Silsden is a former mill town located in the Aire Valley of West Yorkshire. This small town was a centre for textiles and nail-making and at one time was home to more than 200 small forges. We’d decided to visit so that we could enjoy a walk along a short section of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal which passes through the town.
Completed in 1816 and at 127 miles in length, it’s the country’s longest single waterway with 91 locks and 57 swing bridges. The canal connects Leeds in West Yorkshire to Liverpool in the west taking a route across the Pennines and rising to a height of 487 feet (148 metres).
Our afternoon stroll started in the town centre where we found a parking space just off the A6034, not far from the canal. After crossing the busy main road we paused to view the canal from the top of the bridge before walking down the steps leading to the towpath. If you have a bicycle, pram or wheelchair and need step free access down to the canal just follow the road around the corner onto Clog Bridge and take the path under the canal which leads to a small road on the left joining the towpath.
It was the first time that we’d walked along this stretch of the canal and as we didn’t know what lay ahead it was a toss up whether to head east or west. Some canal boats were moored along the bank in an easterly direction so we thought we’d take a look at them and head that way.
The narrowboats moored along the opposite bank were all painted in the same colours and we soon discovered that these belonged to Silsden Boats, a local company offering canal boat holiday rentals. When our children were small we enjoyed canal boat holidays in northern France but I’m yet to experience a trip nearer home. Looking at these well equipped boats reminded me how enjoyable a narrowboat holiday is, travelling along at just four miles an hour enjoying the ever changing scenery and being able to stop off in small villages for a gentle stroll.
Dilapidated canal side mills which had laid empty for years have now been transformed and brought back to life as chic waterside apartments alongside newer homes, some even with their own moorings. It was interesting to observe the different ways families had designed their gardens with a variety of seating options taking in the canal views.
Moving on, we spotted a milestone marker which informed us that we were 22.5 miles from Leeds and a whopping 105 from Liverpool. Milestones, or distance markers as they are also known were made of stone, cast iron or wood and placed every mile along the canals. Following a successful bid by the Canal and River Trust, lottery funding has been used to restore these heritage distance markers along the entire length of the Leeds & Liverpool canal.
It wasn’t our intention to walk anywhere as far as Leeds but it was still very interesting to locate our exact position as we strolled along the canal bank. Three years ago resurfacing work was carried out along the towpaths. This was part of a wider initiative to boost cycling and walking access along canals as part of the National Cycle Network. Cycling has increased in popularity in the area since the summer of 2014 when Silsden formed part of the route of the Tour de France Grand Depart.
Several cyclists were making the most of the good weather with an afternoon ride, but apart from a handful of people walking their dogs, it was reasonably quiet. Upon leaving Silsden the Aire Valley opens up into rolling hillsides where we spotted a field of goats, some cows and a swan and cygnet drifting peacefully along.
On reaching Brunthwaite swing bridge we crossed the canal and wandered up Brunthwaite Lane, a narrow winding road lined with dry stone walls. Despite being uphill, it wasn’t very steep and is easily manageable. Nearing the top we climbed over a stone stile and along a marked ‘Silsden Strolls’ footpath to the top of Holden Lane. This was slightly muddy in places as there were gates for moving cattle between fields that crossed the path.
The footpath ends at the top of Howden Road facing Silsden Cemetery and although we could have easily returned to the village centre by just walking down the hill, we instead opted to wander through the neighbouring housing estate.
This was quite interesting as we were able to locate the front of the properties that we had seen earlier backing onto the canal. Unfortunately, there was no access back to the canal from there but as we hadn’t explored this area before it was a change.
It didn’t take too long to find our way back to the town centre where we wandered along its high street as far as Silsden Beck, an attractive beauty spot surrounded by old stone cottages looking picture perfect bedecked with rambling roses.
Overlooking the Beck is the Old Post Office cafe which has been been renovated from the 110 year old former post office. Having salvaged the original counter it has now been repurposed as the bar. Just a pity it wasn’t open as we were ready for a drink and a slice of cake, perhaps next time it will be when we return for a walk along the canal towards Skipton.
We then retraced our steps back to the car which was just a short distance away after a relaxing canal side stroll.
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