Wonderful Woods and Wildlife

Our journey westwards continued through some of the loveliest countryside, with the canal following the contours of the land. Land which rolled into hills, farms and valleys with woodland and views in abundance.

Milking time on the farm

And on the whole, we were lucky enough to be traversing this section in good weather. We took advantage of some shady towpath mooring.

Low wood woods

We found ourselves next to Low Wood Nature Reserve, which although next to a beautifully manicured golf course to the south,

Keighley golf course

took us ruggedly upwards through scrambling rocks just begging to be climbed.

Exploring Low Wood Nature reserve

Forget the golf course, this was our sort of playground.

Who’s the king of the castle

And we found plenty of nature around the reserve.

The common shrew, parasol mushrooms
Pygmy goat, Speckled Wood Butterfly

Of course being surrounded by ancient oaks, is an ideal place to build a business if you love wood.  Eric was beyond excited when he realised one of the companies he buys furniture grade wood from was within walking distance of our mooring.

The British Hardwoods candy store

And while he oohed and arred throughout the vast selection, okay admittedly I was also very impressed, he was very restrained and only bought a small piece to do some tweaks to Firecrest.

One very happy customer

When we downsized to move onto Firecrest, it was Eric’s woodworkshop that was the hardest to leave behind. Fortunately for me, wool is much more squashable and I was able to sneak a lot more into the hidden corners of Firecrest. So when the weather is as good as it was this week I was able to indulge my hobby and sit on the bank spinning.

100g freshly spun Jacob wool

While we were relaxing and enjoying the world go by we realised every now and then a sweaty runner with a number shuffled past. I just had to ask about their race as they were so spaced out. It turns out they were competing a mega marathon, one of three CanalSlams, which entailed running from Liverpool along the towpath, all the way to Leeds. Oh my goodness  that’s 117 miles. Not only is the distance mega, they were doing it non stop. After I’d picked myself up off the floor, I had a look at the website.  59 runners started the race, 36 completed it. There were checkpoints every 10-15 miles and they were allowed buddy runners for encouragement, although the buddies were not permitted to run ahead In case that made them pacers. They were allowed to sit in a support vehicle for up to 40 minutes break provided it didn’t move. They left Liverpool at 6am and the winner arrived 22 hours later. The last – I  refuse to say looser- took 39 hours. According to AC canal planner it takes 66 hours for a narrowboat to do the same journey, I guess the runners didn’t have any locks or swing bridges to negotiate. I could have taken photos but I decided I would stand up and cheer as each one went past, I even topped up a couple of water bottles for them. I forgot to ask how they were getting back to the car park in Liverpool.

Nice place for a run

While we were in this area, we were lucky to meet fellow Braidbar Boaters on Mr Blue Sky. We took it as a great complement that they had designed their boat with a similar style bow as ours and had followed the continuing innovations in using an electric motor.

Moored by the Moor Baht’at

The mooring at the top of Bingley five rise is tricky.  It’s either too shallow or there is a concrete shelf running just under the waterline. It’s frustrating because you don’t know you can’t get in until you try and fail, but this time it worked in our favour because we were forced to cruise on another 10 minutes to Micklethwaite. Close enough to walk back into Bingley and with a number of good country walks.

Micklethwaite mooring

My trusty OS map showed me that we were right on the edge of Ilkey Moor, so off we went, humming that famous Yorkshire anthem to ourselves

Running up that hill

The heather was stunning, and we could see for miles. That’s Keighley (pronounced keithly) on the hill on the far right. The canal meanders along the valley contours below Keighley towards Skipton.

Looking towards Keighley

And when we got to the top we realised just how vast and bleak the moor was. Can you imagine what it would be like in winter. Or how easy it would be to get lost. It was less than 4 miles to Ilkey but we decided we weren’t dressed for a proper hike.

On Ilkla moor

It was blowing a gale up here, so yes even if we’d brought our hats we wouldn’t still be wearing them.


It was a bracing and invigorating walk. And as we descended back to the canal we found a nice pub for Sunday Lunch . And enjoyed looking back up the hill, which was a lot higher than the photo suggests.

Looking up towards Ilkey Moor

The next day Eric needed to catch up on a few things so I took myself off to visit Riddlesden Hall, a NT property on outskirts of Keighley

Riddlesden Hall

A small but interesting manorial farm house, one of its outstanding features is the 400 year old Great Barn.

The Great barn at Riddlesden
The Great Barn at Riddlesden hall

It’s collosal and virtually unchanged since it was built. It was used as a threshing barn and also house 42 animals in stalls around the edge.
Inside the house is a collection of ornate needlework and some spinning equipment.

Lots to interest me.

Micklethwaite was another lovely base to spend a few days exploring away from the canal. If we had moored at the top of the five rise, we would only have stayed one night and missed all of this.

And for those of you that don’t know the full Ballard of Ilkley moor here are the words and a translation

Locking up the Bingley 5 rise

And the climb continues. Leaving Saltaire we headed off westwards to the Bingley staircases. Eric does most of the helming when we cruise, but as we’d got at least 11 locks and several swing bridges to do in today’s journey, I took us through Hirst and Downy

Hirst lock

We’re really enjoying the scenery contrasts, one moment it’s rural bridges

The next it’s those industrial landscapes and mills as we passed through Bingley. Wonder what’s made in that factory.

Keeping Bingley warm

There are experienced lock keepers assisting passage up and down the Bingley boat wash, I mean the Bingley 5.

Bingley 5 rise leaky bottom lock
Bottom lock Bingley five rise

And plenty of gongoozelers to watch and help, so it’s quite good fun, and really lovely.

Quite an audience

Bingley 5 rise is considered one of the 7 wonders of the inland waterways. It’s a stunning feat of engineering, at 60 foot its the steepest and deepest of all the staircases. It was completed in 1774 and is now classed as a grade 1 listed monument.

 Lock keepers know how to draw the water down each lock so boaters don’t end up flooded or stranded. It’s easy to get muddled as each lock opens directly into the next. I’m not sure if that’s a look of satisfaction or relief as we reached the top.

I love a happy lockie

While I just stood and admired the view, before we  popped into the top lock cafe for bite to eat.

Can’t believe we’ve only done 16 miles from Leeds. We thing they should add the number of locks and swing bridges as well as miles.

Mile stone

And 111 miles and 68 locks to go


Our next stop, shortly after Shipley, was Saltaire.   We’d heard about this “model village” that was now a world heritage site, but we weren’t prepared to be as awestruck as this. The canal cuts right through the middle of the site and were were graciously permitted the grand total of 6 hour mooring along side the famous mill.

Saltaire Mill
Saltaire canal passage

Frustratingly there’s loads of mooring with rings immediately before this little section but there’s a concrete shelf just below the water level which means you can’t get close enough to step off safely. But gripe over, we took our 6 hours then found an idyllic spot about 1/4 mile beyond which meant we could stay up to 14 days and really absorb the atmosphere of the place.

Mooring below Hirst lock

Saltaire grew out of the vision of Titus Salt, entrepreneur and philanthropist. A very sucessful local business man, manufacturing cloth in Bradford, he naturally wanted to expand his empire. Being an upright Christian man with a strong social conscience, he was concerned by the squalid living conditions of his workforce.  Seeing the ecconomic potential of both canal and railway, he set about building a new mill along the banks of the River Aire. And so in the 1850s “Saltaire” was born.

Looking over the allotments on Victoria street

A purpose built town,”model village” where the whole production of cloth, from fleece to fabric, was done under one, albeit very large one, roof.  And the 4000 employees rented well built houses with amenities for their health and wellbeing. I suspect it was still a very hard life. There were strict rules about moral conduct, but Sir Titus recognised the financial benefit of caring for his community, and it was undoubtedly a better life than living in the slums.

backsteets of Saltaire
One of the back streets

The town was meticulously planned, generally speaking the higher up the ladder you climbed, the more space you got. There were libraries, schools parkland and playing fields, even a hospital and alms houses for those unable to continue working. Strangely though, the bath houses were never accepted, so they were converted into more living accomodation.

Victoria Street

Sir Titus demanded the very best and in true victorian style the buildings were ornately decorated. He managed to obtain the 4 lions that were originally intended to stand at the base of Nelsons column in London (The Trafalgar Square commission had been given to another sculptor after Milnes had made the Saltaire lions, hence the reason they were looking for a home.)

The Saltaire Lions

But perhaps one of the most impressive buildings is the congregational church, which is still an active place of worship. And very beautiful inside.

Saltaire church
The congregational church

Nowadays Saltaire has expanded and is home to more tourists than residents. As the British cloth industry was taken over by cheaper forgein imports, the grand mill fell into decline and disrepair. In the 1980s Johnathon Silver bought the mill and created a thriving environment for artists, visitors and small businesses. The most famous collaboration was with the artist David Hockney, another local man, who’s works are showcased in the many galleries. Hockney’s work is contemporary and not to everyone’s taste, certain aspects of his work are quite simplistic at first glance. But I enjoyed the grandeur of seeing whole series of large pieces displayed together.

Hockney exhibition

It wasn’t all expensive gallery, there was some fascinsting historical information and artifacts on display, in fact with several eateries, something for everyone.

Some of the old machinery

Mum was able to come down by train to share some of my explorations. We discovered 2 craft shops just off the main street, Barley Crafts and the Craft house, insentive enough to return, especially as the ladies at Barley craft insisted I stopped and had a cup of tea with them.  I was able to talk to people who had worked in mill before it closed production and had real living memories of how it was their grandparents day.

The Craft house pigs and Barley Crafts

Then we pretended to be promonading Victorian ladies and went to meet Sir Titus in Roberts Park.

sir Titus Salt
Sir Titus Salt in roberts Park

And his alpacas, Sir Titus was instrumental in popularizing worsted cloth made with Alpaca.

Saltaire alpacas

And finished the day with a traditional “Yorkshire Rascal”, now where did Eric go…

Enjoying a Yorkshire Rascal

The town is now a recognised World Heritage site, recognising the concept and the architecture. We spent several days just wandering around and left knowing there was still more that we hadnt seen.

Looking eastwards between the mills

We might get to see more of Saltaire next year because a film crew was making a feature for Netflix charting the rise of the Football association.

Not sure which century we’re in

Sunnybank to Apperley Bridge

More lovely place names, although I suspect there was a bit of reverse phsycology going on. I doubt that life working in a spinning mill was a  particularly sunny experience. We moored at Rodley for a few days.


And I made my first discovery of the old Yorkshire cloth industry. There are old mills all along the banks of the canals and rivers. Sadly the spinning and weaving industrial revolution in this country has been overtaken by the cheaper manufacturing processes in other countries but the legacy of the old buildings remain. Some have been demolished, others gentrified into desirable accommodation and some  have survived to take advantage of the vast space inside.
Sunnybank Mill is one such place, about 20 minutes walk from Rodley into Farsley, it’s full of creative people and artisan eateries. But the area that grabbed my attention was the scrap store.

Sunnybank Scrap store

 It is a social enterprise scheme where local businesses donate their waste, to prevent it going into landfill. The team then sell it at very low prices. It’s like a glorified jumble sale and this huge cavern stretches for as far as the eye could see. And I was left to wander and wonder at such potential. But living on a narrowboat requires strict self control, no superfluous clutter…..so much to Eric’s relief I didn’t bring it all back to firecrest.
As a reward for good behaviour I was treated to a cream tea at the Tiny Tea room on the canal bank.

A Tiny Tearoom cream tea

It really is tiny. No inside seating, and just a sink and work surface in the tiny stone building.

The tiny tearoom

But the weather was good so we made the most of it, and enjoyed a bit of gongoozling ourselves as we watched to narrowboats cruise past. It really is very pretty around here, hard to believe were only 10 miles or so from Leeds.

Our cruising was to take us through Apperley Bridge, which is the home of Bear Boating. And this is where Eric and I did our helmsmans course before we moved onto Firecrest. 

Bear Boating base at Apperly Bridge

They taught us how to do locks and swing bridges, which is probably a good job because there are a lot of both on this canal.

If only all were automated like this one, life would be so much easier.

127 miles and another 96 locks

You’d think we’d been in Leeds for weeks but it was only 5 days. We’d seen such a lot, but one of our personal highlights was visiting the house in which Eric was born over half a century ago. Eric’s father was a Methodist minister and we were able to worship at his church. Although the family moved when Eric was just a nipper there were still  people who remembered his Dad.

Much to our amusement, I was born in Liverpool so this really is a journey going back to our roots.
Sadly not all boaters have such a positive experience of Leeds and the advice is to travel earlier in the day because the local troublemakers don’t get out of bed before midday.

We heeded this advice and had an enjoyable passage although those first locks were a bit of a shock to my system because I’d been spoilt by the automatated river locks.

Thankfully we had a lock buddy for the kirkstall and Newlay rises and as they were staircase there was also a lock keeper in attendance to make sure we didn’t mess it up.

We treated ourselves to a night in the Aire Valley marina so we could fully charge the batteries on shore power and our second night out in the country side.

Relishing the peace quiet and tranquillity after city life.

Granary Wharf, Leeds

We’d found ourselves facing the same conundrum, country bumpkins at heart, but fascinated by city life. Reluctant to move on but Leeds Dock only permits 48hour visitor mooring. But we’d been told Granary Wharf was a nice place, a mile upstream, next to the railway station. So off we set.

Under the fancy Victorian bridges

alongside the trendy warehouse apartments,

and past the yellow water taxi, a hidden gem of Leeds ferrying passengers between the station and Leeds dock for a pound.

 What we hadn’t fully comprehended  was that the section between Leeds dock and the wharf is still river and therefore liable to flooding. And with Leeds Dock being inbetween the last river lock and the first canal lock, we hadn’t seen the flood warning before we set off. The River Aire flows underneath the fancy gold domed railway station and as its mighty waters are channelled through this restricted passage there is always a strong flow.

There doesn’t need to be a huge amount of rain to create a hefty flow.

and much to our horror, as we tried to traverse onto the lock landing we  lost control of the boat, resistance was futile and the best course of action was to allow ourselves to be swept back downstream until we could regain control. There have been very few times I’ve been scared on Firecrest but this was definitely a mistake.
Luckily Eric has a lot of confidence in how Firecrest handles and once I’d walked the long way round and got the lock gates opened Eric was able to use maximum throttle.  Much to the entertainment of the watching crowd he ploughed straight through the torrent and into the lock. And he was able to stop before he hit the other side. He got a big round of applause, and a silent prayer of thanks from me.

And so this was it. After a fraught 20 minutes, we were finally on the L&L. Moored up in Granary Wharf, nestled under the arches of the railway.

And over towered by the Doubletree Hotel

And it won’t come as any surprise that I went to investigate whether or not I could go to the top. It’s actually a Skylounge open to the public. And the view is worth the cocktail. Looking south sees the area of Leeds currently being gentrified and the canal starting it’s journey West.

To the east the sky line is dominated by “The Dalek” building. River Lock, the first lock on the canal can be seen below, and the River Aire flowing East. I think the white building in the distance is the Armouries next to Leeds Dock

Looking north is Leeds city centre behind the covers of the train station.

And again to the north but looking down over the station and the bars and restaurants under the arches

And finally the view we wanted to see the most, looking down onto Firecrest.

The highs and lows of Leeds

I’m talking about the buildings. Leeds seems to be full of tall buildings, both old and new, regenerated and tumbling down. And some inbetween.

The River Aire and the Leeds and Liverpool canal obviously helped the city prosper back in the 18th century.  Warehouses dominated the waterfront,

and the merchants created a stunning city centre with ornate arcades and offices designed to show off their wealth.

Today’s society is also cashing in by regenerating the warehouses into very desirable housing and enhancing the centre with open spaces and trendy retail experiences.

But it was the old buildings that grabbed my attention the most. We particularly liked the Corn Exchange with its unusual oval domed glass roof, it’s now full of small independent retailers and the eateries. There’s a piano in the middle for anyone to play.

And the market hall is a worthy detour for any tourist, as some of the original pitches are still in use today and the decorative structure of the building is stunning.

Leeds market is where Mr Marks and Mr Spencer first started trading at their penny bazaar. And although this is not quite on the spot M&S maintain a historic presence in the market hall.

Leeds city library might be full of interesting books but again it was the building that I came to see.

It’s not a city that is standing still but despite the glamour we saw a lot of dark alleys that quite frankly we wouldn’t walk down in broad daylight let alone after 5pm. And it feels like, despite a lot of prosperity, the downtrodden and undesirables get pushed further and further down, out of sight and out of mind, Leeds is certainly a city that made me think and at least some are making a conscious effort to keep a welcome door ooen