I have intended to paddle the Sheffield and Tinsley canal for years, but despite it being quite near home, somehow I have never got round to it. Until this trip, that is. A school summer holiday meant filling some days with activity, so my youngest son and I decided that as we were going into Sheffield to drop his sibling at a sporting session, we would continue into the heart of the city and explore the waterways.
Dropping into the canal just at the entrance to Victoria Quay was easy – good parking right by the canal, and a short carry through a narrow entrance onto the towpath. The entrance to the Quay itself was barred by a footbridge too low even for a canoe to sneak under, so we left the terminus unvisited, and headed east into the industrial heartland of the Steel City.
The canal was built to bring Yorkshire keels – barges of 61′ by 15’6″ – from the River Don into the city, and rises up to its top pound via the Tinsley flight of locks. We aimed to traverse the top pound to the locks and back, a round trip of 8 km, through Attercliffe. There are still some foundries in that area, and an accumulation of small industrial sites along the canal, so the scenery was quite different to my usual trips.
Being right in an urban centre meant many bridges as well, some dating from the canal’s construction nearly 200 years ago, others much more modern, from developments like the renewed Sheffield supertram network. Despite the world of brick and tarmac surrounding the canal, there was plenty of greenery along the cut. Budlea will grow anywhere, and were flourishing happily along the walls of derelict steelworks as we travelled towards Tinsley.
What from the street-side looks a bit grim and industrial was softened by greenery along the canal banks. Both banks here housed light industrial works and old warehouses in varying states of use and decay, but nature’s verdant blanket covered the hard edges, making the view much more appealing.
The colourful display continued with banks of monbretia running along side a scrap car yard. I’ve seen these growing wild in the south of Ireland, but I would imagine that they are escapees in South Yorkshire. Either way they were flourishing on the water margin.
The canal is sometimes higher than the surrounding land, but in places is sunk in a cut to keep it level until the drop through Tinsley. Here an elegant new bridge carried the supertram over the old industrial route as we approached Attercliffe. In the distance a much more utilitarian structure took the railway across.
As we left Attercliffe behind us, the canal widened considerably, with short jetties for mooring. A fisherman cast his line into water here, but most of the surface was covered with rafts of waterlilies, all in flower. A family of moorhens were happy at home in the middle of one such raft.
It had to be the biggest patch of waterlilies in flower I have seen on British waterways, so we threaded our way into it via small leads of open water to sit among the lily pads ourselves in our bright yellow canoe.
I enjoyed the colours and reflections around the edge of the lily patch, but after making a few images from the canoe, moved on. A narrowboat passed us, heading into Sheffield, a rare sign of activity on the waterway so far. Other than that, we encountered only a few fishermen, rather to our surprise given the urban surroundings and lovely weather.
Despite its freestyle decoration, this footbridge still managed to express its graceful curves as we continued our journey towards Tinsley.
Before long, the character of the canal began to change to a much more rural affair, even though the Don Valley Arena and the fleshpots of Sheffield Centretainment were only a short distance away.
We resisted their lures, however, and held to our chosen course.
Quite abruptly, we rounded a corner to find the gates of Tinsley top lock facing us. Time to turn around.
As ever, an unnoticed breeze behind us became a steady headwind that made us hug the sheltered side of the cut in places as we headed back, but we made good progress, sustained by harvesting blackberries from the inaccessible side of the cut away from the towpath. Somehow they taste sweeter if they are hard to reach…
On one such refreshment stop, I spotted another flash of colour against the industrial brickwork, and while my bow paddler refueled, contented myself with making an image instead.
A short while later, we were back at the terminus of Victoria Quay, hauling out to re-enter the everyday cityscape of the Steel City.
We had enjoyed a trip through the old heart of industrial Sheffield, and been treated to a display of natural colour that was all the more enjoyable for being in contrast to its background.