This is one of a series of articles that provide a photographic impression of walks around the village of Walton, near Wakefield in West Yorkshire. The idea is to provide something vaguely similar to Google Street View, so the reader as a visible indication of the walk’s progress.
The Barnsley Canal was opened in 1799 during the industrial revolution when the north of England was at the centre of the biggest historical change since the creation of the first cities on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the Middle East.
The canal was built to transport coal from the early coalfield around Barnsley to the wider region (1). It was part of the infrastructure of the world’s first industialised society.
This article is about a walk exploring some of the still visible archaeology of this earliest industrial age.
On this walk we are going to do our best to follow the route of the old Barnsley canal that ran through Walton and effectively linked Walton into the wider trade and communication network. It linked Walton to the River Calder, which linked to the Aire, the Ouse, the Humber, and ultimately the North Sea.
We start this walk at Bridge House on School Lane which is right next to a bridge. The bridge looks completely out of place because it does not seem to go over anything. However, this was one of the bridges of the the old canal.
After you turn right out of School Lane you can see the bridge as seen in the two photos below.
As you move forward crossing the bridge, if you look left you can see where the canal went as it moved North toward the point where it moved toward the River Calder at Heath Common. In the photo below the canal used to run on its course behind the bushes on the left. It ran toward the building on the right which was a lock keeper’s cottage and continued to the railway line, where there was was once a bridge that the canal flowed under. This bridge was filled in around the late 1970s/early 1980s, blocking the previous route to Walton Colliery.
If you look to the left you can see the embankment of the canal behind the allotments. The houses on the left in the photo below are built on the canal’s course.
Continue down the lane shown in the photo below.
Take the middle route (the smaller path) in the image below.
If you walk a short while down the left hand path you can look back and get an impression of the route of the canal you saw from the Bridge. In the photo below you can just make out the top of the bridge to the left of Bridge House. You can also see the bank of the canal where the green of the fields meets the fence.
The central path is shown below.
At the end of this path you turn right, and then right again into Walton Club playing fields.
The route of the canal is marked by the trees on the right, behind the Walton Club building shown below. Locks were located at the position of the stone house to the left of the club house.
At the top of the club car park your turn right.
If you look to your back after walking a few paces left you see the road to Crofton and the blue sign that directs us on our route.
This is the entrance to the footpath to which the blue sign points.
You walk for a short while and you emerge into a small meadow. The path is in the middle of what was the canal.
A path goes off to the left to Cherry Tree estate, but our walk takes use forwards.
We are still in the middle of what was the canal, you are aware that you are at the top of the canal embankment because of the houses at the bottom of the bank being much lower.
If you look to your left you can see the rooftops of Cherry Tree, Elmwood and Brooklands estates and the Walton Colliery nature reserve beyond.
You can see from the incline of the path that we are moving up the contours. This is why locks were needed on the canal – so that the barges could effectively go up hill.
The image below captures the remains of one of the locks as the level of the canal rises up the contours.
The canal continues in the photo below to the left of the path under the green undergrowth.
We then reach the remains of the next set of locks seen in the images below. These remains are far more extensive that they ones we passed earlier.
The next bridge we reach did not go over the canal in its heyday, but was only put there recently to link the new golf club house the the golf course.
The clubhouse can be seen on the right.
We then reach the next bridge that was part of the original series of bridges over the canal.
Follow the path forward ignoring the path going up to the bridge on the right.
We ignore the path to the right and continue walking on the left towards the bridge over the canal.
In the photo below we are now approaching the next bridge on our journey, the canal is to the left and the straight line of the bridge just visible through the trees. On the right hand side you can see the rock out of which the canal was dug.
The bridge comes clearly into view and you can see what remains of the canal running underneath it.
The following photo is a close up of the stone of the bridge as it was built into the rock that was cut away to make way for the canal.
Another view of the rock cutting a bit further on, the canal remains on the left.
If you turn your vision to the left you can see the mud that indicates the canal’s course.
The rock cutting is visible on the far side of the canal.
As you move forward you may even come across parts of the canals course that actually still manage to accumulate water, especially after recent rainfall.
Continue to follow the path onward into the tunnel of bushes.
You then come to the next bridge, this one had collapsed in the middle and repaired using metal rather than stone.
You continue round the bend in the canal. The block to the left of the path is part of the former canal infrastructure. This was used as an aid to make it easier for the horses to pull the barges round the corner.
Here is a close up view.
The canal continues on the left hand side, this part has water in it that has encouraged the growth of these aquatic plants.
The water becomes a bit deeper as you walk forward with duckweed on the surface. In the 1970s when I first walked on the canal route this was the appearance of the canal from the start of the wall, though it was still deeper than this. Nature has gradually reclaimed this artifact of the industrial revolution.
The canal then all but disappears under recent tree growth as seen in the following image.
As you move onward, the canal has been filled in and is little more than a drainage ditch.
It then reappears at the left hand side as seen in the photo below. The steps in the distance go up to the next canal bridge which is just about visible through the trees.
If you are on foot you can take either the route under the bridge or the path on the right round it (both lead to the same place).
You then continue to follow the canal that though dry, can just about be made out on the left of the photo below.
You then come to another of the canal artifacts that we saw earlier.
We have now just about completed the canal portion of the walk. We can retrace our steps back to our start point or we can go back a different way. If you look to your left you will see the silver coloured rail; that is the way we will be going back on this walk.
If you look straight ahead you see the bridge in the photo below. The track to the left is our route to the silver rail and the way back. However, for a couple of minutes we will walk to the other side of the bridge.
From the middle of the bridge, if you look to your left you will see the reservoir that was presumably used to provide for the water needs of the canal and its locks.
If you look right you can see how the water flows into the canal.
Continue a little bit further and you can have a better view of the reservoir. On the other side of the reservoir, the canal continues on its way toward Royston and Barnsley. This could be the subject of another canal walk.
Head back across the bridge and continue in a straight line to reach the silver rail pointed out earlier.
Here you can see another part of the canal’s infrastructure in the form of a stone wall. I’m not entirely sure what its function could be, perhaps another lock. The OS map seems to indicate that the canal goes this way, presumably to get into the lake.
While you see evidence of a channel, it soon disappears.
So we now follow the path from the silver rail moving off toward the right. You soon reach a bench with the words “Fox Well” carved into it on your right hand side. Fox Well is a label on the relevant OS map. You continue past it following the path onward.
Continue right on the main path. To the left is what remains of a clearing, though it is now been colonised by silver birch trees.
Continue forward keeping the ‘clearing’ on your left.
You then come to another junction – you continue to go round the corner on the right.
If you look left before moving on to the right you will see a working wood yard.
Continue forward until you reach the next junction which has a useful sign post and a picture giving details about the wood for interested visitors.
If you look right at the junction you see the following gate. This leads to the Angler’s Country Park.
However, we now take the left turn and walk towards Waterton’s Watchtower, which was a hide in which the Naturalist Charles Waterton used to watch the wildlife without disturbing it. I am reliably informed that there were a number of these ‘watchtowers’ with underground tunnels connecting them. The information point pictured above mentions that Waterton’s Watchtower could have been one of the first ‘hides’ in the world. To see the watchtower you go through the metal gates in the middle of the following photo. However, we take the left turn and follow the wall.
We then turn right and continue to follow the wall.
We reach a cottage that is built into the wall and continue left over the bridge.
If you look off the bridge you can see the course of the canal. In the two photos below you can certainly see the canal, complete with water because these were taken a few years ago, but today you can still get the impression of the location of the canal.
Continue up the hill and when you reach the top you have an impressive view of the surrounding countryside.
You continue by turning right, and moving round the bend. In the image below you can see Rose Farm in the left of the picture below.
If you look to your right you see the line of trees. This is where the canal is and that is the route we followed on the earlier part of this walk.
You then reach a junction with the lane to Rose Farm on the left. We continue on the main lane that turns to the right.
You continue up the hill where you join The Balk which continues to the centre of the village emerging next to the war memorial.
(1) Barnsley Canal https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnsley_Canal