Trans-Pennine travel has, until quite recently, been a hazardous business. Over the centuries many routes have been driven across the hills to link the industrial centres of West Yorkshire and Lancashire. Some paths were consolidated into paved causeways for packhorse traffic, before being upgraded to take vehicles. This track, linking the Colne Valley to Rochdale and Milnrow in Lancashire, was known as the Rapes Highway.
The Standedge Tunnel
This was tough terrain for building a canal. When the Huddersfield Narrow Canal was cut, to provide a link between Huddersfield and Ashton-under-Lyne, there was one major obstacle for the canal builders to overcome –the gritstone bulk of Standedge. There was no way round; the canal had to go through. The Standedge Tunnel, extending 3 miles (4.8km) from Marsden to Diggle, was a monumental feat of engineering. Costly in every sense, it took 17 years to build and many navvies lost their lives. The result was the longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel in the country. In an attempt to keep those costs down, the tunnel was cut as narrow as possible, which left no room for a tow path. Towing horses had to be led over the hills to the far end of the tunnel, near Diggle in Lancashire. The bargees had to negotiate Standedge Tunnel using their own muscle power alone. This method, known as 'legging', required them to lie on their backs and push with their feet against the sides and roof of the tunnel. This operation would typically take a back-breaking four hours; it would have been a great relief to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Closed to canal traffic for many years, the tunnel was reopened in 2001. It is now a major tourist attraction and includes boat trips and a visitor centre.
A rebellion in Marsden
In 1812 Marsden became the focus for the 'Luddite' rebellion against mechanisation in the textile industry. A secret group of croppers and weavers banded together to break up the new machinery that was appearing in local mills and which had been developed by local industrialists. Eventually the army was despatched to restore order. Sixty men were put on trial in York for their part in the troubles; 17 of them were subsequently hanged.
From the car park, turn right and then bear right, following the Huddersfield Narrow Canal tow path away from a lock. Approaching Tunnel End, where both canal and railway disappear into tunnels, leave the tow path to cross a footbridge. Bear right uphill past the visitor exhibition to a T-junction with a house (the old Tunnel End Inn) directly in front.
Turn left on to Waters Road. Almost immediately, leave through a gate on the left for a path paralleling the road. After rejoining, keep straight ahead past the entrance to Hey Green House. About 100yds (91m) further on, bear left, just before a cottage, on to a bridleway. The path takes you across Closegate Bridge, known locally as Eastergate Bridge, where two becks meet.
Swing right, following the beck for about 100yds (91m), before forking left at a waymarker into a narrow side-valley. The path levels higher up, curving towards the rounded prominence of March Hill, now intermittently marked by stone wayposts. After a final stiff pull, the path descends towards the A640.
Immediately before reaching the road, turn sharp left at a Pennine Way sign over a wooden bridge spanning a little beck. The onward path rises and falls over the moss for just over 0.75 miles (1.2km) to a junction at the abrupt lip of Standedge. Go left along the top of the scarp, enjoying the panoramic view across East Lancashire.
Beyond the trig point, the path gently loses height, passing through successive gates and across broken walls to emerge on to a track. Follow it left out to the A62, where a car park overlooks Brun Clough Reservoir.
Cross the road and take steps up to the left from the car park. Signed 'Pennine Way', the path parallels the deep road cutting before turning away across Marsden Moor. To the left is Redbrook Reservoir, with Pule Hill beyond. Approaching a marker stone, bear left at a footpath sign, dipping across a stream to continue over the moss. Eventually, after 0.75 miles (1.2km), the way narrows and drops steeply to a stream in a gully. Climb beyond to a road.
Turn right and then immediately left on to Old Mount Road. After 50yds (46m), bear left again, along a stony track signed to Hades Farm. After 0.5 miles (800m), watch for a discreet sign just off the track for a path that leads to a small gate and descends beside a wall to rejoin Old Mount Road. Continue downhill, crossing the main road into Towngate. Bear left past the church and at the end go left again up Station Road back to the car park.
Old tracks and byways, canal tow path, several stiles
Keep under control where sheep graze on open moorland
OS Explorer OL21 South Pennines
Standedge Tunnel car park by Marsden Station
Peel Street in Marsden town centre
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Discover West Yorkshire
Everybody knows that Yorkshire has some special landscapes. The Dales and the Moors first spring to mind, but what about West Yorkshire? That’s Leeds and Bradford isn’t it? Back-to-back houses and blackened mills… Certainly if you had stood on any of the hills surrounding Hebden Bridge a hundred years ago, and gazed down into the valley, all you would have seen was the pall of smoke issuing from the chimneys of 33 textile mills. But thankfully, life changes very quickly in West Yorkshire. The textile trade went into terminal decline, the mills shut down forever and in a single generation Hebden Bridge became a place that people want to visit.
The surrounding countryside offers walking every bit as good as the more celebrated Yorkshire Dales; within minutes you can be tramping across the moors. And this close proximity of town and country is repeated all across West Yorkshire. There’s such diversity in the area that you can find yourself in quite unfamiliar surroundings, even close to places you may know very well. Take time to explore this rich county and you will be thrilled at what you find to shatter old myths and preconceptions.