Aire Valley Canal Walk
Taking the Towpath Way
This Aire Valley Canal Walk meanders through some of the finest scenery. Although the Aire Valley – or Airedale – cradles some of West Yorkshire’s more industrial areas, many stretches are to be found in the most delightful countryside.
The Leeds Liverpool Canal was the first to span the Pennines, forging a route along the Aire Valley, from the West Riding of Yorkshire through to the industrial heartland of Lancashire. With a total length of 127 miles it lays claim to the longest of England’s canals and makes for a challenging long distance canal walk.
There are, however, a number of gentle, much shorter walks – more suited to the, shall we say, less energetic among us. One such canal walk is this three mile stroll along the towpath from Saltaire through Bingley to the Five Rise Locks at Crossflatts.
At the bottom of Victoria Road in Saltaire, join the canal towpath where Salts Mill stands proudly on either side of the water. Strike out westwards, following the signpost for Hirst Wood and Bingley. You’ll have a fine view of Saltaire’s United Reform Church across the water to your left.
As you walk you’ll have lovely, long distance views to Hope Hill and Shipley Glen over to your right, through the trees that line the driveway to Saltaire Sports Club. Relax and take in the tranquil scene of grazing horses in the fields across the water. Watch out for Mallard Ducks and Mute Swans along this stretch before reaching the single locks at Hirst Mill. The garden centre here has a great selection of plants.
Spoilt for choice …
At Hirst Mill you’re spoilt for choice on how you continue your walk:
- Keep to the canal towpath. This is easiest because the way is level and well surfaced all the way.
- Cross the canal by either the swing road bridge or narrow footbridge over the lock chamber and enjoy the wooded walk through Hirst Wood.
- Take the footpath down to the right and cross the River Aire on the footbridge. Turn left, upriver, and cross the small brook at the other side of the field. The river footpath goes alongside the river past Hirst Weir and the buildings of the Rowing Club.
All three options converge at or near the Dowley Gap Aqueduct – where the canal leaps over the river. At times of spate the river thunders below in a raging torrent, through the arches of the aqueduct. The Aire Valley narrows here and over the millennia river water has carved a mighty “S” bend.
Beyond the aqueduct use the hump-backed bridge to cross over the canal and continue past the double locks of Dowley Gap. Follow the towpath around the water’s edge under a second hump-backed bridge and you’ll be faced with a decision!
Do you keep walking? Or are you tempted into the Fisherman’s pub?
Ready for refreshment?
At about the halfway point of this canal walk, refreshing ales and wholesome meals are on offer to the weary walker. Fine days are best spent in the beer garden but the cosy lounge welcomes you indoors should the weather be less than glorious.
Another very pleasant, wooded section follows until the valley bottom narrows again. Through Bingley the three ages of travel are squeezed together as canal, railway and modern trunk road run closely alongside each other. Through Bingley also, canal side mills have been tastefully converted to modern luxury apartments for convenient, urban living.
No need to look out for Damart’s mill chimney – it hits you in the face with bold white lettering on blackened stone. The towpath heads away from Bingley now as it climbs alongside a triple set of locks.
Journey’s end in sight!
A long, left hand sweep brings the Bingley Five Rise Locks into view. Think about the period in history when the canals were built. Pick and shovel! Bucket and wheelbarrow! Blood sweat and tears! You cannot fail to be impressed by the sheer wonder of this testament to the remarkable technology and tenacity of the eighteenth century workers. The courage, determination and sacrifice of the hardy men who toiled with bare hands to make this possible!
Ready for a Yorkshire Dales ice cream? Perhaps a tasty snack with a cup of Yorkshire Tea? Bingley born and bred, Marcus along with wife Ann and daughters Katie & Olivia are waiting to welcome you to The Five Rise Locks Cafe where they will be happy to serve you from a scrumptious, extensive menu. The cafe is open every day throughout the year and is a great place to rest awhile after such an enjoyable walk! To whet your appetite why not browse their menu? Five Rise Locks Cafe Menu
Crossflatts village straddles the canal hereabouts. You’ll find shops and The Royal pub if you walk a little further along the towpath and bear left down the road to the old A650 main road.
When it’s time to head back to Saltaire you have options – always nice to have!
- Buses stop just by The Royal – you’ll see the bus shelter at the road side.
- The railway station is just a couple of hundred metres towards Bingley along the main road.
- If you’re still fit there’s the possibility of walking back. Perhaps at Dowley Gap you might take one of the alternative ways – through Hirst Wood or along the riverbank.
This picturesque, gentle canal walk begins and ends with two of the most amazing examples of the new technologies that were developed during the first and second industrial revolutions. In between you’ll walk through some of the nicest scenery to be found. I hope you enjoy this canal walk as much as I do.