Cycling in Slaithwaite and Marsden

I lift my eyes to the hills. Where will my help come from? Cycling round here can be challenging and there are three solutions:

  • Be really strong.
  • Use very low gears.
  • e-Bikes.

Having said that, if you’re cycling up or down the valley, things are a lot easier. This little article is an introduction to cycling in Marsden and Slaithwaite, together with a bit of travel information, a list of great places to eat, and a few suggested circular rides. Published Christmas 2023.

Where are we?

Do you know the bit of the M62 where it splits to go around the farmhouse? There is a ridge to the south… we’re just over there. South of the M62, about halfway between the east and west coasts of England… halfway between Hull and Liverpool… halfway between Leeds and Manchester… halfway between Huddersfield and Oldham… the middle. We’re at the bottom of the South Pennines, and the top of the Peak District. In-between. Have you heard of Hebden Bridge? We’re the next valley south. Have you heard of Holmfirth? We’re the next valley north.

I’ve made it sound like we’re defined by other places, but this is only because most people have no idea where this part of West Yorkshire is. In reality Marsden and Slaithwaite have two unique identities: they are filled with generous people who have a strong sense of community, and are surrounded by beautiful landscapes. This is the Colne Valley. We are home to the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and Standedge tunnel. We have the three breweries of Riverhead, Zapato, and Empire. Our coffee is freshly ground at Darkwoods. Our bakeries are multi-award winning; Roger’s in Marsden and Hand Made Bakery in Slaithwaite. We used to have a fabulous bicycle mechanic, Velofondista, and I still haven’t forgiven her for returning to nursing. Cafes? Why yes, we might have one or two dozen.

One thing we’re concerned about in Slaithwaite and Marsden is ‘gentrification’, or to put it another way, “it’s all gone a bit Hebden Bridge”. Holmfirth and Hebden Bridge are victims of their own success: busy with cars and tourists, and with house-prices beyond local pockets. While we’re all excited to see Slaithwaite and Marsden blossom, locals want to be able to buy their own homes. At the moment I’m the Vicar of these fabulous places… and I find the schools, businesses, community initiatives and volunteers are simultaneously entrepreneurial and steeped in local culture.

Getting here


The easiest way to get here; environmentally friendly, and doesn’t add to the local traffic. If you can catch a train please do. Slaithwaite has an accessible platform but Marsden has a huge flight of stairs (which our local MP has promised to sort out). Slaithwaite is 6 minutes from Huddersfield with direct trains from Liverpool, Manchester, Hull, and Newcastle. If you have a change it may simply be in Huddersfield, and then you have the choice of catching the train or cycling to Slaithwaite.


If you’re an experienced long distance cyclist, or cyclo-tourist, riding here is by far the best way to travel.

If you’re leaving Huddersfield by bicycle, consider the Huddersfield Narrow Canal: much nicer than the main road A62, and with a tarmac surface all the way to Slaithwaite. Sadly, not suitable for Trikes and a struggle for Tandems.

(Note, since about March 2023 the towpath between Huddersfield and Stoney Battery Road has been closed due to an unstable embankment and the presence of asbestos in the ground. Local cycling groups have been campaigning for Kirklees Council and the Canal and River Trust to sort this out asap. The alternative routes are totally unsuitable for anyone wanting safe cycling: so much so that I’m not going to even describe them.)

Narrow Boat

If your narrow boat is max 6’10” wide, with a draught of max 2′ 5″ and 6’2″ tall… and if it is no longer than 70’… consider mooring up with us in the villages. Add to your excitement by taking on Standedge tunnel: the longest, deepest and highest canal tunnel in England.


There are free car-parks and a lot on-street parking, but please be considerate of locals who may like to park outside their own home. Station road in Slaithwaite is good, as are the two free car parks. Parking near St Bartholomew’s church in Marsden is best as it doesn’t bother anyone, and there is a car-park by the station. Please consider driving as a last resort – if you can catch the train please do.

Cafes, Bars, Pubs…

There are so many cafes offering delicious refreshments, and there is the risk that I’ll make an out-of-date list, but I’m hopeful that most of these will be here barring the apocalypse. As of January 2024:


  • Om is where the heart is: cafe-bar and yoga studio. My personal favourite is the ‘Three Fiends’ beer and some fries.
  • Co-Op: Jay (the manager) and her team really care about the community. Get your audax-food here.
  • Vanilla Bean: cafe-bar with great food and outside seating. I love the Eggs Benedict.
  • Hadfields Bakery: sandwiches to go. A bit Greggs-like, but local.
  • Culture: with pastries from Roger’s Bakery: multi-award winning pastries and excellent coffee. Everything is excellent, try the Flat White.
  • Acorn and Pip: a baby and toddler toy-shop that happens to have a cafe that does great pastries and Darkwoods coffee. Cappuccino and warm cinnamon buns for the win. I love saying morning prayer here, sitting outside in the bustle of the village.
  • Commercial Pub: serving dozens of delicious guest beers and the excellent Empire Brewery range. There is always a delicious stout or porter.
  • The Cookhouse Cafe: a proper cafe. Breakfast that doesn’t recognise the boundaries of the plate. Popular with CTC groups.
  • Hideaway: craft ale house: hundreds of craft ales available – and opposite the Vicarage – dangerous for me.
  • Shoulder of Mutton: focussed on decent live music, good beer and outside seating, next to Rumpus Burger. A lively place!
  • Rumpus Burger: beef burgers from heaven. Eat, and be full.
  • Northern Sole Cafe: Infra-red heaters and outside seating for this cafe-bar, serving “foot stompin’ street food”. A very sociable place.
  • The Little Bridge: a place with two personalities: it can be a quiet and intimate location for drinks and food, or it can be party capital of Slaithwaite with music banging out loudly.
  • Ashby’s Cafe: you will always see bicycles propped against the window. Very good cafe, with plenty of space for customers.
  • Hand Made Bakery: An open plan bakery serving Darkwoods coffee and some mouth watering pastries. Their bread is what we treat ourselves to. On the canal side with outdoor seating.
  • Restaurants: staying late and need dinner? Try Anellos for outstanding pizza, Monsoon for an Indian experience which won’t let you down, and Destination for awe-inspiringly delicious creative Indian cuisine.
  • Also: several businesses have seating and hot refreshments and pastries: The bookshop, the cheese and wine shop and Anna’s place. They all know that good coffee and tea are essential to hospitality.

West Slaithwaite

  • Zapato: A brewery with tap bar and huge outside seating area. Often with street food vendors at the weekend. Popular with families and walkers. Midway between Marsden and Slaithwaite on the towpath. Parking off the A62.
  • Olive Branch Inn: A pub, restaurant and hotel halfway between Marsden and Slaithwaite on the A62. Popular for family events.
  • Coach House Healing & Wellbeing Centre: this place will surprise you. A well-being centre worth calling in to: great cake, and an enchanting layout. Just off the A62 outside Marsden.
  • Rose and Crown: up in the hills, a pub with awesome Sunday lunches.


  • The New Inn: a very good pub with food, meeting rooms, and accommodation. Large outdoor seating area easily accessible with bicycles.
  • Sass: a yoga studio and cafe with cycling friendly seating and bike park round the back. Beautiful cappuccino and pastries.
  • The Shak: a local’s pub. Very friendly in my experience. Good place to enjoy a cold beer in the sunshine.
  • The ‘Lil Olive: loads of seating round the back: sandwiches and coffee quickly.
  • Katie’s Homemade Kitchen: oh my goodness. Platefuls of vegan and vegetarian excellence. Katie also caters for meat-eaters, her full-english is excellent but if you’re a non-meat eater you’ll love Katie’s.
  • Co-Op: the team support our church community cafe, if you’re audaxing your way through and need refreshments… please stop and use your dividend card.
  • The Village Bakery: a very popular place to grab a sandwich if you’re on the go.
  • Riverhead Brew Pub: A huge range of excellent beers, many brewed on-site. I’m a big fan of the stouts and porters. Delicious food served in the restaurant upstairs.
  • Mario’s: open every day and serving breakfast and hot drinks right when you need them. I say my morning prayers here quite frequently.
  • Peel Street Social: cafe-bar with craft ales. Great atmosphere and a unique location overhanging the river Colne in Marsden.
  • The Little Lock: although this place has changed hands several times, it is always owned by someone who wants to provide excellent refreshments and food. Overhanging the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.
  • Bistro 11: I love this restaurant and I’m sorry that they’re closed at the moment. Keep your eyes peeled, because if the owners open it up again, the food is outstanding.
  • The Railway: a solid pub offering live music, beer and food. Under new management by a local lass who really cares about Marsden and wants to see this pub flourish.

Cycling Routes and Experiences

Starting with the two basic routes that run east-west up and down the valley…

Huddersfield Narrow Canal

The canal has a towpath which runs from Huddersfield town to Marsden and Standedge tunnel. The section from Marsden to Slaithwaite is unsurfaced. In the summer it is hard-packed dirt and rideable on skinny tyres. In the winter a fat-bike would struggle.

The towpath surface from Slaithwaite to Huddersfield is a solid tarmac-esque surface, ridable in all conditions by all bicycles. Each lock gate involves a short steep cobbled climb, usually with a narrow low head-room bridge, best for novice cyclists to dismount. The bridges make the route inaccessible for Trikes and challenging for Tandems.

The towpath is a popular place to be. There are regular angling competitions, people love to walk their dogs, and couples push babies along in buggies. Near Zapato, people don’t often walk in a straight line, and there are the numerous narrow boats tied to the embankment. If you are cycling up and down here, may I make a personal request. Please give way. If you are not in a race, does it matter if you stop? If you’re on a full-suspension e-Bike, do you need to ride at 25kph every where? I like it when motorists give me space on the road, so in return I give walkers space on the towpath. Can you do me a favour, and please cycle patiently.

A62, aka Manchester road

Leaving Huddersfield heading west, the Manchester road is busy with traffic and broken surfaces. There is a cycle lane in the gutter, but expect the local car showrooms to advertise their cars to you here. It is horrible. However, the further from Huddersfield you get, the more relaxed it becomes. You can see the valley sides between the houses. The village of Golcar is visible on the hilltop as you pass though Milnsbridge. When you reach Linthwaite you’re coming to the edge of the urban sprawl, by the time you reach Slaithwaite the countryside is getting a good look in.

From Slaithwaite to Marsden the A62 is wide and the locals are very considerate of cyclists. If you’re close-passed it is unlikely to be someone who lives here. The A62 is not a bad road between Slaithwaite and Marsden: 2.5 miles and about 15 minutes uphill one way, 5 minutes and quick back to Slaithwaite the other.

Off Road

If off-road is your thing, the route from Marsden up Wessenden and passing four reservoirs is a must-do. A bridleway with some technical and single-track that climbs next to Butterley, Blakeley, Wessenden and Wessenden Head reservoirs, topping out at the A635 “Isle of Skye” road that runs from Greenfield to Holmfirth. Thankfully there is a much quieter descent into Meltham on the Wessenden Head Road with stunning views east.

There is also the annual Colne Valley Mountain Bike Challenge offering 20 or 30 miles routes that are on a mixture of local roads and extremely demanding off-road terrain.

Another off-road route is the Calder Divide Trail which drops down into Marsden from Wessenden and heads north from Marsden, via Eastergate and March Haigh Reservoir.

Around the villages

I’ve been cycling around these communities as part of my prayer ministry, following dead-ends to farmhouses and finding the unbeaten tracks. My VeloViewer ‘heat-map’ shows my most frequent journeys and is a cyclist’s view of the routes around here.

The easiest local climb is the A62 to Standedge. It takes you up a long reliable gradient with plenty of space for passing motorists and a great view of Marsden Moor. The descent is joyous – except being wary of wandering sheep. Any ride coming home from the west is essentially over once you’ve passed Standedge, because the rest of the ride is downhill.

There are two other climbs from Marsden to Standedge: these are Mount Road and Old Mount Road. Both are steep, but Old Mount Road is the steepest. They make a short and tough circular route from Marsden with awe-inspiring views of Butterley Reservoir. I like to ride up these for no other reason than the view.

Marsden Lane – the alternative east-west route.

On the north side of the valley is Marsden Lane, running from Marsden to West Slaithwaite and Zapato / Darkwoods. I’ll not pretend it is easy: it isn’t. If I say “Sustrans” most cyclists will know that it is brutal. I love this road because it forms part of my prayer-cycle around the Benefice, riding on an undulating road from Marsden and criss-crossing the railway under and over. This road has the best views of the valley from a series of balconies on steep sided hills.

Hard hills

If the east-west routes are dominated by the A62, the towpath and Marsden Lane… the north or south routes from Marsden and Slaithwaite are numerous and leg-breaking. There are no gradient signposts: we’d run out of steel. Richard Facey wrote a book, “The Only Way is Up – My 50 Climbs In the Colne and Holme valleys, Huddersfield” and it has been translated into a detailed web-resource for local riders: here at facey-fifty. This is a numbered list of each climb with Strava link, length, gradient and description. I’m not going to repeat it… I’m too busy trying to ride it. However, I’d like to share my favourite climbs. Assume they are all steep.

Linfit Lane. An alternative to Varley Road. I love this quiet climb because the back-and-forth route gives alternating views up and down the valley. It reaches one of my other favourite roads, Jerusalem. If I’m heading from Slaithwaite to Meltham, this is my route of choice. Quiet.

Meal Hill Lane. There are a few routes to the hills above Slaithwaite north-bound. Crimble Clough to Scapegoat Hill, and Heys Lane to Pole Moor, but Meal Hill is silly steep and levels out with a balcony road without much traffic. I feel like it gets me most of the way up to the top without worrying about motorists.

Marsden Lane. The cobbled climb. There is no good reason to climb this road, I sometimes head to Marsden and come back this way just because I want to ride up here. I can’t explain why. In the opposite direction there is another balcony road view of the Colne Valley which stops me in my tracks every time.

Wellhouse Climb – and beyond. If I only have a little time for bike ride, I like to get a climb in… and extend it depending on how I feel. A buzz along the towpath from Slaithwaite to the Titanic Mill and I’m at the bottom of a series of three climbs that can be stitched together depending on mood and energy. The first takes me under the railway and on to a dead straight and near vertical climb to Wellhouse. A left turn here and the ride is over: downhill to Slaithwaite. If I want more, then I continue straight over to Bolster Moor. The road has a nice flat middle bit with views of Golcar, but ramps up unrelentingly to the moor and farmshop. A left turn here and I’m down Crimble Clough and home. Ride over. If I want a bit more, the I continue to Scapegoat hill and a glimpse down into Calderdale before looping back and dropping down Crimble Clough like a fat peregrine falcon. I tend to use my mountain bike for the combination of low gears and disc brakes.

Suggested Circular Routes

Merry Dale Clough Circular. Starting at the Little Bridge in Slaithwaite: a loop around Slaithwaite Reservoir, great views from Booth Bank, and a return along the Towpath from Zapato. If the towpath is muddy, there is an alternative to nip back along the A62. Ride With GPS route-map here.

Benefice Loop. A ride around the Benefice of Marsden and Slaithwaite, one I like to use when I’m praying because it gives me a good view of most homes and businesses. Starting at the Commercial Pub in Slaithwaite, nipping up the lovely little “Kitchen Fold” and then taking in the climbs of Linfit Lane and Marsden Lane. Worth a coffee and cake stop in Marsden halfway round. Ride With GPS route-map here.

Pule Hill Loop. A ride with views up Wessenden valley and across Marsden Moor, and passing the Standedge tunnel end. Ride With GPS route-map here.

Marsden Moor Road Loop. Starting and finishing at Zapato… where the parking is for customers only… so if you drive here you need to be a customer. Heads up the A62 and over the top of Standedge. We leave the Colne Valley to find our way round to the northern edge, via Delph and Denshaw. The climb back past Dowry Reservoir is wonderful and brings cyclists out on top of Marsden Moor with a balcony road view of March Haigh Reservoir and landscape of the Colne Valley. Ride With GPS route-map here.

Active Travel

I would love to encourage Active Travel in the Colne Valley, but I think it isn’t easy to promote.

Firstly: hills. Confidence can evaporate in the face of our local hills… because if it looks hard, it must be hard. Never mind that a 50+ yr old Vicar does it: he’s a nutter. On the other hand, if a slightly tubby old Vicar can do it… why can’t you?

Secondly: traffic. A self-fulfilling prophecy, but the traffic as you head into Huddersfield gets increasingly careless. I know that the A62 between Marsden and Slaithwaite is a good place to ride, and that there are lots of alternatives, but most people look at the traffic and *know* that is is safer to drive than ride. I don’t want to be responsible for them if they choose to cycle and get hurt. I *do* want the council to take this seriously. If a child couldn’t ride to Huddersfield and back, then I don’t think the Active Travel routes are good enough.

Being Positive

Marsden and Slaithwaite are beautiful. The people who live here are community focussed and look after each other. If you have time to come cycling; bring gears or an e-Bike… but stop for cake and coffee and, if you stay overnight: the pubs and restaurants are worth your time and money. For an easy ride: use the towpath… but please give way to dogs and walkers.

God bless Marsden and Slaithwaite, and may you find joy in cycling here.