North West towpath bike rides: Moonraker’s ride, Huddersfield Narrow Canal

Seek out rum smugglers and a Blue Peter logo on this ride through the Pennines

Towpath bike rides: Moonraker’s ride on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal


Miles: 6.6 miles (one way)
Suitable for: Hybrid bikes, due to varying towpath terrain
Starting point: Colne Valley Leisure Centre, Slaithwaite

This ride through West Yorkshire is named after a famous smuggler’s tale, which played out one night under a full moon. It’s said that while bootleggers were retrieving their illicit rum from the canal, they were caught in the act by local excise men. Upon questioning, the quick-thinking smugglers insisted they were simply raking the moon out of the water, and were duly left alone, possibly considered to be fruit-loops.

While you might not get a chance to capture the moon on this six-and-a-half-mile ride in the fold of the Pennines, you’ll certainly be treated to glorious views of rugged hills, historic mills and an expanse of wild moorland.

The route starts in the village of Slaithwaite (pronounced ‘slough-it’). Make your way down to the towpath (on the north bank) from Colne Valley Leisure Centre and turn left, following the path until you come to a bridge (Lees Mill Bridge 41). Cross over then right in the opposite direction towards Marsden.

You’ll soon come to the Handmade Bakery – a not-for-profit community bakery selling fresh bread and patisserie delights. Their sweet potato and walnut bread will fuel a fair few miles.

Just before you reach Marsden, keep an eye out for Lock 37, also known as Blue Peter lock after one of its presenters helped install the new gate in 2015. You’ll see it marked with a plaque and the Blue Peter logo carved into the balance beam. You’ll also skirt Marsden Moor Estate, where it’s possible to spot grouse, golden plover and curlew.

Before you know it, you’ll be in the pretty village of Marsden, famed for its cuckoo festival in spring and, of course, Standedge Tunnel, the longest and deepest canal tunnel in Britain. To learn more about the tunnel and the history of the canal, call in at the Visitor Centre, which also has a canalside cafe.

Both Slaithwaite and Marsden have train stations, so you can catch a train back to the start or simply cycle back. While most trains accept bikes, it’s best to check with individual operators.

Plan your next day out along the Huddersfield Narrow Canal on the Canal & River Trust website.

Share the space: drop your pace
We want everyone to enjoy visiting our canals and rivers. More than anything we want people to be safe – and with our towpaths busier than ever this is something that all visitors need to play a part in. When cycling, please pay attention to safety and warning signs, and be considerate of others. Read more about our ‘Share the space: drop your pace’ campaign on the Canal & River Trust website.

Julian Beckton