Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Canal Walk: Keighley to Saltaire

With the engineering work on the Airedale line completed it was time to return to Saltaire and do the walk we had hoped to do last year. The weather reports for today had changed from “sunny intervals” to “sunny” and back again for the last few days so we were hoping for good weather. As we left Liverpool the sky was blue and the sun shining, perfect for walking on the canal. Along the motorway it started raining but we were still optimistic, sure that it was just a passing cloud.
We parked at Salts Mill, Saltaire. There is plenty of free parking and at weekends you can park right outside the entrance to the mill, close to the station.
We just missed one train but it was only 20minutes till the next one so we popped into the Mill to have a quick look at the book shop (toilets available).
It is about 10minutes from Saltaire to Keighley on the train. Along the way you can see the canal running alongside. You get a good view of Dowley Gap aqueduct (and the sewage farm next to it) and the locks in Bingley.
Keighley station is very nice, a steam railway uses one platform and it has kept a lot of its old fashioned charm.
The canal is about a mile away from the station; it doesn’t go to Keighley itself but follows the contour of the valley side above the River Aire. There was once a plan to build a branch from the main line to Keighley but it was too expensive. After a quick, hot, and not so gourmet sausage roll from the CO-OP near bridge #197 we got onto the towpath at Stockbridge.
Throughout the walk there were plenty of people out walking and cycling. Some people look like they are in a race others look like they are in no hurry at all. We were somewhere in between.
The first couple of miles are about as straight as the canal can be (outside of Burnley). On the left are green fields on the right housing. Just after Morton Swing bridge #198A is a rather nice house right on the edge of the canal. How nice it would be nice to sit in your living room just inches from the water. They are lucky that canals don’t flood like rivers do. Mileposts 109 and 110 were there but other than them there were few others.
After a nice but not overly interesting stretch we arrived at the famous Bingley Five Rise Locks. Just before the locks is an old stable building now a cafĂ©. We went in as it says it is a store but they didn’t even have any postcard of the locks outside.
Bingley Five Rise is one of Aikmans Seven Wonders of the canal world, lifting the canal 60ft. The idea is that the top gates of one chamber are the bottom gates of the next. Interestingly they are earlier than flights of single locks elsewhere on the system. At Greenberfield the rise lock was replaced by individual locks in an effort to save water. The locks are very interesting, although like most Wonders a little smaller than I had expected. There are a couple of features worth noting. The ground paddle gear is housed in boxes with the handle on top. The gate paddles on some gates are rather interesting. They are scissor cloughs, which are wound with a handle and use a horizontal rack to open the clough or paddle. This is the first time I have seen a scissor clough though they are said to be on the locks at Blackburn and Stanley Dock. Also note the overflow channel from the lock chamber to the by-pass channel.
After the Five Rise there are some new apartment buildings built to look like converted warehouses or mills. Then come the little brother of the Five Rise the Bingley Three Rise. There are brand new gates on the Three Rise, they haven’t been painted and have no winding gear attached yet. The by-pass channel of the three rise goes underneath the lock side buildings.

Next to the three rise is the Damart factory. It’s a large stylish building, a complete contrast to the modern sheds built today. The canal towpath was moved here to accommodate the road next to it. I was pleased to see that the half mile post had been relocated and is now bolted to the wall.

The towpath is good for the whole of this walk and is a cycle route so watch out for cyclists without bells. The canal is clean here but there was a fridge floating in the cut, is it the same one I saw in Blackburn last year..?

Near Maud bridge #204 the canal is overlooked by tower blocks, they must have great views but don’t do much for the scenery themselves. Before the next bridge there is a bus stop on the towpath, but this is for a water bus so don’t worry about being run over by the number 78. After Scourer bridge #205, is Dowley Gap 2 Rise Locks and Changeline Bridge #205. This is a very nicely kept stretch and has the plaques to prove it; it is award winning. After the locks is the Dowley Gap Aqueduct which carries the canal over the River Aire. You can turn off the towpath here and get a view of the arched aqueduct. There is a path here which seemed to be popular with walkers and cyclists, it follows the river but I don’t know how far or where it goes. Back on the towpath we were bothered by midges, there is no sign of a date on the stonework but I am sure there must be one somewhere.

At Hurst Lock (a single lock) we saw the first moving boat of the day. It was heading towards Bingley and had plenty of photos taken of it. Soon Saltaire was in sight, the mill chimneys and the church tower rising over the trees. The church in Saltaire is very well designed; I think it’s my favourite building in the town.

Back in Saltaire the walk was over. We went for a sandwich at the tea room on Victoria Road and gave our feet a rest. It would be good to have a guide book to the buildings of Saltaire but I have yet to find one.

This is obviously a popular stretch of canal for walkers and cyclists. It includes the Bingley Five and Three Rises and the Dowley Gap locks and aqueduct. I would imagine that the tree-lined bits are very nice when they are in full leaf. For me it lacks some industrial archaeological curiosities, something to figure out and wonder about. For quite a while the canal is close to the A650 and you can hear the traffic. I would recommend the shorter walk from Bingley to Saltaire.

Now I have walked the first 115 miles from Liverpool Pall Mall to Oddies Swing bridge; that leaves just 12.25 miles to go. Whether we will do it as one walk or two remains to be decided but the plan is to stay in Leeds.

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