The picturesque village of Gargrave is located four miles north west of Skipton in North Yorkshire. The A65 runs through the village linking Leeds in West Yorkshire with Kendal in Cumbria on the edge of the English Lake District. Gargrave has its own railway station on the Leeds to Morecambe and Carlisle lines enabling walkers ample opportunities for single direction canal walks to or from Skipton.
Arriving by car we found a parking place just off the High Street near to St. Andrew’s Parish Church. We had only walked a few steps when we came across a heritage finger post indicating the way to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal where we were eventually heading. The village lies on the southern edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park with stunning scenery, picture perfect villages and cosy pubs.
Before crossing the triple arched stone bridge over the River Aire we chose to walk along the riverside in an easterly direction. In Roman times the river was crossed by means of a paved ford which was discovered in 1967 whilst work was been carried out to clear the riverbed of centuries of accumulated debris.
Gargrave village green is the village’s pride and joy with its wide expanses of grass, ideal for picnics and paddling in the river (feature photo above). The village actually boasts two greens, High and Middle and we continued along as far as the stepping stones at High Green where we couldn’t resist a playful skip across the river. Having experienced low rainfall in recent weeks the river level was low making it safe to cross on the dry stones.
After our few minutes of fun on the stepping stones we retraced our steps back along to the road bridge which we then crossed into the village centre. Along High Street there are a cluster of characterful Victorian stone cottages some of which have now been turned into galleries and antique shops. With a population of around 2,000 Gargrave has managed to retain its village feel and is a delightful little place to visit.
The Dalesman Cafe Tea Rooms has long been a popular stopping off place for hikers and cyclists as The Pennine Way National Trail passes through this scenic part of North Yorkshire and there are also numerous local cycle routes to enjoy. It was good to note that even during lockdown the cafe was able to satisfy customers needs with a takeaway service and ice creams available.
Standing proudly outside the cafe is a cast iron sign indicating that Gargrave is 70 miles from Edale in Derbyshire and 186 miles from Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders. The Pennine Way runs 267 miles (431 km) and is classified as a moderate to strenuous trail.
I’ve walked short sections of the trail on day hikes over the years but my husband actually completed the entire route many years ago just after he graduated from university. The average time to walk the length of the trail is 19 days allowing for overnight stops either in cosy inns, bed and breakfast accommodation or on campsites. Fingers crossed that you have good weather if you attempt the trek otherwise it could be a bit grim over the tops and on exposed stretches.
Instead of a lengthy trek we preferred to take it easy on our afternoon stroll, taking a left turn off the High Street onto West Street. Along there we passed the village hall on our right hand side just before reaching the canal towpath at Higherland Bridge where the Pennine Way crosses the canal on its way towards Malham.
The Leeds & Liverpool Canal was constructed between 1770 and 1816 and was essential for the movement of goods between Yorkshire’s mill towns and the docks at Liverpool. Nowadays it provides a pleasant place for a canal boat holiday or a stroll along the towpath. From Higherland Lock (No. 32) we wandered along the towpath in a westerly direction. Due to the pandemic there weren’t many brightly painted narrowboats to watch entering the locks or chugging along at a leisurely four miles an hour but we spotted a few privately owned boats moored alongside the bank. One of them was acting as a small shop and takeaway cafe so we paused to take a look at some canal boat souvenirs on sale.
Another boat appeared to be organised for canal side dining with its table, chairs and a portable barbecue on the edge of the towpath. No-one seemed to be around but the occupants may have been tucked up inside their boat or out for a walk.
We passed a milepost indicating that we were 93 miles from Liverpool and 34 miles from Leeds. Although many of these mileposts have been restored or replaced as part of the canal’s 200th anniversary in 2016 sadly this particular one looked neglected and in need of some loving care and attention, perhaps it’s next on the list.
The towpath passes alongside fields and farms where we spotted some sheep and cattle together which is quite unusual. Soon, we had arrived at Anchor Lock (No.33) where, in normal times, we would have been tempted to stop for a drink and a bar snack at the attractive Anchor Inn just across the bridge. Located next to the pub is a Premier Inn with canal side views offering reasonably priced accommodation and conveniently situated for visiting both the Yorkshire Dales and Skipton.
Continuing a little further we arrived at Scarland Lock (No.34) where there is also a footbridge across the canal. Here we found the aptly named Twin Locks Garden Centre where we popped in to see if they had any geraniums that we could have collected later by car but they had sold out so it wasn’t to be.
We decided that this was far enough to walk in this direction so we did an about turn and retraced our steps back to Higherland Bridge from where we had joined the canal. The towpath has been relaid and is now in excellent condition making it perfect for both walkers and cyclists. An ice cream van was parked by the bridge so as we couldn’t enjoy a drink in the pub we licked ice cream cones instead.
After crossing the road bridge we passed through a farm gate and explored the towpath towards Skipton. It had been cloudy throughout the day but as we continued along this stretch of the canal, storm clouds threatened and it looked like rain. As the canal curves gently to the right the landscape is stunning with views of the rolling hills beyond.
At Eshton Road Lock (No.31) it was nice to see a socially distanced family picnic taking place on the opposite bank. Here we paused to examine the lock and the paddles for opening and closing the sluice gates which raise and lower the water levels.
All the locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal were designed to carry short, fatter boats which had twice the capacity of narrowboats based on other canals. These locks needed to be wide enough to allow 14ft wide boats through them. Most leisure canal boats are of a narrower width because there are links to other canals on the waterways network and wider boats would be unable to pass through those locks. Along the Leeds & Liverpool canal they are sufficiently wide enabling two narrowboats to enter a lock side-by-side.
Glancing at our map we decided to continue along to the Holmes Bridge Lock (No.30) which is not only the last of Gargrave’s locks but also the final one on the canal for almost 17 miles until Bingley. From there we followed a path to the A65 trunk road and walked back into the village along the safety of the pavement.
On the edge of the village stands Gargrave Cricket Club and it was so sad to see the fixtures board with an empty space as there are no upcoming matches at the moment due to the pandemic. The ground and pitch were well maintained so that everything will be ready when the all clear to resume matches is announced.
The road twists and turns as it enters the village but it didn’t take very long to return to the centre with its welcoming shelter known locally as the summer seat next to an iconic red telephone kiosk.
We managed to get back to the car before the rain showers arrived which was just as well as we’d left our coats and umbrellas at home. It had been a lovely trip out and I’d definitely recommend a visit to Gargrave sometime if you are ever in the area.
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