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Leeds Liverpool Canal - Leeds to Shipley (or Saltaire)

Distance:About 8 miles (12k)
Start:Leeds City Centre
Finish:Shipley or Saltaire - return to Leeds by train

This is one of my favourite cycle rides, which I've done many times cycling home from work on a warm Summer's evening. Bridgewater Place It's surprisingly beautiful, has much of interest along the way, and can easily be extended in small increments, to Saltaire, Bingley, Keighley, Crossflatts and Skipton. All these places have railway stations, and there are half-hourly trains Monday to Saturday and hourly ones on a Sunday. The trains are nice modern ones (generally) and they all take bikes.

The route starts in the middle of Leeds, right next to the railway station. The River Aire actually flows right under the station, and the canal runs parallel to it. The easiest way to get to the canal is to go down the side of the station (Neville Street), under the "Dark Arches", and turn right into the arch leading to the shops at Granary Wharf.  Unfortunately that's closed for redevelopment at the moment (2009) so you have to go on a little further. Go past the Hilton hotel,  turn right into Water Lane (illegally), then into the car park of the accountancy firm on the right and find the bridge over the canal. Finding the canal towpath is just about the hardest part of this ride, as the canal and river run side-by-side here, and the centre of Leeds can be very confusing. If you encounter an enormous shiny building that looks like a 1950's Kenwood mixer, that's Bridgewater Place and you're going in the wrong direction.

Italian Chimneys in Leeds Right at the start of the walk on the left, there are three interesting chimneys. These are from Tower Works on globe road, a pin factory that closed down in 1981. After that it became home to lots of small workshops, including a top underground shooting range which is long gone now. One tower  is by William Bakewell, based on Giotto's Campanile in Florence. The other is by Shaw and is styled after the Torre Del Communa, Verona. These were renovated in the mid 80's, when one Saturday morning, the workmen dropped a scaffolding pole which shot like a javelin through the roof of the shooting range below, smashing a table in the lounge where the owner' son and his mate were busy doing their school homework. Fortunately nobody (builders included) was killed. This Leeds obsession with classic architecture is a bit weird really; there's a fake eqyptian temple round the corner, and the old Woodhouse library was modelled on something Italian, but I can't remember what. 

Having found the canal towpath, there's already a sense of tranquility that you don't expect in the middle of a thriving city. Following the canal towpath away from Leeds you pass enormous blocks of awful overpriced apartments, and within minutes are in the Kirkstall Valley heading out of Leeds. The path is really good quality, and stays that way all the way to Shipley.

near Kirkstall The Kirkstall valley used to be one of the industrial hearts of Leeds, packed with engineering firms and manufacturing companies. Nowadays it's a whole lot quieter, and large parts of it are a nature reserve. The canal follows the valley side, so you get great views over the valley, and though it's industrial, a very pleasant view it is. At this point the river is running parallel to the canal, so there's good views over that too.

As you go down the valley, there's a bridge over the canal at Armley. This point is within spitting distance of the JW Roberts factory, thankfully long closed now, which polluted the whole surrounding area with asbestos dust for many years. The problem was so bad, that houses in Armley became virtually unsaleable in the early 90's because of the problem of decontaminating them. Nobody knows the death toll, but it's at least 30 with many cases in the past going unrecorded, and because of the nature of the disease, more cases yet to come. Much as I despise most members of the current parliament of whores, I have to say that John Battle MP has done great work on this problem.

Kirkstall Abbey On a more cheerful note, right next to the bridge is Armley Mills museum, a former textile factory now resurrected as an industrial museum. That's worth a visit if you have time, but try and get there when they've got the steam train and the mill engine working - it's far more interesting. My Mum was a pattern weaver in a mill very like this one in the 1950's, and she reckoned it was pretty authentic when she went for a look.

Carrying on by the canal, this is now really beautiful countryside, and if you want to visit Kirkstall Abbey, the next bridge is the one to leave at as there's no direct access fom the canal. Entry to the abbey ruins is free, but you have to pay to get into the Abbey House museum. And it's rather a good museum with an excellent cafe. But the real problem with the abbey is that an extremely busy main road (A65) runs right alongside it, and that destroys the sense of tranquility that it needs. The five million quid they've just spent on restoring the abbey would have been far better spent as the downpayment on a road tunnel. But that would involve thinking big, and we're talking about Leeds City Council here. 

Bramley Fall Continuing along the canal towpath, you can see the Abbey ruins in the distance beyond the Leeds Rhinos training pitches. You then come across another two sets of locks, one of which is Forge Locks. These are named after Kirkstall Forge, a massive industrial site visible on the right. The site had been continuously used for heavy industry since about 1200AD, and was famed for the making of heavy axles. Unfortunately, in these days of the "service economy" where we don't actually need to make anything to earn a living, it finally closed. A massive redevelopment scheme was approved in 2005, with a railway station, housing, and of course bars, cafes, fitness centres and the like to service the new residents. The footings were dug and foundations laid, but the whole project was then abandoned when the credit crunch arrived. Let's hope it doesn't turn into another Ravenscar!

near esholt After Kirkstall, the canal passes through beautiful countryside, passing several sets of nice locks at Kirkstall, Forge Locks and Newlay Locks. These are great places for picnics, and on the far side of the canal, Bramley fall woods come right down to the canal bank. If you fancy a stop, the woods are great to wander round. They're riddled with old quarries, and it's quite a wild area.

From Bramley Fall, you can see Horsforth far above on the right, and then the canal passes near the villages of Rodley, Calverley and Apperley Bridge. There's a couple of watering holes in this section if you need a break, and there's some new-build developments. The new developments are a mixed bag, some good, some bad and some indifferent, but overall there's been little development near the canal, so even with the new developments, the canal is still going through lovely countryside.

Approaching Shipley At this point it gets a bit pongy when you have to pass the back of Esholt sewage works, but it's still fine open countryside. Thereafter the canal continues to the outskirts of Shipley, which is a great favourite of mine. The canal barely touches the town, so the temptation is to speed past, but it's worth a detour. It's a good honest little town, with a nice selection of cafes and chip shops, plus the worlds's ugliest clock tower. It's also a good place to catch a train back, because it's the junction of two lines, so trains to Leeds are twice as frequent as they are if you go further up the line.

From Shipley to Saltaire, the canal goes past an enormous new build factory in the style of an old mill. This was the home of Filtronic Comtek, one of the Great White Hopes of the Yorkshire electronics industry in the 1990's. I think they're gone now, as the last time I passed the building was to let. Presumably like most of the electronics manufacturing industry the jobs are now in Eastern Europe or the Far East.

Approaching Saltaire

The next mill along is Salt's Mill, and that's now the home of Pace micro, best known for set-top boxes. Again they've had a rough ride at times, but have managed to survive and are thriving. On the other side of the canal are New Mill and Victoria Mill, a mixture of private housing and NHS offices.

And that's it, the middle of Saltaire is reached. A great place to look around and then catch the train home. There's actually an awful lot to see here, but that's covered here.

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Comments (6)
Thanks for that great guide. Really easy read and practical bits useful.Keep up the good work !
posted by H Williams 28/06/2010 11:06:02
Thank you. This is really useful and encouraging. According to googlemaps the route is more like 11 miles though.
posted by yob 18/09/2010 14:12:10
thats a really good guide, ive just lately been from bradford town centre to shipley canal then headed to leeds and got to the station then headed back home again on the canal again, i would like to know how many miles i covered then which was a hard ride.
posted by garry smith 22/05/2011 10:14:37
hello, I live in shipley and work in leeds centre. I have taken the bike a few times now and when I try my best it still takes 1hr 20 mins so I think it more than 11miles. Good read. And Ghosh its a bit bumpy in parts
posted by Imran 20/07/2011 07:14:32
hello, I live in shipley and work in leeds centre. I have taken the bike a few times now and when I try my best it still takes 1hr 20 mins so I think it more than 11miles. Good read. And Ghosh its a bit bumpy in parts
posted by Imran 20/07/2011 07:15:15
Hi, Great ride, me and my son(age 7) did this ride was fantastic we stopped just after rodley at the railway pub for a pint and a coke there was a sign there saying 6.5 miles Leeds 6 miles shipley so we thought sod it lets ride to shipley. My son really enjoyed it. Has anyone got anymore good routes for me and my son?
posted by Tim 24/07/2011 20:41:08
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