Canal Side Cycle Ride - Skipton to Leeds February 2008

It seemed a good idea at the time. Take the folding Brompton bikes to Leeds in the car, cycle to the city centre and use the train to get to Skipton and then cycle back along the Leeds Liverpool canal tow path to Leeds.

The train journey went without incident. It cost £13.60 for two single tickets (16-2-08) and the electric train was quiet and comfortable. We got off at Skipton and asked the guard where the canal was to be found - just outside the station and up a slight rise.

There is a decent path through Skipton, which leads a person into a false sense of security.  The paved track rapidly deteriorated into a muddy meander and the Bromptons just could not cope. After a short while we realised that cycling was impossible and dismounted to push the bikes. Sadly even this was not possible, the mudguards filled with gunge and the wheels ceased to turn. We had the choice of returning to Skipton and the train, or trying to find an alternative route.

At this point the canal was carried  high on a valley side and there was a busy single carriageway main road at some considerable distance below. Fortunately the road was provided with a wide footpath so we decided to dice with death and risk the steep descent to the security of the path.  Having made the road side with only minor damage to (wo)man and machine we had to wait a good five minutes before there was a sufficient break in the traffic to enable us to cross to the path. Armed with pieces of twig we de-gunged the bikes and then set off along the tarmac.

This was too good to last, for the road came upon a roundabout and then developed an extra lane, but lost the footpath.  Not wishing to risk 80 mph dense traffic we headed away from this main artery and found a much quieter road running parallel to it, heading in the general direction of Keighley.  There were a few hills, but nothing that even the Brompton's modest gears could not deal with and we eventually made Keighley and had the considerable pleasure of overtaking queues of cars slowly polluting their way through the town.

In our travels we have learned that private railway catering is reasonably priced so we headed for the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway (KWVR) platform adjacent to the main station. We were greeted by that not unpleasant sooty smell associated with the combustion of coal and were delighted to learn that today was a steam train special day. In came a train hauled by three steam locomotives - sadly not recorded by the camera. After enjoying a pot of railway tea and some sandwiches I made enquiries about the state of the tow path along the canal. Eventually I located a young man, who was employed emptying bins,  who had the answer "It's awful between Skipton and Keighley but it gets a lot better from here onwards." I wished that I had thought to ask that question at Skipton, but water under the bridge!

This useful person also provided us with directions to get from the station back to the canal side - quite a way out of the town and high up the valley side.

Back on the tow path it was indeed better, but there were still some sections that we had to walk, while occasional degunging of the mudguards was essential. Where there was not mud there was uneven stony terrain, only short sections were genuinely comfortable to cycle. This is a part of the National Cycle Network (Route 66), but not a part which is really suitable for small wheeled bikes. The question has to be asked, should there not be a guaranteed minimum standard for paths that are advertised as a part of the National Network?

To quote the Mrs, "Don't get your kicks on this route 66!"

Well enough of the whinging. It was a bitterly cold day, with the canal frozen over where it was shaded,  but it was gloriously sunny with no wind. The views of the moors around are spectacular and, where there was open water, the surface of the canal was absolutely flat beautifully mirroring the surroundings. Out came the camera!

There are the inevitable flights of locks, in this case the Bingley Five Rise.

There are even some half decent paths adjacent to the locks.

 There are also some interesting old industrial buildings, including the old mill and model village at Saltaire. The mill is now the home of a number of arty shops and other retail outlets and you can get a decent cup of coffee there. There is also a rather good bike shop with a wide range of spares etc, but nothing for the Bromptons except oil of course. The photo that follows is not of Saltaire!

At one point we came across a small creature scuttling across the ice - an otter. This was the first time that either of us had seen such a thing. It was clearly in some difficulty and appeared to have damaged one of its legs, and it made no attempt to escape as we came close. Maybe it was past caring and wanted the end to come. I couldn't bring myself to photograph it. Maybe it would fall victim to a dog, but hopefully it did survive.

We had booked accommodation in Headingley just outside of the city centre so we left the canal path before reaching the centre, but returned the following day to see how the canal and city get on with one another. Rather well I thought.

It must be a nightmare drying washing when you live on a canal boat!

Leeds in February did you say?

Bridgewater Place

So what do we conclude having completed this expedition?  Firstly, don't attempt it on a small wheeled bike!  I guess that the route would be fine if you were using a wide tyred mountain bike that would absorb the shocks and have plenty of clearance to deal with the mud. We cycled on a Saturday and, despite the sub zero temperatures,  there were lots of people walking dogs or just out for a stroll, you can't cycle at any sort of speed as a result. Would we do it again - well certainly not using the Bromptons, but mid week, off season and using more suitable steeds, quite possibly.

Once final thought - don't try this ride using a Brompton - do you get the message?

P.S. Readers might detect a certain anti Brompton feeling within this epistle, it is not intended. We love our Bromptons, they're fun bikes that are normally a pleasure to ride. The flexibility that they allow in terms of mixing cycling with public transport is unequalled.  This track is just not suitable unfortunately.

P.P.S. Camera Canon 20D with Canon 24-70 and Sigma 10-20 lenses.

Bryan and Carol Attewell

For details of more cycle tours that we have documented, please look here

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