A 4-DAY ROUNDTRIP CRUISE FROM SKIPTON TO SALTAIRE TAKES IN NATIONAL TRUST ATTRACTIONS, BINGLEY FIVE RISE LOCKS AND A UNESCO HERITAGE TOWN
Begin your canal journey in the historic market town of Skipton, gateway to the Yorkshire Dales and home of the Blue Otter on the Leeds to Liverpool canal.
Cruise slowly past the moored boats of Skipton and within 20 minutes you’ll be at your first swing bridge, located on the edge of town next to the Rendezvous Hotel.
Some of these swing bridges can be difficult to open. If you do find yourself struggling, ask a passerby on the tow path to provide some extra strength. You’ll soon discover most folk you meet on the canals, be they trekkers or fellow boaters, will be happy to lend a hand.
Next up is the electric bridge in Lower Bradley. To avoid mistakes and traffic delays it’s important to read the instructions carefully before turning the key and closing the road to traffic. When you do, you’ll be impressed by the power at your fingertips and in no time at all, you’ll be back on board the Otter and the cruising continues.
Shortly after Lower Bradley you’ll pass through a swing bridge adjoining the Polish Airmen Memorial Site, there to honour the memory of seven brave Polish allies brought down in WWII.
History and the stunning vistas of Yorkshire and Lancashire continue to unravel as you pass two more swing bridges before entering Kildwick. It’s worth mooring up here to take a stroll around St Andrews, an impressive Anglo Saxon church once frequented by the Bronte sisters.
If you’re ready for lunch or just thirsty, check out the White Lion, a 17th century pub located behind St Andrews with open fires inside and a beer garden out the back.
By now you’ll be getting the hang of the swing and electric bridges and feeling at home with the sights and sounds of life on the canals. Ducks, swans and fellow boaters can be relied on to keep you company. Much less common are sightings of kingfishers as they dart in and out of the woods, almost skimming the surface of the canal before they disappear from sight. Stay alert and you might get lucky!
After working a few more bridges you’ll enter the larger town of Silsden. Like so many towns along the Leeds to Liverpool, industry came to Silsden via the canal. None of the mills still standing operate in their original form, though an increasing number are being renovated as office and living spaces.
Leaving Silsden the land becomes defined by steep slopes interspersed with thick woodland and country gardens, many of them left to grow wild.
Those interested in wild and fascinating buildings might like to moor up outside East Riddlesden Hall, a 17th century manor house now owned by the National Trust and open to the public.
Between enjoying the tearooms and walled gardens guests should keep an eye out for the reputed presence of ghosts in the Starkie Wing. Hidden away in the same wing are the infamous ‘hiding holes’, installed to safeguard Catholic Priests in the 17th century.
Perched on a plateau overlooking the River Aire, East Riddlesen Hall was the filming location for the 1992 film ‘Wuthering Heights’ and for series 8 of the paranormal TV program ‘Most Haunted’. You have been warned!
By the time you arrive at the top of Bingley Five Rise Locks you may well be ready to moor up for the evening. Choose your space and enjoy a sundowner above the rooftops and mill towers of Bingley. There are numerous bars and restaurants should you choose a night out on the town, alternatively, cook up your own feast aboard ‘the Otter’.
The locks are open from 8am till 5pm. Because of the complications involved in working a staircase lock, full time lock keepers from the Canal and River Trust will be there to help you traverse your way through, so all you’ll need to do is listen to their instructions to stay safe and enjoy a smooth transit.Built in 1774, the five rise locks are the steepest in the country and represent an impressive work of engineering. As such, they often attract a crowd of ‘gongoozlers’ – that’s ‘canal talk’ for describing people who peer into boats.
The ‘five rise’ are quickly followed by Bingley Three Rise Locks before the canal meanders through the leafy conurbation of Shipley, over an aqueduct crossing the River Aire before descending two more locks into Saltaire.
Built in 1851 by the industrialist Sir Titus Salt, the self-named Saltaire is worthy of its UNESCO Heritage title and well worth a good few hours of your time. Mill towers in pristine condition rise above this model Victorian village, interspersed with museums and concert halls, galleries, restaurants and parkland buzzing with activities. Salts Mill is a true hidden gem and home to a permanent David Hockney exhibition.
Illustrations by Ben Hopkins.
GUIDE TO DISTANCES
Skipton to Kildwick
Distance – one way: 4.5 miles | Locks: 0 | Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Skipton to Silsden
Distance – one way: 6.5 miles | Locks: 0 | Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Skipton to Riddlesden
Distance – one way: 10 miles| Locks: 0 | Time: 5 hours 30 minutes
Skipton to Bingley Five Rise Top Lock
Distance – one way: 12.5 miles | Locks: 0| Time: 6 hours 50 minutes
Skipton to Saltaire
Distance – one way: 15.5 miles | Locks: 11 | Time: 10 hours 15 minutes