Sunday, 4 November 2012

Wakefield to Mirfield 11/08/12

I've been resident in West Yorkshire for nearly 19 years now, and I'm amazed that I can still find areas near to Leeds that are still completely terra incognita to me, and that is the case today. Despite having taken all sorts of routes across the county over the years, my only interaction with the lands between Wakefield and Dewsbury has been tearing up and down the M1. I would have ridden that way taking the train from Morley to Wakefield via Mirfield but failure of the trains to run to time means that I have to go the long way round, via Leeds, before I can venture into the unknown.

Wakefield to Mirfield, via the Calder & Hebble Navigation path.  11.6 miles

Wakefield Flood Lock
9.25am and Wakefeld Kirkgate looks no more attractive on a glum morning than it did on a sunny afternoon, and I make off to my start point at the A61 bridge, which is nowhere near as pretty as Chantry Bridge, but the Hepworth Wakefield does appear to float on the Calder from this vantage point. Following the river south, we go along Thornes Lane and past Wakefield Marina, and that must be a pretty terrifying place to be moored when the Calder goes crazy, and whilst the south bank has warehouse conversions and redevelopment to spruce it up, the north bank is resolutely light industrial and unattractive, so after noting Wakefield Flood Lock its a hurry up to get into the countryside. A bit of history of the Calder & Hebble Navigation seems in order to pass the time, started in 1758 and completed in 1770 to open up the markets along the Calder into the Pennines, and again this is not a canal, it is a navigation. This why we follow the river, and at the bottom of Thornes lane we get a notification from the Environment Agency informing us that the riverbank has collapsed and a diversion is in place. As there's no fencing off, I choose to ignore this instruction and continue down the path to get lashed by nettles and bramble for my trouble. No bank collapse before the 95 arches of Wakefield viaduct and the iron span of Belle Isle bridge, carrying the mainline down to Doncaster, and then all the way down to Thornes there's clear enough going through a bit too much vegetation before reaching Thornes lock at the start the Thornes cut we find our bank collapse, and it's less than a metre of path missing, a broad stride can traverse it and is not worthy of a detour.

Scary Footbridge
Broad Cut Low Lock

Here we have to make a choice on which side of the Calder we wish to walk as the Navigation's cuts do not line up with useful crossing places on the river, and I choose to take the southern path so join the A636 across Thornes Island and hope that the developments along here have good flood insurance, and join the bridleway that leads to the flood embankment that goes down to the M1 bridge between river and flooded gravel quarries. Meet a Polish couple cycling down here, and they seem stuck as to how to get to the start of the Broad Cut, and a combination of language differences and an out of date Explorer 278 means I'm no help at all in getting them to their destination. Finding Broad Cut is no problem at all on foot and cross over at BC Low lock to avoid walking through the moorings and take a detour up to the railway bridge over the Calder so I can see the scariest footbridge in the county, a passageway going through the plate girder bridge and it's disturbing just to look at and must be utterly terrifying if you are inside it when a train passes over. return to the path and cross over by the Navigation in and pass under the Barnsley line, before realising that I'm on the wrong side of the cut and cross back over at BC Top lock to pause for watering and watching the boating going on.

Horbury Viaduct
Carrying on along here, the Broad Cut runs parallel to a disused railway, built by the Midland Railway between Royston and Dewsbury in 1906 and closed in 1950, and I figure that a good view should be obtained of Calder Grove (or Crigglestone) viaduct, but tree growth renders this huge structure almost invisible. You do get a nice Iron girder bridge crossing over the canal a little further along, on a spur linking another line to the yards at Healey Mills, but aside from the odd embankment that must have led to an absent loading stage, there's not much to see for quite a while, but I do get a wave from my Polish fellow travellers as they pass me having found the path that they were looking for. Depart the path on reaching the Bingley Arms at Horbury Bridge, so I can take a wander along the A642 to take pictures of Horbury (or Middletown) viaduct, which can be viewed from all angles amid the buildings, a 17 arch, 310 yard blue brick beast that is just crying out for the Sustrans treatment. Return to the path to press on to lunchtime, stopping near the now disused Healey Mills railway yard, and that reminds me of a tale from my childhood days, one I'll keep to myself for now!

Thornhill Double locks
Press on to Figure of Three locks, which is an odd name as it is only pair of locks and the next railway bridge encountered is the Thornhill spur from the old Midland line, and around this section there are hints of all sort of mining activity like loading stages and old colliery lines emerging by the canalside. Nowadays it all looks like the depths of the countryside to the unaware eye. Pass my first milepost along here, and it appears to be as old as the canal, which means its virtually unreadable but I think is says 'From Fall Ing: 7 miles'. Dewsbury junction arrives and the Savile Town branch will have to wait for another day, but Thornhill Double locks are an attractive compensatory sight, with the nearly circular pound between them. Onward under the last Railway viaduct of the Midland's failed line to Dewsbury, and if the history of that company in West Yorkshire is ever written, it should be titled 'The Midland Railway Takes A Bath'. Carrying on around Dewsbury, I start to feel like the walk is almost done, quite incorrectly as it happens, and as we approach Schofield Bridge and the start of the Spen Valley Greenway, a last Hello can be said to my Polish friends as they cycle back down the path, homeward bound. I carry on to the end of Broad Cut, under the L&Y railway's Gorgeous Calder Bridges to Thornhills Flood lock and on down the most ill-made of paths to Ravensthorpe bridge.

Mirfield Marina
I will not be taking in the Ravensthorpe cut as the path that supposedly exists along the north bank of the Calder is fenced off and overgrown and not fancying a potential excess of vegetation on the south bank, I take detour away from the river for a while, taking a higher path above the railway to rejoin the river between fishing lake and Ravensthorpe weir, and I've no idea how those lads are fishing from the island in the middle of the Calder as they have no boat and there's no obvious crossing place. Through the yard of the Ship Inn and over Steanard Lane Bridge and Shepley Bridge Lock indicates the start of the Mirfield cut, and now we are nearly done for the day. Shepley Bridge marina is one of the more prosperous looking boatyards, and the cut has a very nice heritage trail for those with an interest in industrial archaeology (which I do), and information boards illustrate the industry and railway influence on a town that is now most famous for being the birthplace of Patrick Stewart. Under the abutments of the L&YR's Low Moor branch, and the Calder Valley Greenway might one day come this way if Sustrans have their way, and on to Station Road, to pass the busy Mirfield marina and the throng outside the Navigation Tavern, ending at the flood lock and the end of my last cut of the day. Return via Ledgard Bridge, my next start point along the Calder valley, and at 2.45pm it's time to head home, and it's not a long trip back from here.

1,000 Miles Cumulative Total: 309.3 miles

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