Britain at its best: Why Marsden in Yorkshire sums up the essence of this most scenic county
- Paul Kirkwood climbs Pule Hill to admire the view of Marsden from up high
- The village, which is surrounded by moorland, has ‘a strong community vibe’
- Nearby is the end of the longest, deepest and highest canal tunnel in the UK
After puffing to the top of Pule Hill on the Stanza Stones Trail, I’m standing in an old quarry where poetry written by local lad Simon Armitage is etched into the rock. His verse appears on six stones across the South Pennine watershed.
All are inspired by water, and the one I’m reading is titled Snow. One line runs: ‘Snow, like water asleep, a coded muteness to baffle all noise, to stall movement, still time.’
Nearby, the poet’s bench sits on the hilltop pointing towards Ilkley, where the trail ends. I wander over to the other side of the summit to view Marsden, where I’m staying, tucked away deep in the Colne Valley.
As earthy and resolute as better-known West Yorkshire villages such as Haworth — but more authentic and less touristy — Marsden owes its growth to the wool industry. The skyline tells its own story, with two square towers either side of a pepperpot chimney.
Paul Kirkwood explores Marsden, an ‘earthy’ and ‘authentic’ village in Yorkshire. While there, he visits nearby Tunnel End on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal (above)
The mills fell silent decades ago and the population has since dwindled to 3,800. Six tenter posts, between which cloth was stretched and dried after scouring, stand forlorn, like gravestones for a lost industry.
I wonder if the mills are ripe for redevelopment, given that Marsden lies surrounded by scenic, National Trust-owned moorland, on the railway line midway between Manchester and Leeds.
It also has a strong community vibe. Locals meet at the grand former Mechanics Institute, today a volunteer-run arts centre.
Marsden owes its growth to the wool industry, though the mills fell silent decades ago, Paul reveals. Picture courtesy of Creative Commons
There’s also the Riverhead Brewery Tap, a real ale pub with its own micro-brewery. It’s beside a weir, so you can enjoy a drink and watch ducks waddling by. A sign advertises Asian steamed buns served upstairs.
The Cuckoo Day Festival, with a fancy-dress procession, marks the arrival of spring here; and in October, during Marsden’s famous jazz festival (which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary), crowds spill into the streets.
The highlight of my weekend is a visit to Tunnel End, which marks the start of the longest, deepest and highest canal tunnel in the UK. You can reach the End and its visitor centre by shuttle boat from the railway station, or take a short stroll along the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.
Marsden’s Riverhead Brewery Tap is beside a weir, so you can enjoy a drink and watch ducks waddling by
Marsden is ‘tucked away deep’ in the Colne Valley, pictured above
Doubles at the Olive Tree Inn from £130 (olivebranch.uk.com). Find a National Trust walks guide at bit.ly/MarsdenWalks and canal and tunnel information at bit.ly/ Standedgetunnel. A Stanza Stones guide is at bit.ly/pulehill.
Flanked by a railway tunnel, two disused service tunnels and a reservoir overflow chute, the canal tunnel, which stretches for three-and-a-quarter miles, was dug using pickaxes, shovels and gunpowder over 16 years from 1795.
Entering it on one of the tourist boats is like going into a mine, grotto and sewer combined. Barges used to be weighed down with water to lower them within the canal and create headroom.
There were insufficient funds to provide a towpath, so barges were propelled through by ‘leggers’ who lay across the top of the boats and walked along the walls.
Meanwhile, horses carried cargo over the moors. I wonder who had the worse deal, the nags or the leggers, as I continue along the old packhorse trail.
The sudden rattle of a concealed passing train reminds me that I’m nearly back in town. Wandering past the football ground and a bandstand in the Victorian park, I’m soon reminded what a homely place Marsden is.
If someone was to ask me to take them somewhere that sums up the essence of Yorkshire, then this is where we’d come.
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