From the regenerated heart of urban Sheffield to the lush green of the Don valley, the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation offers a fascinating perspective on this former industrial area.
The Sheffield & Tinsley Canal is fine example of an industrial canal that has found a new lease of life. Victoria Quays, in Sheffield has been regenerated and is now a bustling waterfront destination with restaurants, bars, a hotel and health club.
Improvements to the towpath have created a canalside walking route from the city centre out to Meadowhall shopping centre. The Sheffield & Tinsley Canal found big-screen fame in 1997, appearing in the opening scenes of the comedy film The Full Monty.
The Stainforth & Keadby Canal runs through rural South Yorkshire scenery, and is a part of the area’s rich industrial history. If you are an angler, this could be the canal for you, with coarse fisheries on several stretches consistently offering chances for a good catch.
Unlike 'narrow gauge' navigations such as those in the Midlands, with their characteristic narrow boats set at around 70ft (21.4m) by 7ft (2.1m), the South Yorkshire Navigations were made to accommodate much larger Yorkshire keels. These were 61ft (18.6m) long by 15 ft (4.6m) wide and either powered by sail or bowhauled by the families that owned them if there was no wind. There were also 'horse marines', a man and horse who would tow the boat on the navigation for a price.
The canal's business was hit when the railway reached Sheffield in 1830. But the larger payloads the boats could carry helped ensure that the navigations survived longer than many of their smaller counterparts: indeed, such was the Don Navigation's traffic that its owners were able to command a position of strength in their dealings with the developing railway companies.
In the mid 18th Century the River Don was improved upstream to Tinsley, just eastwards of Sheffield, by locks. By 1819, the Cutlers Company had succeeded in building the Sheffield Canal right into the city centre. In 1802, the Stainforth & Keadby Canal connected with the Don to afford an alternate access to the Humber via the Trent, and the system was further expanded in the 1840s when the Dearne & Dove Canal towards Barnsley was bought out by the Don Navigation.
The navigation was taken over by the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway in 1864, with a separate company, the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Canal Company Ltd, formed in 1895. It was joined by arrow-straight New Junction Canal in 1905, connecting with the Knottingley and Goole section of the Aire & Calder Navigation. Despite the newer threat posed by road haulage, the navigations survived and were granted a new lease of life beyond the 1970s when they were upgraded to accommodate larger 700 tonne barges.