The Calder and Hebble Navigation from Sowerby Bridge to Wakefield and on to Castleford

Researched and written by Jeannette Briggs

The Calder and Hebble Navigation connects the town of Sowerby Bridge on the Rochdale Canal with the Aire and Calder Canal at Castleford. and was constructed after the success of the Leeds and Liverpool/Aire and Calder canal showed the way for the industrialists of West Yorkshire to move their heavy goods down to the ports on the east coast.

The Calder and Hebble Navigation also connects with the Huddersfield Broad Canal at Cooper Bridge Junction. It enables those with canal boats to complete the ring of the now restored Rochdale Canal with the Leeds and Liverpool canal, then the Aire and Calder canal, and back to Sowerby Bridge and the Rochdale again. The canal runs for about 21 miles, and although it was once a vital connection for industrial towns and runs so close to many of them,it retains a rural charm.  It is becoming increasingly popular with those enjoying a canal boat holiday seeking "something different" to navigate. It is owned by an independent Trust and charges a licence fee to all users. 

Above: The canal Basin at Dewsbury on the Calder and Hebble Canal - photo by Alan Murray Rust and reproduced by kind permission Above: The canal basin at Sowerby Bridge - photo by Richard Kay and reproduced by kind permission

The waterway - in fact, this is the river which has been "canalised" - leaves Sowerby Bridge, the starting point for the Rochdale Canal. (See our separate article about this canal).  This connection with the Rochdale Canal has only recently been fully restored, and allows those with their own canal boat or hiring one for a canal boat holiday to go on a dramatic journey across the Pennines. Sowerby Bridge is an industrial town, surrounded by superb scenery, hills and moors of the Pennines and where you can obtain or arrange canal boat hire. It has the Sowerby Bridge Basin, where the goods in the canal boats went over the Rochdale Canal had to be transferred onto shorter boats which navigated the Calder and Hebble. The basin has been restored and makes a nice scene. There are also several pubs such as the Navigation Inn and Moorings.

Above: The Calder canal at Salterhebble - photo by Betty Longbottom and reproduced by kind permission
Above: The locks at Elland - photo by Richard Kay and reproduced by kind permission

The canal continues eastwards to the Salterhebble locks, where it meets with the short spur to Salterhebble Basin to the north. Past these locks the canal turns south east to Woodside Mills and Elland  basin.  This makes a good stopping place - an important part of your canal boat holiday - with many canalside pubs. Elland sits on the side of a hill, and has narrow streets and little terraces of cottages overlooking the canal.
From Elland you have a steady run on a lock-free stretch of the navigation towards the old wool town of Brighouse.  This developed largely as a result of the construction of the navigation of the Calder. You may have heard the sound of a famous brass band connected with the town - the Brighouse and Raistrick Brass Band. Brighouse also has boatyards and pubs nearby and is good for a night's stay.

Beyond Brighouse the canal reaches the junction with the Huddersfield Broad Canal at Coopers Bridge Junction.  The Huddersfield canal branches off to the south. Just to the north of the canal and this point is the ruins of Kirklees Abbey, which is famous as the priory where - according to legend -  Robin Hood died.  He is said to have shot two arrows from his deathbed to indicate where his body should be buried. One landed in the River Calder and one in the grounds of the Abbey - a stone plaque marks the spot. It all makes a good story, and the local tourist industry thrives on the Robin Hood connection! 
Below Coopers Bridge junction the canal turns south east towards Battyford Lock and Ledgard Bridge which has a boat company with all facilities. Ledgard Flood lock should be negotiated with care as there is a large weir by its side.

Above: The remains of Kirklees Abbey - alleged site of the death of Robin Hood.  Photo by Humphrey Bolton and reproduced by kind permission
Above: Batteyford Lock - photo by Dr Neil Clifton and reproduced by kind permission

Beyond Ledgard lock the Calder Navigation passes Mirfield, which is a good place to get basic supplies like bread and milk, and Shepley Bridge which has a nice marina and shops, before  the Navigation becomes more industrial as it approaches Thornhill power statioin, where barges on the navigaiton used to load and unload coal.  This stopped in 1982. There are plans afoot to re-develop the large areas of industrial wasteland around here.

Once you leave Thornhill the canal reaches the outskirts of the town of Dewsbury, to which it is connected by a short arm which goes off to the north of the main canal.

After passing through Thornhill double locks it now turns south easterly passing through Mill Bank Lock and then on to a straight section until it reaches the town of Horbury, which is set on the side of a hill, like so many of the Pennine towns and villages. Horbury has two pleasant old pubs, The Ship and the Bingley Arms and also is the home of the Yorkshire Mining Museum. There are good moorings here and a farm shop.

Above: The double lock at Dewsbury- photo by Stuart Hartley and reproduced by kind permission
Above: The canal at Horbury - photo by Oxana Maher and reproduced by kind permission

From Horbury the canal enters an almost straight stretch along Horbury Cut to Broad Cut Top Lock wich has a great canalside pub, called (like so many of them) The Navigation. It also has good moorings, and shops. After you leave Broad Cut top lock you reach Broad Cut Low Lock which is beautifully maintained.  You are travelling on the River Calder proper as it flows under the M1 motorway towards Thornes Flood Lock. You can see the heavy goods lorries thundering on their way north high above you as you glide peacefully under the viaduct. 

Above: Broad Cut Low Lock - photo by Stephen Dawson and reproduced by kind permission

Above: Wakefield Cathedral - photo by  Stanley Walkerand reproduced by kind permission

You can clearly see the Elmley Moor TV transmitting mast high above the canal. Thornes is on the outskirts of the large city of Wakefield, your next destination.

Wakefield is an unexpected pleasure!  If you are thinking "industrial town" - well, Wakefield has some surprises for you.  For one, it has a great cathedral, built in the 15th century in the style of architecture known as Perpendicular. The spire is 240 feet tall and is a landmark for miles around. The city also has a very rare example of a "bridge chapel" that of the Chantry Chapel of St Mary, which is over 600 years old.

The city has terraces of Georgian houses, not as spectacular as Bath but beautiful in their way, especailly those around St John's Square. There has in fact been a settlement on this site since the days of the Saxons and later kings of England built a large castle here.  It was the scene for the Battle of Wakefield in the Wars of the Roses, which Richard Duke of York was killed. Wakefield is the former home of two famous sculptors, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, both of whom have works exhibited here.

Above: Wakefield - the Chantry Chapel on the bridge - photo by Rich Tea and reproduced by kind permission

The Jolly Sailor at Thames Wharf is a good place to stay, and Graziers at Fall Ing Lock. It is here that the Calder and Hebble officially meets the Aire and Calder Canal and from this point onwards the "canal" is the same all the way to Castleford Junction and the connection with the River Aire.
We have come to the end of our journey from the Pennines at Sowerby Bridge all the way to the River Aire, from where you could turn back up towards the Pennine chain on a great journey up to Leeds and over the moors. 
I hope that you have enjoyed this brief introduction to the Calder and Hebble Navigation - it does not seek to be an exhaustive guide, but an attempt to show you the possibilities and delights of navigation this waterway.  Enjoy!