Back in the summer, I spotted a possible loop in the Aire valley, using the Leeds-Liverpool canal to head west from near Keighley and a stretch of the River Aire to return. There is a long lock-free pound on the canal, that stretches westward beyond Skipton, which promised a pleasant, portage-free paddle out to Kildwick, where I planned to portage down the hill to the river and head downstream to a get-out at East Riddlesden Hall and a short pull back up the hill to the start on the canal at Low Banks.
The Leeds Liverpool is a beautiful canal, traversing the Pennines. It contours high on the side of the Aire valley, and while that means no locks for miles, the Nicholson waterways guide does make mention of the numerous swing bridges that slow passage for narrowboats. Shouldn’t be a problem for a canoe though, I thought.
Just over the bridge at Low Banks is a handy pub with a carpark, so it was only a short carry to get the boat on the water. It was a calm, warm day, a bit overcast, but without a significant wind. Tailwinds are great for speeding your progress, but somehow a headwind on the outward leg often becomes a headwind when homeward bound too!
Pleasant canal-side housing ran for a short distance along the cut as I set out, but it wasn’t long before the rural nature of the canal asserted itself. Before that though came the first of the swing bridges – not too bad, a bit of a duck and glide, and I was through. A second followed soon after, again easily passed.
Trees overhung the water as I headed westward passed Low Wood Nature Reserve. There were one or two hired narrowboats on the water, returning to the marina at Silsden, but the towpath was busier than the water, with a handful of joggers and dogwalkers passing by.
A clump of ferns caught my eye. I have always loved the fractal geometry of fern fronds, and I enjoyed their reflections as they dipped into the water.
Rhododendrons and elderflower scattered amongst the trees were in full flower, adding a splash of colour to the uniform green of mid-summer woods.
As I approached the end of the woods, Booth Bridge spanned the cut. This was definitely going to be a bit tight. Offering the bow of the canoe up to the bridge, I found it was just a fraction too low, so I hauled the boat out and dragged it round the obstruction.
Before long, the views opened out, with small farms and fields scattered over the hillside. I had forgotten just how pretty upper Airedale is. The transition from town to country is very abrupt in these Pennine valleys, so even though I was only few miles from Keighley, I was indeed in a green and pleasant land.
Yellow flag lined the edges of the canal. Greylag geese lead their family into the meadows as I approached, and a heron closely watched me pass.
I was now on the edges of Silsden. An old mill building, now converted to flats, sat alongside the canal. Silsden marina was just beyond the road bridge, busy with preparations to get the hire fleet out for the coming weekend.
But before long I had left Silsden behind, and I was travelling through open farmland with wide views across Airedale once more.
Cowling Bridge, another low swing, bridge barred the way, but I was becoming more flexible in my approach to them. Laying full length in the bottom of the boat and picking the slightly higher lefthand side, I could just slide under.
I wasn’t far from Kildwick now, and paused to enjoy the views eastward down Airedale. Keighley is hidden in the dip in the hills.
I had paddled by several families of swans without a problem, but the cob whose territory I was now crossing felt the need to assert himself. It amuses me that they nearly always save their biggest displays for when you are exiting their patch. This chap was no different – for all his posturing he gave me a wide berth until I was heading away, and only then decided to charge. Guaranteed success; I was leaving anyway!
After 10km or so, I reached Kildwick. This is an ancient settlement at a crossing point on the River Aire that dates back at least to Anglo-Saxon times. The stone bridge standing there now was built in the 14th century. A very pleasant-looking pub, the White Lion, sits between the canal and the river, and with better planning, I could have stopped there for lunch.
Leaving the canoe on the towpath, I wandered down to the river. There was a reasonably easy put-in by the bridge, but I could see that with the long dry summer, the river was too low to paddle. So it was to be a return leg along the canal – no hardship in that.
I was by now quite practised at canoe limbo, and even the low clearance of Barrett’s Bridge just east of Kildwick didn’t make me get out of the boat. I did have to push against the underside of the bridge to sink the bow of the canoe enough to get through, but it had become a point of pride to avoid a portage!
Cowling Bridge lived up to its name on my return.
With several tons of bovine bodies crossing it, I decided to wait before squeezing under!
The views down Airedale opened up ahead of me. Even sat low in a canoe, the elevation of the cut on the valley’s flank gave a great perspective on the landscape.
Passing back through Silsden, I paused to enjoy the reflections of the old mill buildings. There is something quite attractive about the regularity of the stonework and windows.
Dog rose and bramble flowered on the banks as I approached Lodge Hill Bridge and Alder Carr Wood.
I surprised a work gang improving the towpath as I appeared from under the bridge. More yellow flag brightened the banks as I entered the woods.
In the adjacent meadow, the greylags were grazing. Heads popped up alertly to watch me go by.
A brood of mallards were a bit more relaxed as I paddled by.
Passing through Low Wood again, I stopped to enjoy the rhododendron flowers where they grew down to the water. On the moors near my home they are considered an invasive species, but in common with many such plants, they are quite beautiful for all the problems they can bring.
Gentle light filtered through the canopy as I approached Low Bank, and I made one more image before reaching my starting point.
Only half-successful because of the low river levels, it was still a lovely trip through a beautiful Pennine landscape. One to come back to when it’s wetter…