Waterways of the Humber

Waterways of the Humber

Monday, 20 August 2012

Waterways by Train

We enjoy taking a train from Rotherham to Hull, and have done so a number of times during different seasons. It’s the easiest way to see a selection of Humber waterways, and to gather a broad impression of the geography of the region  -  a geography created by the waterways.

Although Hull is not really covered by this blog it’s a city with a lovely riverfront on the Humber, and boats and shipping to see (dependent on the tide of course), so we are always happy to visit it again.

This post describes a railway journey starting at Rotherham’s new snazzy waterside station, officially opened in July this year.

The railway shares the valley created by the River Don.  Sitting on the right-hand side there are always waterway glimpses, although less so in the summer when the thickly-wooded surroundings block sightings.

But before we leave Rotherham behind there’s a clear view of the large canal basin, usually with flocks of swans, where very large commercial craft turn at their head of navigation.  The Don is a typical river navigation, so between Rotherham and Doncaster boats are sometimes on the river and other times on canal lengths which bypass weirs and shallows.

Next in view are massive steelworks through the centre of which flows the Don.  I mention this as proof that steel is still made in Rotherham despite the many ill-informed impressions.

Having got that off my chest it’s back to the waterways.  Near Swinton station derelict locks on the Dearne & Dove Canal are now the boatyard of the Waddington Boat Company.  And on leaving Mexborough station the line crosses a navigationally by-passed section of the River Don.

The Don looks different when in flood with fresh water from the Yorkshire hills.

Before reaching Doncaster the line passes through a tunnel and a deep cutting.  This is the limestone ridge through which the Don has made one of the few passes  -  further south the Chesterfield Canal had to tunnel through it to reach the Trent.

We changed trains at Doncaster - again sitting on the right side has the best views.  The line crosses the navigation just after leaving the station, but it’s masked by buildings, fences, etc.  A little later the Don is crossed and a small weir can clearly be seen, which looks insignificant, but it’s what stops the tide from travelling further upstream on this river.

From now on the geography is totally different.  For many centuries the tidal River Don, freed from the limitations of a valley, and a steep cutting through a ridge, flowed where it wanted through flat low-lying land.  That all changed in the 17th century when it was confined by Dutch engineers into an artificial course, that’s why the lower reaches of the Don are now known as the Dutch River  -  its straightened lines obvious on the map as it approaches the River Ouse.

By doing so a vast acreage of land between the Dutch River and the Trent were drained and developed into a rich agricultural resource, which is pleasant to see out of the train window.  Sheep grazing on the flood-banks of the waterways, small-holdings with a mixture of animals, remote small roads, horses in paddocks, and fields of crops of many varieties.

If facing astern it’s possible to catch a glimpse of Long Sandall Lock on the Don Navigation, but it is only a glimpse and I’ve never managed to get a picture of it from a train window.

After Stainforth station the line passes under the M18 and, a little further on, crosses over the Stainforth & Keadby Canal at Thorne.  There’s always moored boats to see from the train in this busy little waterways town.
 Soon afterwards is Thorne North station, the approach to it adorned by a lovely park with lakes.  After passing through more drained arable land the train crosses the Dutch River  -  it’s banks indicating the state of the tide.


 Immediately afterwards it’s a bridge over the Aire & Calder Navigation, as it nears Goole docks.

On the approach to Goole station the superstructures of ships in the docks can sometimes be seen beyond the buildings.  It’s a sign that major waterways are near.

The first is the Ouse, the king of Yorkshire’s rivers.  The train clatters across a long bridge over the Ouse which swings open to allow ships up to Howdendyke wharf  -  so it’s unlikely you’ll see a ship from the train!

And this is the type of ship the bridge swings for, unloading at Howdendyke wharf.

More flat lands, this time drained via the Market Weighton Canal.  I keep missing photographs from the train, so here’s one I took earlier.

Brough is a Roman town, created to guard the northern end of their Humber crossing-point.  From here the rail line gets closer and closer to the Humber, eventually after Ferriby there’s spectacular clear views as the train runs along the north bank.  Facing backwards shows the wide upstream channel of the Humber, but facing forwards gives a lovely view of the Humber Bridge.

Eventually the Humber Bridge is so near it requires the train-track to run under its northern approach road.  After Hessle station the Humber can still be seen but it’s beyond a busy parallel road.

Hull’s Paragon railway station is a delight, with flowers and a small area as it was when trains were the major form of public transport.

It’s an enjoyable walk from the station’s main exit, across the main road, along Paragon Street, at its end turn right into Princes Dock Street which is considerably more pleasant than it sounds.  The Princes Quays shopping centre is set in a water landscape with fountains, there are outside cafes, and on the other side of the street are historic buildings still in use.  At the end of Princes Dock Street there is a crossing to the marina with, at its far end, a lock into the Humber.

Downstream, left facing the Humber, is the start of a very pleasant riverside area, including a pier from where the river-crossing ferries used to sail, a footbridge over the River Hull, The Deep (aquarium) and a waterside footpath along the Humber.

It’s a day out of which we never tire, and Doncaster-Hull is only an hour on the train.


  1. Hi Christine - nice to see you've been back to Hull again. On your photo of the marina our boat is the second white cruiser in the centre of the photo, the ALAURMA.



    1. Nice boat Patrick, and a very handy mooring. The name's unusual - it looks as if you'd have to spell it out every time on the VHF!

    2. Email me next time you're coming through and if I'm free you can have a look onboard.