Monday, November 05, 2007

Canal Walk Saltaire to Shipley

Today’s plan was to drive to Saltaire and park at Salts Mill. Then take the train from Saltaire to Keighley and walk the 6 or 7 miles back to the car via the famous Bingley Five Rise. As we drove out of Liverpool there was no avoiding the fog, by the time we were on the M62 all the traffic had their fog lights on. So much for the landscape photos from the top of the Five Rise I had planned. But by the time we had reached the M60 the fog had lifted and it was looking like a nice clear sunny day, perfect for canal walking.
With the exception of one junction there are plenty of brown signs to Salts Mill making it fairly easy to find from the motorway. We parked in the large free carpark at the back of the mill. The station is on the other side of the mill on Victoria Road. It was only after buying our tickets that we noticed that there were no trains this weekend due to engineering works. Not to worry though the posters said there were rail replacement buses so we had a quick walk around the very pretty church which stands in between the railway and the canal. From the churchyard the canal looks more like a park lake than an industrial highway. The leaves had turned orange and yellow and fallen into a deep carpet which the squirrels were busily looking through. At the edge of the canal is a Leeds & Liverpool Canal Company boundary stone, looking like a small gravestone. Back at the station there was no sign of the bus to take us to Keighley. We waited and waited until it was clear no bus was coming. It was too late in the day to wait an hour in the hope that a bus would show up. £2.40 wasted on tickets.
Time to decide what to do. We could walk from Saltaire to Keighley and hope there was some way back (a long walk back if there wasn’t). Or walk to Bingley and then walk back (but I would have to come back to do the Keighley bit some other time). Or walk the other way to Shipley, or give up on walking and just look around the mill and town. While we were deciding a group of people had gathered waiting for the Leeds train and no bus showed up for them.
We decided to have a quick look around the mill, use their toilets and then have a short walk up the towpath to Shipley and see if we could find the junction with the Bradford branch. Not quite what we had hoped for but at least I could look for some mileposts. It wasn’t long before I found the first post, a quarter mile post you can see from Saltaire Bridge 207A. This post is 113.75 miles from Pall Mall.
The towpath is busy at Saltaire and easily accessible from the bridge. The towpath is part of the national cycle network, routes 66 and 69. There were lots of cyclists, some more serious than others. There were also lots of people out walking and enjoying the warm autumn sun.
We went under Saltaire Bridge and walked along the towpath between Salts Mill and the New Mill. The two mills form a deep canyon. You can see the loading bays where barges from Liverpool delivered Alpaca wool. Past the mills there is a line of trees, their orange and brown leaves reflected in the canal. Milepost 114 was there missing its plaques but painted white. At the next bridge 207E there are some old houses which pre-date all the buildings around them. There are dates about the doors but only the last number, 8, is visible from the towpath.
There are a lot of new buildings here, all empty on a Sunday, one belongs to the Inland Revenue. Before Victoria Street Bridge 207B is a red brick warehouse which was clearly designed to use the canal. It has a covered loading bay at the front and a basin to the side the end of which is covered.
After the bridge is a set of canalside buildings which look like they are either recently refurbished or newly built. They have covered loading bays, there is a glass section which is a bar or restaurant. The whole building is very well designed. Leeds is 13 miles away and there is an Ibis hotel right next to the towpath at bridge 207B.
On the other side of bridge 207B there was a heron in the water. I couldn’t tell if it was swimming or walking but it soon got camera shy and flew off. Under bridge 207D the evocatively named Gallows Footbridge is a half mile post.
At Junction bridge 208 there is a mix of empty old ruinous buildings and new apartment buildings. The canal is in transition here and it is hard to tell what its character is right now. There isn’t much of the Bradford branch left now, just a turning point. There have been plans to restore the branch as part of the redevelopment of Bradford.
The next bridge is Dock Swing Bridge 209 and when we approached it was being opened to allow Walrus to pass through. The crew were joined by 3 scally kids who found it all very interesting. There was no sign of milepost 115 beside the railway bridge 209A despite it being shown on the 2005 OS map. At Oddies Swing Bridge number 210 we turned around. Just 12.25 miles from the end of the canal.
Thanks to Northern Rail our day out wasn’t what we had planned. I felt cheated out of a really nice walk. We missed out on seeing the five, three and two rise locks. And instead of a 6 mile walk we did a mile and a quarter. Not much reward for a 140miles round trip.
As for Saltaire, it is a UN World Heritage Site. It’s a model workers town built by Titus Salt for the workers in his huge textile mill. There are small terraced houses and some public buildings. The stone lions have character and charm. Although it was clearly a great achievement to build this town it doesn’t have the impressive scale of Port Sunlight. Salts Mill seems to be a literal waste of space. It houses a rather disappointing art collection, a very popular cafe and a book shop in a space that once housed hundreds of people and machines. There is a timeline display showing the development of the site but it really needs a museum. The mill is clearly popular with the sort of people who like the sort of thing on offer there but there wasn’t anything for me to go back for other than the free car park.

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