Waterside Walk - Sheffield's Canal

Posted On 01/03/1987

It's a wonder the Sheffield to Rotherham canal was ever cut.  The interested and no so interested parties bickered on for years, but eventually, in 1819, the canal was opened along "The high line".  The engineers took this high level to make it easier should any future folk wish to link up with the Peak Forest and Chesterfield canals.  Anybody got a shovel?

The terminal buildings can be found at the back of the Sheaf Market, just by the enormous ramp which once served the Victoria Station.  The main feature of the basin is the vast straddle warehouse, a listed building dating from 1896.  It is due to be developed by the City Council, but there have been plans to develop the basin since Adam was a lad and most boating people in the area say they'll believe any development when they see it!

From the basin follow the signs to Blast Lane, where the towing path is reached through the inauspicious looking gap in the wall.  As so often with a canal cut, that step onto the towing path takes you to a world of peace and tranquillity centuries away from the roaring traffic.

The path was not always so peaceful.  When the Victorian ‘mesters' built their steelworks along the Don valley, it was said that this whole area was "Divided from Hell wi' a sheet of tissue paper", and every old bridge had deep tow rope grooves which remind us of the bustling activity of that time.

After the first of these old bridges we come to Samuel Smith's old grain silo, and there are quite a few hefty mooring rings.  Next comes Bacon Lane bridge.  The bridge hole here was only just high and wide enough to allow a Sheffield keel to pass through, hence the boatman's nickname for it - "The eye of the needle".  The bridge guard here is scored deeper than the rest.

Shortly after this we come to the three mile post, the canal continuing along its quiet corridor between the factories.

After the next bridge though the factories are gone and we walk between high green banks.  These again are eventually replaced by a wharf and winding hole which must be an industrial archaeologist's dream.  A short yet heavily built stone aqueduct next carries us over the Darnall Road and the prospect opens out as we walk on towards Tinsley locks.

You come on the top lock quite suddenly, the flight sweeping down endlessly before you, but before exploring, cross to the other side.  The locks are broad-gauge yet only 62ft long, and originally there were twelve of them, two of these being later combined to save time and effort.  It's here you'll find the one mile post, and the inscription noting that one of the locks was blitzed during the Second World War.  Look out as well for the roof bearing the legend "CAFÉ".  You have to cross over a lock gate to where an excellent compleat angler has cut an impressive hole in the wire fence, just opposite the café door. 

This place is the best transport café in the world - and to hell with nouvelle cuisine!

The footsore can finish the walk here, the 69 bus stop being just one hundred yards away.  Those who wish to continue, however, must now cross back to the towpath, and walk under the M1 viaduct.  The locks take us down to where the canal joins with the river Don which is here deep, wide and placid, but in a moment there is a dull roaring sound as the river plunges over the enormous arc of a weir, the navigable channel and the towpath going quietly their own way through what is still, at least by the side of the cut, a rural valley.

At the next lock, you may cross the one foot wide girder over a ditch full of brackish water called Holmes Goit; or you may have more sense, following the path up to the left.  At the top, turn right, descending by the path which is fenced by old doors!

Soon you are on the edge of Rotherham town where the path changes sides for the last time.  Here there is a new railway bridge with the ruins of the original stone construction, rope scars and all beneath it.

Now we leave the canal, following the path behind the new British Waterways Board cottage at Ickles Lock.  Take the road to the right, which will lead you into the central bus station and the fast and frequent 69 bus back to Sheffield.