Exploring the Historic Leeds Liverpool Canal
Nestled in the picturesque Yorkshire Dales, the charming town of Skipton is home to one of the most captivating waterways in England – the Leeds Liverpool Canal. This historic canal stretches over 127 miles, connecting two of the country’s most vibrant cities – Leeds and Liverpool.
Skipton plays a pivotal role along this waterway, offering visitors an enchanting blend of natural beauty, rich history, and a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Delve into the fascinating history of the Leeds Liverpool Canal, explore the delights of Skipton’s waterside attractions, and discover why this picturesque route has become a cherished destination for locals and tourists alike.
The Birth of the Leeds Liverpool Canal
The idea of connecting the bustling industrial hubs of Leeds and Liverpool with a waterway had been brewing since the late 18th century. The transportation of goods and raw materials was a significant challenge at the time, and a canal seemed like the perfect solution to facilitate trade and economic growth.
The construction of the Leeds Liverpool Canal began in 1770, and it took almost 46 years to complete, with numerous engineering feats and obstacles overcome during the process.
Engineering Marvels Along the Canal
The construction of the canal demanded several engineering marvels, including the construction of locks, aqueducts, and tunnels. One of the notable feats is the Bingley Five Rise Locks, located within two days cruising from Skipton. These five consecutive locks elevate the canal by an impressive 60 feet, making it one of the steepest sets of locks in the United Kingdom. Watching the intricate mechanics of the locks in action is a sight to behold, as water rushes in and out to raise or lower boats from one level to the next.
Another remarkable engineering wonder is the Foulridge Tunnel, just west of Skipton. This 1,640-yard long tunnel posed significant challenges during construction due to the difficult terrain. However, it became an essential link in connecting the eastern and western sections of the canal, and today, it is a fascinating attraction, allowing visitors to experience a journey back in time as they cruise through its dark, mysterious depths.
The Canal’s Economic Impact
The Leeds Liverpool Canal played a pivotal role in transforming the economic landscape of the regions it traversed. Skipton, being a vital stop along the route, experienced a surge in trade and commerce. 250 years ago, on 8th April 1773, two canal barges loaded with coal set off from Bingley to Skipton, where the coal was sold at half the price previously charged. They were the first boats to carry goods on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.
The canal facilitated the transportation of goods such as coal, textiles, and limestone, which spurred industrial growth in the area. Skipton’s industries flourished, and the town became a prosperous center of trade, attracting more residents and businesses to its banks.
In the mid-18th century the growing towns of Yorkshire, including Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford, were trading increasingly. Bradford merchants wanted to increase the supply of limestone to make lime for mortar and agriculture using coal from Bradford’s collieries and to transport textiles to the Port of Liverpool.
On the west coast, traders in the busy port of Liverpool wanted a cheap supply of coal for their shipping and manufacturing businesses and to tap the output from the industrial regions of Lancashire. Inspired by the effectiveness of the wholly artificial navigation, the Bridgewater Canal opened in 1759–60. A canal across the Pennines linking Liverpool and Hull (by means of the Aire and Calder Navigation) would have obvious trade benefits.
International and Local Trading
Canals are our industrial heritage, originally designed to transport goods for miles and help deliver Wedgewood pottery in one piece. But it was the incoming goods that had the greatest impact on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal – changing the towns, villages and landscape forever.
8 international trading influences the canal had on the region
1) The link to Hull brought timber from the Baltic for beams, trusses and floorboards
2) Iron came from the forges at Kirkstall, near Leeds, and the foundries at Low Moor and Bowling in Bradford to the nail makers of Silsden and the machine makers in Keighley
3) Coal arrived by the ton from collieries on the edge of Bradford to supplement that produced from small local pits.
4) Wool for worsted spinning came along the waterways from Lincolnshire and once woven into cloth was exported through Hull
5) Luxury goods such as wine from Portugal came in huge casks called pipes that held 130 gallons.
6) Olive oil, for lighting and for industrial use, also came in pipes from Gallipoli in Turkey and Leghorn (Lugarno) in Italy.
7) Groceries such as oranges, lemons, currants and raisins arrived in light casks called hogsheads.
8) Warehouses were built at Riddlesden, Silsden, Kildwick and Skipton and freight companies employed local agents to act on their behalf.
Modern Day Leisure and Recreation on the Canal
With the advent of modern transportation methods, the commercial importance of the canal diminished over the years. However, the legacy of the Leeds Liverpool Canal was far from forgotten. The serene waters and scenic beauty attracted recreational boaters, walkers, and cyclists, transforming the canal into a delightful destination for leisure activities.
Boating enthusiasts can rent narrowboats from Blue Otter and Pennine Cruisers in Skipton to cruise along the canal at a leisurely pace. The slow and peaceful journey allows travellers to relish the beauty of the surrounding countryside, spotting wildlife, and enjoying the ever-changing vistas. Day boats are availble from Pennine Cruisers, five or seven night self-drive cruises can be booked with Blue Otter and full boat-handling training is given on arrival.
The Canal and Skipton’s Tourism
The Leeds Liverpool Canal has significantly contributed to Skipton’s tourism industry. Tourists from all over the UK and beyond are drawn to the area’s tranquil charm and historical significance. Boat enthusiasts and bucket-list travellers come from New Zealand, Canada, Brazil and Germany to travese England’s longest canal and arrive in the UNESCO World Heritage Town of Saltaire by boat. Skipton, often referred to as the “Gateway to the Dales,” is a vibrant market town steeped in history. Visitors can moor their boats and take a leisurely stroll through the cobbled streets, discovering charming shops, traditional pubs, and the imposing medieval fortress – Skipton Castle.
Many tourists come to Skipton to experience the canal either with day boat hire or a longer holiday on a narrowboat. The canal-side has flourished with quaint cafes, restaurants, and traditional pubs, providing visitors with a taste of local cuisine and a chance to relax by the waterside. While the journey along the canal itself is a delight, there’s also much to explore beyond the waterways. For those seeking to explore the wider area, the Yorkshire Dales National Park beckons with its stunning landscapes, picturesque villages, and countless walking and hiking trails. Whether you opt for a short walk or a more challenging trek along the Pennine Way that connects with the canal at Gargrave, the Dales offer a diverse range of experiences.
The Leeds Liverpool Canal, with Skipton at its heart, stands as a living testament to the ingenuity and vision of the past. As one of the longest and most historically significant canals in England, it continues to captivate visitors with its tranquil waters, lush surroundings, and rich heritage.
Skipton’s enchanting waterside attractions, along with the engineering marvels of the canal, offer a delightful escape into a bygone era. Whether cruising along its peaceful waters, exploring the walking trails around the canal, or simply savoring the scenic beauty, a journey along the Leeds Liverpool Canal around Skipton is an experience not to be missed.