This, our second trip with Shire, was a one-way trip from Barnoldswick to Sowerby Bridge via the Leeds to Liverpool canal, Aire & Calder and Calder & Hebble Navigations. For me the challenges were the numerous staircase locks and the river navigations never having attempted either before in all my years of canal trips. As it happened (spoiler alert) these were no issue whatsoever, the challenges came in different forms…
As ever Shire Cruisers organisation was faultless and we left Sowerby Bridge on time by taxi to Barnoldswick travelling via a scenic trip over the moors that’s worth every penny. The taxi was a huge minibus easily swallowing the luggage we had.
James guided us through the controls of Dorset but as we’d taken Cornwall for a trip a few years earlier it was all familiar as they seem to be essentially identical. We set off at a relaxed pace because, for the first couple of days at least, the Leeds to Liverpool winds through amazing scenery that calls to be appreciated. We met James again as we passed through Greenberfield Locks but as our well-oiled team had everything well in hand he enjoyed a moment in the sun.
We overnighted in East Marton being lucky enough to find a space between bridges 161 and 162. A primary aim this week was to use local restaurants in the evenings to give everyone a break so we made our way over bridge 162 and up the back lane to the Cross Keys (using the main road risks dicing with the traffic). The Cross Keys serves traditional pub food which was ‘OK’.
Tuesday dawned hot & sunny and we drifted down the pound between East Marton & Bank Newton locks, easily one of the prettiest on the canal system. The corners on this section give the helm a good upper body workout. We hoped we’d make Skipton by mid afternoon to allow time to explore, however this was not to be…
On arrival at Bank Newton locks we found that the crew of one of the larger 14’ beam vessels was having an argument about whether they were going to go up or down the locks (something fairly fundamental one would have imagined) which delayed everyone for at least half an hour.
No one arriving at Gargrave should pass up a visit to The Dalesman as it is a cracking café and an old fashioned sweetshop that no person would willingly avoid. The water point here is conveniently by the lock but not the fastest.
The section between Gargrave and Skipton was straightforward apart from a small rental boat that took the concept of a slow holiday to extreme. Dorset couldn’t actually go slow enough without stopping but as the guy on the rental was on his own and didn’t appear to have a key for the swing bridges we couldn’t get ahead of him. This put us another hour behind schedule so we didn’t get into Skipton until 5pm.
We were given good advice to use the visitor moorings between bridges176 & 177. These have several advantages; they are quieter than the other moorings in Skipton with only a few towpath walkers but still close to the centre and, in the morning whilst most of the crew pop across to Morrisons (which is very close) you can pull the boat up a few yards to use the water point (which has good flow).
These visitor moorings have another advantage in that they are very close to Herriots Hotel but we opted to try Le Bistro des Amis in the town centre. This was a real find with great food and atmosphere, the service wasn’t the most attentive but the overall experience made the day. We’re definitely returning to Skipton for a longer visit.
Another very hot day commenced so after filling up with water (from the water point) and gin (from Morrisons) we set off for Bingley. One of the delights of the section after Skipton is the entertainment provided by people renting small day boats as it’s generally the first time they’ve faced steering anything with a tiller. The banks of the canal seem to magnetically attract these boats and it’s a challenge to keep count of the groundings (it’s also a little unfair as we’ve all faced similar problems at one time). Eventually you tire of this and press on.
This is really swing bridge alley, they seem never ending but you get into the rhythm, however I must have relaxed too much as I now made a mistake that created the challenge of the holiday…
If anyone offers you the choice between jumping off a boat and damaging your Achilles tendon or not, my strongest advice is; choose not. Apparently, according to my wife, the trick is to remember your actual age and not believe you’re still in your teenage years when leaping on & off canal boats was a trivial matter. Certainly in retrospect using your boat handling skills such that you can gently step off with decorum rather than impacting the ground in a screaming heap has a lot going for it.
After that interlude we finally made Bingley (the A.B.C bridge will almost certainly not be locked open so you’ll have one last bridge to do today). It’s worth sending on a crew member ahead to see what moorings are available closer to the 5 Rise. If, as we did, you can moor right at the top of the locks you have a few advantages;
If you are early enough you can hit last orders in the 5 Rise Café, you can make yourself known to the lock keepers in preparation for tomorrow’s descent and finally after you’ve all had showers you can slip across to the water point, fill up and slip back ready for an early start.
Bingley doesn’t seem to have pubs or restaurants close to the locks (and I wasn’t walking anywhere) so we ate on the boat. Being one of those magical warm evenings the gin didn’t seem to hit the sides.
8 am start, hot & sunny yet again ! The CRT staff checked who wanted passage down but it was just us so we nosed alone into the top lock. Passage through these and the following 3 Rise was handled in the main by CRT and was absolutely straightforward and were out by 9 am. As I left the 5 Rise I gave a moment to remember my Dad who took us on our first canal holiday in 1965 and got the bug. The 5 Rise was always on his to do list (along with the Anderton Boat Lift and the Devizes flight) but he never got to make it.
The original aim was to get to Saltaire early enough to visit Salts Mill but in the end we didn’t. Is it just me or has Saltaire / Salts Mill turned its back on the canal ? I have no idea where you were supposed to moor to see these places and there were no obvious signposts. On the other hand the car parking facilities looked excellent ! If this is somewhere you want to go I’d advise you plan it out on Google Maps in advance.
We finally moored at Apperley Bridge although the visitor moorings seemed a little shallow. There are several places here to eat that look OK such as The George and Dragon or The Stansfield Arms. We chose The Moody Cow but being some way out we booked a taxi (Power Carz 01274 633416 – they need a post code so choose outside the Bridge Cafe BD10 0NB as the pickup point. I suspect you could use this taxi company anywhere on your trip as they cover a wide area and were very professional). The Moody Cow served great steaks and was a good night out.
A cooler day today. We’d recommend if you can, backing up to the Marina to fill up with water as the next water point at Oddy Lock is a long way away, inconvenient and very slow.
Much is made of the section after Rodley as being prone to vandalism and we did see several kids swimming in Field Locks on the previous day but CRT staff who were on hand today to work us through Newlay and Forge locks, discovered some interference with paddle gear to let water in to the middle lock for swimming overnight. Generally any children seemed friendly and we handed out a couple of free drinks to those who asked. Whatever the rights & wrongs of the situation soft drinks & chocolate always work as ready currency in these situations and make you a ‘good guy’ so it’s worth having a few spare to hand just in case.
On arrival at the end of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at the River Lock stress levels go up. Not because you’re about to enter the river navigation but because it’s a sunny Friday afternoon and you are surrounded by several bars all teeming with office workers, cold drink in hand, eager to judge your progress through the lock. Whilst they might appear relaxed and chatting intently amongst themselves you know in reality that they are highly attuned to your efforts and ready to appraise any errors, awarding points accordingly. Maximum scores will be handed out for falling overboard or even better, sinking. Fortunately we made this through with ‘nul points’ and out into the river system.
In spite of my original concerns the river was easy, the only area of confusion arose at the site of Knostrup Flood Lock where the navigation didn’t seem to follow the map. This is due to the fact that the flood lock was removed in 2017 and the maps in the guide books haven’t quite caught up yet. In reality if you follow the signs and go down the river a little further keeping the site of the old lock to your right it all makes sense. Obviously don’t try to go through the lock as I suspect you’ll go aground now.
We eventually moored at Woodlesford lock, there are plenty of visitor moorings available and you should be able to tie up close to the lock. Decent looking places to eat seem in short supply here. The New Masons Arms looked OK on the website and my wife thought The Midland looked as though it had been recently renovated but in the end we went to Farndale Fish & Chips which weren’t brilliant but did the job. Opposite was the Co-op which was very good.
There is a good water point at Woodlesford on the opposite side to the visitor moorings between the permanent moorings and the lock.
Obviously all the locks on the Aire and Calder are electric and very easy unless there is a power cut (another first), the crew should appreciate the break and get ready for what is to come on the Calder & Hebble.
At Lemonroyd Lock it started raining…
The Aire and Calder is a navigation with huge contrasts switching between post-apocalyptic industrial landscapes and tranquil river sections (we spotted kingfishers on the section before Castleford), although the contrast was interesting the Aire didn’t seem particularly engaging but I’d be happy to accept that I could have missed its charms due to the now torrential rain.
We eventually tied up at Horbury Bridge (in the rain) just below the Bingley Arms. Our intention was to eat at Capri Bistro but on trying to make a reservation we were told that unless the party was 8 or more they didn’t take bookings ! Fortunately we decided to try anyway and glad that we did. Capri Bistro is a busy & boisterous Italian Restaurant and brilliantly run, when you arrive they’ll fit you in somewhere. The food was excellent and the service even better. The Bingley Arms, in spite of glowing reviews in the canal guidebooks, is shut and boarded up.
There is a new Costcutter at the Jet petrol station near the bridge which isn’t in any of the guides.
It was still raining…
We started off looking for the water point in Horbury Basin but access to that seemed challenging so we decided to pass and move on up Long Cut up to the flood gates where progress halted. Here we lost an hour whilst we waited for CRT to open the gates. The CRT website had no information and phoning didn’t elicit much more, fortunately Nigel at Shire had hard info on their activities. CRT need to get better than this when river sections are being closed due to strong stream conditions. We were held up again at the Ledgard Flood Lock to allow a cruiser in from the river.
Our original plan was to overnight in the Salterhebble Basin or Arm and eat at Catch Seafood in West Vale (a taxi would have been needed) but by now we were utterly soaked as the rain had fallen unceasingly all day, the only variation in meteorological conditions seemed to be changes from heavy rain to torrential downpour. We thus made the decision to push on to Sowerby Bridge and return home vanquished. We were also concerned that once the rainfall hit the river system all navigation would cease for some days benighting us.
This was a shame as the Calder & Hebble looks like it would repay a slower trip in better weather. Out of interest I kept an eye out for water points; the one above Shepley Bridge lock was just about accessible but with boats moored tightly around it would have been difficult to access with something the size of Dorset. Similarly the water point at Brighouse was easily accessible but someone had selfishly abandoned a boat on top of it (probably due to the weather). This water point also has easy access to Sainsbury’s and of course the Rokt Climbing Gym if you are beginning to get claustrophobic after a week on the boat.
We never expected to face days of record breaking high temperatures and torrential rainfall in the same week. Fortunately we’d packed both SPF50 and Gore-Tex jackets & trousers plus a couple of brollies. All were put to good use but inevitably were overwhelmed by the end of the week.
This is a great trip with a lot of varied landscapes but you need a fit & motivated crew to manage it in a week. Opening times for the 5 Rise and the need to transit past Rodley in the morning mean that it’s hard to avoid having long days at the end of the trip. We’d think that a two week trip would be better as there is much to visit on the way such as: Saltaire / Salts Mill, Leeds Industrial Museum, The Royal Armouries, Thwaite Mills, The Hepworth Gallery, National Coal Mining Museum, any of which could easily entertain for half a day at least. Having more time would also allow you to explore Skipton or any of the other places you pass through.
Also Google Maps is a great resource for planning this (and other) trips as you can see detailed views of the navigation route and positions of local shops, pubs & restaurants. You can get a good appreciation of what you will be facing during the week. But it’s always sunny on Google Earth…
See this author's previous blog