through a gate. Follow a field-edge path ahead, through a pair of gates either side of a beck. Pass a ruined house to descend on a walled path. When it bears sharp right keep straight ahead through a gate on to a field path. Follow a wall on your right; where it ends keep ahead, slightly uphill across two fields, and meet a walled track. Go left here, towards a farm. Go right, after 50yds (46m), through a stile and a pair of gates, on to another walled path downhill. The path soon bears right; take a stile to the left to follow a field-edge path. Cross another field and go left, uphill, where you meet a wall. Take a stile and follow a walled path up to the B6107.

3 Go right, along the road, for just 75yds (68m), and take a stony track to your left. Keep left of a house, via a kissing gate, as you get good views across Marsden and the head of the Colne Valley (there are a number of paths that offer a more direct route down to Marsden, but you'll be missing out on the best views if you take a short-cut). About 150yds (138m) past the house bear right at a fork, taking the less obvious track. You soon follow a wall, beginning a slow descent. Across a beck, the track forks again; keep left, uphill, to skirt the shoulder of much-quarried Hard Hill. The track takes you steeply downhill, then up to a stile, then down again to cross a beck on a stone retaining wall. After another little climb, you have level walking and superb views, with Butterley Reservoir ahead of you. Bear left, steeply uphill, at a tiny stone building, cross two stiles and meet a track. Follow it right, downhill, to meet a road.

4 Go right, down the road, passing terraced houses dwarfed by Bank Bottom Mills. Keep straight ahead at the roundabout, down Fall Lane, soon bearing left to dip beneath the main road and into Marsden. Take Station Road, at the far end of a green, up to meet the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.

5 Take a path on the right that soon joins the canal tow path. Follow the canal for about 3 miles (4.8km) - passing beneath a road, past several locks and pools, between reservoirs, under two more road bridges - and eventually back into Slaithwaite.

Transport across the Pennine watershed has always presented problems. The Leeds and Liverpool Canal, built during the 1770s, took a convoluted route across the Pennines, through the Aire Gap at Skipton. Then came the Rochdale Canal. However, its more direct route came at a high price: mile for mile, this canal has more locks than any other inland waterway in the country. With the increase in trade between Yorkshire and Lancashire, a third route across the Pennines was soon needed. The Huddersfield Narrow Canal links Huddersfield with Ashton-under-Lyne in Greater Manchester. Though only 20 miles long, it includes the Standedge Tunnel. Begun in 1798, and dug with pick, shovel and dynamite, the canal was opened to traffic in 1811.

The Colne Valley, to the west of Huddersfield, is representative of industrial West Yorkshire. Towns with evocative names - Milnsbridge, Linthwaite, Slaithwaite and Marsden - are threaded along the River Colne like beads on a string. In the 18th century this was a landscape of scattered farms and hand-loom weavers, mostly situated on the higher ground. As with Calderdale, a few miles to the north, the deep-cut valley of the Colne was transformed by the Industrial Revolution. Once the textile processes began to be mechanised, mills were built in the valley bottom by the new breed of industrial entrepreneurs. They specialised in the production of fine worsted cloth.

The River Colne provided the power for the first mills, and the canal subsequently improved the transport links. The mills grew larger as water power gave way to steam, towering over the rows of terraced houses built in their shadows. Throughout this walk you can see the mill chimneys and the saw-tooth roof-lines of the weaving sheds, though some mills are ruinous and others are now given over to other trades.

Slaithwaite (often pronounced 'Slowitt') is typical of the textile towns in the Colne Valley: unpretentious, a little bit scruffy. It looks to be an unlikely spa town. But that's what it became, albeit briefly, when its mineral springs were compared favourably with those of Harrogate. Slaithwaite is undergoing a face-lift; in particular, a filled-in section of the canal is being opened up, to enable water-borne traffic to be manoeuvred through the town.

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