When it comes to canals, Bingley is blessed! The Leeds-Liverpool Canal cuts right through its heart and brought in coal to power its industry, allowed its mills to send goods to the four corners of the globe, and brought in lime to fertilise its agricultural lands. Bingley, a market town since King John granted the town a charter in 1212, and which grew and grew in the Industrial Revolution and after because of the wool and canal, has been around since, at least, Saxon times. Today, many of its inhabitants commute the relatively short distances to Bradford and Leeds, with unemployment low and living standards high, despite the demise of Bradford & Bingley bank which led to the loss of hundreds of jobs.
The walk along the canal through Bingley was the place where I felt furthest from nature, with the town having expanded right up to the banks and, due to the low level of the canal and the steep hills on which the town is built, as far as the eye can see. It’s also the noisiest part of the walk, with the sounds of the town and the rush of the bypass invading the solitude. However, this only serves to highlight the wonder of the diversity of the walk and, in a strange way, enhances the canalside wander: the noises serve to bring the canal back to life and return it to its former purpose – it was an artery of the Industrial Revolution, and the noise of motors remind us that it was a tool; it also shows us how far and how little we have come, with the canal and bypass showing that, essentially, we’re still doing the same thing we always have: trying to get stuff from A to B in the fastest possible time.
Bingley Three Rise Locks are a major feat of engineering. The staircase takes boats up and down a large and steep elevation, 30ft in total, and is Grade II listed, such is its importance in keeping alive the memory of years gone by. It is beautiful, functional and hugely impressive, and it’s a great shame it is, was and always will be the bridesmaid to the splendour of its big sister a little further on.
Since large parts of the canal had to be closed to traffic during the dry 2010 summer, lock users have been advised to use the locks in pairs to help conserve water: vast amounts of water are used each time the lock is used and, by pairing up, it is hoped that the canal will not have to be shut again.
Just a short distance up the towpath is the jewel in Bingley’s watery crown: the Five Rise Locks. So impressive are the Three Rise Locks that, many times, I’d joined the canal directly beneath the Three Rise Locks and assumed that this must be the famed Five Rise. This was the first time I’d ever seen Five Rise Locks and WOW! As spectacular as the Three Rise Locks are, they do not take your breath away like the vast and stunning biggun.
Compared to the bottom of the Three Rise Locks, the landscape and view changes entirely, such is the elevation of the two staircases. You are transported from the bottom of a valley and hemmed in by man and his fascination with changing what’s there, to atop a hill with the valleys falling away.
The Five Rise Locks are double the elevation of the Three Rise, taking boats up and down 60ft. They were both opened together in 1774 but all the attention was focussed on this monster – ’twas ever thus.
The Five Rise Locks are record breakers. They’re the steepest in the country, with a gradient of 1:5, the gates are the tallest, and, because of the complex nature of navigating all those gates, it is one of the few sets with a full time lock-keeper, the wonderful Barry Whitelock who has become synonymous with the Bingley and was awarded an MBE in 2006 for Services to Inland Waterways in the North. And, with a Grade I listed status, it yet again trumps its little neighbour.
At the top of the locks, the scenery is transported to that of something nearing a couple of centuries ago, with open fields and quaint houses lining the canal: you move from the modern, industrial north to picture postcard Yorkshire – fabulous.
Once you’ve passed Bingley, the canal; comes alive, with far more barges and boats moored along its banks. Between Shipley and Bingley, we’d seen no more than 10; up here, the were several rows, each containing more than a dozen.
I really loved the variety and imagination shown in the names of the boats – here are my favourite two: Phoenix and Thor’s Hammer.
Walking along, this stretch of the canal is all about those who use it regularly. Below is Hainsworth’s Boat Yard which had dozens of barges and boats moored alongside.
The canalside becomes more residential at Silsden, but those living here do so because of the canal and live with it.
It was here, finally, that we felt we’d had enough and took the short walk down the hill to Steeton & Silsden train station to get a ride home.
This really was a fantastic walk and thoroughly enjoyable. On this, relatively, short stretch, the canal changes with its surroundings. We are reminded of why it was built in the first place, with industry rising up against, or even making, its banks; we can see people who live and work on the canal; we are shown the canal’s majesty, from its unswerving march to its ability to raise you from a valley’s depths to a hilltop. At times, it is easy to forget what a difficult task its building was, such is its ability to take on and mirror its surroundings, but you can’t do that for long as it always reminds you of its majesty.
The walk itself is easy, with the towpaths providing an even and easily navigable surface, with climbs only coming with the locks. Even when you pass Keighley and the path becomes less manicured and coiffured, it’s not hard – it’s just a shame that, past Bingley, very few people choose to enjoy it. I hope that this blog has encouraged you to try it.
Next? Well, we have to make it to Skipton, don’t we? Next time Jess and I are at a loss, we’ll take the train to Steeton & Silsden, wander up to the canal and carry on from where we left off. I can’t wait! I hope you’ll come back to read it once it’s up.
If you’ve enjoyed this photoblog or have anything to say about our journey or how I’ve recorded it, please leave a comment. If you haven’t already read Part 1, you can get it here.