Photo: Ronald Saunders
When the Leeds & Liverpool Canal was completed in 1816, it took its place as Britain’s longest canal, a major artery linking the east and west of England. The most important cargo shipped along its route was coal, and the trade continued right up until the 20th century, the waterway competing successfully with rail.
This fairly long walk (16.5 miles) starts in Skipton, known as the ‘gateway to the Yorkshire Dales’. If the full length isn’t for you, there are plenty of opportunities to shorten the route as the railway line follows the canal for much of the way so you can always hop on a train back.
Skipton is a thriving town with an award-winning high street replete with independent shops, cafes and pubs. Don’t miss the beautiful 12th-century castle before you set off.
Follow the Leeds & Liverpool Canal south away from Skipton. At Hamblethorpe Bridge, near Low Bradley, you’ll find a memorial dedicated to seven Polish RAF airmen who crash-landed here during a training flight in September 1943. The towpath then leads you through the pretty villages of Bradley, Kildwick and Silden.
Kildwick is particularly beautiful, flanked with Yorkshire stone houses, bridges and old mills, tastefully converted into homes. There’s also a decent pub, the White Lion, which serves up hearty local grub.
Further along its route, the Leeds & Liverpool Canal has to negotiate the Pennines. Rather than dig expensive and labour-intensive tunnels through the hills, engineer John Longbotham decided to build a spectacular staircase of locks – Bingley Five Rise Locks – to carry boats up the incline. The lock rise has changed little since it was opened in 1774, and it’s a great place to stop with a flask of tea and watch people move their boats an incredible 18 metres (60ft) from the bottom to the top of the staircase.
At the end point of this towpath walk is the village of Saltaire, named in honour of Sir Titus Salt (what a great name!) who built a textile mill here in 1853 as well as a custom-made village for its workers. The village was designed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, so be sure to have a good amble round before you catch the train back to Skipton, which runs every 20 minutes or so.