Spring woods: Wildflower glades along Calder & Hebble Navigation – North East

Seek out bluebells and bell-shaped coal mines in a lovely Yorkshire woodland

Tim Green Flickr


The arrival of spring provides the perfect opportunity for ramblers to explore some of the wooded sections alongside our canals. Elland Park Wood by the Calder & Hebble Navigation is one of the best in the north east, featuring some stunning bluebell glades as well as other spring flowers, birds and trees. But it’s the bluebells that have made this wood famous. “The odd colour of wild bluebell that turns up is white, occasionally, and pink, which is rarer still,” says Steve Blacksmith of the Halifax Scientific Society, which was formed in 1874 and has maintained a long-standing interest in the wood because of the wildlife and fossils found in the coal seams. “The bluebell display is breath-taking and has been described as the finest bluebell wood in the north of England.”

The Calder & Hebble Navigation has gradually made the transition from industrial to rural, and now follows a peaceful trail connecting the waterways of Yorkshire with those of the Pennines. The canal runs for 21.5 miles between Sowerby Bridge and Wakefield and is part river, part canal. It began life as the Aire and Calder Navigation, which made the River Calder navigable as far as Wakefield. The Calder & Hebble Navigation extended that to Sowerby Bridge, with work beginning in 1759 and completed in 1770 following engineering and financial complications.

Elland Park Wood is a large area of woodland popular with ramblers but also mountain bikers, so be aware of their presence if you’re out exploring. Blacksmith has led walks there for years and enthuses about its range of flora and fauna. As well as the splendid bluebell meadows, there are numerous other wildflowers and mushrooms as well as birds, such as treecreepers, jays and buzzards. You can also see evidence of the area’s industrial heritage in the form of the bell pits, which are early coal mines so named because people dug sideways around the bottom of the pit, propping the walls up with tree trunks, creating a hole that is the shape of a bell.