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Escape to Marsden

Home > Huddersfield > Animals and Wildlife | Environment | Family | Picnic Spots | Walks
by Alli-jayne (subscribe)
Alli is a freelance writer who has contributed to the lifestyle sections of publications including The Guardian and The Telegraph. She regularly researches and writes articles for local publications and happily reviews products and events
Published May 23rd 2020
Marsden Moor Estate - it will blow you away
Every cloud has a silver lining and if lockdown is the cloud, photography has become my silver lining. When it became apparent that 'stay at home' was going to be the 'new normal', I knew that I needed to put my time to some use. Scouring the free courses available online, my eye was automatically drawn to photography. It has always been my bugbear as a writer that the photographs I attempt to take to accompany my articles lack a certain, shall we say, je ne sais quoi. And so, my photography journey began, and my one-hour exercise became a one-hour photoshoot. As a result, my photography has (I hope) improved but I actually gained something much more than a broader knowledge of shutter speeds and apertures. I gained a deeper awareness of what the little village that I live in has to offer and I want to share that with you.
The Sausages
I have two sausages (dogs) so walking the area is not new to me but looking around me, with nowhere else to be, I am ashamed to say, is.

My landscape is a rugged one with a formidable backdrop, but don't let that put you off. Marsden crouches snuggly in the Colne Valley; a haven within the surging moor and respite from the 268-mile Pennine Way. The Marsden Moor Estate practically surrounds the whole of Marsden and dominates its skyline. Its appearance changes to blend the seasons and highlight the weather, offering an array of personalities that range from daunting and mysterious to playful. But whatever its mood, its vastness is always intimidating. From a distance, the moor looks like a huge sheet of peaty overrun wasteland yet despite its repetitive flora, no two glances are the same. If the moor were a paragraph, there would be pockets of despair and blazes of hope in every sentence, such is its interchangeability. And for all of its performances, Marsden Moor holds an Oscar up high. That Oscar is Pule Hill.

Pule Hill Marsden
View of the A62 from Pule Hill

Nature asked Marsden Moor to construct a playground, so it made Pule Hill. Easily accessible from the A62, the first part of the walk is steep but persevere. As the path starts to level out and you regain some composure, the views take your breath away. As a writer, I take much inspiration from watching people around me, I sit in cafes and open spaces and emerge myself in what is happening around me, but from up here I can see things from a different perspective. You can see the whole picture, not just the moment. I recommend Pule Hill to writers and artists alike if you need some quiet time to reflect upon your work. But I digress, Pule Hill has much more to offer than just tranquillity. Hobbyists of all backgrounds are drawn to the area. Last time I went up, I watched a family flying model aircraft. They made it look easy, but I know from experience that it's not.

Pule Hill has a rolling history; at the end of the 19th century, ancient remains, including bodies, urns and flints, were discovered by archaeologists exploring the site. The findings date from the Bronze Age. A more recent history is apparent on the western flank in the form of disused quarries which produced large quantities of building stones and flagstones. Across from the quarries, you can see more evidence of man through the ages in the form of huge spoil tips. These contain material removed from the ground during the construction of the Standedge tunnels which run below. Pule Hill was a Trans-Pennine crossing; packhorse trails and turnpikes took routes around it but in the 18th century, an Act of Parliament authorised a tunnel to be built through it, linking Ashton-Under-Lyne and Huddersfield (I'll tell you more about this soon). The tunnel needed ventilation and the shafts are clearly visible up here along the path.

The most recent history in making at Pule Hill is the carvings of a poem written by Simon Armitage. Simon was born in Marsden village in 1963. A poet, playwright and novelist who has been Poet Laureate since 10 May 2019, he was commissioned in 2010 by the Ilkley Literature Festival to write a set of site-specific poems for a Stanza Stones Trail - a 47-mile walking route from Marsden to Ilkley. There are six stones altogether, and one of them stands here on Pule Hill. The poem is entitled 'Snow' and it reads:
The sky has delivered its blank missive. The moor in coma. Snow, like water asleep, a coded muteness to baffle all noise, to stall movement, still time.

What can it mean that colourless water can dream such depth of white? We should make the most of the light. Stars snag on its crystal points. The odd, unnatural pheasant struts and slides. Snow, snow, snow is how the snow speaks, is how its clean page reads.
Then it wakes, and thaws and weeps.

If history isn't your thing. then Pule Hill can help you with something a bit more adventurous; the quarry workings offer climbing experiences and you can often see climbers on the crag. Still not daring enough? Look up. This is a popular spot for paragliders.

As liberating as the top of Pule Hill is, Marsden isn't all uphill climbs and lung-busting walks. The canal offers the perfect opportunity to meander in comfort.

Starting from Marsden you can walk a three-mile section of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal to the next village, Slaithwaite. The route is pretty much flat, and you can return on the train if you don't feel like walking back. The nature and wildlife are beautiful and there are historic mills along the way for building buffs, locks and barges for water enthusiasts and perhaps most interestingly of all, an example of the most amazing engineering; The canal slithers into Marsden out of a dark mysterious mouth of history - the aforementioned Standedge Tunnel. The tunnel is the longest (3 1/2 miles), deepest (194 metres under the Pennines) and highest (196 metres above sea level) in the country. The ambitious building of the tunnel started in 1794 and although the work was estimated to take five years, it wasn't finished until 1811. The canal tunnel has no towpath (presumably this was to minimise costs) which means that the horses still had to travel by road and couldn't pull the boat through. 'Leggers' had to propel the vessels through the tunnel by lying on boards and pushing the roof or walls with their feet. A long laborious task, I can only presume, made harder by the fact that because it was discovered during construction that the two ends of the tunnel were not in line to meet, there are some noticeable bends.

The tunnel is narrow with a few passing places and as traffic increased, so did arguments between crews who refused to back up when finding themselves face to face with another boat. As a result, the canal company started to employ official 'leggers' to take the boats through and control the flow of boats, but in 1944 as railways took over much of the transportation, the canal was officially closed. Over time, the tunnel became unsafe and sections of the tunnel roof collapsed. It wasn't until 2001, after restoration costing over five million pounds (consider this in comparison to the initial cost of opening the tunnel in 1811 which stood at just over 123,000) that the tunnel was reopened.
You can book a trip in. Take a jumper though, it's pretty chilly down there. If boating isn't your thing, consider coming through on the train; three railway tunnels have been constructed since the canal tunnel, meaning that there are now four tunnels that run parallel to one another. Two of the railway tunnels are disused but the other remains in service for trains running between Hull and Greater Manchester.

There is another pleasant walk which can be started from the Standedge Tunnel. Stand on the bridge with the tunnel to your left and walk along the road until you get to the top. Turn left onto the lane and keep walking. There is an opportunity very soon to walk along the bridle path that runs beside the river. Either route is fine as the bridle path re-joins the lane anyway. Keep walking and continue past a row of cottages on your left. These were once coach houses for a mill which was across the way. At Eastergate Cottage turn left onto the bridle path and follow the river until you reach a packhorse bridge.

Packhorse Bridge

This is known on maps as Close Gate Bridge but more commonly it is known as Eastergate Bridge. There is so much space here to sit a while, enjoy the peace and watch the moorland nature, but please be careful if you picnic. Under no circumstances should you barbeque. Nearby moorland has been the victim of catastrophic fires recently which have killed animals, drained firefighting resources, and cost the public hundreds of thousands of pounds. A council has thankfully approved a Public Space Protection Order which spans across neighbouring moors and Marsden Moor. It prohibits people from starting bonfires, lighting barbecues, or setting off fireworks or sky lanterns on the moors. The moorland is now in recovery, but the damage is long-lasting. Not all of the foliage has grown back, and the moor has lost much undergrowth which is needed to support the rare birds and mountain hares that live here. Although the moor is there for us to enjoy, it is imperative that it be protected from further risks of fire.

This article has only touched on a few of the nooks of Marsden that my photography has helped me to look at in more detail. Through the lens of the camera, I have seen hints of history that have encouraged me to learn and I have seen beauty in the fine detail of nature and flora. I have guiltily realised how much I have taken for granted. My jaunts have taken me away from the usual paths and I have discovered weirs, mill ponds and copses that I haven't known were there. What I have written about is only a snippet of what Marsden and its lovely people have to offer. There are lots more walks, some fantastic cafes, and craft shops and always a warm welcome. Of course, if you're reading this whilst we are still suffering Covid-19, then its neither sensible nor practical to visit now but remember Marsden when the time comes to start exploring again. Until then, I hope you enjoyed this foretaste.

REMEMBER: The Countryside Code applies to all parts of the countryside in England and Wales. It aims to help everyone respect, protect, and enjoy the outdoors. Please follow the rules of the countryside when you visit.

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Beautifully written, with thought-provoking images as well.
by Tom Fieldhouse (score: 1|74) 478 days ago
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