The Leisure Canal Today
Since the mid-1960s the sustainability of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, as it has done for all canals on the British waterway system, has depended increasingly on its leisure uses.
The Canal is now one of the north's major attractions, with opportunities for boating, canoeing, walking, cycling, fishing or just a quiet stroll. Of these activities, boating remains the most important leisure use, whether this is by hire, by self-ownership, or by ‘live aboard’.
On the canal side this has led to a growth in moorings and marinas and bases for hire companies. On the water there is a noticeable growth in canoeing and kayaking as leisure activities and even more recently the emergence of paddle boarding.
These have been encouraged by the Canal & River Trust through the inauguration of the Coast to Coast Trail which runs the length of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and then on from Leeds to Goole.
On the towpath, fishing remains a popular activity; and the gentle nature of the level of the path make it particular attractive to walkers and cyclists.
More diversity of use does bring with it more potential for conflict between users.
There are an estimated 1,200 boats on the canal; on average that is less than ten per mile - well under the national average. This is difficult to understand as the canal passes through some of the most interesting, varied and beautiful scenery in the country as well as a real cross section of towns & villages that reflect the history of the canal. This is not forgetting the Bingley Five Rise locks at the east side of the Pennines and Wigan’s 21 locks at the west side, with many other flights of locks and the many swing bridges.
It is not necessary to own a boat to enjoy the delights of travelling along the canal. There are many hire boating bases that provide a mix of boat sizes which provide various lengths of hire from a half/single day up to a week and more.
Alternatively you can take skippered trip boats, including short trips in Saltaire & Skipton as well as longer Public trips operating from Skipton, Foulridge and Riley Green.
There is also a hotel boat, providing full board for up to six passengers, which regularly traverses the canal's delightful summit levels.
For the Boat owner there are many Boat Clubs, Marinas, narrow and wide Dry Docks and the regular water points and services along its length.
For further information it is worth exploring the Canal and River Trust's Website
The Inland Waterways Association Lancashire & Cumbria Branch has commissioned a plaque for boaters who cruise the Liverpool Canal Link. It also has Transpennine Plaques available for boats that travel between the Eldonian Village in Liverpool and the Office Lock in Leeds during a calendar year. More information here
An increasingly popular way of enjoying the Canal is by canoe, kayak or paddle board. The Canal & River Trust has recently created the first coast to coast canoe trail in England running the length of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and onwards to Goole in the Humber Estuary, a total of 162 miles. This is known as the Desmond Family Canoe Trail. Leaflets and maps can be found here
To take a canoe, kayak or paddle board onto the Canal does require a license. Details of how to obtain one can be found here
But the simplest way to take out a license is to join British Canoeing, membership of which includes a Waterways License and can be found here
The growth of canoeing on the Canal has not been welcomed by a few boaters, many of whom see canoes and kayaks as presenting an additional hazard.
This feeling intensified when the Coast to Coast trail was opened as it includes passage through the Foulridge and Gannow Tunnels.
It is very important that canoeists are familiar with and adhere to the traffic light system that operates through the Foulridge Tunnel, along with carrying sufficient head-torching. An air horn can add considerably to the safety of tunnel passage.
In summer 2019, Jo Moseley accomplished a ‘first’ when she paddle boarded the full length of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. Jo wrote a comprehensive account of her journey for Clogs & Gansey (issue no 45).
The crossing was undertaken to raise funds for the Wave Project, (a charity that helps young people feel less anxious and more positive through proven surf therapy programmes) and the 2MinuteBeachClean (an organisation which encourages people to take just two minutes a day to pick up litter and look after our waterways and ultimately, the oceans).
In October 2016, the Leeds & Liverpool Canal Society’s Treasurer/Membership Secretary David Morley walked 200 miles from Hull to Liverpool. In the process David collected £1,470 in charitable donations for the Society. David’s walk, which lasted two weeks, was timed to coincide with the bicentenary celebrations taking place; for the major part of the walk, from Leeds to Liverpool, David walked in tandem with the flotilla of boats being headed by the Society’s floating museum Kennet. Clogs & Gansey talked with David about his own experience and the lessons to be gained for others wanting to walk all or a section of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.
The first thing that David stressed was that you do not, of course, have to undertake the sort of marathon that he did. The Canal provides the full range of walking opportunities – from the gentle stroll to the head-on head-down charge. Indeed, should you be planning to do the latter the former provides the ideal way of building up the necessary strength and stamina. As David also stressed, preparation for a longer walk is essential; even if you are perfectly fit at the beginning you may begin to feel drained after two to three days walking successively. David undertook a series of shorter walks on the canal as part of his own preparation.
Although, in walking terms, the Canal provides comparatively easy going, it does offer a range of walking environments. One of the beauties of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal is the rapidity with which it changes from the pleasures of an urban industrial archaeology to the delights of a natural rural environment. And the conditions underfoot can change equally rapidly. Although much of the towpath is well paved, there are long sections where it can get extremely muddy in poorer weather. Hiking boots, as such, may not be needed; but a good pair of walking shoes is essential.
For the longer distance walker, it is obviously important to have your accommodation sorted well in advance. For long sections of the canal (say, Leeds to Gargrave) this is relatively straight forward as there are ample B&Bs and Hotels; but along other stretches (say, Barnoldswick to Blackburn) accommodation in proximity to the Canal is sparser. But knowledge of public transport can help to extend the range of options; and can be vital for the more casual walker planning to return to their starting point at the end of a day out. Buses are generally more plentiful around the urban locations; and the train runs parallel with the canal for long sections (Leeds to Skipton and less frequently on to Gargrave; Nelson to Blackburn; Chorley to Burscough; and Burscough to Liverpool). If looking to do a day’s walk it is worth checking out the website of local ‘Walkers are Welcome’ groups, or their equivalent, and earlier editions of Mike Clarke’s classic The Leeds & Liverpool Canal – A History and Guide contain a collection of ten circular walks.
Availability of refreshments along the way will depend most critically on the time of year. The Canal is well populated with pubs and snack bars though it is always advisable to check in advance whether they are serving on the day and at the time that you expect to pass. In any event, it always makes sense to carry some light refreshments with you – even short bursts of hunger can ruin an otherwise enjoyable day.
Ordnance Survey maps are of course available for the whole length of the Canal (and may be necessary if needing to find accommodation, transport points or refreshment opportunities ‘off the Canal’) but a canal guide (Pearson’s or Nicholson’s) will be more informative in providing background on points of interest. If passing over the Foulridge or Gannow tunnels (when you will need to leave the Canal) a decent map can also come in handy.
It would not have been long before fish found their way into the newly constructed canal. This would have happened in a combination of ways. Some of the streams would have fed the Canal; and it’s possible that the route went directly through the line of small ponds.
The hand of man would have come into the equation too. In Victorian times, freshwater fish of suitable size were an important component of the diet of the working classes. It was not until the coming of the railways that tastier sea fish replaced coarse fish in the everyday diet.
Angling as we know it got going in earnest in the late Victorian era with many clubs and associations being formed from the 1870s through to the First World War and entering into agreements with the canal company.
One or two of the wealthier clubs even purchased the fishing rights during this period. Compared to the polluted rivers of that era, the fishing in the Leeds & Liverpool Canal would have been a fishing hotspot visited by tens of thousands of anglers each season.
The Leeds & Liverpool famously hosted the First Division National championships in 1985 with 1,000 anglers lining the banks. The story of that match is here
Anyone who wants to fish anywhere in freshwater requires two things, an Environment Agency license and a fishing permit. The rod licence is akin to a gun licence, you require one by law but it doesn’t give you the owner’s permission to use the facility. So to fish on the canal you also need the permission of the controlling club; or where there are no angling clubs a Canal & River Trust Waterway Wanderers permit is required. Relevant club details can be found here
You can find most of the common freshwater fish species in the canal.
People who regularly cycle in France will recognise the splendour of an environment where cyclists don’t have to face the constant threat from wayward driving and where cyclists are protected and respected.
In Britain such environments are sadly few. However, the canals provide a network of opportunities and amongst these there are few that can compete with the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.
As we would for all canal users, we would ask you to cycle in accord with CRT’s Towpath Code: Share the Space, Drop your Pace, It’s a special place.
Before setting out it is advisable to check on the quality of the towpath along the section that you wish to cycle. This is good at both ends but can deteriorate in places in between.
The Sustrans route out of Leeds has recently been extended to provide a good cycling surface all of the way to Silsden, with the towpath being resurfaced all the way through Skipton to Gargrave.
At the other end there is a cycleway from Liverpool to Maghull. However, between these extremities the surface is decidedly variable with some sections being seriously rutted or criss-crossed by tree roots.
If tackling these an all-terrain or cyclo-cross style bike is best as narrow tyres can get trapped in the ruts. And please note that there is no towpath through either the Foulridge or the Gannow Tunnels; so, you will need to plot a route over the top.
It is difficult to offer advice on timing as we all have our own preferences. We do know of people that have done it in a day; however, the towpath is not a rapid transport system.
To enjoy the pleasures of the environment fully three to four days would seem to be the minimum and, if you can spare the time, a full week will allow you to explore the plethora of interesting locations along the Canal.
Obviously, choices about accommodation will be dependent upon the choice of speed.
And while we are on the subject of speed we would urge you to remember that the towpath is a shared space and that cyclists have absolutely no right to complain about the lack of respect that they receive from motorists if they themselves exhibit the same behaviours towards other towpath and canal users.
If you don’t have a bell on your bike it is not appropriately equipped for use on the towpath.
And once you’ve fitted the bell do please use it, but be aware of runners and some walkers who have their ear phones turned too loud to enable them hear a bicycle bell and, of course, be alert to people with hearing difficulties.
One of the great pleasures that the Leeds & Liverpool Canal offers is the diversity of environment, meaning that it can switch from a rural to an urban setting at short notice.
At any point you should anticipate encpountering other canal users, but particularly in the vicinity of residential areas; please be prepared to adjust your speed accordingly.
Take particular care approaching the Canal’s traditional bridges, which have low headroom and limited visibility beyond, and when on stretches with moored boats or anglers. Adjust your speed and be prepared to dismount if necessary.
Please Note - Cyclists are the biggest source of complaint that we receive as a Society and the Canal & River Trust has launched the following campaign