Wandering Canalside – Leeds-Liverpool Canal Walk – Part 1

Here’s a photo-blog of a great walk I took along the Leeds-Liverpool Canal from Shipley to Steeton. I’d walked to and from Bingley before but never past, and, as I hope you’ll see, the scenery changes utterly and never disappoints.
This is the first part of the blog from Shipley, through Saltaire and on to Bingley.


Jess, my Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and I set off early on a Wednesday morning. It was a perfect Spring day for walking: sunny with a light breeze which ensured we never got too hot. With only some water, sandwiches and a few treats for Jess, we didn’t have a plan as to how far or where we’d go; we just went for it, knowing that, when we got far enough, we could move off the canal and get a train back. So, that’s what we did.


The Rose & Thistle moored in Shipley

The Leeds and Liverpool Canal is Britain’s watery leviathan, being the longest canal at 127 miles, with 91 locks which raise it a massive 487 feet from its lowest point. It runs from the very heart of Leeds City Centre all the way to that of Liverpool, connecting the famous Granary Wharf to the synonymous Albert Docks.

In days gone by, we’d have been able to set off along the canal from, pretty much, our front door, living, as we do, close to Bradford’s Canal Road. Bradford’s canal, a branch which linked the city’s wool traders with the world, has long since been covered and plans to reopen stretches of it have, so far, come to little; the stretches which remain open are overgrown, un-repaired and inhospitable, with signs warning of contaminated water and litter strewn across the neglected towpaths and caught in the weeds which are slowly undoing the navvies’ work. This dilapidation is all the more sad because Liverpool understands the importance of the canal system in generating tourism, opening an extension, the Liverpool Canal Link, in 2009; and the idea of a canal linking industrial West Yorkshire and the hugely important world and Empire ports of Liverpool and Hull was born in Bradford – The Sun Inn hosted a public meeting in 1766 to promote the idea, and it was a group of colliers, merchants and industrialists from the city who really made it work.

A Long Way to Go!

Can anyone tell me why the mile markers are the wrong way round? The distance to Liverpool is facing Liverpool, so you have to be closer to Leeds to see it, and vice versa.

If you’re like me, dates don’t really mean much and I find it hard to appreciate what the world was like back when the idea was conceived and to imagine what a feat of engineering this was. To put it into perspective: Bradford was such a force in the global market that, because of its state of the art woolen trade, it can be compared to Silicone Valley today and it was the power and pull of Bradford that made it possible; Wigan’s coalfields were of such value and importance that original plans which did not include it were so vociferously argued over that an independent arbitrator had to be brought in and no canal could go forward without at least a branch to the town, satisfying Liverpool’s shipbuilders’ need for coal; and the whole project was halted for more than a decade because of the American Revolution – that’s right, some parts of the canal are older than the USA!

Hurry Up!

Dark, satanic mills in Saltaire

How hard do you think it is to build a canal? Pretty hard? Very hard? Imagine doing it without a JCB, a dumper truck, cement mixers! Imagine doing it in the 1700s! Canals are often called ‘cuts’, because the earth was cut out by ‘navvies’ (from ‘navigation’, the proper name for canals) who were unskilled labourers who worked tirelessly to change the direction of vast amounts of water making it do exactly what they wanted it to. I’ve heard that the French nickname for the British, les Rosbeefs or les Rosboeufs, caught on because of the vast quantities of roast beef eaten by navies when British know-how and muscle was used to further France’s industrial growth through canal building.

Old bay used to load and unload from the canal, still with arm for winching.


Pulley system on loading bay

Entering Saltaire, you are caught between worlds: agricultural and industrial; 17th and 21st Centuries; tourist and commuter. None, though, collide – they work in perfect symbiosis and enhance rather than detract from each other. It is little wonder that this little town, built as a model village by Sir Titus Salt for his huge Salt’s Mill, has been designated a World Heritage Site, on a par with the pyramids of Egypt.

Saltaire, it is well known, was built as a model village to house the workers of Sir Titus Salt who moved production from his 6 Bradford mills on to one site. This allowed him to control the lives of his workers much more and, whilst it undoubtedly improved their lot, it was much more beneficial for Sir Titus. Although not a teetotaler himself, the village had no pubs and no alcohol was sold so that his workers were less likely to turn to drink. Today, Saltaire has some great pubs, with the cheekily named ‘Don’t Tell Titus’ (referencing his anti-alcohol stance) and ‘Fanny’s Alehouse’ (named after one of the streets) great places to have a drink and a bite. He was, though, a campaigner and wanted to move the industry forward by making less of an impact on the surroundings: Salt’s Mill was at the forefront of modern technology, being designed to be less polluting and the village, with its hospital, clean water and gas lighting & heating, to be much better for its inhabitants. He wasn’t totally PC, though, and argued against raising the working age to 9. Yes, that was raising it to 9!.


Mills looming over the canal at Saltaire

 Imagine coming from the country in the 1800s to find this!

United Reform Church at Saltaire

I love this picture because it really encapsulates what it was like to be there. The sun was streaming down and caught the lush greens which perfectly frame the canal through Saltaire before the industrial and residential buildings of Bingley entirely change the feel and look of the walk.

The United Reform Church was built by Sir Titus for his workers, and is a most wonderful building. As a Grade I Listed Building, it has the same protection Hampton Court Palace and Salisbury Cathedral. Unlike many churches, it doesn’t impose itself on the landscape, but sits pleasantly, enhancing its surroundings and, as I often have, is easily missed, especially if you are walking from the Bingley side or have eyes only for the ice-cream barge.

Ice-Cream Barge at Saltaire

The perfect place to stop and cool down.

Fishing Hole

Water run off at Hirst Lock.

What’s the right name for these water flows?

Canal locks are amazing! I could crib other sites here and explain it to you, but I wouldn’t do it justice. I’d really recommend clicking here for a great interactive game where you can build and operate a lock, or click here for a more grown up, but less fun, explanation.

Hirst Lock from lower Saltaire side

Filling up nicely

Dowley Gap Lock through the bridge

 I had a great chat with a cyclist after taking this photo. She was asking about digital cameras and how easy they were to use and, after I gave her a go, I think I turned her on to investing in a digital camera.

My most amazing thing on the walk is Dowley Gap aqueduct. I simply can’t get a photo that will do it justice, but I will and I’ll cheat and add it here once I do. OK, here’s what’s amazing: you are walking along a towpath next to the canal. You look over the wall and 30 feet below you is… the River Aire! You are on a bridge which carries a canal over a river! Is it just me that finds this mind-blowing?

Taking a dip at Dowley Gap

This is where the leaves are freshest

Out walking, it’s amazing what you see. Everyone who passed stopped to look at the cows and calf. 

Modern Art in Bingley

The imposing Damart Mill

The last two pictures show how much the landscape changes as you arrive in Bingley. You move from feeling like you are in the middle of nowhere, a rural idyll, to a modern, industrial setting where there’s little of the nature we saw earlier. This is a great example of why Bradford & District is described as valleys of green and grey.

So, here we are at Bingley. I hope you’ll click here to read about the second part of our journey..


About jatkinson1977

I'm in my 30s and married to Sharon, the beautiful woman who keeps me in check. We live in Shipley, just outside Bradford, with our black lab, Nipper. I'm an English teacher in secondary school and, after working as a Teaching & Learning Consultant with the local authority, have returned to the classroom to become a Lead Professional in English at a large comp in Bradford. I'm also trying to become a little more cultured, especially by seeing what culture's right here on my doorstep in Bradford and West Yorkshire (please see my blog, 'Am I Kulchad Yet?'). I've got a third and final blog which is filled with things that, essentially, don't fit into the other two but are interesting enough to share (please see my blog, 'Things That Occur To Me').
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6 Responses to Wandering Canalside – Leeds-Liverpool Canal Walk – Part 1

  1. Clive Nutton says:

    Really enjoyed reading this post. I often cycle the stretch you describe to get to mountainbiking trails round Shipley Glen, Baildon and Bingley. I’ll look out for part two.


  2. BrightAire says:

    The bald spot on the duck’s neck (for it IS a she) is where the drake or, indeed, drakes have grabbed her during the rough fornication that ducks are known to enjoy. 😉


  3. Really liked this article. I’ve done that stretch of the canal so many times now and still find it really beautiful. And thanks for this new explanation about why the Brits are called “Rosbifs” by us 🙂 I thought it was just because Brits can’t cook it properly and tend to boil it to death. Prefer your version though.


  4. Rich says:

    RE: Can anyone tell me why the mile markers are the wrong way round? The distance to Liverpool is facing Liverpool, so you have to be closer to Leeds to see it, and vice versa.

    It could be that when you say, set off from Liverpool (or vice versa) that you don’t get too depressed for the first few miles with the markers stating 127…126….125…etc. Better to add up the miles as an achievement, I think.

    Actually, it is because they show mileage from a fixed commencement point. They are not signposts pointing to a place, and were also used to calculate tolls.


    • Ha – nice idea. I went on a trip along the canal and the barge told me that it’s because the workings and steering is at the back of the boat, the mile markers were seen after they were passed, so need to be reversed.


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