If the BBC’s Springwatch has whetted your appetite for exploring nature then there’s no better time to venture into the great outdoors.
Recent research commissioned by the Canal & River Trust has found that exploring the countryside, particularly around waterways, is important for good mental and physical health. As around 14% of the UK population lives within one kilometre of a waterway, the trust wants to encourage more of these 8m people to enjoy their surroundings and reap the health benefits.
As well as offering the chance to spot waterfowl, water voles and wild flowers, canal towpaths are the perfect place to exercise for those who can’t quite manage a hill climb, or cyclists who want to be off road. And many waterways are open to fishing and boating.
The Huddersfield area has extensive canal networks with visitor attractions and miles of towpaths (although this summer sees the closure of Aspley Wharf towpath on the Huddersfield Broad Canal under the Wakefield Road bridge from June 4 to 25 for painting work).
Here are a few ideas for things to do this summer on or near a canal.
Standedge Tunnel & Visitor Centre, Marsden.
The 200-year-old tunnel is one of the wonders of the British waterways and is the highest, deepest and longest in the country. Park in Marsden and walk the towpath of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal; use the indoor and outdoor play areas at Standedge Tunnel & Visitor Centre; go pond dipping; and enjoy a snack at the Watersedge Cafe (open 9.30 am until 4 pm on weekdays and 5pm at weekends). There are also boat trips, including a two-hour journey through the tunnel, which can be booked on 01484 844298. Entry to the visitor centre, which is open every day in the summer, is free. Visit canalrivertrust.org.uk for more information.
Cromwell Bottom Nature Reserve, Brighouse.
The Calder & Hebble Navigation runs for 21.5 miles from Sowerby Bridge to Wakefield. Between Elland and Brighouse there’s a canal bridge leading to acres of woodland, wetland and grassland, all accessible by wheelchair users, dog walkers and families with buggies. Formerly a quarry, power station ash tip and land-fill site, the reserve now has a bird-viewing area, enclosed pond, and miles of maintained pathways. The site, designated a nature reserve in 2003, has its own friends’ organisation, The Cromwell Bottom Wildlife Group, which is always eager to attract new volunteers. On open days the group provides refreshments. Visit cromwellbottom.wordpress.com for details. The reserve, which is home to many species of dragonflies and birds, can be found off the A6025 Elland Road and has its own car park.
Shepley Bridge Marina, Mirfield.
The Safe Anchor Trust runs daily canal boat trips from the marina to various points on the Calder & Hebble. The charity provides safe and therapeutic boat trips for those who are disadvantaged through physical or mental disabilities, social isolation, age or social deprivation and its work is supported by the Canal & River Trust. Sailings book up quickly so anyone who would like to cruise the canal needs to think ahead. Visit safeanchor.org.uk for details. However, the trust is hosting a Pirate Open Weekend on July 7 and 8 at the Mirfield marina, with boat trips, cafe, barbecue and other activities.
Fish the Huddersfield Narrow Canal
Slaithwaite and District Angling Club has the fishing options for the canal from Milnsbridge to Marsden and employs bailiffs to patrol the towpath - so don’t just turn up with a rod and line. Would-be anglers must have a club permit and a licence. Day permits are available for £5 from the following places: Standedge Tunnel and Visitor Centre, Marsden; Chris Roberts Fishing Tackle, Chapel Hill, Huddersfield; Calder Angling Supplies, Rastrick Common, Brighouse; Slaithwaite Post Office; Cafe Central, Milnsbridge; The Cook House Cafe, Slaithwaite; The Mill Pet Shop, Scissett. Licences must be purchased from post offices or gov.uk/fishing-licences
Feed the canal wildfowl
The Canal & River Trust asks canal visitors not to throw bread into the water for ducks and geese. While the birds enjoy bread, it’s not even close to their natural diet and soggy crusts in the water can cause a build-up of bad nutrients, leading to greater algae growth, disease and pests such as rats. Back in 2015 the trust launched a campaign to deter the use of bread, but says some visitors are still persisting. Instead of crusts, feed ducks on porridge oats, peas, corn, chopped lettuce and birdseed.
Learn how to paddle a kayak or canoe
Canals are the perfect waterways for learning how to use a kayak or canoe - there are no white water rapids and no currents to deal with. But in order to get started you will need a licence from the Canal & River Trust - short term licences for up to 30 days are available from its website. Alternatively, join a club such as the Pennine Canoe & Rowing Club (penninecrc.org), to learn the basics before striking out on your own.