WHEN Huddersfield Narrow Canal was re-opened in 2001 after a 25 year restoration campaign, canal enthusiasts were celebrating.
But more than eight years on, how many boaters, walkers or cyclists have paid a moment’s thought to what it takes to keep the 200-year-old network open?
Locks, bridges, walls, towpaths, tunnels...even water, all cost thousands in maintenance every year.
With a £30m funding shortfall, the canal’s operator, British Waterways, the last remaining part of the British Transport Commission still in public ownership, is looking at new ways of coming up with the cash needed to pay their ever increasing bills.
Their current plan, dubbed ‘Twenty Twenty’ would see the ageing waterway network moved out of direct state control and into a new ‘third sector’ or trust organisation within the next 10 years.
The move would see the country’s waterways operated more like the National Trust, gaining charitable status and allowing for more community involvement.
Up at Marsden’s Tunnel End HQ, British Waterways’ Huddersfield canal management team told me about the daily difficulties they faced managing pleasure boaters and keeping the creaking infrastructure open.
James Dean, manager of the Standedge Tunnel and Visitor Centre, said water management was one of their biggest headaches.
“Opening one lock releases 25,000 gallons of water,” he said, “once it’s out it’s gone and you can’t get it back.
“The canal was designed to be fed by seven reservoirs but when it re-opened we only got two feeding into it.
“We do have a feed at the top here from Yorkshire Water, but we have a weekly limit, a 28 day limit and a yearly limit.
“That’s the only source of water we’ve got to control from here down to Slaithwaite which is why we put a strict regime in.
“We’ve got a very, very narrow tolerance of about six inches.
“If water levels drops more than that it’s game over and we would have to shut the tunnel.
“This year, because of leaks and a lack of rain, we’re in a situation where the water levels from lock 24 at Slaithwaite onwards are severely hampered, so we’ve taken the decision to chaperone boats so that they’re not getting stuck every 20 yards.
“We’d rather provide that service than turn everybody round.”
And James revealed that fixing leaks is not as simple as turning up and plugging holes with a bit of expanding foam.
“We don’t do that,” he added, “that’s something that we’ve inherited.
“It’s a lot more complicated than people think. You have to get heritage consent, and planning consent for certain things.”
Judy Jones, British Waterways’ Heritage adviser, said there were 142 locks between Huddersfield and Standedge and many of them had listed status, meaning planning repairs was fraught with red-tape and bureaucracy.
She said: “If we do anything to Tunnel End that has to be referred to English Heritage so that takes months.
“So you’ve got to plan a long time in advance and sometimes it’s even more difficult because with a lock, you don’t know what you’re going to find until you drain it.
“You’re dealing with something that’s 200-years-old, there isn’t a one size fits all approach.”
Environment manager, Jonathan Hart-Woods, said there wasn’t a single area of the canal network including trees, paths and verges, that wasn’t managed.
He added: “Some boaters criticise us for the holes in the walls and damaged locks but some have quite a cavalier attitude to getting through locks.
“People do forget that for every stand out piece of infrastructure there’s miles and miles of basic stuff to maintain which costs us thousands.”
Towpath users may complain about uneven and muddy surfaces but Graham Ramsden, the regeneration manager, said they simply didn’t have the cash to improve them.
He said: “All our money is basically to keep the water in the canal.
“Towpaths are a secondary priority from our point of view.”
While cycling is technically not allowed Graham said a series of towpath improvements for cyclists and walkers were planned, but relied on help from Kirklees Council and other partners.
This winter the team plan to fully replace four full locks and part of two others.
They will then get onto the leaks, starting at Tunnel End and work their way down the canal.
But as Judy points out, the canal has leaked since the day it opened in 1811, so remember, water is a precious resource.