A new book extolling the virtues of Huddersfield Narrow Canal is at the top of the best-selling lists. ANDREW BALDWIN reports
STEVE Haywood knew next to nothing about Huddersfield and its towns and villages before he visited the area.
He knew Harold Wilson was born here, Gannex raincoats were made not far away and that it was the home of TV comedy Last of the Summer Wine.
It was sketchy knowledge, admits the 58-year-old writer who was born in Leicester and lives in London.
Then he sailed in by narrowboat via the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.
“And do you know what? It’s marvellous,” he says. “You don’t know what you’ve got. Why aren’t more people proud of it and shouting about it?”
So Steve wrote a book about it.
Narrowboat Dreams: A Journey North by England’s Waterways tops the travel section of Amazon’s best-seller list.
Steve relates his encounters with characters along the way, the magic that he reckons makes England’s waterways so appealing and chucks in a bit of the history of the canals.
His travels encompassed the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, Huddersfield Broad Canal, the Calder and Hebble Navigation and the Rochdale Canal.
It’s all told in a light-hearted way, with a good deal of humour.
“I’m just someone who likes a pint and a laugh. You don’t want social analysis every three minutes,” he says.
Steve arrived from Lancashire through the magnificent Standedge Tunnel under the Pennines.
He isn’t without experience of narrow boats; he writes a regular column for Canal Boat magazine and gives talks at Inland Waterways Association events.
But he had little inkling that the journey into Yorkshire would be such a hard slog.
Steve travelled on his traditional narrowboat not long after the Narrow Canal’s restoration, when water supplies were not all they could be in the cut and lock equipment was new and difficult to move.
He recalls: “I began at Ashton-under-Lyne and I knew nothing about the canal. I soon found out it was not a canal as we know it, Jim.
“There was flight after flight of locks. You’d look up and see another and then another and I was doing this on my own. I felt I was in hernia territory.
“Then came Standedge Tunnel, which definitely must count as one of the great experiences of waterways. There you are in the middle of the earth with the weight of a coal mine above and the rumble of trains alongside. What a feeling.
“Suddenly you’re in God’s Own Country and at Marsden, a very beautiful place. Even the weather changed and there was a bit of a heatwave.”
So impressive was the village and its surroundings that Steve decided to moor there for a few days, attracted by the landscape, a pub which brews beer and the area’s little shops.
It had everything for him; even a health shop. “In fact, it’s a little bit posh,” he says.
Huddersfield was a revelation when he eventually reached it and he marvelled at the buildings.
Mind you, he wasn’t so impressed by the pubs.
“I had been given the name of a real ale pub, but could I find it? All I came across was a succession of bloody horrible pubs, barns of places with nobody in them and deeply unfriendly.”
Strange characters and incidents abounded and it was in Marsden that there was one memorable moment.
“I was sitting on a lounger on the towpath looking at this bloke dressed in posh jeans and a spotlessly white T-shirt who was walking along talking to someone on his mobile phone.
“He walked straight into the canal. I don’t mean slipped or anything like that, just purposeful walking. He was up to his waist in water, still talking on his phone as if nothing had happened.
“It’s a weird place where something like that happens. I came to think that Yorkshire was populated by nothing but oddballs.”
Narrowboat Dreams: A Journey North by England’s Waterways, by Steve Haywood, is published in paperback by Summersdale at £7.99.