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Spotlight on the Canals - Leeds & Liverpool Canal

Enjoy stunning upland scenery, the Yorkshire Dales, Pennine Way, industrial history, remote beauty, rugged hills, wooded valleys, mills and moors.

At 127 miles, the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, which celebrated its Bicentenary in 2016, is the longest single canal in the country. This mighty waterway crosses the Pennines and links the wide waterways of Yorkshire with those of Lancashire and the River Mersey.

From the vibrant centres of Leeds, Liverpool, Wigan and Burnley, to the awe-inspiring vast areas of open space of the moorlands at the canal’s summit and the peace of the wooded Aire Valley, the scenery of this canal varies dramatically.

The Leeds & Liverpool main line has 93 locks and two tunnels, there are two more locks on the seven-mile long Leigh Branch and eight on the seven-mile Rufford Branch. The waterway was recently extended by the construction of the Liverpool Link, taking boaters right into the heart of the city, passing in front of the Three Graces to moor in Salthouse Dock.

And it boasts two of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ – the famous Bingley Five Rise Locks near Bradford and the awesome Burnley Embankment, carrying the canal high above the town.

Best for beginners

On a short break (three or four nights) from our canal boat hire base at Silsden, near Keighley, narrowboat holiday-makers can head west towards Liverpool to the attractive village of Gargrave in North Yorkshire - a journey which takes seven hours, passing through just three locks.

Heading away from Silsden with its attractive canalside warehouses, the route overlooks Airedale’s steep green hills, wooded in places. A series of swing bridges characterise this section of the canal, each needing to be unlocked and lifted.

Within two miles, the canal passes through the village of Kildwick, with its 17th century coaching inn close to the canal, The White Lion.

Continuing on along the valley of the River Aire, with stunning views of the surrounding countryside, two miles later the village of Bradley has an excellent pub a quarter-of-a-mile from the canal - The Slaters Arms, serving homemade food and real ale.

A mile later, the route passes the Bay Horse pub at Snaygill before reaching the outskirts of Skipton. Here a little arm (the Springs Branch) branches off the canal to moorings outside Skipton Castle. Built in 1090 by the Norman Baron Robert de Romaille, today this motte and bailey castle is one of the most complete and best preserved medieval castles in England, which together with its woods is well worth a visit.

Skipton also offers visitors a range of places to eat, including The Yorkshire Rose pub, Royal Shepherd, French Bistro des Amis, Bean Loved coffee bar and Cock & Bottle pub.

Heading west out of Skipton, it’s a further three miles to Gargrave, travelling through the hills. There are three locks to pass through before reaching moorings and a winding hole in the centre of the village.

Gargrave is on the River Aire on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, where visitors can access 680 square miles of some of England’s finest walking country, exploring deep valleys, open moorland and rugged hills with very little habitation.

And in Gargrave itself, there are plenty of pubs, including The Mason’s Arms and canalside Cross Keys Inn, as well as shops and a post office.

Best for experienced boaters

On a two-week break, canal boat holiday-makers can continue on to Wigan and back, cruising for a total of 60 hours (there and back) and passing through 112 locks.

After Gargrave, it’s four miles and eight locks to East Marton, where the Abbot’s Harbour Restaurant, set in a 12th century building constructed by Cistercian monks, offers traditional home-cooked food.

Nicholson’s describes the ‘beautiful upland scenery’ along this stretch as ‘composed of countless individual hillocks, some topped by clumps of trees’, with distant mountains beyond. The Pennine Way shares the canal towpath for a short distance, and after just over a mile, the canal reaches the three locks at Greenberfield, on the outskirts of Barnoldswick.

As well as take-away options, fish & chips, various shops, and The Fountain Inn, there’s a marina at Barnoldswick, where the Pendle Way connects to the canal, and the remains of the Rain Hall Rock Branch, where limestone was once loaded directly from the rock face onto boats.

Next the canal continues reaches Salterforth, where the historic canalside Anchor Inn offers visitors the chance to see stalactites in the cellar as well as enjoy beer and pub food.

After Salterforth, the next stretch is particularly remote and beautiful running up to the 1,640 yard-long Foulridge Tunnel, the longest on the Leeds & Liverpool. To visit the attractive village of Foulridge with its New Inn pub, narrowboat holiday-makers should moor up before entering the Tunnel.

A mile after the Foulridge Tunnel, boaters encounter Barrowford Top Lock – a flight of seven - and begin their descent from the summit level, with views of old stone farms and distant mountains to enjoy.

Soon after, Barrowford offers shops, take-aways, fish & chips, restaurants and pubs, including The White Bear Inn, as well as the Pendle Heritage Centre. Here visitors will find an exhibition on the famous Pendle Witches, a tea room overlooking the beautifully restored 18th century walled garden, the Pendle Art Gallery, and access to the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Pendle Hill.

Now entering the outskirts of the large industrial town of Burnley, the canal remains largely urban for the next ten miles or so. The waterway was once the main artery for Burnley and its industries and the area around Bridge 130, known as the Weaver’s Triangle, is one of the best preserved 19th century industrial districts in the country.

The three-quarters of a mile long Burnley Embankment, considered to be one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’, carries the navigation 60 feet high across part of the town, offering boaters panoramic views.

There are plenty of pubs in Burnley, including The Inn on the Wharf in a weaver’s warehouse, several art centres and the Queen Street Mill Textile Museum, now Britain’s only working 19th century weaving mill.

After passing through Gannow Tunnel (559 yards long), the canal travels on through the Calder Valley and alongside the M65 motorway for a time. Hapton is the next village after Burnley, with its popular Hapton Inn serving real ale and food, then three swing bridges need to be moved as the canal travels through neat green fields bordered by drystone walls, before reaching Clayton-le-Moors (a suburb of Accrington) three miles later.

The canal now twists and turns on through Church, with the parish church of St James right on the banks of the canal, marking the central point of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.

Just over a mile later, after more dramatic bends, the canal passes over the M65 using a concrete aqueduct, before arriving at Rishton, a small town that grew up around the cotton mills in the 19th century. There’s a choice of eateries in Rishton, including Indian restaurants, fish & chips, take-aways, the Rishton Arms beside the railway station and the Walmsley Arms offering regular live entertainment.

Two miles on and the canal enters the outskirts of Blackburn, passing canopied wharves at Eanam, now converted for businesses and a pub.

There’s plenty to do in Blackburn, including a visit to the cathedral with its striking 13ft sculpture of ‘Christ the Worker’ by John Hayward. The Museum & Art Gallery has a series of period rooms demonstrating the development of the textile industry using full size working models. And there are some superb curry houses, including Thira Restaurant, reputedly the best in town.

It takes several hours to pass through Blackburn, but there are distant views of Darwen Hill and Witton Country Park to enjoy along the way. And everywhere there are mills, mainly redundant but a reminder of the town’s cotton history.

A flight of six locks (the Blackburn locks) carry the canal nearly 55ft up on the western edge of town to 400ft above sea level with excellent views. The suburb of Cherry Tree is next, with a good range of shops and take-aways.

As the canal leaves Blackburn, it crosses a high embankment and then curls round a steep and thickly wooded valley. A mile later, the canal passes through the village of Riley Green with its excellent Royal Oak pub providing award-winning cask ales and a large menu of British pub food.

Hoghton Tower is close by, a 16th century fortified hilltop mansion, noted for its dungeons, doll’s houses, picturesque gardens and magnificent banqueting hall.

Just over a mile and a half later, now in a secluded wooded valley, the canal passes through Withnell Fold, a small estate village built to house workers at the canalside paper mills which once functioned there. On the opposite side of the canal is a nature reserve which has developed in the old filter beds and now provides habitats for waterlilies, dragonflies, newts and frogs.

Just over a mile of beautiful scenery later, and boaters encounter the top of the Johnson’s Hill flight of seven locks, set amid undulating pastureland, with a down-to-earth pub, The Top Lock, offering great food and cask ales, and a boatyard with boaters’ facilities.

Soon after the canal travels under the M61 motorway and along the edge of Chorley, passing some large textile mills. The Prince of Wales pub is a short walk from Bridge 75A, the Lock & Quay offers hearty pub food and at the Top Lock there’s great food and cask ales. It’s also well worth visiting a bakery to try a Chorley cake, similar to the Eccles cake but sweeter and fruitier.

Close to three wooded miles further, the canal reaches Adlington with a good range of shops, pubs, including The (Bottom) Spinners Arms, and a popular café at the White Bear Marina. Rivington.

To book a holiday or break on any of Anglo Welsh’s fleet, call our friendly booking team on 0117 304 1122.