Canal boat holidays—Leeds & Liverpool Canal

Published: Wednesday, 19 January 2011

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IT HAS to be stated that the Eastern section of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal out of Leeds, another of the Pennine waterways is not recommended for a canal boat holiday, due to the recognised vandal activity.

However once the Pennines are reached it is an ideal holiday hire waterway. It has a very interesting section both through Leeds itself and particularly the multiple lock staircases climbing out of the city. If it is attempted, it is advised that it be done on weekdays, preferably when schools are in session.

'Sink' estates

When we attempted it we were told that there were three 'sink' estates in the vicinity, and we must clear the particular section by midday. The locks are usually secured after early morning to prevent passage.

This is a broad canal, and not particularly easy for the beginner with its fairly heavy lock gates and host of swing bridges that need unlocking, working then re-locking, though with a good strong crew this would create no difficulty.

Regular readers will have noticed the report on the badly leaking gates that add a further difficulty. Private boat owners should notice it is restricted to 60ft boats, though many have told us not to attempt it, with 58ft being the maximum advised.

It is one of the least used waterways in the country, and for this reason with a decent crew is an ideal get-away from it all, for you will be lucky in fact if you can find someone to share a lock with. During three eight hour pleasant September days cruising the Eastern section we met just three moving boats.

Spectacular scenery

However it must be stated that the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, notwithstanding its problems, is of great interest and passes through spectacular scenery as it winds its way up and then down the Pennine waterway, and really, for a good crew it is recommended as a holiday destination.

The former industry of the towns is also prominent by the waterway, with many impressive buildings, though some have been turned into either housing or commercial units.  Some retaining their original character, others being 'modernised'.


Added interest

The mechanically operated swing and lift bridges provide added interest, and there is Foulridge Tunnel and the many aqueducts showing that the waterway is far from boring.

The three staircase Forge and Newlay locks are at the end of the restricted area, and are most interesting to operate. The canal winds up the attractive Aire Valley with further staircases locks until it reaches the famous Bingley Five Rise, which really is a 'must' for any self respecting boater.

Then it's a 17 miles lock-free pound to Gargrave where the waterway climbs the Pennines in earnest, through the most spectacular scenery before it reaches its summit of Foulridge Tunnel.

Then it's down, down, down through the many conurbations of the towns of Coln, Nelson, Burnley, Blackburn and Chorley. Looking at a map it seems the waterway through the towns is all hemmed in by buildings, but this is not so, as there are plenty of long stretches in countryside, with the towns providing interest from time to time.

With all the towns along its length, shopping is no problem, with supermarkets often within walking distance or besides the waterway. However there are places where it is not sensible to moor overnight, with a great deal of vandal activity being reported, so it is wise to moor away from the built-up areas.

Moorings however are provided at many safe locations, and it is no problem in the 'sticks'. There are a few hire bases, but otherwise boating facilities are fairly scarce.

There is plenty of interest with the multi staircase locks at the Eastern end, the most spectacular scenery, the tunnel, aqueducts and finally Wigan Flight of 21 locks, pictured below.

The Leeds & Liverpool Canal cannot really be recommended as a 'first time' waterway, though those of more experience will find the waterway very rewarding. Vandalism is a problem in many areas, but can be avoided with common sense. But for experienced boaters we recommend it  as one of the Pennine waterways that is a worthwhile experience.

The waterway from Leeds to Wigan is 89 miles and 85 locks with many swing bridges.

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The more black stars the better.